The Courtney Report

Courtney Report
courtney visionaryIt was an honor to receive the Visionary Voice award March 19 from the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Abuse. The award was a result of my work as Justice Budget Chair to protect funds that support sexual and domestic violence centers and organizations throughout the state. The Visionary Voice award recognizes those who work to end sexual violence. Caring about victims of sexual violence means caring for them by providing the services they need to recover and return to their lives and families. That’s the direction Iowa should move and I’m thankful Iowans are encouraging the Legislature to make progress.

ENSURING KIDS ARE SAFE FROM BULLYING
Bullying can devastate children, families and communities, with the effects potentially lasting into adulthood. That’s why the Senate voted this week to strengthen our state’s anti-bullying laws.

In 2007, the Legislature approved a bill that required school districts to have anti-bullying policies and to collect and report data on incidents of bullying and harassment. It was heralded as one of the best policies in the country at the time. It gave school districts the latitude to carry out the policy as they saw fit, as long as they reported their results to the state. That flexibility made for big reporting differences among school districts.

For example, Des Moines School District recorded 98 incidents of bullying in a one year. That same year, Davenport School District, which is half the size of Des Moines, recorded 642 incidents of bullying. According to the federal Government Accountability Office, four nationwide surveys show that up to 28 percent of students say they are bullied during a school year. However, in Iowa, school bullying reports show less than 2 percent of students have been bullied in any given year since the state passed its anti-bullying law in 2007.

Reports and investigations of bullying behavior increase when educators and students are trained and become more knowledgeable about bullying and harassment. That is supported by the results of Davenport’s high-quality, evidence-based bullying prevention program.

Governor Branstad has pushed for expanded anti-bullying laws, including cracking down on cyberbullying. Senate File 2318 provides $1 million to establish an Office of Support & Analysis for Safe Schools to coordinate and implement efforts to prevent and respond to harassment and bullying. Competitive grants will promote high-quality bully prevention and positive school climate programs for the Iowa schools most in need.

This bill is a step toward improving safety for all Iowa kids.

CREATING JOBS THAT IMPROVE OUR COMMUNITIES
The Senate Ways & Means Committee recently approved two bills that will help expand Iowa’s middle class by creating good jobs in fields that improve our state’s economy and quality of life.

The first builds on a state tax credit for installing solar energy systems that was enacted in 2012. This legislation set aside $1.5 million in tax credits annually for the installation of solar energy systems on homes, businesses and farms. In addition, it allowed Iowa to take advantage of a federal tax credit that also promoted installation of solar energy systems.

The program has been popular. Last year, businesses and homeowners claimed nearly all of the tax credits, and certificates were issued for more than $685,000 in state tax credits in the first two months of this year. The surge in installations has created jobs for solar energy installers and technicians to service the systems.

The success of these tax credits is proof that solar energy works in Iowa and helps meet our energy needs. SF 2340 would increase the tax credits to $4.5 million to meet Iowans’ demand for solar energy. This boost will help create more jobs for the installation and maintenance of hundreds of additional solar projects each year.

The second bill would provide more help for fixing up abandoned buildings and blighted areas, which can be an eyesore and a drag on property values. Abandoned buildings provide zero jobs, but a redeveloped building can house new businesses that boost local economic activity.

Redevelopment Tax Credits provide an incentive to redevelop environmentally challenged areas and blighted properties. These can be costly projects, but redevelopment increases the property’s value as well as that of neighboring properties.

SF 2339 would expand Iowa’s Redevelopment Tax Credit Program by making public buildings eligible for the tax credits. That means abandoned schools could be more affordably redeveloped. The bill also makes the tax credits refundable for nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations.

CELEBRATING 25 YEARS OF REAP
The foundation of Iowa’s economy and way of life is rooted in our abundant resources, both natural and cultural. Our rich soils, plentiful water and other assets make Iowa a great place for agriculture and manufacturing. They also offer residents a good quality of life.

Preservation of our resources is vital to Iowa’s future. In 1989, the Legislature created the Resource Enhancement & Protection (REAP) program. REAP looks after Iowa’s natural resources and cultural history through land and habitat protection, state and local park improvements, soil and water quality projects, and funding for conservation, cultural and historical organizations.

Over 25 years, REAP has supported 14,535 projects in all 99 counties. Investment of $263 million in state funds has leveraged two to three times as much in private, local and federal money to improve our state. REAP projects fall into seven categories: State Open Spaces, City Parks and Opens Spaces, Soil and Water Conservation, County Conservation, Land Management, Historical Resources, and Roadside Vegetation.

