Students and staff from the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health talked with lawmakers about their efforts to make Iowans healthier. I had a chance to visit with Senator Dvorsky, Sue Curry, Dean, University of Iowa College of Public Health and Chris Atchison, Director, Iowa State Hygienic Lab at the University of Iowa. Investments in public health pay off in two ways: Iowans—especially young people—are healthier and more able to lead productive, active lives; and their good health means lower health.
Nereida Castro and Ismael Ochoa are among hundreds of Iowans who have lost their hard-earned money due to wage theft. They talked with Sen. Matt McCoy and me about what they've been through. Iowa workers and honest Iowa employers suffer when bad actors short paychecks, confiscate tips, misclassify workers, take unauthorized deductions and fail to pay overtime. Ultimately, Iowa workers are cheated out of more than $600 million a year.
Not yet…but Spring is coming soon! Really!
Reducing the number of Iowans who live in inadequate housing is the mission of Habitat for Humanity Iowa. I spoke with Mark Patton about making homeownership a reality for Iowa’s low-income families.
On St. Patrick’s Day, the Iowa Senate was hosted the Honorable Michelle Mulherin of the Irish Parliament. She spoke about the history of the day in her home country. Her sister, Grace Mulherin, gave the opening prayer to start the day’s session.
Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place. Girls from across the state brought fun and plenty of smiles to the Capitol when they visited on March 20. Girl Scouts is a wonderful opportunity for young women to learn, grow, and get involved in their communities.
I joined veterans and parents of Iowa children who suffer from repeated, life-threatening seizures for a news conference advocating for appropriate treatment. A medicine made from cannabis, the scientific name for marijuana, has produced dramatically positive results in these cases. The medicine is legal in 20 states but not in Iowa. Last month, the National Epilepsy Foundation issued a statement saying that “an end to seizures should not be determined by one’s zip code.” Iowa is seriously considering making medical cannabis available through a restricted, responsible, medically supervised approach.
The Iowa Afterschool Alliance serves students outside of the traditional school day. That includes out-of-school time, before and after school, and summer school. Whatever the program, the group supports high-quality efforts to serve students through structured, hands-on experiences that engage students in learning and positive activities. Pictured: Rep. Sally Stusman, Jan VandenBerg (Iowa City School District) and myself.
Tammy Nyden, Cole Bullock, Joe Bolkcom, Mary Nyden
Kirkwood Community College Trustees talked with legislators about funding for Iowa's high-quality community colleges. I'm voting to boost the state's investment in community colleges this year. These new dollars will help keep tuition rates down so that all Iowans who want to further their education can afford to do it. Pictured with me, from left: James Mollenhauer, Paul Glenn, Sen. Wally Horn, John Swanson, Mick Starcevich and Sen. Bob Dvorsky.
Senator Bill Dotzler and I greeted members of the Iowa Bicycle Coalition when they Statehouse for the Iowa Legislative Bike Ride on April 1. Bike enthusiasts gathered for a five-mile ride on bike lanes and trails in Des Moines. Bicycling is becoming an important part of Iowa’s tourism industry.
University of Iowa Students and Alumni came together for a group photo on Hawkeye Caucus Day at the Statehouse. Go Hawks!
Wednesday was Hawkeye Caucus Day at the Capitol. It was an excellent opportunity to see everything that the University of Iowa is working on, and to talk with faculty from the university. Pictured with me is Wenfang Tang of the Political Science Department and Chaden Djalali, dean of the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
The Brain Injury Alliance and family members of Iowans on the HCBS Waiver waiting list gathered to support the elimination of the two-year wait for services for Iowans with disabilities. Eight million dollars is needed to begin the process of eliminating the 7,000-person waiting list so that these Iowans can receive the services and supports they deserve without going into nursing homes or institutions. I spoke at the press conference, urging the Branstad administration to work to end the waiting list.
On April 14, the Iowa Senate recognized this year's extraordinary accomplishments of Coach Fred Hoiberg and the Iowa State University men’s basketball team. Kris Bell and I are pictured here with Coach Hoiberg. The ISU team had one of its best years in recent memory, winning the Big 12 championship, advancing to the NCAA tournament, and getting knocked out in the Sweet Sixteen by the eventual champions, the University of Connecticut. Congratulations, Cyclones, for making Iowa proud.
