When the 150 members of the 85th Iowa General Assembly convene at the Statehouse Monday, Union County residents will have two veteran lawmakers representing them for the first time.
After redistricting was completed for Iowa House and Senate districts, Union County will now be served by Sen. Hubert Houser, R-Carson, and Rep. Jack Drake, R-Griswold.
Union County is on the eastern edge of both districts, as Houser’s Senate District 11 stretches across Union, Adams, part of Cass and most of rural Pottawattamie County. The city of Council Bluffs is not in his district.
Houser, 70, is a farmer from Carson. He has been a state legislator since 2003.
Drake, 78, is also a farmer and longtime lawmaker, in office since 1993. An Atlantic High School graduate, he farmed near Walnut for many years and has lived in Griswold for four years. He defeated Creston Democrat John Rose in the November 2012 general election.
Drake’s House District 21 includes all of Adams and Union counties, most of Cass County and the far eastern side of Pottawattamie County.
Boundaries were also revised for two longtime area legislators. Rep. Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield, serves House District 20 that includes all of Guthrie and Adair counties, the northeast portion of Cass County (including Anita and Wiota) and five townships in northwest Dallas County.
Rep. Cecil Dolechek, R-Mount Ayr, represents House District 24. It includes Ringold, Taylor and Page counties, and four townships in Montgomery County, which includes Villisca and Stanton. He no longer has any of Union County in his district.
All four of the region’s policymakers said they expect debate over commercial property tax reduction and funding requests for Gov. Terry Branstad’s education proposals.
Branstad is scheduled to unveil his budget plan next week. His office has stated that lowering commercial property taxes is his top budget priority, but he is willing to consider other tax issues.
The effects of federal funding cutbacks will be considered when debate begins on how to use a state budget surplus said to be $804.6 million by the Legislative Services Agency. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said this week a portion of that surplus should be returned to taxpayers.
Paulson also wants lowering income taxes to be on the table.
With split control still in the General Assembly, it remains to be seen how much gets accomplished on tax and budget issues, including another proposal to increase the gas tax to fund road and bridge repairs.
Republicans hold a 53-46 edge in the Iowa House, pending a Jan. 22 special election, and Democrats return with a 26-24 majority in the Iowa Senate.
Houser said there won’t be much time to address social issues in this year’s 110-day session. For example, state leaders said at a press briefing Wednesday they have no mandate to enact broad-based state legislation addressing gun violence and school safety, leaving those security matters to individual school districts and communities.
“There are lots of new people coming in,” Houser said. “In our Republican Senate caucus, of 24 people only six have served longer than one term. There’s an adjustment period. We need to focus on the doable matters.”
Representing a state border area, Houser said commercial property tax relief is a long time coming.
“Our commercial property tax is probably twice what Nebraska’s is,” Houser said. “It puts you in a non-competitive position. This would be one area I would think we’d look at with some of this new (surplus) money. But, what Washington does will have a huge effect on what we do, because over half of the state money that goes out to local governments is actually federal dollars.”
As a member of the House Education Committee and chairman of the Education Appropriations sub-committee, Dolecheck figures to be in the midst of discussions about how to fund the governor’s education-reform package.
“I know we’re looking at some type of accountability measures and involve teachers in more leadership roles,” Dolecheck said. “There’s a push to put additional money into teacher salaries, based on (classroom) results and to reward those teachers who take on those leadership roles.”
Baudler, a retired Iowa State Patrol Trooper, is drafting legislation related to prosecution for recreational drug use, such as K2 (synthetic marijuana) and bath salts. Bath salts is the informal “street name” for a family of designer drugs often containing substituted cathinones, which have effects similar to amphetamine and cocaine.
“County attorneys want more formulas for dealing with first-time drug people, and getting them into treatment,” Baudler said.
Drake, meanwhile, has been busy communicating with constituents on farm nutrient-management proposals, in light of EPA criticism of Iowa agriculture for sending chemicals down the Mississippi River basin.
“I know the secretary of agriculture and DNR director would like to help phase in a voluntary plan that could be phased in, rather than draft immediate mandatory rules that may not fit different parts of the state,” Drake said.
Drake is being assisted by the Iowa Soybean Association in providing data from different chemical application methods. Additional cost-share money for soil conservation construction projects could come into play, Drake said.