A roundup of state government and Capitol news items of interest:
HUMAN SERVICES BUDGET: Without dissent, the Iowa Council on Human Services voted to approve a fiscal 2016 request for an increase of $134 million from the state’s general fund. The nearly $1.915 billion request just for the state share of an overall projected $6.28 billion total to finance human services needs using federal, state and other sources would be a 7.54 percent over current state funding if approved by the Legislature and governor next session. Since state government has gone to biennial budgeting, the council also approved a fiscal 2017 request that represented another $112.6 million increase. Leaders of the Iowa Department of Human Services said much of the proposed increased spending that now goes to the governor’s office for consideration in formulating next fiscal year’s state budget was needed to make up for shrinking federal matching money and to implement new commitments for mental health redesign and expanded health care coverage. Currently, DHS officials have been allocated $1.775 billion from the state general fund budget to serve the 973,000 Iowa who rely on the agency’s core programs and services.
VISION IOWA AWARDS: The Vision Iowa Board has awarded $1,675,000 in Community Attraction and Tourism (CAT) grants for a new YMCA in Council Bluffs and a Veterans Service Center in Waverly. The board awarded $1 million to assist a proposed $16 million new Council Bluffs YMCA that includes the construction of a new 73,000-square-foot YMCA building in downtown Council Bluffs. The facility will include a health and wellness center with walking track, warm water therapy pool, gymnasium with bleacher seating for 1200 people, aquatics center with warm water and lap pools, early childhood education center, teen center, family center, outdoor splash zone, teaching kitchen and adjacent surface parking for 136 vehicles. The state board also awarded $676,000 toward a Waverly Area Veterans Post service center with an overall project cost of $3,578,494. Plans call for construction of a 17,300-square-foot facility to house a museum displaying memorabilia from all generations of area veterans, a banquet hall, conference rooms, technology center, lounge, kitchen, dining area and bar.
SENG RECOVERING FROM SURGERY: Iowa Sen. Joe Seng, D-Davenport, said Wednesday that surgeons successfully removed a brain tumor from the left parietal lobe at about the top of his head. Seng, 67, said the next steps will be for him to begin radiation and chemotherapy treatments in Davenport within the next few weeks. “I am still planning to be in my Senate seat in the Statehouse on the first day of the 2015 session,” Seng said in a statement. “I continue to be thankful for the prayers, support and encouragement that I have received from my family, close friends and colleagues in the Legislature.” Seng, who represents a heavily Democratic district in Davenport, is unopposed in this year's election. He currently serves as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
CALL-BLOCKING TECHNOLOGY: Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller is urging the Federal Communications Commission to allow phone companies to utilize call-blocking technologies to better protect consumers from unwanted calls and scams. Call-blocking technologies -- such as NoMoRobo, Call Control, and Telemarketing Guard -- enable phone carriers to identify and block unwelcome sales calls at their customers’ request. However, Miller said some phone carriers have not implemented this technology, in part because of the belief that federal law prevents carriers from blocking calls on their consumers’ behalf. “These types of calls are a perennial source of complaints from Iowans, and we think that the FCC should formally give the green light to phone companies to use reasonable tools like these that are now available to address this ongoing problem,” Miller said. He reminded Iowans to register with the Do Not Call Registry at www.DoNotCall.gov, which allows consumers to choose not to receive telemarketing calls at home. Consumers who are registered on the Do Not Call Registry and receive an unwanted call can file a complaint through the registry’s website.
FLAGS AT HALF-STAFF: Gov. Terry Branstad has ordered all flags in the state to be flown at half-staff from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 11, to honor those who perished in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Flags will be flown at half-staff on the state Capitol building and on flag displays in the Capitol complex, and upon all public buildings, grounds, and facilities throughout the state. Individuals, businesses, schools, municipalities, counties and other government subdivisions are encouraged to fly the flag at half-staff for the same length of time as a sign of respect.
SMOKE-FREE HOUSING: The supply and the demand for smoke-free rental properties appears to be growing in Iowa, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health. The agency reports its Smoke-Free Housing Registry now has 319 properties listed – a level that is more than double the number of units one year ago. The properties have at a minimum one building with a 100 percent smoke-free policy, with no grandfathered residents, according to health agency officials. In August of 2013, 126 properties were listed in the registry. Iowa’s 2008 Smoke-Free Air Act prohibits smoking in almost all public places and enclosed areas within places of employment, as well as some outdoor areas. While apartment and rental units are not covered by the law, many landlords have chosen to designate smoke-free units in their properties. Iowans who are searching for a smoke-free rental property can see the Smoke-Free Housing Registry at www.smoke-freehomes.iowa.gov/Find.aspx. For more general information about smoke-free homes, visit www.smoke-freehomes.iowa.gov/Default.aspx or call 1-800-798-0203.