Iowa Politics Roundup: State Won’t Claim $14.5 Million for Unemployment Benefits Print
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 04 March 2011 20:26

House Republican leaders said Thursday that they do not support or intend to pass a bill that would allow Iowa to receive $14.5 million in federal money for extended unemployment benefits. Iowa is one of nine states that have yet to request the benefits.

“The Labor Committee is going to look at that, but the House Republican caucus is not interested in making it harder to be an employer in the state of Iowa,” said House Speaker Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha). “What’s going on with unemployment compensation right now is making it harder to be an employer.”

The Iowa Senate approved the measure on a 27-22 vote this week. The money would benefit the more than 7,000 Iowans who have been out of work for more than a year. Democrats urged the House and governor to act on Senate File 303 by March 10, or they said the state will almost certainly lose the $14.5 million in federal help for the unemployed.

“It would be an outrage if we miss this opportunity to help Iowans who have been out of work for more than a year and, at the same time, fail to give the economy a $14.5-million boost,” said Senator Pam Jochum (D-Des Moines).

Democrats maintained that these extended unemployment insurance benefits will be entirely paid for by the federal government and will have no impact on state unemployment taxes. But Republicans disagreed and insisted that businesses fund the unemployment system.

“The bill went too far,” said Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley (R-Chariton). “The cost of that unemployment, that insurance is paid out by the previous employer.”

Meanwhile, Iowans who lose their jobs would be ineligible for unemployment benefits for one week under a bill that cleared the House Labor Committee this week on an 11-6 party-line vote.

Representative Ron Jorgensen (R-Sioux City) said the move levels the playing field with 37 other states that have a one-week waiting period.

Jorgensen said the change will be especially helpful for manufacturers who shut down for a week to take inventory, noting that workers have been filing for unemployment benefits during that week off. He said it would affect about 13,417 – or 8.1 percent – of those unemployed, for a savings of $4 million to $5 million.

But Representative Nate Willems (D-Lisbon) questioned whether there is another way to accomplish that goal without also affecting the other 92 percent of unemployed Iowans.

“When you lose your job and start going on unemployment benefits, it really likely becomes a matter of choosing which bill you can pay and which bill absolutely needs to get paid,” Willems said. “A one-week delay of having any sort of money coming in will just allow people to get more and more behind on credit-card bills.”

Bill to Legalize Internet Poker Receives Committee Approval

A bill that would legalize Internet poker in Iowa on Wednesday evening cleared the Senate State Government Committee on a 9-6 vote, advancing it to the Senate floor and making it safe from this week’s legislative funnel.

Backers of the bill argued in subcommittee that it would allow the state to regulate something that’s already being done illegally by 150,000 Iowans each day, and they also said it would generate $30 million to $35 million a year for the state of Iowa.

Senate Study Bill 1165, the Internet Poker Consumer Protection & Revenue Generation Act of 2011, would legalize “advanced deposit wagering,” authorize creation of an intrastate Internet poker network, give authority to the Iowa Racing & Gaming Commission, and establish fees. It would also eliminate the requirement of county referenda to continue a facility’s gambling license, allow slot machines to continue to supplement horse-racing purses in perpetuit.y and prohibit live standardbred horse racing at Prairie Meadows.

Senator Jeff Danielson (D-Cedar Falls), the bill’s floor manager, called the bill a “win-win,” a “modest first step” and a “consensus bill” that would authorize Iowans to play online poker with other Iowans through a secure network that he likened to an intranet. He predicted the bill would gain broad bipartisan support.

“There’s a generational disconnect by those gambling on the Internet illegally and those of us who have a public interest, clear legal framework to protect them and the rest of Iowans,” Danielson said. “For me, the bottom line is I think technology has gotten ahead of our public policy."

Three Iowa groups that are philosophically opposed to gambling spoke against the bill. Naomi Sea Young Wittstruck of the Iowa Conference of United Methodist Church said the bill and its Internet component could have a detrimental impact on families who can least afford it. Tom Chapman said the Iowa Catholic Conference is concerned about online-gambling addiction. And Norman Pawlewski said the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition is against the bill for the same reasons.


Wisconsin Comes to Iowa” Next Week; Big Crowd Expected at Capitol

The Iowa Capitol is expected to be so packed next Monday for a public hearing on collective bargaining that House Speaker Paulsen has arranged for audio of the hearing in the House chamber to be broadcast in the Capitol rotunda and in the old Supreme Court chamber.

“At least from the signals we’ve been sent, I’m not sure the chamber will be able to hold everybody,” Paulsen said.

Two contentious issues – a collective-bargaining bill and a proposed elimination of the state-funded preschool program – will be debated in the Iowa House next week.

It starts with a public hearing scheduled for 6 to 8:15 p.m. Monday on the collective-bargaining bill. The issue last week brought up to 1,000 people to the Capitol for a rally. Democrats in the House Labor Committee later offered about 50 amendments to the bill. Committee debate lasted a total of 15 hours.

“Next week, Wisconsin comes to Iowa,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-Des Moines). “I expect we’re going to spend a great portion if not the entire week trying to oppose the end of our collective-bargaining system here in Iowa, which is what House Study Bill 117 does. We call upon all Iowans that oppose the end our collective-bargaining system to come to the Capitol to be heard. We expect quite a turnout on Monday for the public hearing.”

