- Associated Press - Saturday, April 19, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - As the end of the legislative session draws near, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad is pushing lawmakers to keep some of his priorities in mind.

Before the session began in January, Branstad focused on four priorities: reducing bullying in schools; expanding programs for veterans; extending broadband and Internet access to rural Iowans; and increasing funding for apprenticeships.

All those efforts remain alive, but none has been approved and time could be running out. Senate and House leaders said adjournment could come next week, meaning lawmakers must work quickly if the proposals are going to be approved and sent to the governor.

Branstad said he remains hopeful.

“We don’t know until it’s over,” Branstad said. “That’s why we reserve judgment until the end.”

Home Base Iowa Act

What started in the Senate as legislation to address only a veteran tax credit changed drastically in the House to mirror Branstad’s plan to attract veterans to Iowa and better support those already in the state.

The plan exempts military pensions from state income tax, and includes a surviving spouse in that exemption. It permits companies to offer preferential treatment to veterans in hiring decisions and gives credit to veterans for military experience when obtaining an occupational license. Further, it calls on higher education institutions to develop uniform policies for awarding academic credit to veterans.

The Senate hasn’t voted on the proposal, but Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said he’s confident they’ll take it up before session’s end.

Rep. Dwayne Alons, R-Hull, said a provision to increase funding for the Military Homeownership Assistance Program by $900,000 has been included in the health and human services budget bill, which is subject to the Senate’s consideration as well.

Connect Every Iowan Act

Both the Senate and the House have taken a stab at Branstad’s initiative to expand broadband and Internet access to rural Iowans. Prominent features in his plan include providing incentives for broadband providers, charging Iowa’s chief information officer with coordinating broadband efforts and allocating $2 million to support science, technology, engineering and mathematics internships.

But lawmakers have struggled with the proposal, particularly language attempting to give cellular companies uniform standards for cell tower placement. Local officials have argued the proposed new rules could strip them of their authority in tower placement decisions.

Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Robins, said this portion of the bill “has taken the conversation to a different level.”

Mathis said the bills likely will change before they go before lawmakers for floor votes. People representing groups involved in the issue will meet Monday to try to resolve differences and bring acceptable language to legislators.

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