Newsletter March 10, 2017

Newsletter March 10, 2017

Republican Voter Suppression Bill Advances

A controversial bill that will make it harder for more than 200,000 Iowans to vote passed the Iowa House this week. The legislation was pushed by Republican lawmakers despite opposition from local election officials and voting rights advocates due to the cost and to new regulations and hurdles for voters, poll workers and local election officials.

Earlier this week, a public hearing was held at the State Capitol and more than 215 Iowans signed up to speak against the bill –  a bill which disproportionately impacts the elderly, those with disabilities, the poor, and minorities.  Iowa currently has some of the best election laws in the country, with the 2nd highest integrity rating in the country, and does not have a voter fraud problem.  And voter impersonation fraud is nonexistent.  Iowa constantly ranks near the top of every ranking for election integrity.

Under the plan passed in the House by Republican lawmakers, Iowans will need a photo ID to vote – with strict new requirements on the type of photo ID that can be used for identification.  It also makes it more difficult to get an absentee ballot and will force many Iowans to make a follow-up visit to their county auditor’s office, after the vote, to ensure that their provisional ballot vote is counted.

House Democrats offered amendments that expanded voting rights and provided options to make it easier for all Iowans to vote.  These were defeated along party-line votes.  Now that the bill has passed the House, it will go to the Senate for consideration there.

Gun Legislation Moves to Senate

Republican lawmakers in the House have passed sweeping changes to the regulation of guns in Iowa and the bill is now headed to the Iowa Senate. The bill will make significant changes to purchasing, carrying, and using firearms, especially handguns.
Instead of the current law where annual background checks are needed to purchase handguns with a “permit to acquire”, House File 517 changes that permit to buy handguns – making it valid for five years with a single background check.

The bill makes extensive changes to the justified use of “reasonable force” and “deadly force”. The bill removes the law’s current requirement that someone must retreat at all, no matter where the person is, even if it can be done safely, before using deadly force. The bill also allows a person to be wrong in the estimation of the danger or the force necessary, as long as there was a “reasonable basis” for the estimation. There are several other changes and clarifications to “reasonable” and “deadly force” in the bill that make significant changes to current law.

Many local officials have expressed concern with the bill because it creates a process that prevents city councils and county supervisor boards from restricting weapons in local government buildings.
The bill also allows for the possession of a short-barreled shotgun or rifle. A short-barreled shotgun is a shotgun with a barrel less than 18 inches in length and a short-barreled rifle is a rifle with a barrel less than 16 inches in length. The overall length of either gun must be more than 26 inches. The federal requirements for possessing one of these weapons remain unchanged.

Other changes in the bill include making all personal information on “permits to carry” confidential; allowing anyone under the age of 21 to possess a pistol or revolver with supervision; preventing public officials from keeping weapons off the street in a time of public emergency such as a riot; allowing for possession of short-barreled shotguns or rifles; expanding who is allowed to carry a concealed weapon on K-12 school grounds; and allowing concealed weapons in the State Capitol.
The bill will next be considered by the Senate.

The Week in Photos

Interior Design is a multi-faceted profession in which creative and technical solutions are applied within a structure to achieve a built interior environment. These solutions are functional, enhance quality of life and culture of the occupants, and are aesthetically attractive.

There are approximately 1,250 jobs related to the design sector in Iowa. Licensure/Registration for this profession is important. Commercial Interior designers follow life-safety, fire, building codes and Americans with Disabilities Act specifications, as well as best practices for space planning, sustainability and green building practices, and ergonomics.

It takes 6 years (either a four-year degree and two years of work or two-year degree and four years of work) of school and experience plus passing a three-part NCIDQ exam to become eligible to be a Registered Interior Designer

I want to thank this energetic group for visiting with me this week.

Pictured: Registered Interior Designers Kelly Nelson of Tiffin, Kayla Helt of Iowa City, Erin Owens of Cedar Rapids, and Registered Interior Designer Kathy Stavneak of Des Moines.

For more information:


The Tuesday morning invocation was delivered by the Imam of Cedar Rapids’ very own Mother Mosque, Taha A. Tawil, the guest of Representative Liz Bennett.

The Mother Mosque, in Cedar Rapids, is America’s oldest continuously operating Mosque. Originally built in 1934, it was renovated extensively in the early 1990s. Muslims and non-Muslims alike came from Iowa and elsewhere to witness the historic re-dedication and the grand re-opening celebration, which took place on Saturday Feb 15th, 1992, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The primary influence behind the renovation and restoration of the Mother Mosque was Imam Tawil, who is a graduate of the University of Jerusalem with his LL.B in Islamic Law, and a Master’s degree in Religion from the University of Iowa.

