- 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.

Bully-Free Iowa Act of 2014

Legislative leaders have acknowledged the seriousness of bullying in Iowa schools and agree that changes to current law are needed. But since an anti-bullying measure passed a divided Senate in March, the House hasn’t taken action on it.

The Senate-backed measure adheres to Branstad’s goals, such as broadening the definition of bullying, requiring parental notification in certain instances of bullying, and training school officials to handle bullying cases. However, the Senate bill parts from Branstad when it comes to funding the new initiatives.

Branstad included $25,000 for school official training in his fiscal year 2015 budget. The Senate bill calls for a $1 million appropriation to support schools. That figure wasn’t included in a recently approved House education bill.

House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said lawmakers are going to continue work on the legislation.

Iowa Apprenticeship and Job Training Act

On Thursday, the Senate sent to the House a measure to reorganize the funding and programming for job training in Iowa and establish an apprenticeship program. Republicans opposed it, arguing instead for a bill that would largely leave the existing job training program intact and more closely align with Branstad’s initiative to increase funding for apprenticeships.

Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, said the governor’s plan would reduce money for the current worker training program, rather than adding to it.

“It troubles me that we can talk about training in Iowa, but yet the governor’s office does not put the resources that are needed to move this forward,” he said during Thursday’s debate.

Paulsen said he’s interested in the apprenticeship piece of the Senate bill, but that he’s not sure how the job training aspect of it could be resolved.

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