Wednesday Afternoon News, February 25
Local Legislators Split Votes On Fuel Tax Increase (Updated)
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - The Iowa Legislature has approved a 10-cent increase to the fuel tax to help pay for road improvements.
Both chambers gave bipartisan support to the bill Tuesday, with the Senate voting 28-21 and the House 53-46. The plan would provide over $200 million annually for Iowa's network of bridges and roads, many of which are in disrepair.
For years, the Legislature has considered raising the tax, which hasn't been changed since 1989. But until this year, lawmakers never took action, despite heavy lobbying by groups representing farmers and trucking companies.
Republican State Senator Bill Anderson voted in favor of the bill and he explains the added money will help finish Highway 20.
Anderson says the bill includes a funding formula that will benefit individual counties for their road and bridge repairs on farm to market paved roads.
Voting "No" on the fuel tax increase bill was Le Mars State Representative Chuck Soderberg. Soderberg believes it is too much of a jump in price all at one time.
Soderberg further clarifies his reasons for voting against the measure.
The Republican representative agrees Iowa roads and bridges need repairing, he would rather have seen a phase-in increase instead of all at once.
Consumers will immediately see a price increase at the pump as the bill will take effect beginning March 1st.
Branstad Signs Fuel Tax Bill
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Fuel prices will soon go up in Iowa now that Gov. Terry Branstad has signed a tax increase into law.
Branstad announced Wednesday that he had signed the bill, which will raise the state fuel tax by 10 cents a gallon. The Legislature gave bipartisan support to the measure Tuesday in an effort to provide more road funding.
The legislation will provide more than $200 million annually for Iowa's network of bridges and roads, many of which are considered deteriorating or deficient. The price change will go into effect March 1.
Branstad says he recognized the state needs more money for infrastructure. He praised lawmakers for reaching a bipartisan consensus.
Legislators Schedule Legislative Forums For Saturday
(Des Moines) -- Both State Senator Bill Anderson and State Representative Chuck Soderberg will be visiting Plymouth County communities on Saturday for legislative forums. The lawmakers will begin their day at the Hinton Elementary School at 8:30 a.m. Their next stop will be at the Le Mars Community Education Center to meet with school officials at 9:30 a.m. At 10:30 a.m. Anderson and Soderberg will be at the American Legion Hall in Brunsville for a legislative forum. Their last stop is scheduled for 11:45 a.m. at the Westfield Community Center. The legislative forums are open to the public and constituents are encourged to discuss any issues relating to the Iowa Legislative Session.
Meis And Rand Are Finalists For National Merit Scholarships
(Le Mars) -- Two Le Mars Community High School Seniors have been selected as finalist for the National Merit Scholarship program. Le Mars Community High School principal Mark Iverson says Ellen Meis and Dayton Rand were selected among the 1.5 million entrants. Iverson says, "this is a credit to the hard work these students have put into their studies. It also recognizes the work our teachers have done to prepare these students for post-secondary education." Iverson says Le Mars Community has been fortunate to have National Merit Scholarship finalists for the past couple of years. High school students can take a qualifying test for the program that serves as an initial screening. Meis and Rand will find out within a month if they have been selected as scholarship recipients. Ellen Meis is the daughter of Dave and Linda Meis. She plans to attend Iowa State University and majoring in Engineering. Rand is the son of Robert and Dana Rand. He remains undecided on which college or university he will attend next year, but he is thinking about majoring in Bio-Medical Engineering or Finance.
State Official Says Medicaid Should Be "Privatized"
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A top state official says turning over Iowa's Medicaid program to private operators would save money and improve service, but lawmakers are questioning how the change would impact people in the program.
Department of Human Services Director Chuck Palmer addressed a legislative committee Wednesday. He says the state is moving forward with a plan to shift the Medicaid program to one or more managed care organizations. That means the state would pay outside companies a fixed amount per enrollee to provide health coverage.
About 550,000 people are enrolled in Iowa's Medicaid program, which is funded with $4.2 billion in state and federal dollars.
Democratic Sen. Joe Bolkcom says lawmakers need to closely monitor the change, noting that he'll hear from constituents if there are changes to quality of care.
Bullying Bill Advances In Legislature
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Legislation aimed at reducing school bullying in Iowa has advanced in the Legislature, though it remains unclear if it will have enough support to get to Gov. Terry Branstad's desk.
A three-member House education subcommittee gave unanimous approval Wednesday for a version of the bill. It now heads to a full committee for consideration.
On the Senate side, the education committee voted 9 to 6 Wednesday along party lines to approve the bill with some changes. The full Senate can now debate it.
The legislation would add language that supporters say will give educators more clarification on how to respond to bullying cases.
Rep. Quentin Stanerson, a Center Point Republican, was on the subcommittee Wednesday. He says he's still figuring out whether the legislation has enough support in the House.
Regents Announce Selection Committee For U-I President
URBANDALE, Iowa (AP) - The Iowa Board of Regents has identified 21 members who will serve on the committee tasked with finding the next University of Iowa president.
The regents on Wednesday said those selected for the University of Iowa Presidential Search and Screen Committee have been charged with seeking out candidates to serve as UI's next president for consideration by the board. Current UI President Sally Mason in January announced her plans to retire July 31.
UI Vice President for Medical Affairs Jean Robillard has been named committee chair. Eight additional UI faculty members were chosen, along with representatives from the regents, the UI Alumni Association, UI Student Government and other organizations.
Robillard says he's looking forward to working with all members as they conduct the search.
Vinton City Administrator Charged With Misconduct
VINTON, Iowa (AP) - The city administrator in Vinton, Iowa, has been charged with office misconduct at his former job.
The Muscatine County Sheriff's Office says Chris Ward is accused of felonious misconduct based on a 2014 audit of West Liberty, where Ward previously served as city administrator but was fired in October 2013.
The audit revealed that West Liberty overbilled utility customers by $259,000 over an eight-month period in 2013 and 2014. The audit doesn't cite Ward, but that it identified his former administrative assistant Maribel Person for not properly adjusting the city's utility rates. Prosecutors now say Ward told Pearson not to alter the rates.
Vinton hired Ward as city administrator in May.
Contracrtor Ordered To Pay $100,000 To Customers
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - An Iowa contractor has been ordered to pay more than $100,000 in restitution after former customers complained that he collected money without finishing construction or renovation projects.
A Polk County judge on Wednesday said 39-year-old Jeremey Lawson, of Moulton, must pay $102,000 to 25 customers. The judge also set conditions for any future contracting or home repair Lawson conducts.
The ruling comes after the Consumer Protection Division reviewed 40 complaints against Lawson and his Moulton and Bloomfield-based company. In the majority of complaints, customers say Lawson requested substantial or partial payment and then didn't finish repair tasks.
Attorney General Tom Miller says Lawson's violations include misuse of customer money and failure to perform within industry standards or project specifications.
Lawson has denied the allegations but agreed to the judge's terms.