Ms. Nichols’ 4th grade class.
Ms. Rocca’s 4th grade class.
Mr. Benton’s 5th grade class.
I spoke on the Senate floor in recognitions of John Pollak, who is retiring after almost three decades helping keep the machinery of state government working smoothly as a nonpartisan legal services research analyst, drafter, editor and committee services administrator.
John is dedicated to the ideal that good research and good counsel result in good legislation. On Wednesday, Republicans and Democrats alike stood to thank John for his service to the state of Iowa. He will be missed!
It was a pleasure to work closely with Rep. Clel Baudler (R-Greenfield) this session to help Iowa kids by legalizing non-intoxicating medical cannabis oil to treat epileptic seizures. He deserves a lot of credit for making this first step possible. In 21 other states, parents can already use oil derived from marijuana to reduce the frequency of life-threatening seizures. We are still waiting for the Governor to sign SF 2360 into law.
Rep. Mary Mascher, Sen. Bob Dvorsky and I met with members of the National Alliance on Mental Illness on May 29. We discussed the redesign of Iowa's mental health system and some of the successes of the 2014 session. We will continue to work together to improve education and access to resources for Iowans with mental health challenges.
I was on hand May 30 when the Governor signed Iowa's first medical cannabis bill into law. SF 2360 will provide access to life-saving medicine for patients with severe epilepsy. With the help of Iowa moms, this law is encouraging news for other Iowans suffering from debilitating diseases.
Cup plant flowering in my yard.
I ended my attempt at living on the minimum wage last Friday. After seven days trying to get by on $77 for food and gas, I failed. The Raise the Wage Challenge gave me a very small taste of the difficult decisions people face every day to get by. But this experiment is a world apart from what living on the wage is really like. I did not have to worry about feeding two or three kids on my budget. I did not have to worry about getting kids to school or daycare. There were no unexpected bills for car repairs or medical bills. No worries about rent or utility bills. I had enough food from my trip to the grocery store, but my travel to Des Moines for a meeting broke the budget. I appreciate the feedback I have received from people that have a lot of experience REALLY trying to get by on low wages. Their comments and suggestions show some of the harsh realities of this struggle. It is not fair to go to work every day, work hard and still not have the money you need to support you and your fa
My groceries for the next week.
Iowa has three outstanding state universities: the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa. To keep a great education affordable to Iowa families, I strongly support freezing tuition for an unprecedented third year. Preventing tuition increases is one way to reduce student debt. This week at the Statehouse, I met with Larry McKibben, former state Senator and member of the Board of Regents.
The Iowa members of the American Heart Association are working to equip all rural EMT ambulances with devices that can detect serious heart attacks that require an immediate response. Many of Iowa's volunteer-staffed ambulance services do not have "12-Lead ECGs," which can detect heart attacks that completely block the flow of blood to a section of the heart. The heart Association is seeking a state match to provide the needed equipment. Two EMS volunteers visited the Statehouse to show legislators how the system works. I met with Doug Chew of Urbandale, a cardiac arrest survivor and volunteer advocate for the AHA.
I welcomed a group of Johnson County activists to the State Capitol this week. They shared information about a successful effort to reduce the number of teenagers needlessly entering the criminal justice system. From left to right: Me, Kevin Bailey, Latasha DeLoach, Judge Deb Minot, Sara Barron, Chris Wyatt, Senator Kevin Kinney, and Senator Bob Dvorsky.
Iowa’s 2014 Teacher of the Year, Jane Schmidt of Maquoketa School District, spoke to the Senate Education Committee this week. I also briefly visited with her (and with Tania Johnson, the 2013 Iowa Teacher of the Year) on the floor of the Iowa Senate. Schmidt said that Iowa schools must focus on standards and high-quality teaching to prepare students to be successful in the 21st century. She stressed the importance of continuing Iowa’s new effort to help improve teaching by pairing expert teachers with teachers looking to improve their skills.
