This week began the real work in the Senate after all the pomp and circumstance surrounding last week faded. There were budget subcommittees meeting for the first time this week. We started to work through the respective appropriation targets of party leaders and the targets given in the Governor’s budget shared with us during the Condition of the State last week.
In the Education Appropriation Subcommittee on which I serve, we discussed the funding of workforce programs, community colleges and regent universities and schools for the deaf and blind, as well as funding for Iowa Public Television and Public Radio.
School start date has received attention after the Governor ordered the Department of Education to stop issuing waivers for schools to begin before the law stipulates. The law takes control from local school boards to allow for Iowa students to participate in activities like local and State Fairs and go on family vacations before returning to school. Because this is a complex issue, I have assigned myself to the subcommittee for SSB 1058, so we can move forward to find a way to maintain local control of education while striving to preserve families’ summer activities.
I have been receiving inquiries from across my district about clean water and soil conservation. The Republican-led Legislature, along with the support of Governor Vilsack, in 2000, adopted the “I on Iowa” water quality initiative. The legislation was designed to improve soil conservation efforts. The Department of Natural Resources and Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship directed funding specifically for the installation of additional buffer strips, retention ponds, and grass waterways to keep the soil on the ground. The Legislature also appropriated $35 million in the newly created Environment First Fund, which dedicated these resources specifically to improve water quality and lower soil erosion. EFF is still producing results. In addition, there have been many special programs implemented since 2000, including the Nutrient Management Plan of 2013. This was designed to help lower the hypoxia in the Gulf by 45 percent through the voluntary efforts of thousands of Iowa producers. I am willing to work with all of you to find meaningful solutions for agriculture and Iowa.
Along the same lines, water quality has been in the news recently after it was reported the Des Moines Water Works Board of Trustees voted to proceed with a lawsuit against three northwest Iowa counties due to high nitrate levels found in the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers. The pending lawsuit, under the Clean Water Act, was approved by the water works board on January 8. As Iowans we need to work together to address these issues and that begins with communication and the voluntary cooperation between Iowans. My greatest fear from these lawsuits is that it will open all of Iowa up to lawsuits from municipalities outside of Iowa. If we are to find a reasonable and responsible solution to Iowa’s water quality demands, we must work together and not battle against each other.