Local lawmakers discuss AEAs, eminent domain and variety of other topics

Gun Rights

Iowa lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn in two weeks, although that goalpost has traditionally been loosely adhered to in the past.

As the session draws toward its conclusion, local lawmakers visited with constituents Saturday for another round of the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Coffee public forums, held this time at the Council Bluffs Public Library. A final installment is scheduled for Saturday, April 13, at 9 a.m. at Wilson Middle School.

Lawmakers dove into the most pressing issue in recent weeks, an overhaul of the state’s area education agencies. The Iowa Senate passed a compromise bill advanced from the Iowa House last week, and Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the legislation on Wednesday.

State Rep. Brent Siegrist discusses the recently enacted area education agency legislation during a Legislative Coffee event hosted by the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce at the Council Bluffs Public Library on Saturday, March 30, 2024.


Rep. Brent Siegrist, a Council Bluffs Republican, was one of the key votes on the bill. He is the former director of the Iowa Association of Area Education Agencies and had said several Republican colleagues looked to him for guidance on how to vote on the issue, a priority established by Reynolds in the early days of the session.

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The bill also combines state supplemental aid, with a 2.5% boost to school budgets, and earmarks money for teacher raises. Siegrist said that had the teacher raise funding gone into the general fund allocation, which it didn’t, it would reflect about a 4.6% overall funding increase. Siegrist described the raises as “hugely beneficial” to rural schools and the inclusion of paraprofessionals as “important for special education” services.

“That will give them an opportunity to raise their salaries so they can make more than McDonald’s employees do,” Siegrist said.







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Iowa House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl, right, speaks during aLegislative Coffee event hosted by the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce at the Council Bluffs Public Library on Saturday, March 30, 2024. Watching him, from left, are Rep. Josh Turek, Sen. Dan Dawson and Rep. Brent Siegrist.




Siegrist said the AEA bill was a difficult vote for him, but he supported it because he does not think it will destroy the AEA system and he didn’t want to see Reynolds spend the time between now and the next session “trashing the AEAs.”

“People can shake their head, but that’s the reality, that’s the way that it unfortunately works,” Seigrist said. “We have to deal with the governor.”

Allowing school districts to keep 10% of the special education funding, while still directing at least 90% to the AEAs, “will not substantially disrupt the special education services across the state,” he said.

Siegrist hopes to serve on a task force that will review changes to the AEAs, a step he said should have been taken before legislation, with a report due back next January.

State Sen. Dan Dawson discusses the recently enacted area education agency legislation during a Legislative Coffee event hosted by the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce at the Council Bluffs Public Library on Saturday, March 30, 2024.


Sen. Dan Dawson, also a Council Bluffs Republican, said the bill gives school districts more control over how the money is used, and he said a lot of urban districts — including the Council Bluffs Community School District — are pleased with the legislation, even if they wish it went further.

“It’s all in the eye of the beholder, right?” Dawson said. “But when we have some people disappointed on both sides there, it also helps get something closer to the middle.”

State Rep. Josh Turek discusses the recently enacted area education agency legislation during a Legislative Coffee event hosted by the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce at the Council Bluffs Public Library on Saturday, March 30, 2024.


Rep Josh Turek, the lone Council Bluffs Democrat in the local delegation, said that the AEA issue has dominated the conversation in the State Capitol.

“I’m just fundamentally opposed as someone who had benefited from the AEAs,” Turek said.

Turek said the shifting in funding would probably have worked for Council Bluffs, but he said lawmakers represent the entire state. He praised the teacher raises, and he said he didn’t understand why the House landed at 2.5% instead of the initial 3% funding boost.

He also criticized how the 49-page amendment was dropped two and a half hours before a scheduled vote, calling it a “disservice” to Iowa residents.

“We should operate the right way,” Turek said.

Eminent domain for pipeline projects

Lawmakers were asked to weigh in on legislation that would allow landowners to challenge eminent domain requests by carbon dioxide pipeline companies, seeking to have a district court declare in advance if eminent domain would be allowed.