I chaired my first Senate Ways & Means Committee meeting of the year on January 15. Looking on is committee member Herman Quirmbach of Ames. Sen. Quirmbach is an economics professor at Iowa State University.
The men and women who work for Iowa’s Department of Corrections have important, and sometimes dangerous, jobs. On January 22, I had the opportunity to thank them for their service and to discuss ideas to improve safety in Iowa communities. I talked with Iowa Department of Corrections Board Member Larry Kudej and Director John Baldwin.
Volunteers help our communities in many ways. Recently, volunteers from throughout Iowa converged on the Statehouse to discuss ideas to expand volunteerism and help meet critical community needs. Patti Fields of Iowa City, a member of the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service, shared with me our state's wide-ranging efforts improve lives, strengthen communities and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering.
Iowa medical cannabis leaders met with Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal this week to discuss needed improvements to the Iowa medical cannabis program. From left: Sen. Joe Bolkcom, Jon Curtis, Sally Kickbush Gaer, Sen. Gronstal, Connie Slayton Norgart, Katie Tillman Krug, Jeri Goodell, Maria la France and Lori Foley Tassin. Legislation will soon be introduced to address their concerns for a workable Iowa program.
Prior to an Iowa House public hearing on school funding, Sen. Dvorsky and I had a chance to talk with parents and educators who were on hand to make their voices heard. Among them were Patti Fields, Steve Murley and Chris Lynch of Iowa City Schools.
The Iowa Firefighters Association represents 15,000 professional firefighters across Iowa. The organization works to improve training and equipment while educating Iowans on the best ways to prevent fires. Iowa’s firefighters, both volunteer and professional, provide valuable, lifesaving services. John Pederson is an advocate for the Iowa Firefighters Association.
I joined my friends at Progress Iowa for a news conference releasing ALEC WATCH, an ongoing effort to expose the work of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and to empower Iowans to hold their elected leaders accountable. The report found that ALEC model bills continue to be introduced in the Iowa legislature. Progress Iowa identified at least nine bills with ALEC influence from the most recent legislative session. Bills to privatize education, weaken consumer standards, and the annual iterations of ALEC’s ‘stand your ground’ model were introduced. You can learn more at http://www.progressiowa.org/sections/progress-report/54c7956a75c9a1a82f000003
Representatives of the Center for Worker Justice spoke with after a Statehouse presentation on wage theft. Each year, $600 million in wages are stolen from Iowa workers by unscrupulous employers, and the majority of businesses that play by the rules are put at a disadvantage. We must strengthen Iowa law to ensure all workers are paid what they are owed. Pictured from left: Matthew Pierce, Misty Rebik, Katie Wilson, Justin Banks and Valentine Ruiz. Ms. Wilson, Mr. Banks and Mr. Ruiz spoke out at a press conference highlighting the issue of wage theft in Iowa.
Nearly 13 percent of Iowa families are considered food insecure, meaning they don’t have reliable access to enough affordable, nutritious food. Iowa food banks make good use of private donations, but the need is greater than the resources on hand, says Bob Andrlik from Table to Table.
Kristen Missall of the University of Iowa told me how the Iowa Reading Research Center is working to improve reading skills among students. Created in 2012 and housed in the Iowa Department of Education, the organization works with families, teachers and caregivers to improve literacy. Parents of children learning to read will find resources at www.iowareadingresearch.org.
Arriving at work at the east entrance of the Capitol on Thursday morning.
I’m so proud of our Kirkwood Community College students. In recent years, Democrats and Republicans have worked together successfully to help Iowans gain the skills businesses need through coursework and training at our community colleges. Iowans of all ages are taking advantage of these new opportunities. It is a “win-win” situation. Iowa businesses have the skilled workers needed to succeed and expand, and more Iowa families are joining the middle class thanks to high-wage, high-skill jobs.
I talked with members of the Iowa Emergency Medical Services Association that were on hand to share with legislators the life-saving work EMS providers do in Iowa every day. Pictured with Sen. Kinney and me are Joshua Stilley, the medical director of Iowa EMS and Jason Brodie and Brian Platz of the Iowa City Fire Department during their visit to the Capitol on January 29.