It was my pleasure to visit with Mr. Tawil and to hear his peaceful and powerful prayer in the chamber. In these difficult times, those of us who respect our country’s, our state’s and our city’s history of embracing diversity, will continue to stand up against hatred and fear by celebrating our friendships and by expressing our love and compassion for one another.

We, in Cedar Rapids, are lucky to have this cornerstone of the Islamic faith community in our city. I look forward to strengthening my relationship with Mr. Tawil, as well as the members of the Mother Mosque.


Pella was recognized Tuesday morning on the House floor. Traditionally dressed residents were here to promote Pella as a tourist destination, and to pass out information about Pella’s 82nd annual Tulip Time celebration, which will be held on May 4, 5 & 6. Along with the Pella brochures, the group shared delicious Dutch treats from one of the incredible Pella bakeries.

If you live in Iowa and you have never visited Pella, you should plan a trip. Make it a point to visit this spring or summer. Even if you can’t be there for Tulip Time, Pella has a lot to offer, with a renovated square and a Dutch shopping area with the Vermeer Windmill, at 126 feet – the largest working windmill in the United States.

Pictured: Assistant Sergeant-at-Arms Steve Balderson looks on as a group of residents from Pella pose for a photo on the House Floor.


Tuesday I was fortunate to attend one of the most interesting and informative legislative receptions so far this session. The Iowa Flood Center, at the University of Iowa, is an organization whose mission is to improve flood monitoring and prediction capabilities in Iowa, while developing strategies to mitigate and prevent future flood damages.

Thanks to the work of this organization, Iowans now have access to the real-time flood conditions, forecasts, and maps to help them better understand their flood risk and be prepared when disaster strikes.
The Iowa legislature has supported the IFC with $1.5 million dollars annually. They have used this support to leverage over $125 million in outside support, which has allowed them to expand their work to watersheds all across Iowa.

One of the presentations included a virtual tour of downtown Cedar Rapids, on an advanced program the IFC has developed. The brain behind this project, implemented with the assistance of graduate students, is Dr. Ibrahim Demir, who talked me through the process as I wore the virtual reality headset. The user is able to adjust the virtual flood level of the Cedar River, and focus in on individual buildings to determine the level of damage they could suffer given their elevation and susceptibility. This was truly an incredible tool.

Additionally, I spoke with Grad Student Yusuf Sermet, and UI graduate Raymond Hammond. Sermet talked me through the programming of the artificial intelligence software, and Hammond demonstrated for me how to track live weather across the state of Iowa and view how rain water and snow melt will impact hundreds of individual locales throughout the state – even in real time.

All of the hard work has resulted in the IFC’s program being featured on the cover of this month’s Bulletin of the American Meteorology Society’s journal. This is a BIG deal.

I encourage everyone to take a look at this website, play around with it, and familiarize yourself with these tools. For those of you in Cedar Rapids, who have lived through the terrible flooding in recent years, this is an invaluable resource that can be used to make sure we are adequately prepared for future flooding events. There is even a mobile app and notification feature that will, once you sign up for it, alert you to potential and actual flood conditions in your area.

Dr. Ibrahim Demir talks me through the Virtual Tour of Cedar Rapids and how to use the tools this program offers.

Dr. Demir assists me as I explore the VR tour.

Graduate Student Yusuf Sermet explains the Artificial Intelligence component of their project.

The cover of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society for March, 2017.

University of Iowa Graduate Raymond Hammond shows Senator Amanda Ragan and I the flood monitoring software on the IFC website.

For more information visit:

Meeting this week with Dr. Jennifer A. Groos, MD, FAAP. Dr. Groos was here to discuss United Way’s Well Kids project.

Well Kids of Central Iowa attempts to Impact the health outcomes of children by addressing the driving factors of childhood obesity, including:

• Increasing physical activity for school-age children
• Increasing access to healthy food for Iowans receiving food assistance and WIC
• Providing a healthier environment with complete streets and safe routes to school
• Preventing and mitigating toxic stress and childhood trauma

Childhood obesity continues to be a prevailing public health issue with repercussions that are multi-faceted and have imminent long-term consequences. The broad clinical effects and psychosocial implications impact both the quality of life and the economy in Iowa. In 2010, an estimated 66% of Iowans were overweight or obese, 8% had been told they were diabetic and another 6% were pre-diabetic. These health outcomes also come at a financial cost with estimates attributing $738 million in Iowa health care costs to adult obesity in 2003, with almost 50% of those costs paid my Medicare and Medicaid.

By addressing the culture and habits that lead to these health outcomes early on, and by using a comprehensive approach, Well Kids aims to begin to decrease the costs, both health and financial, to all Iowans.

