BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Lawmakers took unanimous opposition to a proposal to tax solar panels in the state, while sparring over putting strict scrutiny on federal second amendment language in the Iowa Constitution, and changing judicial nomination procedures.
State Reps. Joe Mitchell (R-Wayland) and Jeff Kurtz (D-Fort Madison) and State Sen. Rich Taylor (D-Mt. Pleasant) met with about 30 residents Friday at the Palms Restaurants Friday as part of the regular monthly legislative luncheon put on by the Fort Madison Chamber of Commerce.
The first question from the audience focused on where Mitchell was on introducing federal 2nd amendment language into the Iowa Constitution.
“We’re trying to put the 2nd amendment into the Iowa Constitution, but there’s some controversy because we’re not taking all the federal language,” Mitchell said.
The language of the proposed amendment reads: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The sovereign state of Iowa affirms and recognizes this right to be a fundamental individual right. Any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.”
Mitchell said the “strict scrutiny” language is the controversial part of the amendment.
“The big issue is ‘strict scrutiny’, that will make it harder to put through anti-gun bills and more restrictions on guns so judges can’t overturn bills that are pro-gun,” Mitchell said. “But the main thing is we don’t have that in there and it needs to be in there.”
Jeff Kurtz said he voted for an amendment to put the 2nd amendment in our state constitution, but doesn’t agree with the strict scrutiny language.
He said strict scrutiny is only applied in three states and there have been lawsuits in those states that look at overturning legislation on background checks.
“I think strict scrutiny is going some place we really don’t want to go, but I think we should put 2nd amendment language in our constitution,” he said. “I think people that are emotionally well-balanced and are proven they are not violent, it’s their God-given right to have as many guns as they want,” Kurtz said.
Sen. Rich Taylor, said the senate passed the bill on Tuesday with the strict scrutiny language in it. The senate democrats proposed a bill earlier that would have just put the 2nd amendment language in, but that failed.
“When the final bill did come up with the strict scrutiny language, I was the only Democrat that did vote for that. I still have reservations because it’s gonna cause some legal battles down the road, for instance why can’t I hunt a deer with my high power in Iowa? Somebody’s going to challenge that,” Taylor said.
“I know that it won’t take away the background checks. I know our sheriff’s will have the opportunity to review every handgun permit for every concealed carry that’s handed out, so that’s important. For the law-abiding gun owner it’s a great bill as long as it’s not good for the guy that’s not legal,” Taylor said.
A question was posed regarding reimbursement of nursing homes and the high medicaid population of Lee County.
Taylor said all the nursing homes are in serious trouble.
“You can’t operate a business in the red for 3 to 5 years and expect to stay in business. A gas station can’t sell gas for 20 cents less than they pay for it. That’s what Iowa is doing to our nursing homes in this state,” Taylor said.
He said he was afraid that people won’t have a place to go and people will end up in hospitals.
“The nursing home industry needs $55 million more this year to just get caught up to even. That won’t even allow them to make a dime.”
Kurtz said it’s not just the long-term facilities but health care as a whole that’s in trouble.
Mitchell said he spoke with U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, who’s the U.S. Senate Appropriations chairman, about reimbursement issues.
“He seemed very positive that we’re going to have some kind of reimbursement and additional funding specifically for the long-term nursing homes this year,” Mitchell said.
“I do believe something will be coming down the pipeline.”
Mitchell said the House has posed spending more money than the Senate has.
“I hope the Senate can up the numbers a little bit because I think they’re being a little selfish right now. That’s not to call out Rich, he’s not in my party, but I do hope we can find some middle ground and we can work it out,” he said.
Fort Madison’s Matt Mullens questioned the three on the proposed sunshine tax in the house right now.
Mitchell said the bill, House Study Bill 185 would add a yearly “sunshine tax” on private solar generators. He said that although he’s aware of the investments made by investor owned utilities like MidAmerican and Alliant, it could be monopolizing the industry.
“It could be a money grab by MidAmerican and I’m not in favor of it. I think they and Alliant are monopolies in a way, so I’m not necessarily in favor of just passing bills for them,” Mitchell said. “They are making a compelling argument, but there are a lot of people in our district who benefit from solar and I’m not actually in favor of it.”
Kurtz said it’s a badly written bill.
“They call it a sunshine tax on Iowans. That’s exactly what it is. The fact that you can break even after five years, could now move to 20 years before they break even and solar panels only last 25 years,” he said.
Taylor said people with existing solar would be grandfathered into their current plans, but bills are left to interpretation.
“This particular bill I can interpret a loophole for MidAmerican and Alliant to find a way around that grandfather and I believe that’s what they’ll do,” Taylor said.
“I won’t be supporting this bill as it will be devastating to the smaller solar installers. It will be great for the big companies, but it will kill small solar as we know it in Iowa.”
In a related issue, he said Alliant’s recent request for a rate increase will have to go through the Iowa Utilities Board and he said they will probably get a 7 to 7.5% increase, but then they will keep coming back.
Taylor also said he’s not happy with the IUB board and thinks maybe people should be replaced on that board. He wasn’t happy with the way the board used eminent domain to get land for the Dakota Access pipeline, even though he was happy with the pipeline’s location in Iowa.
Kurtz said wages are not going up fast enough to keep up with those types of rate hikes.
“Trying to tack on a huge increase like this is just crazy,” Kurtz said.
Mitchell said 25% is way too high for average consumers, but because the request has to go through the IUB so residents can fight it through that board.
The three split along party lines on a new proposal to put elected officials in charge of judicial placements, as opposed to the current process of having members of the bar association make the selections. Kurtz and Taylor don’t favor the move, Mitchell said he believes it’s more transparent and lets 100% of the people have input through their elected officials.
Kurtz said Iowa’s judicial system was rated 9th best system in the country, and said the legislation is a solution looking for a problem.
“What we’ve got works. I wouldn’t change one thing about it,” Kurtz said.
Taylor said the way things are done is very non political.
“Who would you want picking your doctors? And air conditioning mechanic and a farmer and maybe a business person saying this is the best doctor, or would you want a group of doctors saying this is the best doctor.”