State Rep. Brent Siegrist discusses a proposal to allow pipeline eminent domain cases to request a declaratory order from the Polk County District Court during a Legislative Coffee event hosted by the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce at the Council Bluffs Public Library on Saturday, March 30, 2024.


Siegrist said he believes that landowners should be able to seek the declaration on the front end of negotiations with a company, which would also potentially benefit the pipeline companies by making the process move more quickly.

State Sen. Dan Dawson discusses a proposal to allow pipeline eminent domain cases to request a declaratory order from the Polk County District Court during a Legislative Coffee event hosted by the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce at the Council Bluffs Public Library on Saturday, March 30, 2024.


Dawson said the crux of the eminent domain issue is that states like California that use carbon scoring mechanisms that necessitate the pipelines, or else those states won’t allow Iowa ethanol to be sold in the state without mitigation.

“People love property rights as well, it’s near and dear to all Iowan’s hearts,” Dawson said. “The rock and the hard space on this issue is that if we cannot figure out a way to mitigate Iowa’s ethanol plants’ carbon scores, we are going to be cutting ourselves out a lot of markets there, which is going to adversely impact our farmers, which will adversely impact our state.”

State Rep. Josh Turek discusses a proposal to allow pipeline eminent domain cases to request a declaratory order from the Polk County District Court during a Legislative Coffee event hosted by the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce at the Council Bluffs Public Library on Saturday, March 30, 2024.


Turek said he agrees with Dawson’s remarks about eminent domain, which he said should be used exclusively for the public good — which is beyond the scope of the House bill.

“It’s really, really clear that Iowa has by far the most to lose or gain on this,” Turek said. “The ethanol industry is huge, and if we do nothing, we will definitely be the state the loses the most economically on this.”

Probation workforce education credits

State Rep. Josh Turek discusses a proposal about probation workforce education credits as well as how legislation moves through the Iowa House and Iowa Senate during a Legislative Coffee event hosted by the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce at the Council Bluffs Public Library on Saturday, March 30, 2024.


Turek admitted to planting a question about House File 349, which relates to probation educational workforce credits. The bill passed the House but has stalled in the Senate.

Dawson, speaking as a state senator who also works for the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation, said national groups will bring model legislation to various states in an effort to satisfy the aims of their donors.

Sometimes those proposals are good, and sometimes they’re bad. Both liberal and conservative groups bring proposals. Sometimes they’re solutions in search of a problem, Dawson said.

State Sen. Dan Dawson discusses a proposal about probation workforce education credits as well as how legislation moves through the Iowa House and Iowa Senate during a Legislative Coffee event hosted by the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce at the Council Bluffs Public Library on Saturday, March 30, 2024.


He said HF 349 is such a bill trying to bring bipartisan criminal justice reform to probation systems across the country. The legislation has been watered down over the years, he said.

“When you talk to our local probation officers and people in the Department of Corrections who are kind of a separate entity a little bit there, no one sees a need for this bill,” Dawson said. “This is something our probation officers are already doing right now.”

Dawson said he doesn’t see a reason to codify what probation officers are already doing.

State Rep. Matt Windschitl discusses a proposal about probation workforce education credits as well as how legislation moves through the Iowa House and Iowa Senate during a Legislative Coffee event hosted by the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce at the Council Bluffs Public Library on Saturday, March 30, 2024.


Often the House brings proposals that stall in the Senate, said House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl, a Missouri Valley Republican whose district wraps around Council Bluffs. The disconnect happens in part because the House has more members, so it hears from more people with more suggestions.

“It’s just different chambers,” Windschitl said. “It’s just how the chambers work. It’s why we have the bicameral system. You’ve got two different deliberative bodies that are there trying to take your ideas and your concerns and turn them into good public policy.”

Turek said he was curious about where Dawson was on the bill, which he said he supports.

“Once they leave prison, I think education is going to be vitally important for them to reintegrate into society, and so I think it’s a good bill,” Turek said.

State Rep. Brent Siegrist discusses a proposal about probation workforce education credits as well as how legislation moves through the Iowa House and Iowa Senate during a Legislative Coffee event hosted by the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce at the Council Bluffs Public Library on Saturday, March 30, 2024.