The United Ways of Iowa is a membership association of local United Ways serving communities all over Iowa. Tim Stiles of Iowa City United Way shared with me how the association supports and enhances the outstanding work of local organizations. Learn more at www.uwiowa.org.
This week, Rep. Bobby Kaufmann and I announced the creation of a working group to explore Iowa’s role in protecting farmland to grow local food.
Monica Gilkison of Iowa City talked with me about Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services during a visit to the Capitol with the State Rehabilitation Council. Many barriers must be fixed so that people with disabilities can work, acquire assets, support their families and participate in society just like everybody else. Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services has helped more than 2,205 Iowans with disabilities obtain the employment they want and need.
Early morning at the Capitol this week
Iowa's school districts have continually emphasized the importance of the state’s Area Education Agency system. AEAs provide special education services, leadership in staff development and curriculum integration, and support in media and technology, and the close working relationships among AEA staff, superintendents. When AEA staff recently visited the Statehouse, I thanked them for their dedication to making Iowa one of the best states to get an education.
On Thursday February 5, Major General Timothy Orr, adjutant general of the Iowa National Guard, delivered the annual Condition of the Guard address to a joint meeting of the Iowa House and Senate. General Orr said thousands of Iowa National Guard soldiers and airmen have served in combat and support roles in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 13 years. Currently, about 150 are deployed overseas, the lowest number since the start of operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. After his address, I thanked him for his service to our state and to the Iowans in the National Guard.
I enjoyed talking with community college students and the staff helping them gain the skills that Iowa businesses need to thrive and expand. Among those who visited the Senate chambers were Mialisa Wright, a Kirkwood Pathway Navigator, and Judy Stoffel, a Kirkwood Student Access Program Developer.
On Wednesday, I talked with ISU President Steven Leath and Wendy Wintersteen, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. They are members of a new organization, Grow Iowa Ag, which is working on a multi-year effort to grow Iowa agriculture through investments in research and extension services. They are passionate about continuing Iowa’s farming tradition.
Jeri Goodall, Jon Custis and Sally Gaer joined Iowans from across the state who shared their struggles with cancer, epilepsy, Crohn’s Disease, PTSD and Multiple Sclerosis. They told legislators that Iowa's medical cannabis law approved with strong bipartisan support last year has yet to help a single person. Republicans and Democrats are working to fix that.
Among those who told their stories to encourage lawmakers to improve Iowa's medical cannabis law were Brandon Brase (who suffers from Crohn's Disease), Jon Custis (a Vietnam vet who suffers from PTSD), Jeri Goodall (whose grandson suffers from Epilepsy), Dan Endreson (Public Policy Manager for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's Upper Midwest Chapter) and Lori Tassin (a cancer survivor).
The League of United Latin American Citizens visited the Statehouse to encourage legislators to invest more in Iowa students. Emmy Quinde told me that doing more to help young English language learners will pay off with greater academic and vocational success.
The Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence is a nonprofit organization that helps battered women, men and children. Representatives from the organization shared with me ways we can improve how we deal with domestic violence. For more information, go to www.icadv.org.
Dermatologists Kim Schulz, Erica Colleran, Susan Wall, Marta VanBeek and Nkanyezi Ferguson from the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics are working to protect Iowans from skin cancer. Iowa is one of very few states that allow minors to use tanning beds, something closely linked to future skin cancers, along with premature aging and eye damage. Young people, whose skin is still developing, are especially at risk of damage from tanning beds.
I participated in a press conference on Thursday in support of clean water with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. We are working on a bill to update our law on banning the spreading of manure on frozen, snow covered and saturated ground. Here is a link to a story about the legislation: whotv.com/2015/02/19/bill-introduced-to-tighten-manure-application-laws.
Raising Iowa’s minimum wage is a top priority of the Iowa Catholic Conference. It has been seven years since Iowa’s minimum wage of $7.25 an hour has been increased. All but one of Iowa’s neighboring states has a higher minimum wage. On February 24, Bishop Richard Pates from the Diocese of Des Moines was at the Statehouse. Later that day, I was part of a bipartisan majority that voted to increase Iowa’s minimum wage to $8.75 an hour.
