Civic News & Info
Iowa House Moves Marriage Inequality Amendment Forward PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Civic News & Info
Written by Paul Guequierre   
Wednesday, 02 February 2011 10:09

Senate Majority Leader vows to fight discriminatory amendments

 WASHINGTON — The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights group, today criticized the Iowa House for passing an amendment to the state constitution that would prohibit any form of relationship recognition for same-sex couples. The amendment passed by a 62 to 37 vote and will now be sent to the Iowa Senate for consideration.

“The actions of the Iowa House have the potential to place families at risk,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “The people of Iowa deserve better from their representatives. Iowa has a proud tradition of protecting the liberties of all of its citizens and we call upon the Senate to restore that tradition.”

“The proposed amendment devalues families and divides Iowans,” said One Iowa Executive Director Carolyn Jenison. “The Constitution is meant to protect the freedoms and liberties of all Iowans. It is inappropriate to use the political process to single out and deny a group of Iowans of their constitutional protections. ”

House Joint Resolution 6 proposes an amendment to the Constitution of the State of Iowa specifying marriage between one man and one woman as the only legal union that is valid or recognized in the state. The language prohibits civil unions and domestic partnerships as well as marriage for same-sex couples. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal has vowed to fight any attempt to amend the constitution to discriminate against same-sex couples. In order to end up on the ballot, the proposed amendment must pass through both chambers of the Iowa Legislature in two consecutive legislative sessions.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

 

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Capitol Comments - Call It A Reality Check PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Sen. Shawn Hamerlinck   
Monday, 31 January 2011 15:33

Think of the difficult cuts which are being made now as a stepping stone to setting Iowa on track to a solid fiscal future.  The Governor’s budget is not a step-by-step manual for eliminating a deficit but rather a starting point for discussion.  It is highly unlikely the budget Governor Brandstad presented on Thursday will be the same one he will sign at the end of the legislative session.

The legislature has three possible responses to our budget deficit: raise taxes, find efficiencies or cut nonessential programing.  This past week I have been asked by a number of special interest groups to increase the sales tax by half a percent because it is “no big deal” and “no one would notice.”  The sheer audacity of those making those statements is almost as scary as the actual concept of a tax increase right now.  I wonder if those who believe the state should just keep spending actually understand the pressure many Iowan’s feel right now.  Most people can’t fill up a tank of gas or buy a week’s worth of groceries for less than $50.  The long-term answer is not found in, “simply finding new revenue for the state.”

It is a wonder how some politicians can avoid recognizing structural deficits and continue to spend as if the problem will just go away.  I heard on many occasions that we have one billion dollars in unspent money so we can save programing.  This claim is correct, as long as you don’t recognized the $1.7 billion in programing you promised to fund with only the $1 billion you claim to have.  Apparently basic math doesn’t count when politically, you really want something.

For the last two weeks, each department has promoted their programing by saying, “for every dollar you spend with us, you will get seven in return.”   If true, with so much return on investment then why are we in debt?  When I ask this question I am quickly informed the state would be further in debt if we didn’t fund these programs originally.  By the rationale of this claim, the state would have been $32.6 billion in the hole if we weren’t “getting seven in return.”  At some point we have to turn on the reality switch.

In these meetings I think about the silent majority: A group which doesn’t belong to an association or have a paid lobbyist.  They are a group of Iowans willing to pay taxes with the expectation that those dollars are being used responsibly.  This group is willing to chip-in and help out but they don’t want to be used as simply a checking account.

As Iowa begins correcting its budget problem I am growing concerned of Congress’s willingness to negotiate plans for three states to declare bankruptcy.  Legislators in these states have offered no roadmap for improving their budgets.  Politicians either refuse to accept the reality of their budgets or spending has become an addiction to them.  Ultimately, taxpayers in states like Iowa will foot the bill for bailing out states with politicians who forgot there is a “no” button right next to the “yea” button.

Senator Shawn Hamerlinck

District 42

 
HRC Applauds Illinois Civil Unions Bill Signed Into Law Today PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Civic News & Info
Written by Paul Guequierre   
Monday, 31 January 2011 15:26

Law Providing State-Level Rights Takes Effect July 1, 2011

WASHINGTON — The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, today applauded Illinois Governor Pat Quinn for signing into law the “Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act.” The signing ceremony is planned for 4 p.m. central time today.  Couples may begin obtaining civil unions and enjoying the state-level rights and responsibilities of married couples on July 1, 2011.

