Next week is a funnel week, so committees in the House were busy considering Senate bills this week. There was also some floor debate, as House files moved over to the Senate, but most of the bills were non-controversial. Next week’s activity will determine the fate of many bills. That is okay, because it is time to finish policy work so we have more time to spend on the State budget. It is time to go home.
Budget woes continue, and appropriation sub-committee chairs are working hard to find savings in next year’s budget. It is a very difficult task, and there will be reductions and a lot of pain. I sometimes get tired of writing about budget numbers, so I am guessing maybe you get tired of reading about them. So I found a couple of topics that are somewhat related to the Legislature that I thought might be a little change of pace.
On Friday, March 17, 2017, Federal Judge Leonard Strand dismissed all of Des Moines Water Works’ claims against the ten northwest Iowa drainage districts, saying that Iowa’s water quality problems are an issue for the Iowa legislature to resolve. “This may be a fine public policy argument for consideration by the Iowa legislature, but it falls far short of establishing a violation of DMWW’s due process rights under the United States Constitution,” Strand wrote in his ruling.
The water utility had sought legal action and filed claims that the three counties that oversee the drainage districts should be required to obtain federal water pollution discharge permits and pay the utility more than $1 million that it spent for increased filtration methods to remove the nitrates from water.
Earlier this year — and very damaging to the water utility case — the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in January that the utility could not force the drainage districts to reimburse the utility for the cost of cleaning excess nitrates from the water.
Governor Terry Branstad, Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds and Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey all lauded the federal judge’s ruling, saying the lawsuit wasn’t necessary to improve water quality, because farmers and government subdivisions already are taking steps to ensure water quality. Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) CEO Bill Stowe said he’s disappointed in the ruling and that the utility’s board will review its options in the case.
The lawsuit has brought increased attention to Iowa’s water quality issues. The Water Quality Initiative, implementing the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, has continued to gain traction and pending legislation would establish a more comprehensive framework for funding. Last week 12 legislators also introduced the Water, Infrastructure, Soil for our Economy (WISE) water quality solution, that would fund water quality efforts through an increase in the state sales tax.
Earlier this week, the House Commerce Committee unanimously voted Senate File 230 out of committee. The bill increases legislative health insurance to match that of the executive branch non-contract employees, excluding the regents, or 20% of premiums. House Republicans have moved versions of this bill several times since 2011 only to have it die in the Democrat controlled Senate. Now that Republicans control both chambers, it will finally make it to the Governor’s desk. Senate File 230 passed the Senate back in February, also by a unanimous vote.
All legislators and legislative full-time employees are affected. It goes into effect immediately, but will not affect the existing contract, and instead will apply to the policies that begin during the next enrollment period and go into effect on January 1, 2018. These employees will be subject to the same enrollment rules, premium payments and termination rights as the executive branch employees -including the opportunity to participate in the State Healthy Opportunities Wellness Program.
Two bald eagles were found shot in Webster County. The Iowa DNR is currently looking for information related to the person or persons responsible for the shooting.
The first bird was an immature bird found two weeks ago in the Boone Forks Wildlife Area. The second bald eagle was mature. It was found Saturday near the sewage lagoons at Lehigh. This eagle was alive but had been shot twice. It died after being transported to a wildlife rehabilitator.
Both eagles were shot with a similar caliber firearm and left for dead. The two birds were found within 10 miles of each other. The Iowa DNR says it is possible that the cases are related. They are asking for the public’s help to find those responsible. The DNR is asking anyone with information to use the Turn In Poachers (TIP) website. or call the hotline at 1-800-532-2020.
You may reach me at the Capitol during the week by phoning me at 515-281-3221, or at home on weekends at 712-434-5880. You may write me at the State Capitol, Des Moines, Iowa, 50319. My home address is P. O. Box 398, Aurelia, Iowa 51005. If you have email, please contact me at [email protected].