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Inside the Iowa Legislature

February 26, 2009
Speaker of the House Pat Murphy

PAYING FAIR WAGES

To boost workers' wages, the House is considering a measure to require

construction wages on public projects to at least match the "prevailing wage" in an area. Prevailing wage isn't anything new to Iowa or to contractors that have had experience with federally-funded construction projects, which have been bound by prevailing wage requirements since passage of the Davis-Bacon Act in 1931. Thirty-two states, including all states bordering Iowa except South Dakota, already have prevailing wage laws.

In most cases, the Iowa legislation will only apply to public projects above a certain spending threshold, and it will have NO impact on private construction projects. Everyone bidding on a project subject to prevailing wage will have to follow the same guidelines, so it will be a level playing field. The legislation will encourage competition for public contracts with greater emphasis placed upon quality of work, rather than low bid.

Studies have shown that increased wage costs are usually offset by superior productivity and workmanship. As we gear-up to rebuild after last summer's natural disasters and to retool our infrastructure with hundreds of millions of state and federal stimulus dollars, we need to make sure that we rebuild smarter.

Prevailing wage will discourage out-of-state contractors from bringing in poorly trained workers, low-balling bids and doing sub-par work that has to be fixed later. And it will boost the local economy by putting money into the pockets of Iowa workers and their families.

INSURANCE FOR PROSTHETICS

State Rep. Bob Kressig of Cedar Falls managed House passage of legislation requiring full health insurance coverage for prosthetic devices, if deemed medically necessary by the patient's doctor. A few years ago, some health insurers started placing annual or lifetime caps on prosthetic coverage, as low as $2,500 per year or $15,000 lifetime in some cases, while actual costs may be much higher. In some cases, insurance may only cover enough to pay for temporary prosthetics, leaving patients on their own when its time to get permanent prosthetic devices. Lifetime limits can be especially problematic for children, who may need several prosthetic replacements as they grow. Opponents argue that this legislation will result in substantial increases in insurance premiums. But data from other states suggest that this legislation will cost less than 25 cents per member per month. Since Iowa's larger insurers already provide this coverage, without caps, most Iowans would experience no cost increase

KEEPING

KIDS IN SCHOOL

As one strategy to cut down on high school dropouts, the House is considering legislation to extend the state's school attendance requirement by two years, from a person's 16th birthday (under current law) up until a person's 18th birthday, beginning with the 2010-11 school year. Staff at the Iowa Department of Education told me that, by simply raising the age when a student can quit high school, the dropout rate could decline by up to 25 percent.

A number of kids drop out of school because they're disinterested, don't plan on going to college, and might feel they can do just as well if they go out and get a full-time job. However, national wage and employment statistics consistently demonstrate that, the higher the education level, the more a person will earn over a lifetime. High school dropouts are three times more likely to end up in poverty compared to those who finish the 12th grade. Adjusted for inflation, average wages of high school dropouts actually declined 23 percent over the past three decades. This legislation requires students who reach age 18 after September 14th of the school year to file a declaration of intent to leave school, participate in an exit interview, and complete a survey on the reason for dropping out.

Each local school district will be required to form a work group of educators and community stakeholders to look for ways to encourage and assist students to hang on through graduation.

Each district work group will look into student support programs, web-based education, summer school, mentoring and tutoring, career academies, and other programs to address dropout issues (including program funding needs), and will develop a local plan for addressing the needs of students at risk of dropping out. At the same time, a state-level work group will examine these issues on a statewide basis and report back to the Department of Education.

 
 

 

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