• Reforming the Standing Appropriation Budget

    At the start of session, Appropriations Chairman Pat Grassley assigned me the task of leading the new House Ad Hoc Budget Review Subcommittee. Our first task was to review the programs in the Standing Appropriations Budget, which make up approximately 50% of Iowa’s $7.3 billion budget. With the exception of K-12 funding, these programs received little to no legislative oversight despite the fact that they were automatically renewed every year. Knowing we needed to do a better job of ensuring good stewardship of taxpayer dollars, our bipartisan subcommittee reviewed every expenditure in the Standings budget, bringing in department leaders over the course of nine different committee meetings to answer questions and justify their budgets.

    Our meetings produced a number of important discoveries. Encouragingly, many programs, such as the Child Abuse Prevention program, had well-defined objectives, concrete measures of performance, and good return on taxpayer investment. Other programs were completely obsolete, and some had significant areas for improvement. Surprisingly, approximately $500 million worth of tax credits and property tax backfill programs received no formal legislative oversight at all.

    At the conclusion of our analysis, we reported significant reforms to House leadership. These reforms were included in negotiations with the Senate and I’m proud to announce that most have been agreed to and will be adopted in this year’s budget. We will move 11 programs valued at a total of $15 million from the shadows of automatic standings renewals to the respective budget subcommittees, where they will be subject to annual review and oversight.  We will eliminate the interstate extradition and non-resident transfer programs, both seldom-used and obsolete.  Finally, and most significantly from a monetary standpoint, we will assign six tax-related appropriations valued at $500 million to the Tax Expenditure Committee for periodic review.

    With the agreement on joint budget targets between the House and Senate this past week, we are well on our way to finishing up the session soon. Encouragingly, the agreement to spend $7.349 billion ensures we’ll be spending less than we take in. Half of that budget will include Standings, which for the first time in memory, will consist of programs appropriately reviewed and adjusted to reflect the realities of this year’s budget. Finally, those programs which we’re bringing out of Standings will undergo annual review and oversight. The taxpayers of Iowa should take encouragement that we’re striving to be better stewards of their hard-earned tax dollars. I’m honored to be a part of it.

  • Education Funding By The Numbers

    Now that the Iowa House and Senate have agreed to increase Supplemental State Aid (SSA) to K-12 by 2.25% in fiscal year 2017, the political spin has already begun. My colleagues on the other side of the aisle and my 2016 challengers have already claimed this bipartisan agreement “underfunds education.” Election year or not, I am committed to honest service to my constituents. So here are the facts.

    K-12 funding makes up approximately $3 billion of Iowa’s $7.351 billion budget, or roughly 42%. It is far and away the largest chunk of Iowa’s budget. When coupled with such education spending as the regent universities and community colleges, education accounts for fully 55% of Iowa’s budget. With that much of the budget committed to one issue, educating our kids and workforce is clearly our state’s top priority.

    Next year’s budget is restrained by the 99% legal expenditure limit to $7.351 billion, which will be less than our ongoing revenue.  Given that the state appropriated approximately $7.175 billion in our current year, that amount is automatically built into the base for next year.  As a result, the state has only $176 million in new revenue to spend without breaking the legal limit. Any increases in the state budget must total less than that $176 million.  Just like Iowa families, we should not spend more than we take in.

    The agreement reached on K-12 funding dedicates $153.8 million to K-12. That represents 87% of our available new revenue, leaving only 13% or $22.2 million for all the rest of the state’s new priorities. Dedicating 87% of new revenue to only 42% of the budget is a conscious decision to put education first. This decision is not without consequences, however, as other elements of the budget must live with status quo or decreased budgets.

    Under Republican leadership in the House, this will be the sixth year in a row schools received a funding increase. In fact, ongoing funding for education has increased in that time by $660 million. In just the last two years alone, we have voted for over $300 million in K-12 increases. Just as important, schools have been able to depend on that funding. Previous regimes made an ugly habit of passing unsustainable funding increases that led to unfunded promises and across the board cuts.