“Today marks a tremendous step towards equality for all families in Illinois,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “HRC commends Governor Quinn for his commitment to ensuring civil unions became law. Congratulations to Rep. Greg Harris, lead sponsor of the bill, who fought for years to ensure civil unions would become a reality, and thank you to Equality Illinois and the ACLU of Illinois for their tireless efforts on behalf of the LGBT community.”

The new law will permit both same-sex and opposite-sex couples to enter into civil unions and receive the same benefits, protections, and responsibilities under Illinois law that are granted to spouses.  Couples who enter into a civil union will not receive any rights or benefits under federal law. Illinois still does not permit same-sex couples to marry.  The law explicitly allows religious entities to choose not to solemnize or officiate civil unions.

In addition to Illinois, twelve states plus Washington, D.C. have laws providing an expansive form of state-level relationship recognition for gay and lesbian couples.  Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington D.C. provide marriage to same-sex couples under state law.  New York and Maryland recognize out-of-jurisdiction same-sex marriages, but do not provide marriage licenses to same-sex couples in state. Five other states – California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington – provide same-sex couples with access to almost all of the state level benefits and responsibilities of marriage, through either civil unions or domestic partnerships.

Colorado, Hawaii, Maine and Wisconsin provide gay and lesbian couples with limited rights and benefits, not all rights provided to married couples.  An attorney general opinion and subsequent court ruling in Rhode Island resulted in limited recognition of out-of-jurisdiction marriages of same-sex couples. California recognized marriage for same-sex couples between June and November of 2008, before voters approved Proposition 8, which purports to amend the state constitution to prohibit marriage equality.  Couples married during that window remain married under California law, but all other same-sex couples can only receive a domestic partnership within the state. The state will recognize out-of-jurisdiction same-sex marriages that occurred before November 5, 2008 as marriages and those that occurred on or after November 5, 2008 as similar to domestic partnerships.

Same-sex couples do not receive federal rights and benefits in any state.  For an electronic map showing where marriage equality stands in the states, please visit: www.HRC.org/State_Laws.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

 

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Governor Quinn Takes Bill Action PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Civic News & Info
Written by Laurel White   
Monday, 31 January 2011 13:44

CHICAGO – January 27, 2011. Governor Pat Quinn today took action on the following bills:

 

Bill No.: HB 1444

Creates the Chronic Disease Nutrition and Outcomes Advisory Commission within the Department of Public Health.

An Act Concerning: State government

Action: Signed                        

Effective Date: Immediately

 

Bill No.: HB 1512

Reverses fund sweeps from the Hansen-Therkelsen Memorial Deaf Student College Fund and the DHS Private Resources Fund and makes technical changes to the DHS State Projects Fund.

An Act Concerning: Finance

Action: Signed

Effective Date: Immediately

 

Bill No.: HB 1716

Requires nursing homes to staff light intermediate care at the same nursing ratios as intermediate care.

An Act Concerning: Regulation

Action: Signed

Effective Date: Immediately

 

Bill No.: HB 1721

Allows a hospital located in a county with fewer than 325,000 citizens to apply to DPH for approval to conduct its psychiatric services from more than one location in the county under a single license at
another hospital.

An Act Concerning: Regulation

Action: Signed

Effective Date: Immediately

 

Bill No.: HB 1935

Provides that a towing service may place a lien on personal property in a vehicle removed under  specified circumstances with certain exemptions.

An Act Concerning: Transportation

Action: Signed

Effective Date: Immediately

 

Bill No.: HB 3677

Provides that a person commits a Class D misdemeanor if they drive a vehicle in excess of 31 (rather than 30) miles per hour but less than 40 miles per hour of the maximum speed limit.

An Act Concerning: Transportation

Action: Signed

Effective Date: Immediately

 

Bill No.: HB 3962

Amends the Criminal Code of 1961 by making changes to provisions prohibiting tampering with public records.

An Act Concerning: Criminal law

Action: Signed

Effective Date: June 1, 2011

 

Bill No.: HB 5018

Increases the HMO Guaranty Fund cap from $300,000 to $500,000 to better protect consumers.

An Act Concerning: Insurance

Action: Signed

Effective Date: Immediately

 

Bill No.: SB 647

Changes the reporting deadline for the Task Force on Higher Education Private Student Loans by one year.

