February 16, 2017
We have been spending a considerable amount of time on issues that are in the headlines. We have also been working on the normal things we usually do, which is having committee meetings and listening to agencies and individuals about what is happening behind the headlines.
In the Natural Resources Committee we had a presentation from the Department of Natural Resources about the success of the trout stocking program going on in Iowa. Throughout the spring and summer months Brook Trout and Brown Trout are stocked in a number of Northeast Iowa streams; (in fact, a number of streams already have natural reproduction.) During the late fall and early winter trout are stocked in several lakes and streams in Central Iowa. The purpose of this is to expose central Iowa fishermen to the joy of catching trout, so they will then go to Northeast Iowa to fish in the summer.
My first term here in, 2013-2014 (the 85th General Assembly) we passed several bills addressing the looming problem of the Emerald Ash Borer. Presently, entomologists are working with using parasitic wasps to help in controlling the spread of this deadly pest. Foresters have decided that we will eventually lose all of our ash trees. It was hoped that we would find some natural resistance to this pest, but it has not happened yet. Seeds are being stored for the day, sometime in the future, when the Emerald Ash Borer has killed the last ash tree and as a result, will allow us to start over.
Collective bargaining for Public Sector Employee has been taking up a considerable amount of time this week. The public had a special opportunity to give oral arguments about how they felt regarding the changes in the Chapter 20 code, in a public hearing on Monday night. This specific section of code hasn’t had a thoughtful review in over four decades, and during that time, the balance has gradually tipped away from the taxpayers who ultimately pay the bill. The goal of the legislation is to hold public sector unions more accountable to those they represent and to modernize and rebalance some aspects of the law to reflect today’s economic realities.
Public sector workers are invaluable to our state in innumerable ways and have some of the most difficult jobs around. Because we recognize the important work public employees do, the proposed changes to Chapter 20 has been carefully weighed and subjected to the full legislative process. There has been a lot of false speculation and misinformation circulated about what the bill does and doesn’t do. Here are some facts related to common points of concern. The plan does not repeal the right to collectively bargain; Chapter 20 will not be repealed. Public sector unions will still have the right to represent bargaining units, and negotiate collective bargaining agreements with public employers. This bill does not affect private sector unions whatsoever.
The proposed changes will not subject employees to workplace discrimination, unsafe environments, or violations of their rights including due process for termination. It is already illegal for employers to discriminate against employees based on protected characteristics such as race, color, religion, age, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, creed, sexual orientation, sexual identity or disability. This bill does not undo those protections. Work place safety has been a function covered by OSHA for many, many years. Health insurance will not be eliminated and the retirement systems will not be altered or diminished under this bill. Employers must offer health insurance and retirement systems, such as IPERS, and these will not be changed. In fact, IPERS is not in the collective bargaining section of the Iowa Code.
Exceptional employees will be able to be rewarded while it will be easier to get rid of those who consistently underperform. The proposed bill will give local governments the ability to recruit and retain employees for hard-to-fill positions, and unencumber the process for terminating ineffective employees. Meanwhile, all the same protections for due process and wrongful termination will still exist, as employer’s right to suspend or discharge public employees will need to have a proper cause. We are still working on this bill and many amendments are being proposed based on our discussions with constituents throughout the state of Iowa.