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Capitol Digest: School voucher bill introduced

DES MOINES | A bill that would allow parents to get an educational savings grant, what some would call a voucher, worth up to $5,000 for each of their children enrolled in a private school has been introduced in the Iowa House.

House Study Bill 651 would allow parents to use that state aid money for private school tuition and related expenses.

“We love public schools, public schools are great in the state of Iowa, but they’re not the best fit for everybody,” House Education Committee Chairman Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, said, during taping of Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press.”

“I philosophically believe that everybody pays state dollars ... so I think parents who are doing that should have the right to decide where their kids go to school.”

Voucher opponents say they take money from public schools that already are dealing with underfunding.

About 34,000 Iowans now attend non-public K-12 schools, according to the Department of Education. If the grants were available to those non-public school students, the cost could go as high as $170 million.

However, students now enrolled in private schools would not be eligible for the grants. The proposed law would be phased in by allowing only students beginning school or transferring in from a public school to receive the grants.

No new money would be appropriated, Rogers said, and the grants would not diminish local school districts’ revenue from the uniform tax levy and SAVE — Secure an Advanced Vision for Education — sales tax.

SMOKE — IF YOU’RE 21: Although a bill to raise the legal age to buy tobacco products to 21 failed to advance three years ago in a Democratic-controlled Iowa Senate, another attempt is being made in the now GOP-majority chamber.

“I just want to have that conversation,” Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, said about Senate File 2097. He pointed out the inconsistency in state law restricts the purchase of alcohol products to people 21 and older, but allows 18-year-olds to buy tobacco, which he sees as also having detrimental health effects to individuals and costs to the public and state.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, who filed a similar bill, Senate File 5,last year, would like to be part of that conversation. Although he doesn’t think it’s strictly a partisan issue, “if it gets support from Republicans, that’s good news.”

Feenstra said high school students encouraged him to propose the legislation.

PAY UP, PRIUS: Owners of Priuses and other hybrid cars as well as all-electric vehicles would be hit with a surcharge under a bill proposed by Rep. Dave Heaton, R-Mount Pleasant.

Heaton doesn’t have anything against the energy-efficient vehicles. “It’s just they don’t pay their full share of the cost of maintaining our infrastructure,” he said.

The Legislature raised the motor fuel tax 10 cents a gallon in 2015 to provide more funding for streets, highways and bridges.

“Everybody burning gas is paying 10 cents more a gallon, but these people who are on hybrid cars and straight electric cars aren’t paying their share,” Heaton said.

In House File 2247,hybrid owners would pay $50 in addition to their annual registration fee, and all-electric vehicle owners would be charged an additional $150.

“I do really feel that everyone who uses our roads and streets needs to pay their share,” said Heaton, who modeled his proposal after legislation in other states.

An amendment to House File 2079 calls for the Iowa Department of Transportation to study the impact of additional fees on hybrid and electric vehicles and report to the Legislature before the 2019 session.

FUTURE WORKFORCE: A centerpiece of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ workforce program won the approval of a House Commerce subcommittee Thursday to keep it eligible for consideration ahead of the Legislature’s self-imposed Feb. 16 deadline for action on legislative proposals.

Reynolds says it’s needed to improve job prospects of 127,000 Iowans by bolstering their educational achievement and workplace skills. In her Condition of the State speech, Reynolds asked for $2.6 million in fiscal 2019 to launch the program. She will seek additional funding in future years.

House Study Bill 602 would create a volunteer mentoring program, apprenticeship development program, employer innovation fund, summer youth intern program and the Future Ready Iowa Skilled Workforce scholarship and grant programs and funds as well as provide summer classes for high school students that align with their career paths.

The scholarships will help Iowans get two-year college degrees in high-demand job fields, and the apprenticeships should help small- and mid-sized employers, according to Reynolds.

Although Iowa’s unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in more than a decade, Iowa Workforce Development said nearly 60,000 jobs are open around the state.

It has the backing of several business groups that packed the subcommittee hearing. Many interest groups are “undecided,” and no lobbyists are registered in opposition.

The Commerce Committee likely will take up the bill Wednesday.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “A permit is just that, a permission slip from the government, and if the government has the power to give permission, then it follows that the government has the power to revoke or deny that permission. Our Constitution does not give them that power.” — Brian Alexander, a Marion County farmer testifying at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee Thursday on legislation that would remove the general prohibition on the carrying of dangerous weapons without a permit.