• First Session After Action

    In the Air Force, whenever a commander leads Airmen on a deployment, he completes an After Action Report so his boss knows what the unit accomplished. As a legislator having completed my first session in Des Moines, I feel the same responsibility to report back to those I represent. This After Action Report hits the highlights of what I did to represent the great people of Marion, Bertram, Ely, and the surrounding parts of Linn County.

    In general, this session produced what one might expect with split government: mixed results. Here are some of the highlights:

    • Budget: For the fifth year in a row we balanced ongoing expenses with ongoing revenue; this will leave approximately $300 million in the ending balance for FY16 while topping off the reserve funds; Iowa’s fiscal house remains in good shape.
    • Medicaid: The Legislature passed and the Governor signed a budget with major Medicaid reform, transitioning to Managed Care. This was necessary to stem double-digit Medicaid growth, which threatened to overcome the rest of the budget, including education. As in 37 other states, this reform will provide critical Medicaid services at significantly reduced cost. The executive branch projects savings of $51 million in FY16, with as much as $100 million in the first year of execution. Major questions exist regarding DHS’ transition plan, but all are in agreement that Managed Care is a necessary reform.
    • Infrastructure: The Legislature narrowly passed and the Governor signed a 10-cent increase in the gas tax. While our roads and bridges require significant investment, I voted against this measure. I believed we should prioritize infrastructure within our given revenue rather than increasing the gas tax, particularly given that the gas tax increase was not earmarked for road and bridge repair and it unduly affects those on fixed/low incomes. While we were promised that this increase would only be used for necessary road and bridge repair, we’ve seen this money used for hiring staff, buying land for highway projects, creating new programs unrelated to infrastructure repair, etc. Siphoning these monies off from their intended purpose will not solve our infrastructure problem, and will instead require the Legislature to readdress the infrastructure funding deficit within 5-10 years.
    • Education: The Legislature passed, in a bipartisan way, significant increases for education. This included $50 million more than last year for K-12 and $50 million more than last year for the Teacher Leadership and Compensation Program. Most significantly, it included $55.7 million in one-time money for school districts and AEAs to use for such instructional expenses as textbooks, library books, instructional materials, and student equipment as well as for transportation and student achievement initiatives in math, literacy, or science. After meeting with all 5 of my district’s superintendents, I worked in my capacity as the Vice Chair of Appropriations to advocate for an allotment of one-time money for our schools. I was satisfied with and supported the agreed upon $55.7 million one-time allotment for education. I was subsequently surprised and disappointed in the veto of this bipartisan deal.
    • Mental Health Institutes: The Legislature passed and the Governor vetoed closure extensions for the MHIs at Clarinda and Mount Pleasant. The back-story on this issue is long and complicated. The short version is that under the Olmsted Supreme Court decision interpreting the Americans with Disabilities Act, mental health patients (with few exceptions) must receive their services in the most integrated environment possible (ie. in the community). This has led to a nation-wide movement of all but the most serious mental health patients from institutions to community-based services. The Obama Justice Department has accelerated this movement by taking 44+ legal actions in 25+ states. As a result of the small number of patients still residing at Clarinda and Mount Pleasant, the threat of federal legal action, as well as the capacity at Cherokee and Independence, the Governor notified the Legislature in January of his intent to close Clarinda and Mount Pleasant on July 1st. Concerned by the lack of a transition plan as well as questions about whether community-based services had been sufficiently built up to absorb these patients, the Legislature took action to delay closure. I actually ran the bill in the Appropriations Committee to prevent closure until a transition plan was approved by the Mental Health and Disability Services Commission. The final bipartisan deal between the House and Senate included a six-month extension for Clarinda and an indefinite extension for Mount Pleasant. I believe the extension passed by the House Appropriations Committee was the correct approach, and was disappointed at how this issue concluded.
    • Property Rights: The Legislature passed and the Governor signed major property rights reform, providing that condemned property not used for the stated purpose be offered back to the original property owner.
    • Ultrasounds: The Legislature passed and the Governor signed the first pro-life language in some time, requiring that women undergoing an abortion be offered the opportunity to view an ultrasound of the unborn baby. Since current standard of practice already involves an ultrasound, this creates no additional burden upon patients or medical staff. Giving the woman the option not to view the ultrasound creates no additional pressure for those who choose not to view it. For those who choose to view the ultrasound, it helps to better inform the subsequent decision, cutting down on abortions.
    • Water Quality: The Legislature passed and the Governor signed legislation spending $9.6 million for the Iowa Water Quality Initiative. $5.2 million of this is new money from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund, aimed at implementing conservation practices that will reduce nutrient transport to bodies of water in Iowa.
    • Psychiatric Bed Tracking System: The Legislature passed and the Governor signed legislation creating a psychiatric bed tracking system. This is critical to an efficient mental health response system, as it allows online access to bed availability/booking, preventing the horror stories of sheriffs transporting patients hours away only to find that a previously available bed was occupied.
    • Funerals & Protests: The Legislature passed and the Governor signed legislation prohibiting disorderly conduct within 1000’ of a funeral or memorial service (previously 500’). This bill balances freedom of speech with the right of mourners to bury their dead in peace, preventing organizations from harassing or dishonoring military veterans and other deceased persons.
    • School Start Date: The Legislature passed and the Governor signed legislation allowing schools to start as early as Aug 23rd. My preference would have been for local school districts to decide their own start dates, but it became clear that state fair and other tourism concerns would prevent such legislation from receiving the Governor’s signature. Aug 23rd was the earliest date we could expect the Governor to support.