On Wednesday, I spoke with AARP member Judy Stockfleet from Cedar Rapids. The Iowa chapter of the American Association of Retired People were at the Capitol to advocate for a variety of issues affecting Iowa's seniors, including healthcare and financial security.
University of Iowa President Sally Mason was at the Statehouse yesterday to present information to the Legislature’s Education Appropriation Subcommittee. Here is a link to the story about the meeting in today’s Cedar Rapids Gazette: http://thegazette.com/subject/news/university-presidents-pitch-new-funding-model-20150226.
Senator Dotzler speaks at the medical cannabis press conference.
The Iowa Flood Center is engaged in flood projects in several Iowa communities and produces flood-related research. IFC researchers have designed a cost-efficient sensor network to better monitor stream flow across Iowa and are working to develop new floodplain maps for 85 of Iowa’s 99 counties. Sara Steussy of the Iowa Flood Center talked with me about how Iowa can reduce the loss of life and property due extreme climate events.
Iowa Jobs for America’s Graduates (iJag) is dedicated to mentoring and keeping students motivated to complete their educational goals. This organization has helped 15,000 at-risk youth and is continuing to grow. They currently help students in 35 programs across the state. Pictured with Sen. Dvorsky and me are iJAG students and faculty Tzetzilt Chablet, Sarah Richardson, Jordan Lehigh, Tim Wright, Cody Leistikow and Rick Spear.
Iowa's county governments provide a variety of essential services to Iowans. For state, local and county governments to do our jobs well, we have to work together. Linn County Supervisor Linda Langston visited the Statehouse to talk with legislators about issues of interest to both state and county leaders.
Doug Elliott is with the East Central Iowa Council of Governments. The Iowa Association of Regional Councils brings together leaders and communities to promote economic growth, improve public services and solve community issues. They have helped create 2,600 jobs, rehabilitated 2,900 homes and secured more than $226 million for local infrastructure projects.
On Thursday, I had the honor of speaking to a gathering of more than 100 NAMI advocates about the need to stop the closure of our mental health services at Mt. Pleasant and Clarinda, slow down the rush to privatize Medicaid and adequately fund mental health services. Governor Branstad is balancing his budget by cutting mental health funding. It is going to be hard to stop him.
Robert F. Kirby, director of the Honors Program at the University of Iowa, brought many high-caliber UI students and their research projects to the Statehouse this week.
Rebecca Barrett, also an Iowa City native, has studied artificial blood vessels for tissue engineering at the University of Iowa.
Research is a cornerstone of higher education. This week, legislators saw some amazing research projects from students at Iowa’s three state universities. Iowa City native Abigail Lee from the University of Northern Iowa has studied Morning Glory leaf changes.
Chelsea Ryan from the University of Iowa has studied the brain regions involved in the memory processes.
Twenty-two UI College of Journalism students were at the Capitol yesterday. The students held a news-conference-style Q-and-A to help gain experience covering issues with elected officials. They had many good questions.
Rep. Stutsman and I talked with Mark Patton who works with Habitat for Humanity. Habitat for Humanity brings volunteers together to help build homes for those in need. Their “Rock the Block” program helps homeowners repair, secure and maintain their property. For more information on how you can become involved, visit www.habitat.org and find your local chapter.
Keith Schilling of Iowa Hydroelectric & Engineering and Matt Helmers of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center were at the Statehouse as part of a series of presentations on the links between Iowa’s water quality and the loss of nutrients in soil, like phosphorous and nitrogen.
On Tuesday, the Iowa Senate passed Senate Resolution 24 honoring Dr. Sally Mason and her achievements as president of the University of Iowa. I, along with Senator Kinney and Senator Dvorsky posed with President Mason on the Senate floor.
University of Iowa College of Law students visited the Capitol this week to discuss the need to support our public universities. Great students!
My long lost older brother, Governor Rick Perry visited the Capitol yesterday.
