BV Co. on disaster list; Changes for solar customers

CAPITOL LETTERS

BY STATE SENATOR MARK SEGEBART

R-District 6, Vail

Happy spring. When you look around and see all the flooding that is going on I think the 6th district has been fortunate. The governor added Audubon County to the State Disaster Declaration this week. Crawford and Buena Vista counties are already part of the declaration. This means state resources may be activated and deployed to assist with the ongoing disaster at no cost to local jurisdictions. State resources include equipment, personnel, technical assistance/guidance, supplies, and essential services to provide assistance in the form of debris removal, traffic control, levee patrol, security, vaccines, transportation, and other emergency response and recovery capabilities. A governor's proclamation may also make assistance available to low income residents in the proclaimed counties.

The peregrine falcons are back flying around the Capitol. They patrol the Capitol grounds and keep other birds away that tend to make a mess on the Capitol. They nest on the east side under the roof, they come in pairs and raise their young there. I made many phone calls this week interviewing governor appointees to the 34 state boards and commissions. The Senate gives final approval to all these appointments.

In the Legislature

This week the Senate passed Senate Resolution 11 recognizing the 100th anniversary of the creation of the American Legion in Iowa. We had several American Legion members on the Senate floor with us as we passed the resolution. It was an honor to be able to meet these incredible individuals and thank them for all they have done in service to their country and other veterans across the state.

One of the bills passed in the Senate this week is Senate File 341, which brings some much needed changes to the current protections for service animals and assistance animals in housing and public places. This bill has been in the works for over a year as we hear more and more stories of an actual service animal being attacked in a public place by an untrained pet wearing a vest bought on the internet. Our goal is to ensure our veterans and civilians with disabilities are able to go about their lives without having to worry about whether or not the other animal is a trained, professional, working service dog.

Another bill passed on the floor this week is Senate File 548. This bill ensures private individuals do not have to compete with another private entity that has the unfair advantage of using taxpayer dollars to reduce the total amount owed for the property. Currently, an individual borrowing money at the market interest rate is going to have to pay significantly more to purchase property than an organization that has access to state funds in order to obtain a 0% or .25% interest rate on their loan, even if both entities are paying market value.

There has been a lot of misinformation about what this bill does. The bill does not do anything to inhibit land purchasing for water quality or conservation by local governments or watershed protection organizations. It only ensures a private conservation organization is using those state and federal dollars to install water quality practices, not to help it purchase land.

Floor debate has taken up most of our time as we finish week ten of the 2019 legislative session. We are already over halfway through the session and while we’ve been busy, there is still much we hope to accomplish in the next few weeks. As we continue to consider major issues like the budget and tax reform, I urge you to contact me with your concerns, questions and comments.

An equitable solution for solar customers

Since the first day of a Republican Senate Majority, we have set out to pass legislation to level the playing field for all Iowans. This week, we passed a bill, Senate File 583, to do exactly that for energy customers and consumers.

There are many Iowans who have chosen to install solar panels for private energy generation on their property. The concern is these consumers are currently not paying the equal charges other customers are paying for upkeep and maintenance of the grid, because utilities currently recover their infrastructure expenditures through a customer’s energy charge (kWh usage).

Those who use solar panels to offset their energy consumption use the grid 99% of the time when compared to regular customers.  They use it during the day to offset their energy use and push out excess generation to the grid. At night, or when it is cloudy outside, they pull energy from the grid, just like every other customer. However, when a solar customer uses their generation to offset their kWh usage, they are avoiding grid infrastructure costs despite the fact they use the grid just as much as their neighbor without solar panels. 

Senate File 583 creates a system to allow customers to pay their fair share of infrastructure costs. This proposal provides an equitable solution for all customers by providing them with options best suited for their solar use, provides certainty for anyone who wants to install solar in the future, grandfathers those who have already made an investment based on the existing rates, and helps support reliable and affordable energy infrastructure for all Iowans.

Returning power to local government

School board members are elected by their neighbors down the street and across town. They are citizens who take a vested interest in children’s education. In many cases though, decisions are often made in Des Moines through state mandates instead of local school board members being entrusted to make these important choices.

Senate Republicans kept local control in mind when drafting Senate File 438. The bill advanced this week in the Senate and would allow school board members to make decisions in the best interest of the students they serve. It eliminates a number of state mandates on school districts and removes mandates such as having the school serve as the middle man for paperwork on dental screenings, vision screenings, student eye care, and blood lead testing. This bill does not eliminate the requirement that children should have health screenings or eliminate the requirement that the data is collected to ensure those screenings occur.

Another mandate the bill eliminates is the requirement that school districts, community colleges, and regent universities use environmentally friendly cleaning products. There is no reason the state should dictate what cleaning products schools use. School districts should be allowed to use the cleaning products they believe are best for keeping the school clean and kids healthy.

What works for one district does not always work for another, especially when looking at the differences in urban and rural schools in Iowa. That is why we want to provide flexibility to school boards when they make decisions for their district. Senate Republicans advanced this bill because we believe it is important to trust parents and our school board members and give local control back to our school districts.

Senate continues Welfare reform initiatives

The successful pro-growth policies of the last two years have pushed the Iowa unemployment rate to the lowest in the country. In nearly every sector of the economy, employers are struggling to find workers to fill those open opportunities. In an effort to encourage the thousands of people on public assistance that are able to work into the workforce, the Iowa Senate has embarked on an initiative to reform these programs.

Tuesday, the Senate passed a limited work requirement for individuals receiving Medicaid. A number of exemptions exist for this bill to ensure this program is helping those individuals most in need. Eleven different exemptions to the work requirement are included in this bill so those unable to work or caring for dependents can continue to receive the benefits they need. However, able-bodied individuals without dependents will be required to work, go to school, or volunteer in order to continue to receive taxpayer-funded health care.

This bill is the third welfare reform bill passed by the Iowa Senate this year. These bills are aimed at eliminating fraud, improving accountability and encouraging people on public assistance to join the workforce.  In addition to SF 538, last week the Senate also passed SF 305 and SF 484. SF 484 created a crime of fraudulent possession of EBT cards and SF 305 required SNAP recipients to cooperate with Child Support Recovery in order to receive food assistance.  With more job openings than unemployed Iowans, it is important to expand the workforce by encouraging those able-bodied people on public assistance into the workforce.

I serve as the vice chair of the Human Resources Committee, as well as the Natural Resources & Environment and Local Government committees. Please feel free to contact me at 515-281-3371 or by email at mark.segebart@legis.iowa.gov.