Final results from the Iowa Legislature's 2009 session

The Iowa House adjourned for the year a little after 5 am today, and the Iowa Senate adjourned a few minutes before 6 am. I’ll write more about what happened and didn’t happen in the next day or two, but I wanted to put up this thread right away so people can share their opinions.

Several major bills passed during the final marathon days in which legislators were in the statehouse chambers nearly all night on Friday and Saturday. The most important were the 2010 budget and an infrastructure bonding proposal. Legislators also approved new restrictions on the application of manure on frozen or snow-covered ground. Another high-profile bill that made it through changes restrictions on convicted sex offenders.

Several controversial bills did not pass for lack of a 51st vote in the Iowa House, namely a tax reform plan that would have ended federal deductibility and key legislative priorities for organized labor.

Not surprisingly, last-minute Republican efforts to debate a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage also failed.

More details and some preliminary analysis are after the jump.

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Iowa has 42 of the 150 watersheds that create the Gulf of Mexico's "Dead Zone"

I just received a press release from the Iowa Environmental Council about new data released this week by the U.S. Geological Survey. The USGS identified “the top 150 polluting watersheds in the Mississippi River Basin that cause the annual 8,000 square-mile ‘Dead Zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico” and found that 42 of those watersheds are in Iowa. I’ve posted the whole press release after the jump, but here is an excerpt:

Marine dead zones can be caused by too many nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) in the water. Excess nutrients cause excess algae growth which, in turn, causes oxygen levels to drop too low to support marine life. […]

This is not the first time that Iowa nutrient problems in Iowa waters have been linked to problems downstream. In January of 2008, USGS identified 9* states, including Iowa, as the source of over 70 percent of the Gulf Dead Zone pollution. Nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from commercial fertilizers and animal manure from farmland were the biggest contributing sources in these states.

“It is ironic that our legislature is currently considering a bill that would weaken new rules proposed by the Iowa DNR to reduce runoff of manure applied to frozen or snow covered cropland during the winter,” said Marian Riggs Gelb, executive director for the Iowa Environmental Council.

I wrote about the “manure in water” bill, which passed the Iowa Senate as SF 432, earlier this week. Organizations opposing that bill include the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the Iowa Environmental Council, the Sierra Club’s Iowa chapter, Iowa Farmers Union, Raccoon River Watershed Association, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, and the Izaak Walton League.

In fact, I received an action alert about this bill from the Sierra Club today. Excerpt:

SF 432 is the Manure Bill, with the first Division of the bill being the Liquid Manure on Frozen Ground issue. It allows the spread of liquid manure on snow or ice covered frozen ground under certain conditions. Sierra Club, and many Iowans, are absolutely opposed to the spread of liquid manure on top of snow, ice or frozen ground. The risk of runoff into Iowa’s streams and lakes is quite high from such activity, especially upon thawing. Fundamentally this bill limits State implementation of Clean Water Act rules.

The Sierra Club wants Iowans to contact House representatives and ask them to remove the Liquid Manure division of SF 432. The floor manager of this bill in Iowa House is Representative Ray Zirkelbach (district 31). Other key Democratic legislators to contact about this bill, according to the Sierra Club, are House Speaker Pat Murphy (district 28), Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (district 67), Representative Mike Reasoner (district 95), Representative Donovan Olson (district 48), and Representative Polly Bukta (district 26).

If you live in any of the above districts, please contact them in the next few days regarding the manure in water bill. You can find contact information at the Iowa House Democrats’ site.

Getting back to the U.S. Geological Survey findings, the Iowa Environmental Council’s water program director, Susan Heathcote, pointed out that Iowans would also benefit from cleaning up our watersheds that contribute to the Gulf of Mexico’s “Dead Zone.” By way of example, she cited the Cedar, Iowa and Des Moines Rivers, which are on the USGS list and also provide drinking water for major population centers in Iowa.

Click “there’s more” to read the rest of the IEC’s press release on this issue.

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Why don't Iowa leaders do more to protect the environment? (updated)

David Yepsen published his final column in the Des Moines Register before starting his new job as director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. It reprises some themes from many previous columns, such as the need to create a world-class education system and thriving economy in Iowa, with fewer layers of government.

As often happens when I read one of Yepsen’s columns, I wonder why he ignores some obvious paths to achieving his admirable goals. For instance, he wants Iowa to “set the goal of having one of the highest per-capita incomes in the country within 10 years.” Is this the same columnist who never met a labor union he liked? It reminded me of how Yepsen periodically slams the excessive influence of big money in politics, but won’t get behind a voluntary public financing system for clean elections.

In Yepsen’s final column, one passage in particular caught my eye:

Let’s set a goal to have the cleanest environment in the country within 10 years. The cleanest air. The cleanest water. The best soil- and energy-conservation practices.

We’ve had education governors. We’ve had sporadic focus on growing the economy. For some reason, we’ve lacked a similar focus on the environment. Creating a clean environment will create green jobs, but it will also make Iowa more attractive as a place to live and do business.

“For some reason”? I think most of us have a pretty good idea why improving air and water quality has never been a high priority for Iowa leaders. Follow me after the jump for more on this problem.

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