News, State Feed

Deep budget cuts loom for Iowa as session nears adjournment

DES MOINES (AP) — Iowa Republicans have had plenty to celebrate this legislative session, as they pushed through a conservative agenda ranging from gun rights expansion to public worker collective bargaining restrictions, but none seem to be enjoying the final task of balancing the state budget.

Although GOP lawmakers pride themselves on reducing government spending, they acknowledge it's hard to make the deep cuts needed in the face of sluggish tax revenue growth. Available money has also been reduced by tax cuts and credits approved in previous years.

"We have to leave here with a balanced budget," said GOP Rep. Pat Grassley, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "We're going to have to make difficult decisions to do that. But I think Iowans expect us to make the tough decisions, not kick the can down the road."

Lawmakers could complete work as soon as this week on a roughly $7.24 billion budget that is more than $110 million less than what lawmakers approved last year, following a mid-year budget cut. A separate shortfall of more than $130 million was plugged with a rainy day fund, but Republicans have promised to pay back that money within two years.


Editorial: No answers in sight as Iowa exchange crumbles

Iowa's health insurance exchange this week became the poster child for self-fulfilling prophecies.

In just 72 hours, Iowa's version of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, crumbled under its own weight and the additional heft a Republican White House with no interest in supporting it. 

Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Aetna last week both announced departures from Iowa's exchange in 2018, citing mounting financial losses and continued "uncertainty." That leaves Iowa's exchange with just one provider, Medica, which has yet to make its future intentions known. Wellmark and Aetna represent a majority of the Iowa exchange's total plans. 


Gun rights bill passes Iowa Senate, likely headed to Branstad

The Iowa Senate voted Tuesday to approve legislation making sweeping changes to the state's firearms laws, including a controversial stand-your-ground provision authorizing deadly force.

House File 517, which has already passed the Iowa House, was approved on a 33-17 vote.  Because the bill was amended, it must return to the House. But House Republican leaders are expected to accept the changes, which means it will likely be headed soon to Gov. Terry Branstad, who is expected to sign it.


Alliant's new $700M natural-gas fired Iowa plant set to go online

MARSHALLTOWN, Ia. — Alliant Energy will begin supplying energy this weekend from a $700 million natural gas-fired plant in Marshalltown that'll produce enough electricity to power 500,000 homes.

The Times-Republican reports the Marshalltown Generating Station is the biggest economic development project in the community's history and one of the largest ever in central Iowa.

Alliant officials say the economic impact has been chart-busting over the past two and a half years, with $47.3 million spent in the Marshalltown area by contractors and workers as of Feb. 13.


Corn is still king in Iowa, but soybeans are catching up

Iowa farmers expect to plant 600,000 more acres to soybeans this year in a search for stronger returns. But the bump still isn't enough to unseat corn as king in a state that has led the nation in production for more than two decades.

U.S. growers plan to plant a record 89.5 million acres to soybeans this year, right behind corn's nearly 90 million acres, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Friday. It's the nation's first look at growers' planting intentions.​


Iowa House advances fireworks, impaired driving bills

DES MOINES — Legal fireworks and tougher penalties for distracted drivers involved in fatalities were approved by Iowa House committees ahead of a Friday deadline for legislation to win support in both chambers of the Legislature.

Both bills had been approved in other committees, as well as in the Senate, but had to win passage in the House Ways and Means Committee because of fees and taxes involved.

Senate File 489 legalizing fireworks went off but not without several committee members trying to douse the bill that would allow the sale and display of pyrotechnics around the Fourth of July and during the Christmas-New Year’s day holiday period. It was approved 14-10 with bipartisan support and opposition.


Google, Microsoft, back Iowa constitutional amendment

The Iowa Constitution would offer protections against unreasonable searches and seizures of Iowans' electronic communications and data under a constitutional amendment advancing through the Iowa Legislature.

House Joint Resolution 1 has already been approved by the Iowa House and received unanimous support Tuesday in an Iowa Senate subcommittee. The amendment would be made to Section 8 of Article 1, which now protects the right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, paper and effects. It would require the issuance of a search warrant based on probable cause for search and seizure of electronic communications and data.


Fantasy sports wagering advances in Iowa House

DES MOINES — It’s unlikely fantasy sports betting will be legal in Iowa before this year’s NCAA men’s basketball championship, but an Iowa lawmaker is looking ahead to next year.

A bill to legalize fantasy sports betting cleared the House Ways and Means Committee 23-2 Wednesday and will be eligible for full House debate next week.

If representatives approve the bill, which is similar to a version approved by the Senate in the past, Iowans could legally bet on the 2018 NCAA championships as well as other sports events.


Iowa sheriffs dispute claim that they're not cooperating with immigration officials

Four Iowa sheriffs are among the city and law enforcement officials around the U.S. questioning the accuracy of a Department of Homeland Security report that lists jurisdictions refusing to cooperate with federal requests to detain undocumented immigrants.

The report was prompted by an executive order signed by President Donald Trump in January that called on the government to document jurisdictions that are not cooperating with federal efforts to find and deport immigrants in the country illegally.


Iowa Senate approves election law changes

DES MOINES — Iowa senators approved GOP-backed election law changes Thursday that proponents say will improve election integrity but that critics insist will suppress turnout and raise costs to county taxpayers.

Majority Republicans made several changes to a House-passed bill before voting 26-21 to pass House File 516 and return it to the House for consideration.

The bill was opposed by 20 minority Democrats and Ocheyedan independent Sen. David Johnson.

“The bill would require all voters voting at the polls to provide proof of eligibility, as well as all absentee ballot requests to contain a personal voter identification number on the request form,” said Sen. Roby Smith, R-Davenport, the bill’s floor manager.

“The public realizes that they have to show their photo ID to get on an airplane, buy a beer or open a checking account. This legislation is common sense,” he said.