Thursday, March 20, 2014

Stops and Starts at the Statehouse

It's been a few weeks since we talked about the status of the legislature, so I thought it would be appropriate at this time to revisit what is new in Des Moines. Last Friday was the second funnel day, meaning that in order for a bill to stay alive it must have passed at least one full chamber and sub-committee in the opposite chamber. However, bills that have an appropriation tied to them are funnel proof. The goal of the legislature remains ending early--you have to remember that this is a campaign season and our lawmakers would like to get home early to begin campaigning. The entire House is up for reelection, half the Senate, and the Governor is running for his 6th term. 

We all took government class in high school as a requirement for graduation, so I am pretty sure we all understand the basics of how laws get passed. Remember that old Schoolhouse Rock song: "I am a bill, yes I'm only a bill, and I'm stuck up here on Capitol Hill" I think that I may have just dated myself there...pretty sure none of our current students have any idea what I am talking about! Nonetheless, this catchy little tune would lead us to believe the process by which a bill becomes a law is a well oiled machine, with proposed legislation moving efficiently from one chamber to the other to be voted on and turned to law. No one I know is naive enough to believe that is how it happens. Legislation is subject to multiple starts and stops, political maneuvering, lobbying from special interest groups, and funnel deadlines. Most of the time it is not very much fun to watch, and the finished product often looks very different from how it started out. Sometimes it takes the work of several legislative sessions and constant persistence to move a bill from conception to law. That has been the case of SF 220, which has been a cause the Hudson Board of Education has been championing for years now. This bill is in the final stages of becoming law.

This original bill was designed to provide retirement incentives to employees from the ages of 55-65 to encourage turnover. This serves multiple purposes. First it honors the work and career of veteran teachers, and second it provides cost saving to the school district. How does it do this? When a veteran teacher retires, they are typically replaced by someone at a lower salary. Also, this law allows school districts to pay for the retirement incentive outside the general fund--which has the added benefit of preserving general fund budget authority. The main problem with the current law was that anyone who was above the age of 65 could still retire and have access to the incentive--but it had to be paid from the school general fund. This made it much more difficult to recognize cost savings, but the solution was simple: remove the top cap. We started out by discussing the idea with Senator Danielson years ago. Senator Danielson took up our cause and was able to move the bill to a committee hearing. The next year Senator Danielson was able to make even more progress, with the bill moving through the Senate and getting the file name SF 220. Unfortunately, upon reaching the House it was never taken up for debate. You will recall that last year the focus was on the education reform legislation that Hudson is now the proud beneficiary of! This year's General Assembly began with the the customary visits of both Senator Danielson and Representative Rogers to our school board. We knew that SF 220 existed in the halls of the House, we just needed to get it moving through the Iowa House. Representative Rogers stepped in and helped navigate the bill through the House. It was tentative at times, and I was not all that confident until this week. Representative Rogers gave me a call on Monday and told me that he was planning on running the bill the next day for debate on the House floor. It passed 100-0! There were two minor amendments to the bill, one was to change the date, and the other is to make it retroactive to last year. Both are great amendments, but do mean that it needs to go back to the full Senate for approval. I anticipate no trouble in the Senate. Once it clears the Senate, it is off to the Governor where he will have three days to sign it and make it law.

Although it has taken roughly three years to get the bill to this point, I will have to admit that the process has worked as it is supposed to. It should be difficult to change laws, and probably not something that should be done without careful deliberation and debate. I am also very heartened with the bi-partisan nature of this bill. It started with Democratic Senator Jeff Danielson moving and advocating for the bill through the Iowa Senate, and  Republican Representative Walt Rogers moving the bill through the Iowa House. SF 220 hasn't gotten a lot of press and probably won't, but it is an important bill that will help school districts control costs and provide fiduciary flexibility in a way that will ultimately enable us to provide top notch educational programs to students.

Now that we almost have that out of the way (we still have a few, very important stops to make this bill law), it sure would be nice if supplemental state aid was determined before everyone goes home to begin campaigning. The Senate has passed a 6% increase, that bill is sitting in the House waiting for movement.

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