Things are more hectic in the Senate as deadlines approach. The first funnel date in this legislative session will be Friday. That simply means bills have to be voted out of committee by that time in order to be debated on the Senate floor. Appropriations and Ways and Means Committee bills are excluded from this funnel.

Senate File 2201 passed out of the Economic Growth committee on Tuesday. The bill allows additional consideration, or points, for cities that have been designated as Great Places (Clinton) in applications for the Community Attractions and Tourism Program.

A second bill, Senate File 217, passed out of Commerce Thursday. This legislation limits the interest rate on car title loans to a reasonable 21 percent. I worked hard on both of the bills and received bi-partisan support. I am hopeful both bills will reach the Senate floor and will gain final approval.

Education is still No. 1

Education continues to be at the top of this session’s agenda. Some improvements I’d like to see include:

n Better teacher pay: Iowa schools have great teachers but we won’t keep them or recruit new ones if our average teacher pay — now 42nd in the nation — continues to fall. We’ve created programs to encourage and reward teachers.

n More support to schools: I support a 6 percent increase in basic state aid to local schools, which have pressing needs ranging from outdated textbooks to surging energy prices.

n Smaller class sizes: I want kids to have more one-on-one time with their teachers, but our progress toward smaller class sizes is disappearing. We can’t reach our goals by taking one step forward and two back.

n Increased accountability: I support reform and accountability in our schools, and I promise to keep working for Iowa’s students and to put our schools back on the right track.

Increasing cigarette taxes

Raising the tax on cigarettes is one of the best things we can do for our kids, our health care system and the state budget. That was the conclusion of a bipartisan group of first-term legislators this week.

Twenty percent of Iowa’s high school students smoke. Increase the price of cigarettes by 10 percent and youth smoking will drop about 7 percent; cigarette use by all Iowans will fall about 4 percent.

The money raised by an increased cigarette tax should go toward health-related expenses. Smoking costs Iowa almost $1 billion a year. About a third of that comes straight from state taxpayer dollars.

Under House File 2022, most of the money raised by a 64-cent per pack increase would go to repaying the Senior Living Trust Fund, which helps Iowa seniors live in their own homes as long as possible. In addition, $2 million would go directly to smoking-cessation programs.

Visitors to the Senate

Tuesday, Realtors from across the state were in Des Moines for meetings and to lobby their legislators. Vi Yeager, Virginia Hoff and Heather Hafner, Maquoketa Realtors; and Mike Van Buer, Ron Watt, Helen Manning and Barb Suehl, Clinton Realtors, all were here. Also Tuesday, the pharmacists held their meeting and Bob and Ann Osterhaus and Matt and Marilyn Osterhaus attended.

On Wednesday, Clinton visitors Joan Noe, George Kampling and Tom Hesselmann represented the Clinton Hospital Association. Veterinarians also were here on Wednesday and they included Darwin Schipper from Preston.

There is a public forum scheduled at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Diamond Jo Casino’s Harbor Room in Dubuque.

Roger Stewart, a Democrat from Preston, is a member of the Iowa Senate representing District 13.

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