The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

April 30, 2014

Finalizing the state budget and other bills of interest


The Clinton Herald

---- — Legislators have put in many hours this last week in an effort to end the session. I will have one more column after this one to summarize the work of the session, so I will explain a few of the bills that have received constituent interest this last week.

The bill that probably received the most media attention was SF 2360, the Medical Cannabidiol Act. This bill passed with bipartisan support in the Senate with a vote of 32-16. It decriminalizes medical cannabis oil for the treatment of epilepsy. The passage of this bill was not easy as there is a great deal of controversy surrounding the legalization of marijuana, even though this bill is narrowly defined and applies to highly specific situations.

If it becomes law, adults would be allowed to possess and use, upon the recommendation and care of their doctor, non-intoxicating oil made from medical cannabis to treat seizures in their children, only after other treatments have failed. It will decriminalize medical cannabis oil because it is lifesaving, non-intoxicating and used under a doctor’s supervision. It would not be grown or distributed in Iowa, but Iowans could travel to states where medical cannabis oil is produced and bring it back to Iowa. Compared to other powerful and expensive medications, medical cannabis oil has proven to be effective at reducing seizures at a much lower cost and with far less dangerous side effects. For people living with severe uncontrolled epilepsy, this is life-changing legislation.

The Education Budget Bill passed through Conference Committee and through the Senate. SF 2347 maintains the promise of a tuition freeze at all of our state universities by funding U of I, ISU and UNI at 4 percent, plus an additional $2.625 million for UNI. Community College General Aid was increased by $8 million. In addition, $40.3 million will go to support worker-training investments that target specific skills shortage areas in our region and train workers for those jobs.

Another major budget bill that went to Conference Committee and then passed through the Senate was the Justice System Budget. HF 2450 appropriates general fund dollars to the Attorney General, Victims Assistance Grants, Legal Aid, the Department of Corrections, the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy, the Department of Public Safety, Criminal & Juvenile Justice Planning and Homeland Security. While the Department of Corrections will receive more funding than was in the Governor’s budget, there are concerns that additional money is needed for prison staffing. In the Department of Public Safety, however, this budget will provide enough funding to hire an additional 20 troopers.

This will probably be our last week in session. We need to pass several major budget bills before our work is over: Health & Human Services, Administration & Regulation, Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure, and Ag & Natural Resources along with a few other controversial bills that may or may not make it to the floor for debate. I look forward to reporting the results next week.

As always, if you’d like to contact me, please call (563) 210-1252 or e-mail rita.hart@legis.iowa.gov. At www.senate.iowa.gov/senator/hart, you can sign up for my newsletter, connect with me on Facebook and more.

State Sen. Rita Hart represents Clinton County and northern Scott County.