Dawn Pettengill, trusty State Representative, here to report on week 3 at the Iowa State Capitol. Our week was full of debating, committee meetings, sub-committee meetings, reviewing and approving the bill drafts we had requested earlier, constituent advocacy, constituent visits, job shadows and getting the Governor's budget. It is a continual whirl of activity. Yesterday, I had a student from ISU job shadow. Our lunch consisted of a granola bar that we picked up off a table in the rotunda and we had to keep walking. She had tears in her eyes by 1:30 and said her feet hurt. Poor thing, but you can imagine how gratifying it was to outlast a 21 year old!
We were able to hear presentations in the Transportation Budget Committee and the Rebuild Iowa Committee. We heard from Director Richardson on the status of the Department of Transportation. She did a fantastic job explaining the impact of weather events on her budget, like less traveling means less gas usage means less money in Road Use Trust Fund, the phenomenal amount of salt usage and overtime hours and the effects on the roads. She also told us how the federal stimulus and state bonding money was allocated to projects on the 5 year plan. If you had a project that was ready to go, but it was a year 4 project, it got moved up to the top. Lori McDaniel, DNR Flood Plain Management, gave a presentation on the DNR's progress developing the new 100 and 500 year flood plain maps. FEMA maps are accurate to 20'. The DNR maps will be accurate within 8". The public will be able to use the DNR maps as soon as they are ready, even if they have not been approved by FEMA yet. She also spoke on the USGS River Gauges and the National Flood Insurance program. There are 126 communities who have new FEMA maps and have the choice of taking up ordinances or not. This local decision has a big impact on individual homeowners. Each city council will have to make that decision.
In Rebuild Iowa, we heard from the Iowa Flood Center and their progress from last year's legislation on watershed management. The presentation was really interesting and takes into account every small stream and ditch in Iowa. They have come a long way in reviewing how the water moves and we are the first state in the Union to have such a program. Now other states are looking to us and research money is in the works to continue that effort. The USGS gauges are reporting on rivers. The Flood Center proposed putting gauges under bridges in the smaller streams to report water levels and velocities. This would give us a much better forecasting system to alert our citizens of flood events.
Kevin Szcodronski, State Parks Director, gave a presentation on their budget and plans for the bonding money. I had never seen anyone get excited about new latrines before. Pension law is exciting to me and believe me, I felt less geeky after seeing his enthusiasm for toilets! His message: Parks and tourism are money makers for the state and local communities, as long as we keep them maintained. If they get shabby, people will not want to recreate there. I asked him if he knew that in the state reorganization bill, there was a Real Estate Audit that included the state parks. The purpose of the audit is to look at state properties and see if it would be cost effective to sell them outright to a private entity or sell them and lease them back. He did not seem to be aware of it, but said a few other states were looking at that and he did not favor the move.
The State Government Reorganization bill subcommittee work began this week. It is 250 pages and I fell asleep face first into the bill two nights this week getting through it. There is also a 200 page Senate amendment that we have not yet taken up. Now you know what my weekend will look like! If the House version is unamended, my sections alone will impact 3500 non-union positions and several sections cost shift from the state general fund to the county budgets for state mandated services. This is being titled an "Efficiency and Savings". How is that if it moves from one budget to another? It is still coming out of the taxpayer's pocket. I was surprised to see a very sparse amount of testimony at the subcommittee meetings and can only attribute it to a 'fast track' through the process and people are not aware. If you are interested to see if you are impacted, it is HSB525 and you can find it at www.legis.state.ia.us