     

    In addition to the major legislation outlined above, following are a number of legislative efforts I had a major role in this session:

    • Plasma Gasification: On behalf of Marion, I filed a bill that would add waste conversion technologies to the hierarchy of acceptable means for disposing of waste. I shepherded the bill through the House and then worked in a bipartisan manner to get support in the Senate. The bill passed and the Governor signed it. This opens the door for Marion and other communities to use cutting-edge technologies to dispose of and recycle waste, keeping garbage out of landfills and preventing such dirty disposal methods as incineration.
    • Synthetic Drug Bill: I sponsored a bill that would change the state’s law regarding synthetic drugs. I filed it on behalf of Gwen Meeks, who wrote an editorial asking for state help on synthetic drugs after her son, who was an Afghanistan combat veteran, committed suicide while addicted to these drugs. I worked with the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy on language that would solve the problem of non-prosecution of synthetic drugs due to drug manufacturers changing the drug compounds faster than the law could keep up. We found some language in Florida and perfected it based on a Cedar Rapids ordinance and two Public Safety Committee meetings. The final bill had language that defined an “imitation controlled substance” as one that was marketed, sold, consumed, and got one high just like a synthetic drug that was already on the controlled substance list. The bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support but hit some snags in the Senate, where some wanted to amend the bill to include medical marijuana (which is a non-starter in the House and a completely different issue than synthetic drugs). To make a long story short, we thought we had a compromise deal with the Senate in the waning days of the session, but for unknown reasons Senate leadership backed away from the deal at the last minute. We will reattempt in this next session.
    • Human Trafficking: The Legislature passed and the Governor signed into law language making human trafficking a forcible felony. Additionally, the bill provided funding for enforcement, training, and public awareness, all of which will go a long ways towards eliminating the trafficking of children and young women in our state. I was proud to have played a role in keeping this legislation alive in the House, and ultimately floor-managed the legislation to House passage.
    • Child Support: The Legislature passed and the Governor signed legislation aligning Iowa’s child support system with that of other states and nations. This will better enable collection of child support from “deadbeat parents” who leave the state. Additionally, the law created a process for suspending child support when it no longer makes sense (such as when the parent responsible for paying child support gains custody). I was proud to have floor-managed this bill to House passage, particularly given the fact my own biological father (not my adopted father whose last name I have today) was a “deadbeat dad.”
    • Victim Assistance Grants: When the House originally passed its Justice Systems Appropriations bill, it included a $1 million cut to victim assistance grants, which provide services to victims of domestic abuse, rape and sexual assault. I engaged with the Chair of the Justice Systems Appropriations Committee as well as House leadership and the Chair of the Appropriations Committee to restore that $1 million. I had visited our local domestic abuse shelter, and understood the need for these resources. In the end, the $1 million was added back in during the conference committee, providing a total of $6.734 million for victims.
    • Standing Appropriations Bill: The Chair of the Appropriations Committee trusted enough in my leadership to appoint me as the floor manager for the Standing Appropriations Bill, which at $3.5 billion is the largest and most complex state budget bill. Various versions of this bill had as many as 50 unique pieces of policy, all of which I needed to explain, justify, and defend during floor debate. I floor-managed the bill to passage, and the Governor signed it into law.
    • Airbags: I chaired the subcommittee and floor-managed a bill that made it an aggravated misdemeanor to manufacture, import, install or sell an airbag that is unsafe, counterfeit, or non-functional. The bill also made it illegal to tamper with a vehicle’s diagnostic system to make an airbag appear functional. The bill passed in both chambers and the Governor signed it, providing important consumer protection to vehicle owners/operators.
    • School Funding Timeline: I floor-managed a necessary change to the school funding timeline as part of the Standing Appropriations Bill. Under current law, the Legislature is required to pass K-12 funding at the start of a General Assembly within 30 days of the Governor submitting his budget. This has proven problematic with split government, particularly in regards to determining the appropriate funding for the second year given a lack of information regarding projected revenue for that year. If unable to know K-12 funding levels by April 15th, schools must validate their budgets without any clear indication of how much they might receive. This is a horrible system that puts our schools in a difficult position. To remedy this problem, the House passed legislation that requires the non-partisan Revenue Estimating Committee to include a second year revenue projection in its March estimate. Armed with that estimate, the legislature would be required to set the second year school funding level prior to adjournment. This is eminently doable, and it would get the schools the numbers they need well in advance of validating their budgets. Unfortunately, Senate leadership only agreed to accept the March revenue estimate element, preferring the current broken system to this simple improvement.