    Some claim that the last 6 years have seen uncharacteristically low K-12 funding. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In the fiscal years between 2012-2017, SSA real growth, accounting for inflation, has grown 5.98%. That is an average of approximately 1% above inflation annually, which is almost double the average annual real increase of .55% over the last 44 years. This is even more significant when you consider that other state employees, military veterans, and social security recipients are receiving significantly smaller increases relative to inflation.

    Perhaps this is why, according to the Iowa Department of Education, the number of full-time teachers in the state has grown by 809 in those six years despite only modest enrollment gains. In fact, the number of full-time teachers has finally recovered to the same approximate number as that which existed before the previous administration did calamitous across-the-board cuts.

    In sum, the dedication of 42% of the overall budget and 87% of new revenue to K-12 shows our commitment to education.  The last 6 years have seen massive increases in education, with $606 million more in spending at almost double the historical inflation-adjusted rate. These increases have created a net hiring of 806 teachers across the state at a time of relatively level enrollment.  These facts show that any problems related to school budgets have much more to do with out-of-control costs than with insufficient state funding.

    And those are the facts about education funding.

  • Fighting Human Trafficking

    Human trafficking is a serious problem. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, it is the second largest criminal industry in the world, generating $32 billion annually. This modern-day form of slavery forces many victims into prostitution, involuntary labor, and other forms of enslavement. Victims of sex trafficking are overwhelmingly female (93%), and a majority (53%) are under the age of 17, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.  For the last several sessions, it has been a priority of House Republicans to bring forth legislation to combat this horrendous crime. We have followed through on this priority and have moved a series of bipartisan bills to both directly combat human trafficking and crimes often associated with it.  This week, our caucus passed the capstone bill, Senate File 2191, that establishes an office to combat human trafficking. The office is charged with several tasks including:

    • Serving as a point of contact for anti-human trafficking activity in the state by working with other government and nongovernmental agencies, victim protection, and law enforcement
    • Developing a strategy to collect and maintain criminal history data on human trafficking crimes
    • Seeking additional financial support
    • Researching and recommending training to government agencies to identify and respond to human trafficking victims
    • Taking other steps necessary to advance the purpose of the office

    The House also passed a bill to extend the statute of limitations for human trafficking and kidnapping victims. Under current law, victims only have three years after the crime is committed for recourse. Under House File 2278, the statute of limitations would be extended to ten years after the victim turns 18. This is a good step to ensure justice as the vast majority of these cases are minors.  Finally, I was proud to floor manage House File 2401 to passage, which would penalize traffickers who apply for and/or use a credit card in a minor’s name. This combats a common practice used by traffickers to trap their victims in indebtedness, leveraging control over credit card payments for continued servitude.  All three of these bills have passed both the House and the Senate and will be sent to the Governor for his signature.

  • Reaching Consensus on Behalf of Iowans

    We just completed second funnel week, which is the week where all non-tax or non-spending bills must make it through at least one chamber of the legislature and through a committee in the other chamber to stay alive. I’m happy to report we’ve made great progress on a number of fronts.

    For weeks, House Republicans have been fighting to ensure that Iowans weren’t socked with a $95 million retroactive tax increase by coupling Iowa tax code to federal changes, as has been done for years. The Senate had threatened to hold taxpayers hostage on this issue, but agreed this week under enormous pressure from college students who deduct student loan interest, teachers who deduct classroom expenses, home owners who deduct mortgage insurance, farmers who deduct equipment purchases, and small businesses who make capital improvements to pass coupling. This agreement provides certainty for more than 177,000 Iowa taxpayers currently working on their 2015 taxes.