An Act Concerning: Education

Action: Signed

Effective Date: Immediately

 

Bill No.: SB 1858

Requires a recalculation and recertification of the required contributions to the Retirement Systems by April 1, 2011.

An Act Concerning: Public employee benefits

Action: Signed

Effective Date: Immediately

 

Bill No.: SB 2559

Allows Cook County a one-year exception from compliance with the required time period during which applications for judgment and order of sale for taxes and special assessments on delinquent properties must be made.

An Act Concerning: Revenue

Action: Signed

Effective Date: Immediately

 

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News from Senator Harkin's Office PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Civic News & Info
Written by Sen. Tom Harkin   
Monday, 24 January 2011 09:11

Harkin: Health Reform Has Delivered Prescription Drug Relief to Nearly 40,000 Iowans


WASHINGTON, D.C. – January 21, 2011 - Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) announced today that according to numbers released by Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, 39,430 Iowans who fell into the Medicare drug coverage gap known as the ‘donut hole’ in 2010 have been mailed a one-time, tax-free $250 rebate check.  To date, 3 million Americans affected by the donut hole have received reimbursement checks.  Senator Harkin chairs the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee, which facilitates funding for the Department of Health and Human Services.  

“Too many Iowans are experiencing a gap in prescription drug coverage just when they needed it most,” Senator Harkin said.  “One of the achievements of health reform has been to fix this injustice by lowering prescription drugs costs in Medicare until the donut hole is closed.  Today I am proud to announce that 39,430 Iowans have received one time, tax-free payments of $250 to help them cover expenses.”


These checks are only the first step in how the Affordable Care Act, the health reform law, will reduce prescription drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries in the donut hole each year until it is closed in 2020.  Starting this year, eligible beneficiaries in the coverage gap will receive a 50 percent discount on covered brand name medications while in the donut hole.  In addition, in 2011 Medicare will begin paying 7 percent of the price for generic drugs during the coverage gap.


The closing of the donut hole is just one of the ways seniors benefit from the Affordable Care Act. In addition to savings on prescription drugs, the law provides new benefits to Medicare beneficiaries when they visit their doctor starting this year:


•    As of January 1, 2011,  Original Medicare no longer charges out-of-pocket costs for the “Welcome to Medicare” physical exam and, for the first time since the Medicare program was created in 1965, Original Medicare now covers an annual wellness visit with a participating doctor, also at no cost.

•    In addition to these annual wellness visits, most people with Medicare can now receive critical preventive services, including certain cancer screenings such as mammograms and colonoscopies, for free.

•    Also this year, the Affordable Care Act will provide qualifying doctors and other health care professionals providing primary care to people on Medicare a 10-percent bonus for primary care services.  This will help ensure that those primary care providers can continue to be there for Medicare patients.

Iowans with Medicare can learn more about these new benefits, search for participating doctors in their area, and find other helpful information by contacting a trained customer service representative toll-free at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) or visiting www.Medicare.gov.

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Harkin: EPA Decision on E15 an Important Step in Energy Strategy

WASHINGTON, D.C. - January 21, 2011 - Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today applauded the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) announcement that it will approve gasoline blends containing up to 15 percent ethanol (also known as E15) for year 2001 and newer vehicles.  On October 13, 2010, the EPA made the decision to allow E15 for only year 2007 and newer vehicles, and Harkin had expressed disappointment that a decision had not yet been made on older vehicles.  According to the EPA, in 2011 there will be more than 150 million model year 2001 and newer light-duty motor vehicles that can utilize E15, representing more than 74 percent of gasoline consumption.

“I applaud the EPA on its decision to allow E15 for year 2001 and newer vehicles.  The EPA’s studies have now proven that these ethanol blends are safe for use in the majority of our on-road cars and trucks,” said Harkin.  “The expanded use of ethanol-blend gasoline is an important component of our nation’s overall strategy to reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign oil and jumpstart America’s ‘green’ economy.  Today’s announcement moves us forward in that effort.

“With today’s good news I am hopeful that the EPA will continue its testing to one day confirm that E15 can be used in all vehicles, including those older than model year 2000.  And I will do all that I can to continue to expand the production and use of biofuels."