    • Military Victim Advocates: I chaired the subcommittee and floor-managed a bill giving the same confidentiality protections to military victim advocates as exist in the civilian world. The bill passed both chambers and the Governor signed it. This law will increase the reporting of sexual assaults among our Guard & Reservists, ultimately providing greater prevention of sexual assaults, providing needed services to victims, and increasing the likelihood of sexual assault prosecution.
    • Sledding: I chaired the subcommittee and floor-managed a bill that addressed the problem leading to the Dubuque ban on sledding. Cities like Dubuque were afraid to allow sledding or other recreational activities to occur in public parks for fear that people might get hurt and file frivolous lawsuits against the city. The bill provided limited liability to cities for the inherent risks associated with recreational activities, putting the responsibility for predictable risks of such activities on the people engaging in them. It covered not just parks, but public buildings as well, which made it possible for schools and other public facilities to open up their facilities to community use. So long as the city shows no gross negligence, it won’t be held liable for predictable injuries sustained in recreational activities. The bill passed both chambers and was signed by the Governor. This was the first bill I worked that made it into law, and it was an honor to receive the first pen from the Governor after he signed it.
    • Federal Block Grant Bill: I chaired multiple subcommittees and a public hearing on this bill before floor-managing it to passage. The bill addressed all of the federal monies the state receives in various grant programs, and is relatively uncontroversial. Nevertheless, at the request of the Democratic member of the subcommittee, I required all the affected departments to justify their administrative costs for the grants, providing necessary legislative oversight of taxpayer dollars. Secondly, I received feedback in the subcommittees and the public hearing expressing concern over the Mental Health and Disability Services Block Grant, which was slated to go for the first time to the mental health regions instead of directly to providers. After researching the issue, I responded to the feedback by working with the department and amending the bill to provide the money directly to providers, cutting out an unnecessary bureaucratic layer. The result was strong bipartisan support for the bill, which the Governor signed into law.
    • Nuisance Ordinance: A bill came up that was going to nullify municipal nuisance ordinances that provided any sort of penalty or fine for excessive 911 calls. These ordinances have been highly effective in cleaning up neighborhoods, so I sprung into action to preserve them. Working closely with several fellow members, we crafted language that would prevent punishing people for legitimate 911 calls while preserving nuisance ordinances. The change led to bipartisan passage in the House. The bill died in the Senate, but nuisance ordinances remain.
    • Tanning Beds: A bill came over from the Senate that banned tanning beds for minors. As a believer in individual liberty and parental rights, I felt an outright ban was too draconian. Most states in the union allow exceptions for 16 and 17 year olds with parental consent, and doing so seemed to make sense given that minors of those ages in Iowa can engage in such risky behaviors as to drive a car, ride a motorcycle, fly a plane, fly a glider, fly a balloon, hunt, have sex, get a sunburn outside, have an abortion (with parental notification), and even fight and die for their country (with parental consent at 17). Allowing a 16 or 17 year old to tan before prom (with parental consent) in an FDA-certified tanning facility seemed much less risky than those other behaviors. As a result, I offered an amendment to the bill in committee that allowed an exception for 16 and 17 year olds with parental consent. While the amendment lost on a close vote, it split the caucus enough that the bill never came up for a floor vote. I believe the only way to get a tanning bill to the Governor’s desk is to allow an exception for 16 and 17 year olds with parental consent or to ban tanning bed usage for those under 16.
    • Smoke-Free Casinos: I co-sponsored a bill that would have directed the Racing and Gaming Commission to grant two licenses to smoke-free casinos under a pilot program. The bill would have allowed Cedar Rapids to apply for one of the licenses, reflecting the overwhelming will of the people of Linn County to have a casino. The bill died in subcommittee, but now there is an interim study committee exploring the issue.
    • Disability Tax Deduction: I sponsored a bill that would have updated the tax deduction currently on the books for employment of people with disabilities. The current tax deduction is restricted to very small companies, and my bill would have expanded the eligibility to small businesses as defined by the Small Business Administration. This would incentivize the employment of people with disabilities for a far greater number of Iowa companies, helping transition people with disabilities from sheltered workshops (many of which are closing) to integrated, community employment. The bill died in committee.