For more information:


Monday afternoon the House Local Government Committee, where I am the ranking minority member, held a Public Hearing to allow input on HF 295. The public hearing was requested by every Democrat on the Committee.

HF 295 is a bill that preempts local minimum wage increases and prevents local officials from further increases beyond the statewide standard. In addition, HF295 prevents local officials from enacting any ordinance/ law which prohibits broader or different categories of unfair or discriminatory practices than are currently provided in Iowa law. Affectively, local governments cannot pass ordinances making it illegal for employers/landlords to discriminate based on protected classes beyond what the state law already allows.
A third section of the bill prohibits local governments from regulation or restrictions on plastics bags and other packaging materials deemed harmful to the local environment.

The tone of this hearing was angry. The Iowa citizens at the hearing do not want us to roll-back the minimum wage increases passed by our local governments. The number of people speaking out against HF 295 outnumbered those speaking for it 15:1. Given this imbalance, Republicans arranged to have every single named individual (some were anonymous), on the “pro” list for HF 295, speak – in order to create the illusion that the opinion was split evenly. It clearly wasn’t.

House Democrats, including myself, have received overwhelming support in our effort to fight this bill. To quote something said during the hearings last night by an Iowa citizen, “You (Republicans) ran on local control. That isn’t something that you can champion when it’s convenient but then abandon it when a local government does something you disagree with!”


During a day filled with public hearings, the most contentious was last. At 7:00 p.m. Monday night, the House Committee on State Government began a Public Hearing on HF516, known as the Voter ID bill – and the public was there.

HF516 requires that all Iowa voters present a valid photo ID and allow an election official to verify their signature before they are allowed to vote. In addition, it requires additional state and local expenditures, eliminates straight party voting, limits a citizens’ ability to vote early by absentee ballot, and hinders political parties/organizations ability to actively register new voters prior to elections.

Many have called this bill a classic “solution in search of a problem.” What they mean, is that this bill is attempting to solve a problem that doesn’t really exist. Iowa does NOT have a problem with the integrity of our voting system or a problem of voter impersonation.

This bill may actually be an attempt to suppress Democratic voting. In recent years, Democrats have made significant gains in the ability to register minorities, immigrants, low income earners and the disabled. These groups, statistically, tend to overwhelmingly vote Democratic. The additional restrictions that Republicans are attempting to implement will most directly affect these minorities. A similar bill in North Carolina was struck down by the courts, saying that it “disproportionately affected” minority groups using “almost surgical precision.”

Even Iowa’s own Auditor’s Association, the county employees in charge of administering elections, have come out in opposition to this bill. John McCormally, a Des Moines Attorney who spoke at Monday night’s hearing had this to say, “I’ve had a chance to work on voter integrity laws across the state. Iowa’s system is respected nationally, that ends if this bill passes.”


Valuable for me to spend some time visiting with representatives of the University of Iowa, College of Public Health this week.

The University of Iowa, College of Public Health (CPH) serves as a comprehensive public health resource for the state of Iowa, the Midwest region, and the nation. The CPH, founded in 1999, offers training leading to bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees as well as combined degree options. In fewer than 20 years the UICPH has earned the distinction of being named one of the top 10 publicly supported colleges of public health in the nation, according to U.S. News and World Report and is Iowa’s only accredited school of public health.

Among the things we discussed Wednesday morning was research data sharing between the County Departments of Public Health and the College of Public Health, the impacts of the privatization of Iowa Medicaid, proposed repeal/changes to the Affordable Care Act, and the College’s participation in a public health study on violence, initiated by the Linn County Public Health Dept., funded by the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Natoshia Askerson, Assistant Professor of Community and Behavioral Health; and Aaron Horsfield, 3rd year student in Health Management and Public Policy

Dan McMillan, Director of Communication and External Relations

During a break in debate Wednesday I had the opportunity to visit with several members of the Kirkwood Community College family. Kirkwood President Mick Starcevich, Industrial Technology Department Coordinator Andrew Ewers, Business Management student Margaret Schnaufer, and Christopher Carl of US Cellular.

Margaret Schnaufer’s story is impressive. By the time she graduated high school, Margaret had also earned 24 credits in the college program. To put that in perspective, at Kirkwood, a full time credit load requires a minimum of 12 credit hours per semester. This means that by the time Margaret graduated high school she had earned the equivalent of 2 full-time semester’s worth of college credit.

Margaret accomplished this by dual enrollment with college classes at Kirkwood’s Regional Center and participating in Kirkwood’s Workplace Learning Connections (WLC) program. The program allows High school students (grades 11-12), in Benton, Cedar, Iowa, Johnson, Jones, Linn or Washington counties the opportunity to gain real-world experience through supervised internships. Interns develop employability behaviors that prepare them for the workplace along with insight that will help them make informed post-secondary choices.

