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Senator Rocky DeWitt (April 21, 2023)

The Weekly Rocket by Senator Rocky De Witt

Week 15 in the Iowa Senate was exceptionally busy as we made major strides towards completing the agenda for the year. We made real, lasting changes. In an effort to give more flexibility to Iowa’s education system, we passed SF 391. The bill makes a number of changes to help districts best meet the needs of their specific schools, like making the required courses for students more flexible, allowing for students to opt out of physical education if they are involved in a work-based learning program or other physical activities. We sent tort reform to the governor with the passage of SF 228. The bill sets a $5 million cap on the non-economic civil damages for cases involving malpractice with commercial motor vehicles. The bill is designed to protect against “nuclear” verdicts that could cost the company millions of dollars, leading to higher prices for Iowans. Fentanyl abuse is a growing problem, as it is pouring across our southern border. In response, we passed HF 595 to increase the penalties for fentanyl related crimes.  The Senate passed SF 542, giving more opportunities to Iowa teenagers to learn the responsibility of work. The bill makes changes to the hours 14- and 15-year-olds can work. Currently, this age group can work up to 8 hours in a day and up to 40 hours in a week when school is not in session and up to 4 hours a day and up to 28 hours in a week when school is in session. The bill would make it so they could work up to 6 hours in a day during the school year, but they are still capped at 28 hours for the week. Secondly, this bill gives 14- and 15-year-olds more flexibility of when their shifts can occur. These teens can start at 7AM year round. However, the bill would allow shifts during the school year to go as late as 9 PM versus the current 7 PM. During the summer, shifts could go as late as 11 PM versus the current 9 PM. This provides teenagers with more flexibility in their schedule so they could theoretically work and do an extracurricular activity if they wanted. There is also language that allows waivers to be issued to students participating in approved work-based learning programs. The students need parental consent to participate in these programs and to be approved, the programs must meet certain requirements regarding safety and education. Welfare Reform Advances to Governor Reynolds Late last week, the Iowa House passed SF 494, the welfare reform bill the Senate approved last month. This bill directs the executive branch to use technology and private sector tools to verify the people receiving benefits are citizens, residents of Iowa, and meet other federal and state requirements. These changes ensure the program is protected for the Iowans who legitimately need these public assistance programs. Fraud in various public assistance programs has existed since the inception of those programs. Working Iowans, who sacrifice to provide for their families should not have to pay for the benefits for those who do not need it. For years, welfare reform was a bipartisan issue, it is clear those days are over and several members of the Iowa Senate now reside in the pro-fraud caucus. Senate Republicans look forward to the enhanced protections for people truly in need. Real, Permanent Property Tax Relief Passes Iowa Senate In Iowa, property taxes are levied by more than 2,000 local taxing districts. Counties, cities, townships, school districts, and special districts, like community college districts, hospital districts, and sanitation districts, all have taxing authority. That is far too many. SF 529 provides over $100 million in real relief to Iowa property taxpayers and is aimed at controlling the growth of property taxes. It pushes local governments to follow the Republican legislature’s example to budget responsibly, invest in important priorities, and provide tax relief to the taxpayers. The bill provides $57 million in new property tax exemptions, $4.5 million in tax levy elimination and an estimated $45.4 million in city and county levy reform. To help control the growth of property taxes and rampant spending by local governments, Senate File 569 automatically reduces rates when assessments rise, restores basic levy limitations taxpayers rely on to control spending, eliminates loopholes abused by local governments to exceed limits set by law, and simplifies and consolidates 17 levies. The bill requires cities, counties, and schools to contact property owners and notify them of upcoming changes to their property tax bill and requires those entities to deliver to property owners a standardized statement with consistent and clear information related to the local budget. This bill gets at the core of rising property taxes and offers taxpayers real, permanent relief.

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