    This concludes my After Action Report. It is an honor and privilege to serve the people of District 68, and I’ll continue doing my best to serve with integrity and excellence. I look forward to the next session and welcome your input on how best to represent you. Please contact me anytime at [email protected] or call my cell at 319-651-7316.

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  • Rizer Report | Week 7

    Rizer Report-Funnel Week

    These last days in the House have been a whirlwind of activity due to it being “funnel week.”  The “funnel” is a rule-imposed deadline for all non-tax or non-appropriations bills to make it through their respective committees.  If they don’t make it through committee this week, providing enough time to get through both houses, then they die until next year.

    Two of my four sponsored bills made it through the funnel.  The bill adding plasma gasification to the acceptable means for recycling waste unanimously passed the Environmental Protection Committee; this bill paves the way for a plasma gasification plant’s construction in Marion, which will provide long-term employment for 50 workers, generate $650k annually in property taxes, and divert waste from the landfill.  The bill strengthening our synthetic drug law passed unanimously out of the Public Safety Committee; this bill will better deter, prosecute, and punish people who sell, buy, or use these dangerous drugs.  My only bill which didn’t make the funnel was the Smoke-Free Casino bill, which died after a subcommittee meeting in the State Government Committee; while this bill didn’t make it, it did open up a discussion about the role of the Racing and Gaming Commission which might yield changes in the future.  My 4th bill updates a tax incentive for hiring people with disabilities, but it wasn’t subject to the funnel as it’s a tax bill.

    In addition to bills I’ve sponsored, I managed a number of bills through various committees.  In Commerce, I ran a bill that would protect public safety by restricting the importation of powdered alcohol.  In Judiciary, I ran a bill that would give cities liability protection against injury claims resulting from the normal and expected risks of recreational activities; this will allow cities like Dubuque to lift their sledding ban rather than protect against unjustified lawsuits.  I ran a bill through Judiciary that would give military victim advocates confidentiality protections to better serve victims of sexual assaults.  Finally, I ran a bill through Judiciary that would make it illegal to install counterfeit or non-functional airbags in vehicles, protecting public safety.