This year, the Legislature should continue Iowa’s commitment to REAP with funding that reflects the value of this successful program.

Among the many REAP efforts are the Historical Resource Development Program and Country School Grants. Through April 25, these programs are accepting applications. The Historical Resource Development Program offers grants to preserve, conserve, interpret and educate the public about Iowa’s historic built environment, museum collections and documentary materials, such as diaries, letters, photographs and newspapers.

The Country School Program provides grants for the preservation and maintenance of Iowa’s one and two-room country schools. The money can also go toward interpreting the history of country schools or for educational activities taking place at country schools.

Complete details about the grants and application materials are available at www.iowahistory.org/about/grants or by calling the State Historical Society at 515-281-4228. Learn more about REAP at www.iowadnr.gov/Environment/REAP.aspx.

HELP FOR IOWANS IN TIME OF CRISIS
Those struggling with mental illness can face challenges in finding a safe, skilled place for treatment in times of crisis. The good news in Iowa is that a pilot study has shown promising results that we’d like to take statewide.

Since 2012, a Crisis Stabilization Center has operated in Black Hawk County. It gives patients a place to go in times of extreme stress so that they can safely reflect on their needs and determine how best to address their personal mental health concerns. House File 2379 would allow the Department of Human Services to establish Crisis Stabilization Centers statewide, filling a gap in Iowa’s mental health services.

Crisis Stabilization Centers provide necessary treatment by meeting the needs of those who might otherwise be waiting in a hospital emergency room or confined to a jail cell. Most people stay at a center for three to four days before returning to their homes and normal routines.

Crisis Stabilization Centers collaborate with law enforcement, hospitals and other social service providers to ensure that those struggling with mental illness receive the support and care they need to get through a crisis. They are also less expensive than stays in hospitals and jails.

The bill now goes to the Governor for his signature.

PROTECTING KIDS FROM IDENTITY THEFT
All Iowans should be protected from identity theft, including children and dependent adults.

The Iowa Senate approved House File 2368 to help prevent identity theft of kids and other vulnerable Iowans, giving them the same protections as independent adults.

In 2008, the Legislature voted to allow Iowans to tell the three major credit reporting agencies to put a freeze on sharing their credit reports. A credit freeze prevents third parties from accessing your credit reports without your approval. Most businesses will not issue you a credit card or make a loan without first checking your credit history through a credit-reporting agency. So, when someone gets ahold of your name and Social Security Number and tries to open an account, a freeze on your credit reports prohibits your identify from being stolen.

Unfortunately, the credit reporting companies have not allowed parents or guardians to put a security freeze on their dependents’ credit reports. Consequently, children have become victims of identity theft when thieves obtain their names and Social Security Numbers.

House File 2368 closes the loophole in the law and allows parents to tell the credit reporting agencies to place a security freeze on their children’s credit reports and allows guardians of vulnerable individuals to do the same.

DRONE RESTRICTIONS WILL PROTECT PRIVACY
Unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, are aircraft that can be flown remotely. They can go places that planes and helicopters can’t and are able to gather valuable information without endangering human lives.

Currently, the Federal Aviation Administration is working on rules to safely integrate drones into U.S. airspace. Insurance companies, agribusiness, news agencies, law enforcement and others look forward to using drones as a valuable tool in their work.

However, drone technology with sight and sound-recording ability is causing concerns among citizens about potential misuse and an invasion of privacy. Will some unscrupulous individuals use small, quiet drones to spy on others? To address these concerns, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to amend and pass legislation recently approved by the Iowa House.

House File 2289 will ensure that if someone uses a drone to trespass on another’s privacy in his or her home, the drone user can be charged with criminal trespass. In addition, law enforcement must obtain a warrant to use information in court that was gathered through use of a drone.

This legislation will not interfere with hobbyists who enjoy model planes or any legitimate business use.

WOMEN’S HALL OF FAME SEEKS NOMINATIONS

Many outstanding women have helped shape Iowa and continue to help improve the quality of life in our state. To recognize and honor them and to provide examples for tomorrow’s female leaders, the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women established the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame in 1975. Through April 1, they are seeking nominations for the Hall of Fame and for the Cristine Wilson Medal for Equality and Justice. For more information or to download a nomination form, go to www.women.iowa.gov/images/PDF/2014_HOF_Nomination_Form.pdf.

Contact Tom

CAPITOL:
Iowa Statehouse
Des Moines, IA 50319
515-281-3371

HOME:
2609 Clearview Drive
Burlington, IA 52601
319-759-5334

tom.courtney@legis.iowa.gov

http://www.senate.iowa.gov/senator/courtney

About Dave Bradley

retired in West Liberty
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