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With end in sight, House majority stalling on reform, budget

Published: Friday, April 19, 2013 11:37 a.m. CDT

With the legislative session scheduled to adjourn next week, we took a few steps forward this week, but also took a few steps back.  While house majority leadership set a goal to wrap-up early this year, the 100th day of the session will come and go next Tuesday. Mental health redesign and property tax reform are long overdue for debate on the house floor. What did the house majority choose to debate Wednesday afternoon? They brought up HF 2467, an act relating to the regulation of snowmobiles, ATVs, and boats. It’s time to focus on reform packages and a balanced budget.

Fortunately, the Senate is moving forward.

The Iowa Senate approved an education package with competency-based instruction at the center of their plan. Competency-based education is one of the newer, proven concepts in teaching that allows students to move on once they have mastered specific concepts and skills. The education plan which passed through the house also utilizes competency based concepts.  Perhaps this will serve as the common-ground necessary for compromise to take shape.

Other components of the Senate’s proposal include expansion of the Iowa core curriculum and annual teacher evaluations which include peer groups. The Senate addressed the online learning proposal in a more reasonable manner than the house majority by setting a cap on the amount of coursework a student would be allowed to take in this manner. They also set strict requirements on the providers of online education.

Still, major points of contention remain. The house majority voted to end Iowa’s successful $30 million class size reduction program.  Already approved by the Senate, the program helps schools reach a goal of 17 students to one teacher in kindergarten through third grade. With parents, schools, the Iowa Senate, and Governor Branstad all in favor of continuing Iowa’s class size reduction efforts, the house majority is clearly at odds with most Iowans and moving in the wrong direction. This issue has potential to slow negotiations.

While this week we saw progress in the education discussion, clearly, we have differences on how we improve our schools. Ironing out these differences is critical to provide Iowa’s kids with the best education possible so they can one day compete with workers from around the world in a global economy. As a member of the house education committee, I am committed to establishing a plan which will strengthen schools and provide support to educators, locally and statewide.

There is still a wide gap on the overall state budget. It’s important to remember, Iowa’s budget must be balanced as required by state law. Right now, the Senate majority and Governor are fairly close to agreement, but the house majority is still insisting on damaging cuts in our efforts to grow a skilled workforce. The house majority is still refusing to fund bipartisan efforts to help Iowans get back to work even though our state has a surplus of nearly one billion dollars. 

This session, I serve as ranking member on the Administration and Regulations Budget. All appropriations committees are made up of House and Senate members. We are working to appropriate 13 departments, agencies, and offices including; the offices of the Governor, Secretary of State, State Treasurer and State Auditor. We also set budgets for departments and agencies such as; Ethics and Campaign Disclosure, Drug Control Policy, Human Rights, and Inspections/Appeals, among others.

Although we are a ways from agreement, final negotiations on the Administration and Regulations budget are underway. A special conference committee was called by the Speaker and I was assigned to serve as lead House Democrat. In final negotiations, my priorities remain the same as the rest of the session. I want us to set an Administration and Regulation Budget which meets the needs of Iowans while finding cost saving reductions.

A budget proposal has been made to dramatically reduce funding to the Office of Drug Control Policy. We will discuss this in the Administration and Regulations conference committee. 

While I intend to help find common-ground and compromise that will work for Iowa, I am strongly opposed to this idea. 

The Office of Drug Control Policy works to help local law enforcement fight drugs. The office coordinates 23 multi-jurisdictional drug task forces covering 71 counties in Iowa. They are charged with creating the drug control policy and strategy for the state, and identify and administer federal grants to local law enforcement agencies.  

After visiting with law enforcement officials in Newton and Jasper County, I see the need for additional support with drug prevention and treatment. The entire state could benefit from this support. 

We need to not only address enforcement issues but also do what we can to eliminate the demand for drugs through education and treatment. This department is capable with adequate resources. 

I am fighting to provide these resources.

In the closing days of session, I’m going to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to reach compromise, put Iowans back to work, strengthen the middle class, and balance the state budget.

Feel free to contact me anytime at 641-521-9260 or dan.kelley@legis.state.ia.us. Visit my website at www.electkelley.com, ‘friend’ me on facebook, and ‘follow’ me on Twitter.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve.

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