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State legislators have the opportunity to translate ideas into “bills” for the whole General Assembly and governor to consider for adoption. The beginning of a new session is when proposals need to be formulated in detail. This year, the deadline for senators and representatives to request bills is January 21. What are your thoughts?
As a member of the minority party, very few of my bills see the light of day, but part of our responsibility is to advocate for the needs and priorities of our constituents, especially in areas where we have some personal knowledge and passion. So we are obliged to speak up and “represent.”
Sometimes, with strong public support, good ideas can be turned into law. In my next newsletter, I will highlight a case in point on an initiative that Rep. Lindsay James and I worked with the Tri-State Coalition Against Human Trafficking and Slavery.
In the meantime, here are some proposals for a better Iowa. Let me hear from you if you want to know more about any one of them.
1) An amendment to the Iowa Constitution recognizing environmental rights and the obligation of the state to protect them: “Every person has the right to a clean and healthy environment, including pure water, clean air, ecologically healthy habitats, and the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic, and aesthetic qualities of the environment. The state shall not infringe upon these rights by action or inaction. The state’s public natural resources, including its soils, waters, air, flora, fauna, climate, and public lands are the common property of the people, including both present and future generations. As trustee of these resources, the state shall conserve, maintain, and restore these resources for the health and benefit of all the people.”
2) The pandemic has driven a lot of us outside to be safer and healthier, mentally and physically. Many of us are rediscovering the outdoors. Some of our children are experiencing nature for the first time. Based on a model developed in Minnesota, I am proposing the creation of a state “No Child Left Inside” program in the Department of Natural Resources: $1 million a year for grants to schools and non-profit organizations. The grants would be used to connect youth with our wilder places, with a requirement that at least 50 percent of the funds support students at “Title 1” schools — schools with a large enrollment of low-income students. Initially, the program can be funded through the American Rescue Plan, President Biden’s initiative to help states respond to and recover from the pandemic. The money is intended to be used to help people hid hardest by the pandemic.
3) A parallel need is to make our parks safer and more accessible. After years of neglect due to frozen budgets, state park infrastructure requires upgrading and repair to accommodate the massive influx of new visitors. My “Safe Park Infrastructure Fund” (SPIF) is designed to help Iowa “spif up”: the places where people go to picnic, hike, bike, camp, fish, swim, kayak, canoe and take pictures with new investments of $10 million a year. Initially, funds can come from the American Rescue Plan rather than state tax dollars. The bill will require that a total of $4 million be used to maintain and restore state-owned housing in state parks, forests and preserves where park rangers and other on-site personnel provide timely emergency response capability.
4) Cities and counties have building codes, based on what the state allows. The energy efficiency of buildings is a major concern because of the rising costs of energy and the threat of climate change. Iowa has not updated the state code for energy efficiency since 2012. This bill will allow cities and counties to have stronger requirements, as long as they do not exceed the current international standards.
5) Drainage districts are formed to collect and channel excess rainwater from farm lands, much of which used to be marshes and wetlands, allowing the land to be more productive. Some of that water is becomes drinking water downstream, but often carries pollutants. This bill will permit drainage districts to engage in projects that also improve water quality and soil health.
6) The pandemic has exposed our state and local public health systems to be woefully inadequate to respond to widespread communicable disease outbreaks. Except for standing in the way of what cities, counties, school boards, boards of health and private employers have tried to do to keep people safe, Iowa has mostly ignored public health science and has been AWOL from the front lines of supporting health experts. I propose a standing joint legislative committee, with equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, to evaluate the state’s response and to make changes to work with emerging private public health stakeholders to strengthen our capacity in the future, shielding professional emergency responders from political interference and misinformed public opinion.