In addition to WLC, Kirkwood also offers the Pathways for Academic Career Education and Employment (PACE) program. Community colleges across Iowa are working with business and industry through sector boards to develop training programs for jobs that have applicant shortages. The state PACE and GAP programs enable community colleges to offer in-demand training, making education affordable for low income or unemployed individuals. This is the program that Mr. Carl was here as a part of, in partnership with US Cellular.

I always enjoy an opportunity to visit with President Starcevich. Mick Starcevich is a tireless advocate for Kirkwood’s interests and, along with Andrea Ewers, was here to push for a return to previous levels of funding so that Kirkwood can avoid tuition increases. 65% of Kirkwood’s income comes from tuition. Even if they do raise tuition they will likely still be in the bottom three colleges in the state in terms of their per-credit tuition rate, but they would prefer that the state legislature provide adequate funding so they are not forced to increase student tuition, period.

Pictured: Christopher Carl, Margaret Shnaufer, Andrea Ewers, and Mick Starcevich

One of the silver linings to a frustrating legislative week was the quality of the projects and presentations available at the Capitol from the Iowa Nutrient Research Center.

The Nutrient Research Center’s goal is to pursue a science-based approach to nutrient management research through evaluating the performance of current and emerging nutrient management practices. Established in 2013, the center, established by Iowa State University, is meeting the need for continued research and innovation to address Iowa’s water quality concerns. Thus far the center has funded over 40 projects, which have been led by 76 scientists, while working in coordination with UNI, UI, other agencies, cities, farmers and Iowa landowners.

To continue this important work the INRC is asking for an incremental increase of $26,500 (representing a 2% increase) in state funding. This will allow them to continue research aimed at improving Iowa’s water quality and developing new ways for farmers to manage nutrients.

Senator Tod Bowman and I visit with Professor Tom Isenhart (brother of Representative Chuck Isenhart) and Larry Weber, Director of Hydro science & Engineering Institute at the University of Iowa.

Assistant Research Scientist Antonio Arenas demonstrates an interactive map charting rainfall history and nutrient loads over eastern Iowa and the Cedar River watershed.

Research Engineer Christopher Jones, PhD shows me another interactive map indicating monitoring points (with real-time data) along the river and stream network that feeds the Cedar River and directly affects Cedar Rapids.

For more information:


The Alzheimer’s Association visited the Rotunda Thursday to advocate for the HERO Project, which gave me the opportunity to visit with Alzheimer’s care advocate David Storey, as well as constituents Sam and Mary McCord.

The HERO Project is a caregiver resilience program created by the Alzheimer’s Association. Some of the Benefits of the HERO Project:

• Shows a decline in the number of caregiver hospitalizations
• Maintains lower caregiver stress levels despite degenerative nature of the disease.
• Connects families to home and community-based services and provides scholarships for respite
• Is primarily volunteer driven
Currently, advocates are seeking a legislative appropriation (in SF319 & HF 379) to expand the program statewide.

It was a pleasure to be able to speak with all three advocates today. I fully support their efforts, and I will fight to ensure that we fund this worthy and effective program.

Sam McCord and Mary McCord in the Well on the Floor of the House Chamber, and David Storey in the Rotunda.

In the Capitol Rotunda meeting with Bobbi Riedemann, Training/Communication Specialist for the Iowa Child Care Resource & Referral organization.

Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) is a program supporting quality child care throughout the state of Iowa. Their mission is to provide resources, education and advocacy to support quality child care.
Linn County alone has 362 total programs listed with ICCRR, reporting 13,111 total spaces reserved for child care. Bobbi informed me that ICCRR has recorded a 39% decrease in total child care providers in the last 5 years.

We discussed this trend – one that has left Iowa families with fewer options for affordable quality child care. We also discussed possible solutions, including a raise in the state’s minimum wage and economic development incentives for Iowa businesses (especially those with large numbers of workers) to locate child care facilities on-site for the children of their employees.

I want to tank Bobbi for taking the time to be here during a very busy week at the Capitol. I appreciate everything that she, and everyone at ICCRR, does to help ensure a happy childhood for children in Iowa.
For more information:

Continue Reading the Statehouse News

Mid-Year Budget Cuts Cause Waiting List at UI
Changes Likely for Worker’s Injured on the Job
Results Show 4,000+ Rape Kits Untested
Urban Trout Stocking Schedule
Derelict Building Grant Applications Due Next Month

To read the rest of my Statehouse News go to:

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