As the former Chairman and now senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Harkin has been a long-time leader in promoting the production and use of biofuels as an important part of the nation’s energy strategy.   He has been especially active in pushing the EPA to allow E-15 for all vehicles. Efforts in 2010 included:

• On November 15, Harkin spoke on the Senate floor about the critical need to enable broad use of higher blends of ethanol across America by increasing the number of flex-fuel vehicles that can use them, and installing more blender pumps to dispense higher blends, and support development of biofuels pipelines for safer and more economical transport of biofuels. More information can be found here.

• On August 2, Harkin convened a meeting between a bipartisan group of senators and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Department of Energy Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman to urge prompt approval of E15 ethanol blend for use in all gasoline-fueled vehicles.  At the meeting, Harkin urged the approval of E-15, as well as E-20, which EPA is also reviewing.  More information can be found here.

• On June 28, Harkin and six other senators wrote to President Obama urging his Administration to move rapidly to integrate biofuels into the nation’s transportation fuel supply.  In the letter, the senators expressed concern that the Department of Energy (DOE) had not yet completed testing of higher blends of ethanol in gasoline, which would allow the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to approve the use of gasoline containing more than 10 percent ethanol.  More information can be found here.

• On June 23, Harkin spoke on the Senate floor expressing his disappointment in EPA and DOE’s delay in making a decision on E-15 and calling for an end to the delay.  Audio of that can be found here.

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Harkin Announces More Than $1.5 Million for Renewable Energy Projects in Iowa

Funding come from programs Harkin worked to include in 2008 farm bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. – January 20, 2011 - Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today announced that a total of $1,445,435.18 will be coming to Iowa to invest in renewable energy projects.  Of the funding, $1,334,499.18 will go to seven projects across the state to support the production and use of advanced biofuels through the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels.  A total of $110,936 will go to five projects across Iowa in the form of study grants to determine the feasibility of renewable energy projects under the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).  Both the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels and REAP were authorized under the 2008 farm bill, which Harkin shaped as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture Nutrition and Forestry.  Harkin is also a senior member of the Appropriations subcommittee that funds USDA.  More details of the funding can be found below.

“Investments in renewable energy are critical to Iowa – and our nation’s - future.  Not only do they help to reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign oil and protect the air we breathe and the water we drink, they also create new job opportunities and boost our economy,” said Harkin.  “I commend Secretary Vilsack and everyone at USDA for awarding this funding and implementing these critical programs that we worked so hard to include in the 2008 farm bill.”

Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels

Authorized under Section 9005 of the Farm Bill, the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels authorizes payments to eligible producers to expand production of advanced biofuels.  Payments are based on the amount of advanced biofuels a recipient produces from renewable biomass, other than corn kernel starch.  Eligible examples include biofuels derived from cellulose, crop residue, animal, food and yard waste material, biogas (landfill and sewage waste treatment gas), vegetable oil and animal fat.  To find out more about the program click here.

The producer payments are intended to provide a financial incentive to biorefineries – a necessary step towards meeting the nation’s renewable energy needs. The following is a list of biofuels producers that have received funding under USDA’s Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels:

• Renewable Energy Group, Inc. (Based in Ames): $695,014.53
• Western Iowa Energy (Based in Sac County): $210,509.52
• Western Dubuque Biodiesel, LLC. (Based in Farley) $178,926.98
• Iowa Renewable Energy, LLC. (Based in Washington) $152,758.89
• Central Iowa Energy, LLC (Based in Newton): $80,571.13
• Sioux Biochemical, Inc. (Based in Sioux Center): $9,847.05
• Maple River Energy, LLC (Based in Ida County): $6,871.08

Rural Energy for America Program (REAP)

REAP loan guarantees and grants can be used for renewable energy systems, energy efficiency improvements, feasibility studies and energy audits.  More information on the REAP program, which was authorized under the 2008 Farm Bill, is at:  http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/BCP_ReapGrants.html

The award notices issued today were limited to feasibility studies on prospective REAP projects.  The Iowa recipients of today’s funding are:

• Debarthe Wind, LLC: $5,300 for wind turbines
• Cherokee Wind, LLC: $21,141 for wind turbines
• Lutes Family Investment Group: $24,995 for wind turbines
• Prairie’s Edge Renewables, LLC: $9,500 to promote biomass
• Alternative Carbon Resources: $50,000 to create a high BTU alternative fuel source

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Harkin Encourages Iowa Community Colleges to Apply for Grants to Prepare Workers for Jobs in Growing and Emerging Industries

Washington, D.C. – January 19, 2011 - Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), today announced that the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) will begin accepting applications for the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant Program.  Nationwide, DOL will award approximately $500 million this year and a total of $2 billion over the next four years with each state guaranteed a minimum of $2.5 million each year.  The funding will be used to support the development and improvement of programs at community colleges that prepare students for successful careers in growing and emerging industries.  As Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Harkin has been a longtime supporter of community colleges and fought to include this funding in the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act that was signed into law on March 30, 2010.

