Back in session

Local lawmakers say Second Amendment, public safety among items on agenda

With control of the state Senate and House, Republicans are eager to get to work as the Iowa Legislative session gets underway today.

State Rep. Mike Sexton, who will serve as an assistant majority leader, said a bill that focuses on the Second Amendment is likely to make an impact during the upcoming session.

“One of the big things will be a pro Second Amendment bill,” Sexton, R-Rockwell City, said. “Because before, the Republicans in the House would send over pro Second Amendment bills to the Senate and Gronstal would kill them.”

Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal was defeated by Republican Dan Dawson in November.

Sexton is confident that an omnibus bill regarding the Second Amendment will be introduced.

Stand your ground, concealed carry permits, and a bill allowing parents to teach their children to use firearms responsibly, are among the measures that are likely to be included, Sexton said.

“Right now if you are less than 14 years old, you cannot go to the gun range with your parent and shoot a handgun,” Sexton said. “We are going to take that out. We believe the parents know best when it comes to training their kids.”

Stand your ground would allow Iowans to use a gun in self-defense.

Sexton is in favor of keeping concealed carry permits confidential, a proposal that would prevent the public from acquiring information on those who have permits.

“There’s going to be five or six things that we have pushed in the past that made it to the Senate,” Sexton said. “Chances are very good these will make it to the Senate and the Senate will approve, and it will go downstairs to the Governor. The Second Amendment folks will be very happy in the state of Iowa.”

One issue Sexton believes will be put on hold is any changes to the “master matrix,” which guides approval of confined animal feeding operations

Webster County supervisors have called for state lawmakers to put a moratorium on new animal confinements in the state, but Sexton said increased regulations are unlikely.

A large number of new hog confinement applications in Webster and surrounding counties prompted both the supervisors and Webster County residents to suggest the matrix be updated.

“My gut tells me with the way the legislature is made up, I just don’t look for any increased regulations on anybody,” Sexton said. “On businesses, livestock, farmers … I just don’t look for us to do any tweaking of the matrix in the state of Iowa. I just don’t believe the legislators will look to wade into that battle this year.”

Collective bargaining is also expected to be a hot button issue.

“That’s what everyone is buzzing about right now,” Sexton said.

One area Sexton would like to see tweaked is when a school district goes to binding arbitration.

“The arbitrator does not have to look at the ability of the school to be able to pay that rate,” Sexton said. “So if the school has no money to do a 4 percent rate, that can’t even be part of what the arbitrator looks at. I think that’s wrong. I think they should look at ‘Does the school have the ability to pay that?’ That’s something personally I would like to see put in, and I know the school administrators would favor that. The teachers aren’t going to like it. I think it’s only fair if the school has the money.”

State Rep. Rob Bacon wants the state to take a look at public safety following a year where fatalities on Iowa roadways increased by 82, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation. The number of fatalities in 2016 also marks the highest total in five years.

“One of the things I would like to see is more state troopers,” Bacon said. “We are about 100 short, but the funding just isn’t there right now.”

He said more people seem to be traveling faster.

“You are going to travel that fast if you don’t think you are going to get caught,” Bacon said. “So I would like to see more troopers for safety reasons.”

Another bill that could pick up steam is aimed at controlling distracted drivers.

“You wouldn’t believe the number of people I see with a phone in their hands, which is actually blocking one side of their viewing,” Bacon said.

According to Bacon, the bill would allow law enforcement to pull over anyone who is texting while driving, not just teenagers.

Water quality is expected to be another issue discussed, but Bacon is not yet sure of a solution.

“Let’s face it, there’s 150 legislators and every one us want clean water and clean air,” Bacon said. “How we get there, that’s going to be the challenge.”

Bacon said balancing the budget will be a challenge right off the bat.

“It’s going to be a very challenging session in the fact that we are about $117 million shy of revenue coming in,” Bacon said. “It’s estimated to be about 117 million less. We will be looking at scenarios where we can save some money. We will need to work hard and smart to balance the budget.”

State Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink, R-Fort Dodge, is also focused on the budget.

“A lot of my time will be spent on the budget,” Kraayenbrink said. “I am going to be focused on the financial health of Iowa and what we can do.”

“We have $100 million already allocated to 2017 fiscal year that we have overspent,” Kraayenbrink said. “We still have to pay the bills we are obligated on paying.”

State Sen. Jerry Behn is also concerned about the budget.

“We spent too much money last year and I hate to say I told you so, but we told them so,” Behn said. “Last year the Republicans did not vote for the budget. We said then that it looked unsustainable. So now we are going to have to help in fixing it. We knew we were spending more last year than we should have, but we will work through it and get it done.”

Behn said he is looking forward to Republicans having the majority.

“The expectations are high,” he said. “For 18 years I have been looking for the stars to realign.”

State Rep. Helen Miller, D-Fort Dodge, said she will continue to work with Republicans the same way she has in the past.

“In 2003, both houses were controlled by Republicans,” Miller said. “And I still got legislation passed. So I don’t have a problem working with Republicans. I never have and don’t expect to.”

One area Miller is focused on is helping seniors.

Miller hopes there will be legislation that protects senior citizens in nursing homes from abusive individuals, she said.

She also wants to change zoning laws to allow senior citizens to live in a separate house on the same property as their family.

“It’s a way to keep seniors at home rather than going to nursing facilities, which are so expensive,” Miller said. “They can have their own separate lodging, but could be monitored by their families.”

The cottages, which are called Granny Pods, are smaller than a typical house. The buildings allow seniors and their caregiver to have their own space, but also to stay connected.

Behn is concerned with keeping seniors in the state of Iowa.

“Currently the net effect of our tax code is that we pay our seniors to leave the state,” Behn said. “That’s not good for anybody. They not only take their money when they go, but the human capital that goes with them is a huge disservice to Iowa.”

“Right now it costs seniors more to live here than it does other states, and there is already the lure of a warmer climate, so I don’t think we should have a monetary enhancement to get them to leave as well. We need to rectify that.”

Behn said jobs remain his overall goal for the state.

“My focus the entire time I have been down here has been jobs, job creation, the tax climate, and rules and regulatory climate for those jobs,” Behn said.

Jobs are the biggest factor in determining the success of rural Iowa, he said.

“We have to make sure there are enough jobs in rural areas,” Behn said.

He said high paying jobs are needed to keep people in rural areas.

“They have to be great jobs,” Behn said. “It has to be a career.”

He offered praise for the ethanol industry.

“The ethanol industry has been a huge game changer for those areas,” Behn said. “Those are the types of jobs we need.”