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 Statehouse News

Week four of session just ended and I can’t believe how fast time is passing by. I have found somewhat of a rhythm with weekly office hours, forums, committee meetings and of course, family. It’s a delicate balancing act!

School funding has been a big issue for me this week.  During the Wednesday’s Education Committee meeting, we debated the amount of school supplemental aid (SSA). The majority party proposed 2.06%, less than the governor’s recommendation at 2.3%.  I voted no in committee because I believe we need at least a 3% increase to account for inflation and to begin to address the anemic state funding of the last several years.  As I mentioned last week, 3% is also a reasonable amount that the state can afford.  Some who support 2.06% may say it isn’t that much less than what we are asking for, and isn’t that good enough?  But the truth is that little bit of a difference for our schools will make an enormous difference for our kids.

Of the new revenue available this year, public school kids will get less than the wealthiest Iowans get in tax breaks – the top 1% will get $109 million next year while students get $78 million and educators continue to be forced to do more with less.  I learned this week that 118 school buildings have closed across Iowa since the majority party took control of the Iowa House.  I worry that their plan won’t stop more schools from closing, or stop class sizes from increasing, or stop property taxes from rising. I think we can do better.  While the schedule is subject to change, we expect to debate SSA on the House floor next Monday evening.

Another big issue that started moving this week was the majority party’s proposal to inject politics into our judicial nominating process. Republicans in the House and Senate, with the support of Governor Reynolds, have introduced and passed out of their respective subcommittees, a bill to change how judges are nominated to our state courts. The proposals in House Study Bill 110 will do considerable damage to the fair, impartial, and non-partisan judicial selection process in Iowa.

For over 50 years, Iowa’s judges have been chosen using a merit selection process. A non-partisan commission nominates qualified individuals to fill each judicial selection. The nominees are then chosen from the commissions. These judicial nominating commissions are required by Iowa’s Constitution. Our current system requires the state commission to be comprised of eights lawyers elected by their fellow lawyers in the state, eight members appointed by the Governor with Senate confirmation, and the most senior member of the Supreme Court that is not the Chief Justice.  HSB 110 repeals the selection of the lawyers for the commissions currently made by a non-partisan association of state attorneys and instead allows partisan leadership in the Legislature to appoint these members.  The bill also removes the requirement of Senate confirmation for the Governor’s appointments to the commission.

I find this change troubling.  Supporters of this bill claim it will help eradicate “judicial activism,” but in reality it threatens to destroy the system of checks and balance we have held dear since our country was founded.  As a student of government and the legislative process, I am passionate about ensuring that the leaders in our state value and promote an independent judiciary.  Unfortunately, this bill seems to be nothing more than a power grab – when you don’t like the ruling, you try to change how you pick the people who make the rulings.  

I also find it troubling when leaders go looking for solutions in search of problems that don’t exist.  Our court system is consistently ranked as one of the best in the country. The US Chamber Institute for Legal Reform ranks the impartiality of Iowa’s judges 9th overall in the country.  The way Iowa selects judges has been a model for the nation for decades. Not agreeing with recent court decisions doesn’t deem overhauling the system. The fact that Iowa’s courts have been commended for impartiality tells me, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.  The bill now goes to the full Judiciary Committee.

As you may know, I am also fortunate to serve on the Environmental Protection Committee. This week we were fortunate to have presentations from Susan Collins, President of the Container Recycling Institute, and Dermot Hayes, Professor of Economics and Finance at Iowa State University on the topic of Iowa’s beverage container deposit program – otherwise known as “the bottle bill”.  I learned a tremendous amount about the history of the program, the difference it has made, and suggestions on ways to modernize the system in order for it to continue effectively.  There will likely be bills introduced this session on changes to the bottle bill, and I look forward to hearing from constituents on the topic.

A final thought: We had a great turnout Monday at my office hours in Ankeny and I implore anyone who has questions or concerns, or who wants to chat with me to join us at Main Street Cafe! Starting in March, I will be changing my office hours to Fridays as committee meetings have started being scheduled Monday mornings.  In the meantime, hours on Monday, February 11 will be from 9:45-10:30am.  My next listening post will be on either Saturday, February 16 or February 23, the exact time and place will be announced as soon as possible. Please be sure to follow my Facebook page as I will have an event up to help spread the word.

