It’s 2:00 pm on Thursday, and I’m here at the Capitol because even though I finished with my scheduled committees and meetings at noon, I needed to spend a few hours going through the huge amount of paperwork and emails that I’ve somehow managed to accumulate over the past four days. We receive many invitations to many different presentations by many different organizations from all over the state; these groups spend a lot of time and money and sometime drive hundreds of miles to come to the Capitol in order to meet with us and educate us about their services, concerns, and/or funding requests, and I try to make it to as many as I can — and when I do, I’m always glad I found the time because I always learn something new.
As far as your emails (firstname.lastname@example.org), I do read them, and I try to reply to them, if not always immediately then eventually. It helps a lot if you include something in the subject heading to indicate that you are from Clinton County — I get hundreds of emails each day, and a lot of them are generated from special interest groups and sent from people in other states, and to be honest, I just don’t care all that much about what Joe Smith from South Carolina thinks about Iowa’s gun laws. But I do care about what someone from Clinton County thinks about Iowa’s gun laws, or Iowa’s gas tax, or Iowa’s education system, so the easier you make it for me to flag your email as being from a constituent, the sooner I will read it and the sooner I’ll respond. Having said that, I know that the AARP and the NRA and other such groups often provide members w/form emails to send to their elected officials — I keep track of those, and I do try and respond to the form emails that I get from my constituents, but … it might be a form response.
And if I don’t respond in a reasonable time, please please please send it again. Often I just didn’t see it — we get so many that sometimes things just fall through the cracks, so I really appreciate it when people let me know when that happens. Feel free to put “this is the third time I’ve sent you this, lady” in the heading — that should get my attention.
So anyhow, the big topic of conversation today was House Study Bill 500, http://coolice.legis.state.ia.us/Cool-ICE/default.asp? Category=billinfo&Service=Billbook&menu=false&hbill=HSB500 , which is the House’s proposed commercial property tax reform plan. This is a complicated, three part bill, and I just received it this morning, and I’m still wading through it — it will have to pass out of the House Ways and Means Committee before the rest of us get a chance to vote on it, and I’m sure by then I’ll be in a much better position to discuss how it might impact Iowa in general and Clinton County in particular. I know that the main thing that I and many other legislators are worried about is the negative impact that cutting commercial property tax by 40% would have on local school districts and local government budgets — in Clinton County we are talking about approximately eight million dollars a year in lost revenue, so whatever bill passes (and a commercial property tax bill will almost certainly pass, because everyone agrees that there needs to be some changes to make Iowa more economically attractive to businesses), it will need to contain iron clad guarantees to local governments that those lost revenues will be supplemented by the State for as long as it takes before the increased revenue from the anticipated boom in economic development kicks in.
An increase in Iowa’s gas tax definitely remains a possibility, although the bill probably won’t go forward without a prior guarantee from the Governor that he will sign it if it passes both the Senate and the House, and the Governor has gone back and forth on this issue several times in the past few weeks — at the moment he appears to be saying yes, probably, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens once the bill passes out of both the House and Senate transportation committees. As you probably are aware, the Governor put together a special DOT task force to research the issue, and after working on it all summer the task force issued a report that basically said Iowa MUST increase our gas tax if we want to continue to have marginally safe highways and bridges and all those fun things. No questions about it. And since we haven’t raised the gas tax for decades, and since in Clinton, we get a lot of people from Illinois who buy our gas (and will continue to buy our gas, even if it costs five or ten cents more, because it will still be cheaper than buying it in Illinois), it seems to me that the responsible thing to do is … raise the gas tax. Not a whole lot, and not necessarily in one fell swoop — the current proposal that seems to be in favor is five cents in 2013 and another five cents in 2014. Even if gas prices increase over the next several months, because they will (and then they’ll go back down again, and then they’ll go back up again, etc). So obviously I am keeping an open mind, and I’m sure there will be much discussion about this in the weeks to come, and I hope to hear from any of you that have any strong feelings about it one way or the other — and in the end, even if the legislature votes in favor of a gas tax increase, it will all come down to the Governor. So we’ll have to wait and see how he’s feeling about it come April 30th or so.
Took a little break to talk to a young man from Iowa’s Innocence Project about a proposed bill that would require law enforcement to record (either audio or video recording) all custodial interrogations of suspects in criminal cases. Apparently Iowa’s Department of Criminal Investigations already does this as a matter of policy, and I know that in Clinton, our police and sheriff generally do it. I’ve discussed this with Mike Wolf, Clinton’s County Attorney, and he agrees that having access to a recording of an alleged confession saves both the prosecution and the defense all sorts of time and money, in that there’s no need for protracted litigation over whether or not a defendant did or didn’t say this or that. I know that there is some concern, especially among smaller law enforcement offices, that the cost of complying with such a bill would be prohibitive — but I’ve seen cheap video cameras for as low as fifty dollars, so I’m guessing we can resolve that particular objection. So we’ll see what happens with that.
And now it is definitely time for me to get on the road back to Clinton, because while it’s not currently snowing here in Des Moines, my understanding is that I’m driving into a mess, and there is no way I want to be doing that once it gets dark. Driving back and forth between Clinton and Des Moines each week was one of the things I really worried about at the beginning last session, as I have had some horrible “black ice” experiences over the years, but last year the weather was incredible — I think there was only one Thursday night that I was driving in snow (although that was a doozy, with cars sliding off I-80 left and right despite going twenty miles an hour — eventually I gave up and spent most of the night at the Walcott McDonalds ). I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this session won’t be much worse — if it is, I may be spending some weekends out here, and as much as I like Des Moines, I’d much prefer to be back in my own home annoying my seventeen year old son — and since he stays with my wonderful parents Monday through Thursday, I’m sure they’d really prefer I make it back for the weekend as well.
Tomorrow I’ll try and give a little run down of some of the high points of the proposed mental health redesign — like this blog, it is very much a work in progress, and subject to change on an almost daily basis, but it’s fascinating stuff, and we’ll be hearing a lot more about it in the months to come.
Enjoy the snow, and be safe.