    Along with the deal on coupling, the House and Senate agreed on the way forward for taxation of consumables. The agreement provides manufacturers with a clear and consistent definition of what is exempted from sales tax in accordance with language Republicans worked to pass in 2014. This provision ensures that the state is not unfairly taxing supplies and replacement parts during the manufacturing process, which amounts to double taxation on manufacturers.  As a result, manufacturers will have a level playing field to compete with those in other states, encouraging these important job creators to come to and stay in Iowa.  This is a big win for our state.

    With resolution of these two issues complete, agreement on school funding is imminent.  I began this session committed to setting education funding in a timely manner, providing school districts with the highest responsible increase that the state can actually fulfill. I’m optimistic we’ll achieve that as early as the next week.

    My child endangerment bill, which imposes a mandatory penalty for those who brutalize children to death, made it through the second funnel and has a high probability of making it to the Governor’s desk. Unfortunately, my bill to protect the privacy and liberty of Iowans by extending Fourth Amendment protections to Iowans’ electronic communications and data, passed unanimously in the House but died in the Senate. We’ll try again next year. My child custody and joint care bill met the same fate of dying in the Senate, which would have set a level playing field for parents going through divorce.

    On a more positive note, I chaired a bill that protects the custody rights of deploying military members through the funnel and am optimistic we’ll get that to the Governor’s desk soon. Another bill with potential to make the Governor’s desk is my synthetic drug bill, which makes it easier to prosecute synthetic drug cases while reforming penalties for cocaine in accordance with the Public Safety Advisory Board’s recommendation. I also worked hard on a bill to protect non-profit board members’ private information from being given to the managed care companies, as well as advanced a bill that would ensure that patients with serious mental illness receive their medications so as to prevent them being a threat to themselves or others. Both are still alive and on their way to final passage.

  • Protecting Infants, Children of Divorce, and Victims of Human Trafficking

    It’s been a busy week for me in the Iowa House. I had the honor of floor-managing three bills to passage on the House floor, two of which were bills I originally filed. My two bills concerned child endangerment and family law, and the third bill concerned human trafficking. All three bills go now to the Senate, where they must make it through committee by Thursday to survive the “second funnel.”

    My child endangerment bill imposed a mandatory minimum sentence of 15-35 years for intentional use of unreasonable force, torture, or cruelty that causes or intends to cause serious bodily injury resulting in death. I filed this bill on behalf of a Linn County family whose 17-month-old toddler was beaten to death by her father. The father received a 50 year sentence but incredibly is eligible for parole after only a year. Additionally, this bill adjusts the mandatory minimum for the nonviolent crime of robbery in the 2nd degree to 3-7 years, partially implementing a nonpartisan recommendation of the Iowa Department of Human Rights’ Public Safety Advisory Board. This bill was a cooperative team effort between Republicans and Democrats, resulting in unanimous passage on the House floor.

    My family law bill leveled the playing field for parents in divorce proceedings, establishing joint physical care of children as the presumptive standard unless doing so is not in the best interest of the child. Studies show that maximum involvement of both parents in these situations is the best thing for children, and establishing joint physical care as the presumptive standard would be the best for the kids (in most circumstances), cut down on litigation and treat parents equally. This bill was amended on the floor to also establish joint custody as the presumptive standard unless doing so was not in the best interest of the child. As amended, this bill will treat mothers and fathers equally when it comes to making major decisions for their children as well as when it comes to physical care of their children following divorce, but it will always allow for the judge to rule differently in the best interest of the child. This bill passed by a narrow margin with bipartisan support.

    Finally, I floor-managed a bill that would help combat human trafficking. Human traffickers often fraudulently open credit cards in the names of their minor victims, using these credit cards both as a revenue source and as a means to entrap young girls or boys. This bill makes it illegal to open a credit card in a minor’s name without parental consent, and then makes it illegal as well to use such a credit card. This bill passed unanimously on the floor of the House.