    This week I also voted a number of important bills out of committee.  In Human Resources, I voted for a bill which would make organizations like Tanager Place eligible for monies appropriated to recruit psychiatrists, an important step in filling our shortage of mental health providers.  In Judiciary, I voted for a bill which would protect the privacy of military funerals by restricting protests to areas 1000+ feet away; this bill will keep the Westboro group and others from dishonoring our veterans, while protecting their legitimate First Amendment rights.  Finally, I voted for the omnibus gun bill, which received overwhelming bipartisan support and passed out of Judiciary 19-2; the bill will protect 2nd Amendment rights, improve our permitting process, and allow Iowans the same access to hearing-protecting suppressors that the vast majority of other states already have.

    I capped off what was a busy but great week by assuming the duties of the Speaker one afternoon to read-in bills and adjourn the House for the day.  Wanting to well-represent our district, I gaveled us in and out with such force that some referred to me later as “Thor.”  It was an honor to sit in the Speaker’s seat, but I’m glad to be sitting in my own in the back working hard for the great people of Marion, Bertram, Ely, and the surrounding parts of Linn County.

    As your Representative, I’m always open to hearing from my bosses, who are those of you reading this!  Please contact me anytime at [email protected] or on my cellphone at 319-651-7316. I’ll be back home in the District every Friday, so if you want to get together for coffee to discuss an issue, just let me know.  I look forward to serving all of you!

  • Rizer Reports | Week 4

    It was another action-packed week in the Iowa House!

    The biggest looming issue is how to generate revenue for much-needed road and bridge construction/maintenance. Many ideas are on the table, and the way forward is not yet clear. Some believe the best solution is to increase the gas tax by 10 cents per gallon. I ran on a platform of lowering rather than raising taxes, so see raising taxes only as an option of last resort. Given all the seniors and young families I’ve met who are living paycheck to paycheck, and given the massive increases in healthcare and other expenses, I’m extremely resistant to increasing the tax burden on these people.

    I filed two bills this week, bringing the total thus far to four. In addition to my bills for Marion’s plasma gasification plant and the toughening of our synthetic drug laws, one of the new bills I filed will incentivize employment of people with disabilities, and the other will direct the Racing and Gaming Commission to issue up to two smoke-free casino licenses.

    With the closing of Options of Linn County and similar work centers around the state, we have an abundance of people with disabilities who desperately need competitive, integrated employment. My bill incentivizes hiring of these folks, updating the criteria for a hiring tax deduction that is already on the books. The current deduction was passed 30 years ago, and is only available to businesses that meet the 1984 standard for small business (< 20 employees, < $3 million in revenue). This is badly outdated and excludes too many small businesses, limiting employment opportunities for people with disabilities. As a result, my bill updates the criteria to the current Small Business Administration standard (< 500 employees, < $21 million in revenue), which will greater incentivize employment of people with disabilities and help them to transition from government dependence to independence.

    The second bill I introduced this week would direct the Racing and Gaming Commission to issue up to two licenses for smoke-free casinos, reporting back to the Legislature annually on the status of this smoke-free casino pilot project. Applications would be made this year, with eligible applicants being those whose projects have received county approval and who abide by the same smoke-free workplace requirements as all other Iowa businesses. Iowans who gamble, and those who work in casinos, shouldn’t be subject to second-hand smoke! This was confirmed this week by the Chairman of the Iowa Tobacco Commission, who said to me during committee Q & A, “I would love for all casinos in Iowa to be smoke-free.” Given that the voters of Linn County have approved a casino, and given that the current project proposal is for the Cedar Rapids casino to be smoke-free, I would anticipate their application. I’m proud to say this is a bipartisan bill, with Representative Todd Taylor (D, Cedar Rapids) as cosponsor and several other members of the Linn County House delegation signing on as well.

    In the Judiciary Committee this week, I managed a bill that would make it an aggravated misdemeanor to install a counterfeit or non-functioning airbag in a vehicle. Additionally, the bill would make it illegal to tamper with an airbag diagnostic system. It was rewarding to run a bill which will address an important public safety issue. The bill passed unanimously out of committee; I look forward to floor managing the bill before the entire House.

