A roundup of state government and Capitol news items of interest:
WEARING MASKS, RELIGIOUSLY: An interfaith group of Iowa clergy members is calling on Gov. Kim Reynolds to require Iowans to wear a mask while inside any public building when they cannot social distance.
The religious leaders made their appeal Monday at the state Capitol in Des Moines, where they delivered a petition with more than 800 signatures to the governor’s office calling for a public mask mandate.
Members of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa — a group of representatives from different faith traditions and denominations — released a “Call to Action: Protect the Health and Safety of Iowans.” They said it was backed by many religious or spiritual traditions and beliefs rooted in a humanist perspective and based on the moral value to “love your neighbor” found across most traditions and beliefs.
“We are asking the governor to sign a proclamation immediately for a statewide mandate to wear a mask inside all public places and outside when unable to social distance by at least 6 feet,” said Connie Ryan, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa.
“Governor, we know that you trust Iowans. That is admirable. But, with the continued spread of the virus, trust is not keeping Iowans safe. It is time to take action.”
JULY STATE TAX COLLECTIONS UP: Iowa saw a nearly 36 percent jump in state revenue last month, but only because tax-collection delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have skewed the fiscal year numbers.
Last month, the state brought in $932.5 million in tax collections — due in part to the decision to delay the filing deadline for state individual and corporate taxes from April 30 to July 31.
Monday’s positive report on July 2020 receipts (the first month of the 2021 fiscal year) followed news last week from the Legislative Services Agency that net state tax revenue from March 19 through July 30 for calendar years 2019 and 2020 declined $350.4 million and 10.7 percent year-over-year.
LSA senior tax analyst Jeff Robinson said the state revenue picture will be “just a jumbled mess” until state revenue and management departments close the books on fiscal 2020 in September and make final accrual adjustments.
Earlier this year, the Revenue Estimating Conference set an adjusted fiscal 2021 estimate of $7.733 billion — which would be a 2.2 percent decline from the projected $7.908 billion projected for the fiscal year that ended June 30 but won’t officially be tabulated until later next month.
IOWA ECONOMIC INDICATORS: State officials on Monday reported the state’s leading economic indicators fell in June for the seventh straight month.
According to the Iowa Department of Revenue, the index decreased by 0.3 percent to 100.5 in June. While down, official say the negative impact was considerably less than that experienced in March and April.
Only two of the eight index components contributing positively in June with COVID-19 “swiftly and sharply” affecting the Iowa economy along with the United States as a whole, department officials said Monday.
The Iowa Leading Indicators Index was constructed to signal economic turning points with two key metrics that when seen together are considered a signal of a coming contraction: a six-month annualized change in the index below negative 2.0 percent and a six-month diffusion index below 50.0.
The six-month annualized change in the index fell to negative 11.9 percent in June from minus 11.7 percent in May. This was the 20th consecutive month of a negative value and the fourth month below a negative 2.0 percent change.
The six-month diffusion index decreased to 25.0 in June from 37.5 in May.
The two components showing gains in June were the Iowa stock market index and the national yield spread, while the six negative components were average weekly unemployment claims (inverted), diesel fuel consumption, the agricultural futures profits index, average manufacturing hours, the new orders index, and residential building permits.
For the last two years, the 12-month moving average of Iowa weekly unemployment insurance claims had been below 3,000 — a threshold not crossed during the previous 11 years.
With the historical employment impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 12-month moving average jumped to a level not reached since November 2009, according to state analysts.
The monthly report is available at the https://tax.iowa.gov/reports?term_node_tid_depth=68&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery Web address.
EMINENT DOMAIN CONCERN: A growing number of legislative Republicans are expressing concern about efforts by state regulators in expanding their authority to turn over private property for wind energy developments.
House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, was the latest to react Monday regarding proposed rules by the Iowa Utilities Board, which he said could harm private property owners by expanding the uses of eminent domain.
“House Republicans have always been strong defenders of private property rights and will continue to fight against eminent domain abuse,” Grassley said in a statement.
“We share concerns about the rules being considered by the Iowa Utilities Board and will be closely monitoring them as they move through the process. The Legislature stands ready to respond and protect property owners from government overreach should these rules go through without necessary changes.”
Some Iowa counties have passed local zoning ordinances restricting where wind turbines may be placed — restrictions that some critics say could be overruled by the proposed Iowa Utilities Board regulations allowing eminent domain authority to be used to convert private property for the public use of renewable energy generation.
Last week, three GOP members of the Legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee raised concerns about proposed Iowa Utilities Board rule changes.
MEDICAL DIRECTOR GETS RAISE: Dr. Caitlin Pedati, Iowa’s medical director and state epidemiologist who has been in the forefront of the state COVID-19 pandemic response, received a significant pay raise in the fiscal year that began July 1, according to the Bleeding Heartland website.
The political blog obtained state records indicating Pedati’s base pay increased by 45 percent — with her receiving an additional $3,144 per two-week pay period that would translate to an extra $81,744 in base salary over 12 months.
According to Bleeding Heartland, Pedati also received more than $55,000 in overtime pay from March through early July.
Pedati was paid $174,000 in fiscal 2019. Her predecessor, Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, was paid about $241,000 in her final year in the state medical director/epidemiologist position.
EXECUTIVE ACTION: Members of the Iowa Executive Council on Monday approved a hodgepodge of claims resulting from damage caused by weather, animals and other factors.
State public safety officials requested emergency allocations topping $12,000 for repair costs for three Iowa State Patrol vehicles associated with damage caused by two deer and a raccoon in three incidents earlier this year.
Also, two claims totaling more than $164,000 were approved for water damage caused to University of Iowa buildings and equipment last winter resulting from a frozen/burst pipe at the Iowa Medical Laboratories and a sump-pump failure at the Dental Science Building. Other costs totaling about $27,000 were paid to cover sustained cable damage to the Iowa Communications Network resulting from excessive erosion along Iowa Highway 20 in Hamilton County, hail damage to a vehicle in the state Department of Commerce’s division of banking and tree damage caused by storms at the state Capitol complex in Des Moines.
POPULATION NUMBERS: Iowa’s total population dropped slightly between 2018 and 2019, declining by about 1,000 people in total, according to data released Monday by the Iowa Department of Public Health The population of older Iowans, especially those between the ages of 60 and 84, increased in the past year, while the number of younger individuals decreased slightly, fitting into a nationwide trend of increasing death rates and a slowed down birthrate.
Female Iowans still outnumber males in the state, and the number of those identifying as having a Hispanic ethnicity increased between 2018 and 2019.
The data also shows Iowa is becoming a more diverse state as the number of individuals identifying as non-white increased in 2019. In particular, the number of Black Iowans increased by nearly 4,000 individuals, and the number of individuals identifying as Native American and Alaskan Native rose by more than 400 between 2018 and 2019.
NEW JUDGE APPOINTED: Gov. Kim Reynolds on Monday announced the appointment of Melissa Anderson-Seeber of Hudson as a district court judge in Judicial Election District 1B.
Anderson-Seeber received her undergraduate degree from Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wis., and her law degree from the Drake University Law School.
She serves as the chief local public defender in the Waterloo Juvenile Office of the State Public Defender. She also serves as a member of the 1st Judicial District Department of Correctional Services board.
Anderson-Seeber fills the vacancy created by the recent retirement of District Court Judge George Stigler.
Judicial Election District 1B includes Black Hawk, Buchanan, Chickasaw, Fayette, Grundy and Howard counties.
— Gazette Des Moines Bureau
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