  • Defending Individual Liberty

    I had the honor this week of floor managing House Joint Resolution 2003, an amendment to the Iowa Constitution, to unanimous approval in the House. The bill will add “electronic communications and data” to those items afforded protection against unreasonable search and seizure. In order to amend the Constitution, the bill must receive passage in both chambers during two General Assemblies. Since the amendment passed the Iowa House today with a 96-0 vote, it needs to pass through the Senate this session and then through both chambers again next session. Following that, it will be added to the 2018 ballot for a vote of the people. After clearing all these hurdles, it will go into effect July 1st, 2019. Iowa would then become the 4th state in the country to provide such constitutional protections to its people.

    I filed this bill because our Iowa Constitution as well as state and federal laws are woefully inadequate in protecting our citizens against unreasonable search and seizure. Our founders intended for government to be unable to read a person’s mail or access their files without a warrant. Unfortunately, these protections do not currently extend to emails and electronic data files. The Iowa Constitution states that people should be secure in their “persons, homes, papers, and effects,” yet none of those applies to communications or data transmitted via wireless connection or stored in the cloud. In fact, under the Federal Electronic Communications Protection Act, data stored on a remote server for more than 180 days is considered “abandoned property” and can be accessed by the government with a simple letter stating the need for the data in an ongoing investigation. At the state level, our electronic surveillance law specifically excludes Wi-Fi connections, meaning the government can legally hack your data stream when you’re surfing the web, texting, or buying a Christmas gift online.

    If bad actors can steal your identity, if the NSA can access your emails, and if foreign governments can hack your bank or personnel files, we all should be concerned. This amendment will provide a firewall of protection between state actors and the people, requiring a warrant for state actors to access your electronic communications and data. While this is vitally important, it’s not enough. I’m also working on a statutory update to the Iowa code, which would provide similar protections in the civil and criminal arenas. Taken together, these protections will ensure that our right to communicate and conduct our lives privately is protected.

    U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts wrote: “Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans ‘the privacies of life’… The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought.” Passage of this amendment will secure the “protections for which the Founders fought” for our and future generations. One of the things I ran on was defending individual liberty, and this bill goes a long way in that regard.

    To aid in its passage, please contact your Iowa State Senator and tell them you support HJR 2003. If we don’t pass it this year in the Senate, it will be seven long years before we can put these protections into effect. By acting now, we can establish this firewall of protection in just three years.

  • Black History Month Tribute

    In honor of Black History Month, Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad organized members of the House of Representatives to present a series of speeches honoring black men and women who’ve left a mark on our lives. I chose to speak about Chief Master Sergeant (retired) Anthony Brinkley, a friend and fellow veteran. Watch the video above to hear his story.

  • Funnel Week Bills

    We’ve just completed the first funnel week, the week in which all individually-sponsored bills must be voted out of a committee. Those bills that don’t make it through the funnel are dead until the beginning of the next session. This deadline is imposed in order to ensure bills have sufficient time to make it through both chambers during the legislative session.  Now is a good time to give everyone an update on some of the bills I’ve drafted and/or shepherded through the funnel.

    My synthetic drug bill made it unanimously through the Public Safety Committee.  This bill would make it easier for law enforcement to prosecute synthetic drug offenses, improving upon current code which makes prosecution almost impossible. Additionally, the bill lowers the penalty for crack cocaine in accordance with the Public Safety Advisory Board’s recommendation to better align crack and powdered cocaine penalties. It just doesn’t make sense for an abuser of crack cocaine to receive a significantly worse penalty than an abuser of powdered cocaine, particularly when this causes a disparate impact upon minorities. Finally, as part of overall drug penalty reform, the penalty for possession of the smallest amount of cocaine is reduced for first-time offenders. This is part of an effort to shift the focus from incarceration to treatment for minor drug offenses.

    My child endangerment bill made it through the Judiciary Committee. This bill would add child endangerment resulting in death, when it involves intentional uses of unreasonable force, torture or cruelty, to the list of crimes requiring a mandatory 35-year sentence before eligibility for parole. As the law stands now, a person can beat a baby to death, receive a 50 year sentence, and be immediately eligible for parole. I’ve met with family members who have gone through such a tragedy, and they can’t understand why the person who killed their child isn’t treated the same as those who commit second degree or attempted murder.  This reform is long overdue.