House Study Bill 117 would make numerous changes to Iowa’s collective-bargaining laws, including allowing employees in union shops to directly negotiate the terms of their employment, limiting what’s included in collective bargaining, and curbing union power. Arbitrators, for example, could consider nonunion and private-sector wages and a contract’s effects on taxes in making their decisions.

“We’re excited about that bill,” Paulsen said. “It obviously addresses a whole lot of different things. We’ve tried to be sensitive to all sides concerned. In fact, one of the concerns that revolved around the whole repeal of Iowa’s right-to-work law was unions did not want to represent people that were not members. This bill addresses that.”

Paulsen said Iowans will also appreciate the provision taking health insurance out of collective bargaining for state workers. “Eighty-four percent of state employees pay nothing for their health care,” Paulsen said. “That’s just not reflective of the real world, so this bill also addresses that.”

But McCarthy said it’s Democrats’ intention to have their voices heard on the issue.

“It takes away rights from police officers, firefighters, troopers, teachers, corrections workers – their rights to bargain in good faith at the bargaining table,” McCarthy said. “So that will be the central focus next week. Again, it’s disappointing that they’re moving in this extreme fashion. So Iowa will experience a little bit of Wisconsin next week.”

With all of the action over collective bargaining, the debate over preschool might be overshadowed next week. But the issue is equally important to Democrats.

House Study Bill 145 would repeal the current statewide preschool program for four-year-old children and would create an Iowa preschool scholarship program for four-year-olds. Families earning up to 300 percent of federal poverty level – almost $67,000 for a family of four – would qualify for scholarships. While the current program enrolls about 20,000 kids (about half of the state’s four-year-olds), the new program aims to enroll about 16,660 kids, roughly 70 percent of the 23,000 who are eligible.

The House Education Committee voted 12-10 along party lines for the bill just before 10 p.m. Monday.

Debate over both issues is expected Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday on the House floor.

Abortion Bill Fails to Clear Legislative Funnel

A bill backed by the staunchest social conservatives that would have defined the beginning of life as conception and banned all abortions will not survive this week’s legislative funnel deadline, House Human Resources Committee Chair Linda Miller told IowaPolitics.com.

“Basically, I didn’t have consensus in the committee or the votes to bring it out,” said Miller (R-Bettendorf). “Can’t bring out legislation that you don’t have the votes for.”

Miller said she’s supportive of House File 153, but not as written. She and Representative Dave Heaton (R-Mount Pleasant) both told IowaPolitics.com that they could not support the provision in the bill that said: “The Iowa Supreme Court shall not have appellate jurisdiction over the provisions of this section.”

“I was concerned about the clause about the Supreme Court, the judicial language in it,” Miller said. “And I felt that there needed to be some kind of amendment in regards to the life of the mother, just because I think you needed to clarify that more than anything else.”

An informal poll released late last week by The Family Leader showed that only six Republican members of the House Human Resources Committee supported the bill as drafted. It would have taken 11 votes for the bill to pass out of committee.

Four Republicans on the committee said they would support the bill if it protects the life of the mother.

Miller said sponsors of the bill were not willing to accept an amendment to that effect.

But this is not the end to the abortion debate this legislative session.

State Representative Kim Pearson (R-Pleasant Hill) told The Family Leader that the “life at conception” bill will move forward next week in a new form, despite not clearing this week’s legislative funnel.

And House Speaker Paulsen last week moved House File 5, a late-term-abortion ban, to the Government Oversight Committee – a funnel-proof committee – so House Republicans can continue discussion without having the pressure of funnel week.

Legislative Term-Limit Bill Dies in Committee

A bill spearheaded by a group of freshmen that would have limited legislators to serving 16 consecutive years in either the Iowa House or Senate was rejected by the House State Government Committee this week on an 11-12 vote.

“In no other state did we find a term-limit bill as liberal as this one,” argued Representative Guy Vander Linen (R-Oskaloosa), a retired marine and freshman lawmaker.

House Joint Resolution 10 would have limited lawmakers to eight terms in the Iowa House or four terms in the Iowa Senate and would have taken effect in 2017. As a proposed amendment to the Iowa Constitution, it would require approval by two consecutive General Assemblies before going to a vote of the people.

Joining Democrats in voting against the bill were Republican Representatives Dawn Pettengill of Mount Auburn, who’s serving her fourth term in the Iowa House; Scott Raecker of Urbandale, who’s serving his seventh term; and Jack Drake of Griswold, who’s serving his 10th term.

“If you want power to go to the people, we have that now. Those are called elections,” said Representative Todd Taylor (D-Cedar Rapids), who’s been in the legislature for 16 years. “The term limits limit the voters’ choices.”

Taylor argued that term limits would shift power from elected officials to unelected bureaucrats who are not accountable to the people.

Representative Chuck Isenhart (D-Dubuque) said term limits come up more than any other single issue on the campaign trail. But he said voters’ angst has more to do with what’s going on at national level.

“A better solution is in campaign-finance reform,” he said. “The inability to get new people elected is because it’s so hard to raise the money needed to displace incumbents at the polls. The term-limit issue is kind of a red-herring issue in many respects.”

This will be the final weekly summary from IowaPolitics.com, an online government and politics news service.