This year’s “Awards for Excellence in History” recognize individuals, organizations and communities that have made outstanding contributions to the study and practice of Iowa history. George Mills/Louise Noun Award recognizes the author of the most significant popular history article on an Iowa history topic during the previous year. It is named in honor of Iowa reporter and popular historian George Mills and historian of women’s history and philanthropist Louise Noun. Congratulations to award recipient Susan Futrell of Iowa City for her article “Atoms Amidst the Cornfields: Pride, Patriotism and Secret Atomic Research at Ames, Iowa”. Pictured (l-r): Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Director Mary Cownie, Susan Futrell and Gov. Terry Branstad on Monday at the State Capitol Building in Des Moines.
Timothy Walch of Iowa City was named honorable mention for the George Mills/Louise Noun Award for “A Capital Librarian! The Life and Times of Forrest Spaulding” at the “Awards for Excellence in History” ceremony Monday at the State Capitol Building in Des Moines.
The Mildred Throne/Charles Aldrich Award recognizes the author of the most significant article on Iowa history in a professional history journal during the previous year. It is named in honor of Mildred Throne, longtime editor of the Iowa Journal of History and Politics, and Charles Aldrich, who founded the third series of the Annals of Iowa. Congratulations to award recipient Eric Steven Zimmer of Iowa City for “Settlement Sovereignty: The Meskwaki Fight for Self-Governance, 1856-1937”.
I spoke with Senator Kevin Kinney of Oxford on the day the Iowa Senate passed legislation to crack down on human trafficking. Before retiring, Kevin worked on some of the first successful Iowa investigations of human trafficking as Lieutenant with the Johnson County Sheriff's Department. Human trafficking often involves the sexual exploitation of children for money. Because of Iowa’s interstate highways, it is one of our state’s fastest growing forms of organized crime. Advocates hope the Iowa House will also support the effort to increase both the effectiveness of Iowa law enforcement actions against human trafficking and the support provided to victims.
Former State Senator Jack Kibbie is known as the Father of Iowa’s Community Colleges. He shepherded the bill creating our community college system through the Legislature in 1965. He was on hand to help us celebrate the 50th anniversary of what has become a national model.
ID Action disability advocates lobbied at the Capitol on Wednesday. Advocates shared concerns about the privatization of Medicaid and the need to fund services at adequate levels. It was good to have Iowa City advocates at the Capitol.
Senate interns volunteer their time to assist us with everything from photos to press releases to Facebook. Their hard work helps us accomplish so much more than we could otherwise. These students come from colleges and universities throughout Iowa. I am pictured here with Kyle Torkelson from West Des Moines. He is studying Political Science at the University of Iowa. You can learn more about internships with our staff office at the Statehouse at www.senate.iowa.gov/democrats/internships.
May 4-8 is Teacher Appreciation Week.
I spoke with my colleague Senator Amanda Ragan on the final day of the legislative session. We worked together on many important Human Resources issues this year, including the Health & Human Services Budget, which she chairs.
I participated in a hearing about the Branstad Administration’s unprecedented attempt to create a massive corporate tax by circumventing the traditional legislative process. In 2013, the Branstad Administration asked the Legislature to exempt machinery and equipment used in manufacturing from sales tax. While the idea has merit, we’d approved a $300 million business property tax cut that year. Passing an additional, on-going corporate tax cut would have been fiscally irresponsible at that time. The Governor is now trying to put this massive corporate tax cut in place by bypassing the Iowa House and Senate. This doesn’t sit well with many Iowans, especially after the Governor vetoed a bipartisan compromise to invest $56 million in our local schools and millions more for higher education, saying the state couldn’t afford it. The Governor should reconsider and drop plans for a costly tax cut that will continue to undermine our ability to educate our kids.
As a member of the Legislature’s Health Policy Oversight Committee, I heard testimony this week from state officials about what to expect from Governor Branstad’s privatization of Iowa Medicaid. If fully implemented, the Governor’s decision would have negative impacts on Iowa’s most vulnerable citizens and Iowa’s healthcare providers. I am concerned that people in our communities will be denied critical medical services and that local providers will not be adequately reimbursed for the medical care of patients.