    My bill establishing joint physical care of a child as the presumptive standard in custody situations cleared the Judiciary Committee.  This bill treats fathers and mothers equally when it comes to parental responsibility and care.  While joint care is the presumptive standard, the court can adjust that based on the best interests of the child or with parental agreement.

    My constitutional amendment adding “electronic communications and data” to those things afforded protection against warrantless government search and seizure, made it through the Judiciary Committee.  When our country’s founding fathers drafted the 4th Amendment to the Constitution, they intended to protect citizens against the government reading their mail or accessing their personal files without a warrant.  This amendment updates that intent for the 21st century, ensuring that government authorities in Iowa can’t access email or electronic data without a warrant.  This necessary update is consistent with our state motto, “Our liberties we prize, and our rights we will maintain.”

    In addition to my own bills, I’ve chaired 2 other bills through the funnel. The first is abill that combats human trafficking by prohibiting traffickers from applying for and using a credit card in a human trafficking victim’s name. This will take away a tool that traffickers use to profit from and trap their victims. The second bill adds bio-based industrial lubricants to those that receive preferential treatment for state contracts. This expands the preference beyond just recycled lubricants, improving competition, helping the environment, and leveraging Iowa’s agriculturally based bio-lubricant sector.

    It’s an honor to serve the people of Marion, Bertram, Ely and the surrounding parts of Linn County. If you have any questions, comments, feedback, would like to meet or would like to visit the Capitol, please contact me at [email protected] or on my cell at 319-651-7316.

  • Rizer Report Ep. 2 | Straight Talk on School Budgets (Video)

    Strong public schools are a priority for Iowans and Iowa legislators. Take a look at the video above to hear how we can work together to provide Iowa’s students with a top-notch education and leave them with a healthy, balanced budget they will benefit from as they become the state’s next generation of leaders.

  • Modernizing Medicaid in Iowa

    Medicaid in the state of Iowa is due for an update. It’s the second largest program administered by state government and the its rising costs threaten the state’s ability to perform other duties, most importantly funding K-12 education. In a political climate where heated opinions on this issue can interfere with substantive debate, I’d like to provide some facts.

    Over 85,866 of 89,883 possible provider contracts have been signed based on the Iowa Medicaid Fee-For-Service network in the past 12 months. All four major hospital systems – Genesis, Mercy, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, and UnityPoint – have signed on with a managed care organization. An administrative judge described Iowa’s Medicaid Modernization initiative as “thoughtful and diligent.”

    Benefits under managed care do not change but the managed care organizations will provide over 80 value-added services that Medicaid patients do not currently receive. Patients can switch to a different managed care organization at any time, for any reason, between now and May 17, 2016. After that date, patients can still switch for good cause (e.g., their provider is not signed up with a managed care organization). Additionally, there will be an annual open enrollment period in the late fall. At this time, individuals will have the opportunity to remain with their current managed care organization or switch to a new one.

    Between January 12 and February 4, Iowa Medicaid members and provider-services hosted day-long road shows in eleven cities across the state. Over 2,300 providers have attended the training and additional sessions will be held based on demand.

    Medicaid Modernization will create predictability and sustainability in the Medicaid budget. In 2017, Medicaid costs will increase $41 million, even with the administrative transfer to managed care organizations. Without the transfer, costs would increase $151 million.

    According the Legislative Services Agency, the nonpartisan organization that provides services to the Iowa legislature, state revenue grew by 2.7% between 2006 and 2015. However, funding for schools grew 4.3% and Medicaid grew 9.1%. In short, the state can’t continue funding programs at their current rate of growth. Change is required in order to continue providing the two most important services to Iowans – healthcare and education. By modernizing Medicaid, the state of Iowa will take a necessary step toward completing that goal.