The 2012 session of the Iowa Legislature was gaveled into session on January 9 at the Statehouse in Des Moines. During this new session, the main focus will be on fiscal issues to foster economic growth in the state, while protecting the state's property taxpayers and controlling the overall growth of property taxes.
A priority in 2012 of the Iowa Farm Bureau will be building on that organization's success during the 2011 session, when Farm Bureau was instrumental in providing property tax relief by leading an effort to backfill $160 million in state money for schools. "We will work to make sure that the agriculture productivity formula for property taxes on farmland is protected and that Iowa's property taxpayers are not put at risk when new funding mechanisms are pursued for government services," says Craig Hill, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau.
Fiscal issues will remain as the focus in 2012 Iowa Legislative session
Other topics and issues of importance to Iowa agriculture that will be looked at during this new legislative session include:
Securing additional funding for voluntary soil and water conservation improvement programs.
Continued reform of Iowa's regulatory process to strengthen legislative oversight and control of the rulemaking process.
Development of long-term funding mechanisms for the repair of Iowa's deteriorating roads and bridges.
Passage of an agricultural protection bill to implement penalties for individuals or organizations who gain access to farms under false pretenses in order to commit an act not authorized by the farm's owner.
The 2012 Iowa Legislature opened its session January 9 and it is expected to last into April. Last year's legislative session went longer than it usually does, and this year legislative leaders from both parties are promising they will get their work done on time. Last year there was more than the usual amount of budget bickering between Democrats and Republicans, and differences of opinion with Iowa Governor Terry Branstad regarding coming up with a workable budget. Deciding on a budget for the state of Iowa for the upcoming fiscal year was a real sticking point that caused the 2011 session to be extended.
The makeup of the General Assembly in the 2012 session is similar to the 2011 session. Republicans hold the majority in the House of Representatives, while Democrats retain a two-seat majority in the Iowa Senate.
Protecting ag productivity formula is a priority for farmland assessment
Craig Hill was elected Iowa Farm Bureau president in December. He says protecting the agricultural productivity formula is a priority because it is critical that farmland continues to be assessed on its ability to produce crops rather than on land prices. "That's particularly important in times of rising values for farmland, like the period we are currently experiencing," he says.
In the 2012 session there is likely to be an effort in the Legislature to reform commercial property taxes. Hill says Farm Bureau will work to ensure that any reduction of commercial property taxes does not create a shift that would put the burden onto other classes of property.
Legislators will also look at redesigning the Iowa Mental Health and Disability Services system. Hill says Farm Bureau will work with lawmakers to ensure that any changes to the funding system will reduce the burden on property taxpayers, and that property taxpayers' share should remain limited and controlled.
Funding of state soil and water conservation programs will also be debated
As the largest farm organization in Iowa, Farm Bureau supports increased state funding to implement incentive-based, voluntary conservation programs, says Hill. "These programs are currently underfunded, and demand for cost-share dollars exceeds available funding by more than $15 million," he notes.
The organization will lobby to increase funding for current soil and water conservation programs, prioritize watersheds to increase effectiveness of programs, and support further research on best management practices for farmers to put conservation programs to work on their farms.
Farm Bureau will also continue to lobby for regulatory reform during the 2012 session. "Unwarranted regulations add unnecessary and unexpected costs to farming," says Hill. "In recent years we've seen numerous examples of rules developed by governor-appointed boards and commissions without the direction of the state Legislature."
Regulatory reform is needed in writing of state rules to carry out laws
In some cases state agencies have the rulemaking authority to change Iowa regulations to comply with new federal requirements. It is important that state agencies and appointed boards and commissions working on behalf of state agencies do not exceed their authority by creating policy that pushes the rules beyond federal requirements. "That is a decision that should be made by the Legislature, not by an appointed board or commission," says Hill.
Also, all rules need to be based on sound science to determine their need, relevance and effectiveness. "When science and common sense are used to justify the need for regulations, it's important that sources for the data are made available for the public to review. In addition, all regulations and rules should be subject to a periodic review to determine if they are still needed and relevant."
Gas tax funding is needed to repair Iowa's deteriorating roads, bridges
Another issue the legislature will tackle this session is where to get the funds that are needed to repair Iowa's deteriorating roads and bridges. Farm Bureau supports Iowa Governor Terry Branstad's proposal to find efficiencies in state road construction. In addition, Farm Bureau also supports an increase in the state fuel tax as the most equitable way to provide additional long-term revenues to rebuild Iowa's roads and bridges. Branstad has refused to go along with the idea of raising the state fuel tax this year.
Farm Bureau lobbyists also will push for passage of legislation that would impose criminal and civil penalties for persons or members of organizations who gain access to farms under false pretenses. The farm organization says penalties should also apply to persons who commit acts not authorized by the owner, that damage crops or livestock.