“Providing Iowa community colleges with the resources to train workers for new career opportunities provides an investment in our future,” said Harkin. “It is one of the most important things we can do to keep Iowa’s workers competitive.  I strongly encourage all community colleges in Iowa to apply for this funding.”

The grant program will expand opportunities for workers by:

  • accelerating progress and reducing time to completion;

  • improving retention and achievement rates;

  • building instructional programs that meet industry needs; and

  • strengthening online and technology-enabled learning.


For additional information on how to apply for these grants, visit http://www.doleta.gov/grants and click on “Find Grants.”

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Harkin Announces More Than $7.8 Million for Homeless Assistance Programs Across Iowa


WASHINGTON, D.C. - January 19, 2011 - Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today announced that a total of $7,810,678 will be coming to homeless assistance programs across Iowa.  The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) Continuum of Care Homeless Assistance competitive grant program provides funding for a range of assistance to homeless persons, including transitional housing, permanent housing and a variety of supportive services.  Harkin is a senior member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds housing initiatives.

"During these cold winter months we are reminded just how much we value having a roof over our heads. Sadly, many of our fellow Iowans are not as fortunate,” said Harkin.  “This funding will help agencies and organizations across our state provide support services and housing options to help the homeless get back on their feet.”

Among the funds to be distributed will be those to the following area programs:

CLINTON:

  • Clinton Area Substance Abuse Council DBA, New Directions will receive $104,223 for the Hightower Place Transitional Housing Program.
  • YWCA Clinton will receive $49,232 for the YWCA Transitional Housing Program.


DAVENPORT:

  • Family Resources Inc. will receive $39,525, as well as $38,946 in funding for the organization’s VF Reach 2000 program.
  • Humility of Mary Shelter Inc. will receive a total of $973,429: $68,880 for Housing First, $37,549 for Renewed Efforts and Commitment for Housing (REACH) 2000, $220,000 for Service Coordination through Collaboration - Supportive Services Only, $155,000 for Service Coordination through Collaboration for Permanent Housing and $492,000 in funding for Service Coordination through Collaboration for Transitional Housing.

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Harkin: Biobased Label Lets Consumers Choose Goods that Help Economy, Environment

WASHINGTON, D.C. – January 19, 2011 - Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today released the following statement after Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced that USDA will launch the ‘Biobased’ label to let consumers know when a product is made of biobased ingredients.  Businesses across America are beginning to manufacture thousands of materials and products using agricultural and forestry crops and byproducts known as biobased feedstocks.  These include products such as lotions, cleaning supplies and a wide variety fabrics and plastics.  Under this new rule, companies can put the USDA biobased label on their qualifying products so consumers will know what percentage of an item is biobased and can select to use products made from natural materials.

“When thinking about our nation’s dangerous dependence on foreign oil, it can be easy to forget that a large share of imported petroleum is not just used in cars and trucks - it is used to make thousands of products.  As we work to use less oil and focus on clean, homegrown sources of energy such as biofuels, we should also aim to use products that are made out of natural materials.  There are countless benefits to these products and they are great news for the U.S. economy and particularly rural economies – providing opportunity for thousands of young entrepreneurs, creating new income sources for farmers, and generating new manufacturing jobs in the industry.

“Previously, Americans wanting to purchase biobased products had no clear way of knowing what products were made of, but now thanks to the new USDA ‘Biobased’ label, consumers can pick products they know are good for the economy and environment.  I commend Deputy Secretary Merrigan and everyone at USDA for continuing to move forward to promote biobased products.”

Harkin has played a significant role in working to promote the production and use of biobased products. As former–Chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, he established a biobased product promotion program in the 2002 farm bill.  The program directs the federal government to give a preference to biobased products when it purchases of goods.  This procurement preference has already substantially increased the federal government’s purchase and use of biobased products.  The new Biobased label is the second element of the 2002 farm bill biobased program and it is now being rolled out by USDA.

 
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