The 2014 Iowa legislature is likely to conclude sometime Friday, becoming only the second General Assembly in more than three decades to reduce wagering opportunities in the state.
Earlier this week Representative Guy Vander Linden, a Republican from Oskaloosa, urged a “yes” vote on the deal that will keep the dog track in Dubuque running under new management from the Iowa Greyhound Association, but will end dog racing at “Bluffs Run” in Council Bluffs on December 31, 2015.
“It provides the opportunity for casinos to rid themselves of non-profitable dog racing and it allows the dog racing people the opportunity to be compensated for that as well as the opportunity to continue dog racing on their own,” Vander Linden said.
Gambling on horse and dog races was legalized in Iowa 31 years ago, back in 1983. “Riverboat” gambling passed in 1989 and, through changes approved by legislators, it has turned into casino-style wagering at land-based facilities. The legislature pulled the Iowa Lottery’s “TouchPlay” machines out of convenience stores and other venues in 2006, the only other time state lawmakers have voted to contract rather than expand gambling in Iowa.
For the second year in a row legislators have voted to increase taxpayer support of the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa so tuition rates for undergraduate students who are from Iowa will stay the same. Hannah Walsh, a University of Iowa junior from Spirit Lake who is the student member of the Board of Regents, said that runs counter to the national trend, as many states are cutting support of public universities.
“I believe our legislators understand that higher education is not a subject of political party, but instead is fundamental to the future success of the state of Iowa and its people,” Walsh said in late March during a statehouse news conference.
Senators overwhelmingly voted last week to decriminalize possession of cannabis oil recommended by a doctor as treatment for “intractable” epilepsy and the Iowa House approved the move early this morning. Maria La France is among a small group of Iowa mothers with epileptic children who repeatedly visited the statehouse to lobby for the bill.
“Our children have run out of options,” La France said recently after a private meeting with the governor. “We know that this oil is helping children in other states right now.”
Legislators this year approved significant tax breaks for two Iowa race tracks. Representative Dan Kelley of Newton says NASCAR will be able to keep up to $9 million in sales tax rebates from the state as a result.
“A significant step to make ensure NASCAR’s long-term vision for the Iowa Speedway becomes reality,” Kelley said just before the House endorsed the tax break.
Legislators also approved a sales tax rebate of up to$2 million to help finance improvements at the Knoxville Raceway. Representative Scott Ourth lives 25 miles west of the half-mile dirt track on the Marion County Fairgrounds.
“I’m very excited about this whole thing and they are doing great things to help grow southern Iowa,” Ourth said during House consideration of the bill.
The 2014 legislative session concluded without passage of any new taxes or tax increases, despite pressure from road builders and other interest groups who want a hike in the state gas tax. Representative Josh Byrnes, a Republican from Osage who favors a gas tax increase, says it’s because legislators who might have voted for it would be targeted in the fall election.
“I wish that we could all agree that this issue would never be used against anybody in an election in this upcoming year and I must be really naive to think that’s even possible because I get looked at like: ‘You’re crazy. That can’t happen,’ and I just think that’s disappointing,” Byrnes said during a speech on the House floor earlier this week.
Two of Republican Governor Terry Branstad’s top priorities stalled. Legislation to give school officials broader authority to police bullying outside of school and a bill to provide incentives to businesses that extend broadband to underserved areas of the state failed to pass.
Legislators did embrace Branstad’s call to pass bills designed to attract retiring soldiers to settle in Iowa. A bill to provide tax credits for those who buy and restore abandoned public buildings, like old schools also cleared the General Assembly.
A final vote is expected Friday in the Senate after Democrats and Republicans began feuding over the final proposal of the year. Democrats plan to vote to give subpoena power to the Senate Oversight Committee, for the panel’s investigation of Governor Branstad’s management of state government. Republicans say it’s political grandstanding.
Republicans in the House left the statehouse shortly before six o’clock this morning, concluding their work for the 2014 legislative session. All aspects of the state budget plan have been endorsed by both the House and Senate. The only thing remaining for senators to resolve is this issue about subpoenas.