Half of the Iowa Legislature is done for the year. Lawmakers in the Iowa House adjourned a little before 6 a.m. Thursday after a marathon session that started Wednesday morning. The Iowa Senate is scheduled to finish its work Friday, May 2. Gov. Terry Branstad issued a statement Thursday praising approval of the Home Base Iowa Initiative and some of the other legislation, but expressing disappointment that a couple of key bills he supported failed to clear the Iowa Senate.
Branstad's statement as 2014 legislative session draws to a close:
"In January, Lt. Gov. Reynolds and I brought forth a simple message: 'Iowa is Working.' In fact, Iowa Workforce Development recently reported that more Iowans are working than ever before in our state's history and our unemployment rate of 4.5% is 7th lowest in the nation.
"We are proud to see a number of our policy proposals approved by the 2014 Iowa Legislature. We're pleased the Legislature joined us in support of a robust Renewable Fuel Standard early in the session. In early April, the House and Senate passed our plan to repurpose public buildings to serve as centers of economic development and commerce.
"The centerpiece of our legislative plan, Home Base Iowa, won broad bipartisan support. In March, Greene County became the first Home Base Iowa Community. Iowa businesses have already set a goal of filling over 2,900 jobs in our state with veterans. The Home Base Iowa jobs plan passed by the Legislature shares our vision of offering veterans a superior quality of life as they transition from the military to civilian life.
"As we travel the state, business and community leaders tell us of the high-quality jobs available, but there is the inability to fill them because applicants lacked the specific skills. The apprenticeship bill will triple funding for apprenticeship programs and ensure more Iowans are prepared to fill the high-quality jobs available across our state.
"For the second year in a row, our budget proposal called for a tuition freeze at our Regent universities. The Legislature's passage of our proposal to freeze tuition represents the first tuition freeze at Regent universities in consecutive years since 1980.
"After two years of advocating for legislation to strengthen Iowa's laws against bullying, we are disappointed the Senate again failed to take action to protect Iowa's students from bullying in our schools. Unfortunately, in the closing hours of the session, Iowa Senate Democrats blocked the measure to provide a safe and secure classroom. We will continue to fight for our children because every student deserves a learning environment that is conducive to educational growth and free of harassment and bullying.
"We launched the 'Connect Every Iowan' initiative to increase access, adoption and use of broadband technology in Iowa. Technology is the great equalizer and we know for Iowa to continue to grow and prosper, we must have quality broadband technology all across Iowa. We are disappointed that Iowa Democrats chose to put election-year politics ahead of good public policy. We plan to continue working to bring high-speed Internet access to all corners of the state, not just to population and industrial centers.
"The budget we proposed in January spent 91% of authorized capacity, 8% below the requirement by law. Our budget balanced in a five-year budget projection. It balanced when we accounted for our commitment to fully fund the historic tax reduction passed last year and our unprecedented investment in Iowa schools.
"Over the coming weeks, we will carefully review the budget passed by the Legislature. After years of budget mismanagement, Iowans expect us to maintain responsible budgeting. Our careful planning has taken us from a projected billion dollar spending gap when we took office to a $700 million budget surplus today. Our priority, and our responsibility, is to ensure we adhere to sound budgeting principles that adequately address our state's needs without following the Washington, D.C., playbook of spending ourselves into a budget cliff. Simply put, we are committed to a budget that is in balance now and in the future.
"Despite the partisan tone of the session, we are pleased there was agreement on the majority of our legislative plan. Our plan continues growing Iowa's economy, attracts and matches military members with quality careers in our communities, offers more job-training opportunities for Iowans and holds tuition steady at our Regent universities. Politics should never get in the way of passing meaningful legislation for the taxpayers we serve." Following are what Branstad considers to be the key accomplishments in 2014 at the Statehouse in Des Moines.
Key 2014 Legislative Accomplishments
Protecting a robust Renewable Fuel Standard (House Resolution 101, Senate Resolution 101)
1) The Iowa House and Senate followed Gov. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Reynolds' lead in supporting a robust Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).
2) On January 14, 2013, in his Condition of the State Address, Gov. Branstad called for the Legislature to act right away to show broad bipartisan support for the RFS. The Iowa House and Senate adopted the resolutions on January 16, 2014.
Repurposing of Abandoned Public Buildings (Senate File 2339)
1) Turns what used to be centers of education into centers of commerce.
2) Repurposes the crumbling structures with renewed investment, and reinforces the foundation with new jobs.
3) The bill allows public property that is vacant, blighted, obsolete, or otherwise underutilized to be eligible for grayfield site tax credits helping to promote revitalization in Iowa communities. The bill was signed April 10, 2014.
The Home Base Iowa Act (Senate File 303)
1) The Home Base Iowa Act fully exempts military pensions from state income tax, putting Iowa on more equal footing with states such as Florida and Texas, and our Midwestern neighbors such as Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. In addition, the bill fully exempts military survivor benefits from state income tax.
2) Iowa's licensing boards will adopt rules allowing credit for military training and experience in the licensing process.
3) Allows private-sector companies to follow the public sector's lead by allowing a preference in hiring and promoting veterans.
4) Eliminates the special plate issuance fees charged for plates associated with military service.
5) Expands eligibility for the Iowa Finance Authority military homeownership assistance program. The program receives a $900,000 increase over the previous year to a $2.5 million total via House File 2463.
Reducing Student Debt (Senate File 2347)
1) In 2013, Gov. Branstad proposed and signed the first tuition freeze at Regent universities in 30 years.
2) This year, the Legislature again approved the Governor's call for a freeze in tuition at Regent universities. This is the first tuition freeze in consecutive years since 1980.
3) The Regents universities received a 4% funding increase, with an additional $2.6 million of funding going to the University of Northern Iowa to ensure a tuition freeze would be possible in Cedar Falls.
Iowa Apprenticeship and Job Training Act (House File 2460)
1) Apprenticeships allow students to earn while they learn, rather than taking on significant student debt. They provide the apprentice with focused, hands-on training and a paycheck from day one.
2) Nationwide, there are registered apprenticeships for more than 1,000 occupations, with programs impacting 250,000 employers and approximately 450,000 apprentices. In Iowa in FY13, there were 662 registered apprenticeship programs, and over 8,100 registered apprentices.
3) With over $8.8 billion in capital investments incentivized by the Iowa Economic Development Authority, demand for a skilled workforce has increased all across our state.
4) The Governor's bill triples funding for apprenticeships while reforming and improving the state's apprenticeship program.