Newsletter: Rozenboom Report (3/27/2015)

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The Iowa Legislature continues to do a lot of committee and floor work as we get ready for the second funnel deadline. Bills that are not passed out of one chamber and out of committee in the other chamber by April 3 will not be eligible for consideration this year. Tax and appropriations bills are not subject to the funnel deadline.

Last year several cities in Iowa prohibited citizens from certain recreational activities such as sledding and snow-boarding in city parks because of liability concerns. Current law exempts cities from tort liability for injuries to people who are engaging in certain designated activities such as skateboarding, skating, bicycling, unicycling, scootering, river rafting, canoeing, or kayaking, but the law did not name other activities such as sledding or skiing. House File 570 provides protection from liability for municipalities, and was passed unanimously this week in the Senate. This bill provides a blanket exemption for any recreational activity on public property where injuries arise from the normal and expected risks inherent in such activities.

The bill also provides protection for cities from lawsuits arising out of construction or maintenance of a recreational facility provided the city followed generally recognized engineering and safety standards. This bill allows people to have access to city parks and facilities to have fun.

The discussion of legalization of fireworks in Iowa is still ongoing. Senate File 226 would make it legal to possess, sell and use fireworks in the state of Iowa. This bill first surfaced in the 2014 Legislative session and is generating a lot of conversation in the Statehouse and across Iowa. A Des Moines Register Iowa Poll released earlier this month indicates 54 percent of Iowans approve legalizing fireworks. Senate Republican colleague Jake Chapman has been a strong voice on this project and Senate Republican Ways and Means Ranking Member Randy Feenstra was a proponent in getting the bill passed out of subcommittee. It currently sits in the Ways and Means committee, but has not yet been called up for a vote. The Iowa House passed a fireworks bill out of committee Wednesday.

One of the most debated issues in the legislature this year has been the school start date. For many years, state law stated that schools could not begin before September 1, but schools could apply for a waiver to begin classes earlier than September 1. Virtually every school in the state had applied for and been granted the waiver, with many schools starting early enough to create scheduling conflicts with the State Fair and other summer vacation activities. Earlier this year the Governor instructed the Department of Education to enforce the current law by no longer allowing the early start waivers, effectively forcing the Legislature to work on a new policy.

The Senate had earlier passed legislation that would simply allow school boards to make the start date decision; the House had passed legislation to establish the start date to be not before August 23, with an exemption for year-around schools. On March 25 the Senate concurred with (agreed to) the House bill, establishing the school start date as no sooner than August 23. While this solution was not my first choice of local control, it was a compromise that would allow schools to start earlier than September 1 but still not be in conflict with traditional summer vacation activities. It appears to be a compromise that the Governor will agree with and it also provides certainty for school boards and administrators so they can establish their calendars for the next school year.

Unfortunately, after the 29 – 21 bipartisan vote was cast, Senate Democrat leadership used a procedural maneuver to indefinitely block this legislation from going to the Governor’s desk. It’s unclear to me why the “Motion to Reconsider” was filed by Senator Gronstal, but the result is that schools will not be able to determine their 2015 – 2016 calendars until Senate Democrats decide to bring the matter up again.

Both chambers must finish the committee work and floor action necessary to beat the second funnel deadline this Friday. Budget appropriation targets have not been established by legislative leaders so those negotiations have not yet been started. And of course no decision has been made on school funding for FY16. This legislative session is scheduled to end on May 1, but a lot of work remains to be done.

Senator Ken Rozenboom

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