Siegrist, who also has served as majority leader, said there are so many bills that come up, and most members rely on likeminded colleagues who are passionate about certain policy areas.

“You don’t always have time to delve into each one of these issues to the extent that you’d like to, but you learn to trust people,” Siegrist said. “You learn to really respect other people’s opinions and it helps you with your votes, as do your constituents.”

Pesticides, fertilizer and cancer rates

Local lawmakers discuss a bill to limit liability for pesticide manufacturers and Iowa’s cancer rates during a Legislative Coffee event hosted by the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce at the Council Bluffs Public Library on Saturday, March 30, 2024.


A plant that produces the herbicide Roundup located in Muscatine has drawn attention for bills seeking to limit the liability of pesticide manufacturers from lawsuits alleging the products inadequately disclosed the risk of causing cancer.

Windschitl said the problem is the Environmental Protection Agency controls the labels for Roundup and other products, so the company’s hands were tied in terms of disclosure to the consumer, who should have a fair warning of the risks they face from exposure.

It’s unclear whether action will take place on the bills, Windschitl said.

“It’s another tort reform bill,” he said. “At the end of the day, we always need to make sure that we’re coming back to the individual and making sure that you’re protected in the law, but that you’re also properly warned.”

Siegrist said he hasn’t formed a decision yet, but he’s received emails that suggest that some of the organizing going on don’t address the actual bill.

“It’s a pretty difficult issue,” he said. “I’m not sure if it’s going to move.”

Turek said he’s opposed to limiting liability for corporations, and he cited Iowa’s climbing cancer rate as a major issue facing the state. He said he asked experts about the cancer rate for disabled Iowans, and he was told farmer actually face higher cancer risk.

“I think there’s a direct correlation there,” he said.

Local lawmakers discuss a fertilizer spill in the East Nishnabotna River during a Legislative Coffee event hosted by the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce at the Council Bluffs Public Library on Saturday, March 30, 2024.


Turek also pointed to a fertilizer spill that killed fish in the East Nishnabotna River last month, threatening well water and contributing to the pollution of the state’s waterways.

“There was no fish found alive,” Turek said. “In this state, we’re just not doing enough. It is not enough of a priority for us.”

Siegrist said he assumes the Iowa Department of Natural Resources will heavily fine in the case.

“In terms of those types of accidents. I think the current law probably covers that pretty extensively,” Siegrist said.

Gadsden flag plates and firearm safety

Local lawmakers discuss a bill to create Gadsden flag license plates during a Legislative Coffee event hosted by the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce at the Council Bluffs Public Library on Saturday, March 30, 2024.


The Iowa House is advancing legislation to allow a Gadsden flag vanity license plate, with the extra proceeds from that going to a local affiliate of the National Rifle Association that teaches firearm safety. Other organizations that teach firearm safety could also seek grants.

“Other states have these plates,” Windschitl said. “They have similar structures of how that funding goes to those organizations. It’s no different than any of the other vanity plates that we have out there.”

Ultimately, “it’s up to the consumer,” he said. “If you don’t like it, don’t get it.”

Local lawmakers discuss firearm safety and legal requirements from residences to discharge firearms in Iowa during a Legislative Coffee event hosted by the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce at the Council Bluffs Public Library on Saturday, March 30, 2024.


Lawmakers were also asked a question about firearm safety, specifically about whether any new legislation addresses the distance from habited dwellings needed to lawfully discharge a firearm.

Windschitl told an audience member that distance right now is 200 yards, and he said local law enforcement officers should be enforcing that requirement when complaints are made.

Allowing cameras in nursing homes

Local lawmakers discuss a proposal to allow cameras inside nursing homes during a Legislative Coffee event hosted by the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce at the Council Bluffs Public Library on Saturday, March 30, 2024.


Lawmakers were asked again, after a discussion at the last Legislative Coffee forum, why a proposal to allow cameras in nursing homes, with some restrictions for privacy concerns, hasn’t cleared the Iowa Legislature.

Windschitl said the bill doesn’t have consensus, but it still could be included in a legislative package before adjournment this session.

