• Diving Into the Standings Bill

    We all know the state budget is tight. When an Iowa family has a tight budget, they examine all of the elements within it, prioritize the most important elements, and cut those things they can’t afford. State government should be no different.

    This year, Speaker Upmeyer & Appropriations Chairman Grassley created a Budget Review Subcommittee as a tool for priority-based budgeting. They named me as chair of the bipartisan subcommittee and this week we began the process of evaluating the different agencies and departments funded by the Standings Appropriations bill.

    This subcommittee will do the detailed analysis required to make priority-based budgeting a reality in Iowa. In the process, we’ll validate best practices and identify programs to reduce or eliminate. We will serve the people of Iowa by ensuring their hard-earned tax dollars are being spent effectively on programs that work.   Unlike other line items in the state budget, there are a series of state appropriations that are established in either the Iowa Code or Iowa Constitution. These appropriations are known as standing appropriations. The largest standing appropriation – State Foundation School Aid – is reviewed every year as the Legislature sets the annual Supplemental State Aid figure for growth in school funding. However, the remaining $600 million in standing appropriations continue to be funded every year without serious legislative review.   The Budget Review Subcommittee will spend the next few weeks diving deep into many of the existing standing appropriations. A schedule of groups to come before the committee can be found here. My fellow subcommittee members, Rep. Mike Sexton (R – Calhoun), Rep. Nancy Dunkel (D – Dubuque) and I will work to identify what each line item does, review its level of funding, and determine if any efficiencies or reforms can be implemented to improve that line item’s function.

    My intent is to be tough but fair, conducting our business in a bipartisan & transparent way. Let’s get the facts, metrics, and details of these program on the table in order to inform our budget decisions.  I have no intent of using this panel to score partisan political points, but rather intend for us to professionally assess these programs for the good of all Iowans.

  • Synthetic Drugs & Sentencing Reform

    This week, the legislature’s first week back in session, I filed a bill which will both save lives and promote social justice. The bill changes Iowa code to enable prosecution of illegal synthetic drug cases, a major step towards getting these dangerous drugs off the street.  The second element of the bill fixes an inequity in cocaine penalties, eliminating the powder cocaine bias which causes disparate penalties for minorities.

    I’ve dealt with synthetic drugs, such as K2 and Spice, ever since I was a commander at Andrews Air Force Base. These drugs are incredibly dangerous. Since nearly every batch of synthetic drugs is chemically unique, users know neither the strength of the drug nor the chemical components they are putting into their bodies.

    I’ve met with numerous families in our area whose loved ones died as a result of synthetic drug use. These substances are easy to acquire and infractions are seldom prosecuted.

    Current law addresses the issue by making the drug’s chemical compound illegal. But synthetic drugs go by many names and take a myriad of forms. So if one compound is made illegal, manufacturers simply switch up their recipe, making it easy to skirt the law.

    My bill adopts language used in places that have experienced similar problems, like Florida and Cedar Rapids. Under this law, prosecutors will be able to use common-sense criteria to determine if the substance they found is a synthetic drug, regardless of its name or chemical compound.

    In other words, if the drug seized looks like a synthetic drug, makes the user high like a synthetic drug, or is bought and sold like a synthetic drug, it can legally be considered a synthetic drug. By giving law enforcement the freedom to act on their expertise rather than play legal catch-up with drug manufacturers, we make our community a safer place for all.

    The second part of the bill addresses the inequity in crack versus powdered cocaine sentencing. Generally speaking, drug abusers from minority populations tend to prefer crack cocaine over powdered cocaine, while white abusers tend to prefer the opposite. Both forms are illegal but the penalties for possession and use of crack cocaine are much harsher than those for powder. As a result, minority abusers of cocaine tend to unfairly receive harsher punishments than those of white cocaine abusers.

    I filed a similar bill last year on behalf of Sergeant Jerrald Meek, an Army special forces soldier and Afghanistan veteran from Cedar Rapids who committed suicide after suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and synthetic drug addiction. Versions of the bill passed both the House and Senate, but differences couldn’t be resolved before the end of the legislative session. Given that all eight Republican members and five of eight Democratic members of the House Public Safety Committee have signed on as co-sponsors already this week, I’m optimistic this is the year we pass this important legislation. Doing so will save lives and promote social justice, goals all Iowans can support.

  • 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

  • Your New Wingman in Des Moines

    As the new Iowa House Representative for Marion, Bertram, and Ely, I’m honored and excited to be your wingman in Des Moines!  When I take the oath of office in the Capitol on Monday, I’ll be keenly aware of my sacred responsibility to well-represent and serve the people of the District.  I intend to serve all and get things done, as that is what I’ve learned you expect from your Representative.

    I ran on a platform of protecting individual liberty, keeping taxes low, limiting government growth, and improving education.  My committee assignments will help me to fulfill my promises.  As Vice Chairman of Appropriations, I’ll be intimately involved in making sure we keep our financial house in order by not spending more than we take in.  My Commerce Committee assignment will enable me to work on expanding employment and improving standards of living by creating a pro-growth economic environment.  Serving on the Judiciary Committee will give me the opportunity to oversee our legal system, ensuring that all Iowans achieve justice.  Finally, assignment to the Human Resources Committee as well as the Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee will allow me to pursue my passion of helping people with disabilities achieve their full potential through the power of work.

    I’ve put the time since the election to good use, meeting with constituents and city leaders to better learn the issues.  As a result, I intend to introduce several bills.  I’m working with city and police officials on language for a bill to toughen Iowa’s synthetic drug law, in order to get these dangerous narcotics off our streets.  I’m sponsoring a bill to allow Marion’s plasma recycling project to receive permitting, which will allow this critical project to move forward.  Finally, I’m sponsoring a bill to expand current tax incentives for hiring people with disabilities, which is sorely needed with the future closure of Linn County Options.  In addition to these efforts, I’m thoroughly engaged in some of the most pressing issues for this legislative session, to include road and bridge improvements, the Regents funding formula, and K-12 funding, to name but a few.  I look forward to providing you updates on all of these issues and more throughout the session.

    As your Representative, I’m always open to hearing from my bosses, who are those of you in the District reading this!  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-Sunday until the session is over, so if you want to get together for coffee to discuss an issue, or if you’d like me to come talk to a group of citizens, just let me know.  If you’d like to receive my legislative update newsletter, just email or call me and I’ll get you on the list.  I look forward to better knowing and serving all of you!

    In Service & Gratitude,

    Ken

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