A roundup of legislative and Capitol news items of interest for Thursday, March 3, 2016:
IMMIGRANT ISSUES: More than 30 advocates for action on bills affecting immigrants in Iowa lobbied lawmakers at the Capitol Thursday.
The ACLU of Iowa advocacy day focused on a handful of issues including HF 2276 that would prohibit law enforcement from limiting their cooperation with ICE requests to hold individuals on warrantless detainers and a proposal to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses after passing a driver’s test.
The advocates called the bill important for workers and law enforcement. With driver’s licenses, the 55,000 of the 75,000 undocumented immigrants in Iowa who are of working age can get to work. A driver’s license also helps law enforcement identify those living in the community.
However, the bill is dead for this session because it was never approved by a committee.
The warrantless detainers bill was approved by the House Public Safety Committee and is eligible for debate by the full House.
TAX COUPLING: Leaders in the Iowa House and Senate continue to say they are having discussions about how and whether to couple the state tax code with federal tax changes
House Republicans want to couple to extend $95 million in state tax breaks to Iowa small business owners and farmers who purchased assets in 2015. That would reduce the state’s ending surplus balance.
“We have great sympathy for the issue of tax coupling,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs. Senate Democrats are open to coupling if Republicans “are willing to sit down and look at other sides of the revenue ledger.”
“I’m very happy to have that discussion with him” when Gronstal knows where he wants to go with the issues, House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said. “I think we are having productive discussions about ideas we have in common, differences that we need to overcome and work out.”
Also Thursday, the Iowa Policy Project, a progressive think tank, blogged that tax coupling is among the reasons Iowa doesn’t have sufficient revenue to support its priorities, such as education.
“Most of the cost of the coupling bill is for a business tax break, according to the group. “There’s a reason we can’t have the things we need. We keep giving money away, often without a good understanding of why we’re doing it.”
PEEPING TOMS: The House Public Safety Committee unanimously passed an expansion of Iowa’s trespassing law that would allow authorities to prosecute “Peeping Toms” accused of violating others’ privacy rights despite an argument that people who suspect their spouse of cheating could be charged.
The change clarifies the law to make it easier to prove criminal trespass in cases when someone has been viewed contrary to a reasonable expectation of privacy or where someone has planted a camera or viewing device without the knowledge or consent of the person being viewed.
Under current law, to gain a conviction it must be proved that the peeper or trespasser was aroused and that the victim was nude or partially nude.
Rep. Rick Olson, D-Des Moines, told the committee that private detectives hired to watch a person suspected of marriage infidelity could be charged if they shot video of a tryst. The cheating spouse, he said, would have an expectation of privacy.
However, after floor manager Rep. Greg Heartsill, R-Melcher-Dallas, said he would work on perfecting the bill, Olson joined the rest of the committee in voting to send the bill to the full House.
GAS PRICES IN IOWA RISE: State officials say refiners delivering gasoline to Iowa terminals have raised values by 56 cents a gallon over the past three weeks to reflect the wholesale price hikes and restore lost margins. That has caused retailers to adjust their prices upward by nearly 20 cents per gallon at Iowa service station pumps over the past week.
As of March 1, the price of regular unleaded gasoline averaged $1.86 per gallon across Iowa – 19 cents higher than one week ago but 52 cents a gallon lower than one year ago. The national average on Tuesday was $1.79 per gallon.
Retail diesel fuel prices in Iowa increased two cents to a statewide average of $1.93 per gallon. Propane prices were unchanged from last week with a statewide average of $1.01 per gallon, while home heating oil rose 5 cents from last week’s figures, ending with a statewide average of $1.53 a gallon. Natural gas prices were 26 cents lower to end the week at $1.57/MMbtu.
LEGISLATIVE INPUT: Supporters and opponents of a so-called “death with dignity act” Thursday offered their opinions on a measure that ironically has already died in the 2016 legislative process.
Proponents of Senate File 2051 said Iowa should provide an option to permit terminal patients to request life-ending medication similar to death with dignity laws in Oregon, Washington, Vermont and California. Opponents equated the bill with government-sanctioned suicide and “attempting to play God by taking lives.”
The bill did not clear the Senate Human Resources Committee before a “funnel” deadline that would have kept the measure eligible for consideration this year. Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, acknowledged the bill is not moving this session but wanted to keep the discussion active for future consideration.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I know what it takes to sign the front of a check,” Sen. Michael Breitbach, R-Strawberry Point, a trucking and pre-cast businesses owner who refuted claims Thursday by Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, on the Senate floor that Iowa is not a friendly place for workers.
-- Compiled by the Des Moines Bureau