AMOS members: Sara Doruska, Nora Breniman, Pat George, Joan Moore, Cheryl Berg, Kathy Avey, Barb Klubal, Jacque Coulson, Susan Stroope and Ed Hotchka meet with Representative Matson in the House Chamber on Tuesday, February 5, 2019. Representative Matson spoke with the AMOS members about their 2019 mental health legislative priorities including a sustainable funding stream for mental health.

Constituent Lee Thielmann speaks with Representative Matson at the Capitol on Monday, February 4, 2019. Representative Matson was thrilled to show friend around the House Chamber and update him on how the session has been going so far.  He was at the Capitol for the AFL-CIO’s Day on the Hill.

Representative Matson and Representative Landon meet with Jackie Black, the Chief Officer of Business Operations and Finances for Ankeny Community School District, Ankeny School Board President Lori Lovstad, and School Board member Jim Ford in the House Chamber on Tuesday, February 5, 2019. Both Representatives were given stress ball piggy banks as a part of the #WorthEveryPenny initiative in advocacy for the passage of the SAVE Bill.

Representative Matson speaks with Steve Vonk, President of the United Steelworkers Local 310 and COPE Committee members Tony Link and Chris Glover in the Capitol on Monday, January 6, 2019.  Representative Matson is proud to have Local 310 in her district and thoroughly enjoyed speaking about important issues with these union members.

Representative Matson speaks with Drake University Occupational Therapy students: Cassidy Mullins, Maddie Wood and Sydney Ginkens in the Capitol on Wednesday, February 6, 2019. All three students live in Ankeny and spoke about the importance of having an adequate amount of occupational therapists in each county of Iowa.

Representative Matson meets with Polk County Housing Trust Fund Executive Director, Eric Burmeister, and Policy and Communications Coordinator, Lauren Johnson, as well as affordable housing advocate Jeremy Rosen in the Capitol on Thursday, January 7, 2019. They had a great discussion about affordable housing needs in communities across the state.

News from the Statehouse

Bill to Politicize Judicial Nominating Commissions Introduced

Legislative Republican Lawmakers unveiled a plan this week to inject politics into the process of selecting judges in the state.  Under current law, Iowa judges are selected through a merit based system nominated by a nonpartisan commission.  The Republican plan would give political parties additional influence over these commissions.

Under current law, commissioners to the state and district judicial nominating commissions are appointed half by the Governor with Senate approval and half from within the currently active lawyers in the state.  The bill under consideration would make the commissioners currently appointed by lawyers instead appointed by political leaders in the Iowa Legislature and also remove Senate approval.  

Judges in the state will still be required to be retained through regular elections.  Judges must be retained under the current system in regular retention elections.  In these retention elections the judges do not have an opponent, but instead receive a majority of “Yes” votes to be retained and continue serving as a judge.  

The Iowa Judicial Branch states that Iowa’s current process of selecting judges is designed to limit the influence of special interest groups and political parties.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform ranks Iowa’s judges, selected through the current merit based system, as the 9th most impartial in the country.  In addition, the group ranks Iowa’s courts overall 13th best in the country.  The Committee for Economic Development has guidelines for the best method of selecting judges and the procedure suggested by that nonpartisan, business-led policy organization is the process that is already used in the state.

School Aid Plan Leaves Schools Short Again

On a party line vote, the House Education Committee approved a bill to raise school funding by just 2% next year, which is lower than what Governor Kim Reynolds proposed.  

Called State Supplemental Aid (SSA), the low increase in school funding doesn’t keep up with the rate of inflation for schools.  Over the last decade, only once has SSA been greater than the cost of inflation and it’s been the lowest funding for schools in Iowa history.

House Democrats introduced an alternative plan earlier this session to boost school funding by 3%, which would cover the cost of inflation.  Without at least that level, more schools will be forced to make cut backs or raise property taxes.

Because of low funding last year, several districts had to cut course offerings, reduce staffing, and hold off on new text books or computer purchases.  The Oelwein School Board had to cut $800,000 while Des Moines adjusted schedules and cut teachers to save money.  The Council Bluffs Community School District had to cut eight staff positions and skip two payments to its insurance fund to save the needed $2.1 million.  In Fairfield, the school board faced a $100,000 shortfall.  

The bill is expected to be debated by the full Iowa House next week. 

Read More News from the Statehouse

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Contact Representative Heather Matson

1009 Grand Ave
Iowa House of Representatives
Des Moines, IA 50319
1802 SW Prairie Trail Parkway
Ankeny, IA 50023
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