    I have learned so much already this session, and I am honored to be serving you all here week after week. It feels good to be filing legislation, having discussions with constituents, and truly working to make a difference as an Iowa lawmaker. I am excited for what the future of this session has in store, and I thank you all for putting your trust in me to represent the great people of Marion, Bertram, Ely and the surrounding parts of Linn County.

    As your Representative, I’m always open to hearing from my bosses, who are those of you reading this! Please contact me anytime at [email protected] or on my cellphone at 319-651-7316. I’ll be back home in the District every Friday, so if you want to get together for coffee to discuss an issue, just let me know. I look forward to serving all of you!

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  • Rizer Reports | Week 1

    The first week of the legislative session is behind me. As I took the oath of office on the first morning, swearing to support and defend the constitutions of Iowa and the U.S., I felt an enormous responsibility to well-represent the people of Marion, Bertram, Ely, and the surrounding parts of Linn County. The seat I sit in belongs to you, and so long as I sit there, I’ll never forget that. It’s a great honor that I don’t take lightly!

    The first week included addresses from Governor Branstad and Chief Justice Cady, who outlined their priorities for the session. It also included swearing-in ceremonies for various government officials, to include Linn County’s own Paul Pate as Secretary of State. The week concluded with the Governor’s inauguration.

    I was particulary proud to attend a celebration of the Home Base Iowa law for our military veterans, during which the Governor gave a shout out to Marion for being the first Home Base Iowa City. I was honored to sit with the architect of that effort, MEDCO’s own Chad Heiman.

    The week wasn’t all pomp and circumstance, as we had our first working committee meetings. In the Appropriations Committee, the Legislative Services Agency gave us several briefings on the state of the budget as well as on the Governor’s proposal for next year. The Governor’s budget proposes spending $7.34 billion, which is an increase of $346.7 million. Given that projected revenue is $7.19 billion, we have our work cut out for us to abide by our budget principle of not spending more than we take in. Fifty-five percent of the proposed budget goes to education, with 26% going to Health & Human Services. The Governor proposes increasing Supplemental State Aid for schools by $50 million and paying the second $50 million installment for the teacher leadership program. This will mean K-12 schools would receive $537 million in increased funding since FY 2011, an increase of 21%. The Regents Universities and community colleges all have a proposed 1.75% increase, which is 1% over the 2014 inflation rate.

    I continued work on the Marion Plasma Gasification bill language. This bill will allow permitting of Marion’s plasma gasification plant, which will be the first such facility in the U.S. Once up and running, this facility will divert refuse from the landfill and convert it to recycled insulation, protecting the environment while creating jobs and economic growth in Marion. I’m proud to be part of such an historic effort.

    In addition to this bill, I’m refining language for a bill to incentivize employment of people with disabilities. I’m also working on a bill to toughen Iowa’s synthetic drug laws, in order to get these dangerous narcotics off our streets. I’ll provide more detailed explanations of these bills in subsequent updates.

    I finished the week with a number of important meetings. Saturday I attended a meeting with Grant Wood Area Education Agency school board members, principals, and teachers. Many expressed their concerns over the Governor’s proposed budget, so I’ve scheduled follow-up meetings to better understand the details of their concerns. After that meeting I participated in the Linn County League of Women Voters Legislative Forum, which provided a great opportunity to answer citizen’s questions about important state issues. The next Forums are at 10:30 am at Mercy Hospital on Feb 21st and Mar 21st. Please attend! Finally, before writing this I and other legislators attended a meeting with the Linn County Farm Bureau. It was beneficial to hear the legislative concerns of our local farmers.

    As your Representative, I’m always open to hearing from my bosses. Please contact me anytime at [email protected] or on my cellphone at 319-651-7316. If you’d like to visit the Capitol, let me know and I’d be happy to meet you and show you around. I’ll be back home in the District every Friday, so if you want to get together for coffee to discuss an issue, just let me know. I look forward to serving all of you!

     

    First Day in Iowa House with Family

    First Day in Iowa House with Family