I am pleased to report that HF 475 passed the House 95 to 0 recently. This bill permits rifles chambered for straight walled cartridges currently legal for handgun deer hunting in Iowa to be used as alternative harvest guns during early youth season, early disabled season and the two shotgun seasons. I have worked with many sportsmen on this bill and very closely with the Iowa DNR.  As you can surmise by the vote, this is a bipartisan measure and promises to introduce new hunters to the sport and stimulate new sales across the state. 

There have been some complaints that cartridges like the .50 Beowulf might exceed the low recoil intent of this bill. According to the bill, the DNR has jurisdiction over determining acceptable cartridges and will set the caliber range suited best for Iowa.  This bill offers very exciting new hunting guns for Iowa sportsmen and women. It is now in the hands of the Senate. 

We also passed HF 296 last week. For years, House Republicans have been working hard to stop the spread of synthetic drugs in Iowa. Unfortunately, politics often got in the way of good policy. This year presents another opportunity to improve the law. House File 296 is similar to legislation proposed in previous years aimed at curbing synthetic drugs in our state and keeping children safe.

House File 296 focuses on three key areas in the law; 1) changing how synthetic drugs are categorized, 2) ensuring imitation controlled substances are appropriately prosecuted and 3) allowing the legislature two years to evaluate the temporary designation of scheduled substances.

Under current law, the chemicals that make up common synthetic drugs are scattered throughout the code. This makes it difficult to determine what drugs are truly schedule I and what drugs aren’t currently listed. HF 296 properly lists synthetic drugs as schedule I controlled substances and adds several more synthetic drug formulas to the list. Keeping these chemicals categorized as schedule I substances helps keep these drugs off the streets and ensures those selling them will face appropriate penalties.

County attorneys have struggled to prosecute sellers of synthetic drugs when the drug is being sold as an imitation controlled substance. An imitation controlled substance is not a controlled substance, but is mistaken for one, because of its appearance. Synthetic drugs, not on the schedule drug list, can be packaged to look like an illegal synthetic drug. These imitation controlled substances can have the same deadly effect as a scheduled drug. Selling an imitation controlled substance is how many dealers attempt to get around the law. HF 296 includes imitation controlled substances in the same category as simulated and controlled substances. Under the proposed bill, the penalty for selling an imitation controlled substance would be the same as selling a simulated or actual controlled substance.

House Republicans look forward to working with the Senate to move this bill quickly to the Governor’s desk without the political hurdles faced last year.

We also passed significant bills for public school districts this week. HF 564 makes changes to a number of funds, including Professional Development funding, At-risk and Dropout funding, Preschool funding, PPEL (Physical Plant and Equipment Levy) funding, and Talented and Gifted (TAG) funding, by adding additional allowable expenses that are meant to help the funding further the goals of the program. 

HF 565 creates a new “Flexibility Fund.” School district funds have narrow parameters that prohibit certain funding streams from being utilized fully. As a result, school districts accumulate unused funds that grow year after year.  There are currently over 74 identified sources of funding that school districts statewide have leftover funds in to the tune of over $146 million in FY 2015 (a $17.5 million increase over FY 2014).  Much of this funding cannot be touched or used.

HF 565 collects some of this funding and creates additional spending authority for districts to use those funds in a broader fashion, but still in the direction of the original source of the funding. 

I received a lot of feedback this week of both support and opposition to HF 518 dealing with Worker's Compensation Reform. I was not supportive of the bill in its original form. As the week progressed, we worked hard to amend the bill to address concerns from constituents. It is now a very palatable bill that is fair to both labor and management. The bill addresses abuses that have become increasingly more commonplace, while protecting the right of workers to be compensated for injuries that occur on the job. 

Some issues the bill addresses:

  • It clarifies willful injury do to drugs or intoxication.
  • The bill defines "date of occurrence of the injury" as the date the employee should have known the injury was work related. The 90 days reporting and 2 years statute of limitations remain.
  • It prevents those injured in another state in an Iowa owned subsidiary from collecting workers comp in Iowa.
  • It stops double payments for the same injury under both partial and total disability claims.
  • It precludes a person from receiving unemployment compensation if he or she is already receiving permanent total disability workers compensation payments.

Results of amendments made last week:

  • We increased shoulder related injury weeks to 400.
  • We introduced a new vocational rehabilitation programs for those with shoulder injuries. Employers will pay for two years of vocational training up to $15,000 at a community college.
  • We removed all references to age 67 from the bill for both permanent partial and permanent total disability. This corrects age related disparity in the original bill.
  • It strikes section 17 in all references to "predominant factor" and replaces it with "substantial factor" throughout the bill. This is a return to the current "substantial factor" language.
  • It allows a worker who has been injured to be offered another job at the company at a wage level equal to or greater to what he was receiving and is then paid based on the functional disability for his injury, should he lose his job, he will be subject to a reopening of his case to address his earning capacity.