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Big_Eric

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From today's Cedar Rapids Gazette:
 
Des Moines The best indication of what the Democratic-controlled Legislature will do for an encore performance may be found in the myriad task forces and commissions that will be reporting back to lawmakers before they return to Des Moines in January.

In what often is considered tossing a bone to an interest group, lawmakers called for at least interim study committees, task forces and commissions to study everything from the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and Alzheimer's to
climate change and young Iowans.

``That was the answer to everything as we came down to the last several weeks of session,'' Senate Minority Leader Mary Lundby, R-Marion, said. And while studies conducted outside the hurry-up atmosphere of the legislative session may seem to
make sense, ``we know that most of those recommendations are ignored. This is just a stalling tactic.''

Her counterpart across the rotunda, House Minority Leader Christopher Rants, R-Sioux City, agreed that the studies are often a way to delay making a decision or, in some cases, dodge turning down an interest group.

Her view only reinforces Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal's belief Republicans aren't listening to Iowans.

Democrats, who took control of both the House and Senate this year, didn't use interim study committees to dodge tough issues like extending civil rights protections to gays and lesbians or to expand health care coverage to children or to
raise the minimum wage, he said.

``Are we going to continue to study? Yes, we are,'' Gronstal said. ``We do studies because we're willing to listen -- a mistake the Republicans made and part of the reason that they went into the minority. They quit listening.''

Whether they listen or not, whether they have studies or not and whether they follow the recommendations they get, it's clear to leaders and lobbyists at the Capitol lawmakers will face many of the same issues next year as they worked on this year.

The need for property tax relief won't go away. The need for more money for roads won't go away.

And seeing the new majority's inability to craft property tax relief this year, Lundby isn't optimistic the results will be any better next year. In fact, Iowans may be threatened with tax increases as Democrats struggle with paying for $650
million in built-in spending commitments.

That's the fear in the business community, too, according to David Roederer of the Iowa Chamber Alliance. Given the spending increases approved this year, the state could face the need for a ``major'' tax increase as the state's long-term financial situation becomes clear, he said.

``They're not going to start the session wanting to raise taxes, but economic reality is going to set in,'' Roederer said.

McCarthy promised Saturday to hold the line on taxes ``unless it's something the public overwhelmingly supports,'' such as the $1-a-pack cigarette tax hike approved this year.

Roederer doubts there's another tax Iowans will rally behind as much as the cigarette tax.

McCarthy may recognize as much.

``We know there is going to be a shortfall in our roads, but before we ever look at an easy way out, to raise gas tax, we need to think outside the box,'' he said. ``Maybe there are some ways to get money without raising the gas tax.''

One of the task forces created by lawmakers this year will study water quality issues and Joe Johnson, who represents the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, thinks that may set the stage for a comprehensive water debate on the issue. Gronstal, too, expressed a desire to see a statewide strategy, rather than a county-by-county approach, to safeguarding Iowa's waters.

A number of ''pro-labor'' or ``anti-growth'' pieces -- depending on one's viewpoint --will be back again. Rep. Todd Taylor, D-Cedar Rapids, and Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, said unions will be back seeking fair share legislation, which would allow public employee contract negotiations to include a fee paid by non-union workers for benefits they gained in collective bargaining.

It may not be the most important change for labor, but it holds symbolism for union members, Dotzler said.

``It's deeply personal for those people who are working next to a (non-union) person who is free-riding,'' he said.

Labor is hoping the return of AFSCME member Rep. Ray Seeing, D-Monticello, from National Guard duty in Iraq will provide the margin they need to pass their priorities.

``We were pretty much one vote short on all those issues and that one vote is coming back,'' Dotzler said.

That has Rants worried.

``They were short one member all year long and so we've been able to dodge that with a coalition of Republicans and a handful of conservative Democrats,'' he said. ``But they'll have an additional vote, so I worry about things like fair share coming back that we might not be able to stop.''

Taylor is relishing that possibility. ``Labor didn't get much this year, and when you have the trifecta, it's not fun playing defense,'' he said, referring to Democrats' control of the House, Senate and governor's office.

Rep. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, promised to be back with election reform legislation. Although there was progress this year, she said, there's much left to do, including publicly financed elections.

``I guess it's a two-year process,'' she said. ``This year we did a lot of educating and next year we'll push for passage.''

One of the commissions meeting over the interim will look at comprehensive health care reform. Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ro Foege, D-Mount Vernon, hopes its recommendations will help lawmakers provide health insurance coverage to the 8 percent to 10 percent of Iowans not covered now.

Commissions/studies/reports passed by 2007 Legislature (25 Total as of April 28)
Economic Growth


  • HF 617 - Generation Iowa Commission Commerce

  • SF 514 … Interim study of the effect mandates have on
    health care coverage and rates

    Judiciary

  • HF 525 - Study unemployment on recidivism of criminals

  • SCR 7 … Commission to reorganize the Criminal Code

    Transportation

  • SF606 TIME-21 study to address revenue needs

    Human Resources

  • SF 489 … Alzheimer's Disease Task Force

  • SF 548 … Hemophilia Advisory Committee

  • HF 826 … Iowa Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission

  • SCR 6 … Legislative interim committee to conduct a study of
    the issues regarding ALS

    HHS Budget Bill HF 909

  • Requires the Department to provide an evaluation of the
    Iowa Collaborative Safety Net Provider network and the impact on
    the medically underserved.

  • Requires the Department, in collaboration with other State
    agencies, to conduct a review of Iowa's health and long-term
    care work force and report to the Governor and the General
    Assembly by January 15, 2008.

  • Requires the DHS and the Criminal and Juvenile Justice
    Planning Division of the Department of Human Rights to review
    the programming and effectiveness of the two highly structured
    juvenile programs and provide a report by Dec. 15, 2007.

  • Requests the Legislative Council to create an interim study
    committee for mental health advocates.

  • Requires the DHS to report to the General Assembly
    regarding the number of children on a waiting list for group
    care during the period covered by the report by Dec. 15, 2007.

  • Requires a study of the County Veterans Grant Program and a
    report by Oct. 1, 2008.

  • Requires a report of the needs of veterans by October 15,
    2008. Legislative Commission on Affordable Health Care Plans for
    Small Businesses and Families.

    Education

  • SF 601 … Research and Development Pre-K through 12
    feasibility study task force

  • HF 468 … Department of education study regarding student
    information systems

    Local Government

  • SF 155 … Local Government Innovation Commission

    State Government

  • SR 51 … Public financing for elections legislative study
    committee

    Natural Resources

  • SR 50 … Legislative committee to provide sustainable
    funding for natural resources

  • SR 31 … Legislative interim committee to conduct an
    examination of energy efficiency programs by the utilities board

  • SF 485 … Iowa Climate Change Advisory Council

    Appropriations

  • SF 403 … Real Estate Grant Committee

  • __________________
    Eric E. Durnan
    Wadena, Iowa

    [i]I don't see the glass as being half full or half empty. I see the glass as being twice as large as it needs to be. [/b]
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