“The camera would be non-recorded, but you could get on to that camera, access it in real time, and be able to make sure that that person is being taken care of properly,” Windschitl said. “It’s an ongoing issue, and we’re trying to do it, but it has to be a voluntary basis.”

Turek said he’s in favor of the legislation and said proponents have gotten nursing homes on board and have addressed privacy concerns.

“We’ve got a quality piece of legislation,” Turek said. “I think we’ve got enough to get it across the finish line.”

Confirmation of education leader

Local lawmakers discuss the appointment confirmation of Iowa Education Director McKenzie Snow during a Legislative Coffee event hosted by the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce at the Council Bluffs Public Library on Saturday, March 30, 2024.


Iowa Department of Education Director McKenzie Snow faced a heated hearing on her qualifications to lead the department in the Iowa Senate last week, as senators decide whether to confirm her nomination by Reynolds.

Windschitl, replying to the question, noted that the issue won’t go to the Iowa House, which has no role in the confirmation process, so he handed the microphone to Dawson.

Dawson said believes similar arguments being made against Snow could have been made about Democratic appointees in prior administrations.

“There is some character besmirchment going on,” Dawson said.

Neither the Iowa Constitution nor Iowa Code requires the department director to have prior classroom or school administration experience, he said.

“Are those things nice? Yes,” Dawson said. “The Department of Education is probably the one department at the state level that we’ve had the most complaints on. … She’s getting blamed for stuff that was the previous (director of education) and two (directors) before.”

Turek chimed in to say that that appointees should have educational or occupational experience.

“We want the most competent people that we can possibly have in every single role in the state,” Turek said.

Snow must receive two-thirds approval from senators, which means if all 34 Senate Republicans support her, she’ll have enough votes to be confirmed.

Rollbacks v. valuation increases

State Sen. Dan Dawson discusses property tax rollbacks versus property valuations during a Legislative Coffee event hosted by the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce at the Council Bluffs Public Library on Saturday, March 30, 2024.


Dawson responded to a question asking why the state adjusts its rollback rate down as property valuations increase, creating a confusing situation for property tax payers.

The rollback was first applied in 1978, and it limits growth in taxable value statewide — not at the individual community level. The rollback rate moves back and forth based on valuations.

“It’s supposed to be some type of relief valve for the homeowner,” Dawson said. “We’re the only state in the nation to do such a system.

He said Iowa hasn’t been able to control its property tax levies, with the rollback providing a default control on taxes. But he said if Iowa’s system was a “great, novel idea,” it would have been spread across the country as model legislation — which hasn’t happened.

“It’s not a good idea, right? It’s a Band-Aid for a broken system,” Dawson said. “We need to get to something more transparent.”

AG’s audit of contraceptive program

Local lawmakers discuss Attorney General Brenna Bird’s lengthy audit of a program to provide reimbursement for emergency contraception to rape victims during a Legislative Coffee event hosted by the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce at the Council Bluffs Public Library on Saturday, March 30, 2024.


Siegrist addressed a question about Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird’s audit of a program that provides partial reimbursement to rape victims for emergency contraceptives. Her predecessor used the program to cover abortions in rare situations.

Bird launched the audit upon taking office 14 months ago, and her office said the review is in its “final stages” and that a report would be released soon.

Siegrist said that Bird has “probably” had enough time to make a decision.

“Regardless of where you’re at on the life issue or what have you, I think she should make a decision,” Siegrist said. “I do think the attorney general should make a decision one way or another, so people know where it’s at.”

State Rep. Matt Windschitl gives introductory remarks during a Legislative Coffee event hosted by the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce at the Council Bluffs Public Library on Saturday, March 30, 2024.


State Rep. Josh Turek gives introductory remarks during a Legislative Coffee event hosted by the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce at the Council Bluffs Public Library on Saturday, March 30, 2024.


State Sen. Dan Dawson gives introductory remarks during a Legislative Coffee event hosted by the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce at the Council Bluffs Public Library on Saturday, March 30, 2024.


State Rep. Brent Siegrist gives introductory remarks during a Legislative Coffee event hosted by the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce at the Council Bluffs Public Library on Saturday, March 30, 2024.


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