News from the State House

by State Representative Patti Ruff

Our state is facing a dramatic skilled worker shortage that threatens the future of our economy. Many businesses – especially in rural Iowa -- are already having trouble finding the skilled workers they need to be successful and if we don’t turn it around soon, they’ll be forced to relocate or expand outside of Iowa.
Unfortunately, the problem is only going to get worse if we don’t take action. Right now, 56% of jobs in Iowa are middle skill jobs. These jobs require more than a high school diploma with an associate’s degree, a training certificate, or an apprenticeship but not a four year degree. However, just 33% of our workforce has this skill set.
This week, I toured Allamakee Community Schools and saw first-hand how the high school and business along with NICC are addressing this issue. One business, JB Holland Construction, Inc is working on a first of its kind certificate program for construction. It is partnerships like this that need to grow and expand to fill a shortage in this particular workforce.
I also met with Farm Bureau folks from Winneshiek, Howard, and Chickasaw at the Capitol. I received formal resolutions from several area school boards urging my support for at least 4% in school aid. I will continue to push for this much-needed funding for our schools.
I will be holding a forum Saturday, February 28 at 10 a.m. at the McGregor Public Library; I really hope to see everyone there.
Synthetic Drugs
In a continued effort to combat synthetic drugs, Iowa’s Attorney General has joined with 39 other state Attorney Generals in asking major gasoline and convenience retailers to help stop the sales of synthetic drugs.  These synthetic drugs are targeted to kids, and emergency rooms across the country have seen an increase in admissions from persons using some type of synthetic substance.
The Iowa Legislature, law enforcement officers, and prosecutors are committed to doing everything they can to keep these dangerous chemical concoctions out of the reach of children. In addition to adding to the ever growing list of illegal chemical components to Iowa’s list of illegal synthetic drugs, the Attorney General won a consumer protection lawsuit against a convenience store that was selling synthetic substances. This lawsuit was decided in January.
This was the Attorney General’s first case using the consumer protection approach, and in coordination with undercover law enforcement, they uncovered nearly 1,000 packages of synthetic substances. Besides the $50,000 fine given in January, the store owners will also face a one year liquor license suspension and criminal charges are expected to be filed against the relevant employees.
Special Online Schools
Despite objections, the House passed a bill to extend the special online schools at Clayton Ridge and CAM School districts indefinitely.  The bill passed with additional requirements for the schools, such as parent teacher conferences, and less reporting requirements for students on free and reduced lunch.
Since the programs can advertise and open enroll students from all around the state, funding for those students go to Clayton Ridge and CAM.  Then, including Iowa property taxes, $4.6 million is paid to private companies outside the state that provide the online learning programs.
The bill now goes to the Senate where its future is uncertain. If the Senate refuses to act, the online schools would sunset in July.
Fantasy Sports Betting
The ability for Iowan’s to receive cash prizes as a result of winning fantasy sports contests moved one step closer to becoming law last week.
Currently, Iowa is one of five states that prevent its citizens from participating in fantasy sports for monetary prizes. According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, around 32 million people in the United States play some type of fantasy sports.
The Unlawful Gambling Enforcement Act, passed by Congress in 2006, defines fantasy sports as a game of skill and not gambling. Opponents of the bill argue that the bill opens the door to online gambling in the state and may allow minors to participate. The bill passed the House State Government Committee 16 to 5 and will now head to the Iowa House Floor for a vote.
Tanning Ban for Minors
The World Health Organization rated indoor tanning in its highest cancer risk category. This is the same category as cigarette smoke, asbestos, and radon gas. Total doses of ultraviolet rays from a tanning bed may be as much as five times that found in natural light.
The House Human Resources Committee passed legislation that would ban minors from tanning at a tanning facility. Currently, all but nine states have regulations for tanning by minors.
According to the American Cancer Society, 75% of melanoma in people 18-29 years old were attributed to using a tanning bed and the risk of melanoma increased by 87% for people who started using tanning beds before age 35.  Opponents of the bill feel that parents should have control over what actions their minor children can do.
The bill now moves to the Iowa House for consideration.
Nuisance Properties and Abandoned Buildings
The House Economic Growth Committee approved a bill, recommended by the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA), which will help cities deal with nuisance properties and abandoned buildings.
The bill creates a new revolving loan fund at IEDA designed to help cities fund the acquisition and demolition of nuisance structures. IEDA would loan money directly to cities at low interest rates and the repayments would be returned to the fund for new loans.
IEDA plans to initially fund the program by transferring allocated amounts from repayments and recaptures from the High Quality Jobs Program in each year, as funding levels allow.
Great Iowa Treasure Hunt
Every year, there are millions of dollars turned into the State Treasurer’s office as lost or abandoned property. This property comes in the form of safe deposit box items, dormant financial accounts, unclaimed utility refunds, uncashed checks, and stock certificates and dividends.
The State Treasurer’s office becomes the holder of these assets until the missing owner can be found. Owners are located through mailings, publications, and listings that are displayed at the Iowa State Fair. There is no time limit to file a claim, and there is no fee assessed once the property or money has been returned the owner.
To date, the State Treasurer’s office has returned $188,722,032 back to the rightful owners. To see if you have unclaimed property or money visit:
Notices for Crime Victims
Crime victims would receive additional notice under a bill approved by the Iowa House Judiciary Committee this week. The bill would extend the period of time that the Board of Parole must notify a crime victim of a parole hearing. The time extension would be even longer for a crime victim located out of state, at least 60 days in advance of a parole hearing.
The bill would also allow the Board of Parole to provide notification of the hearings by email if the victim has requested this type of notification. These email notifications would not take the place of notification by regular mail.
The bill, House Study Bill 26, passed the House Judiciary Committee on a unanimous vote. The bill will now be considered by the full Iowa House.