• Budget Negotiations, TIF and Open Meetings/Open Records
  • May 1, 2012 | Authors: Jessica S. Harder; Thomas E. Stanberry
  • Law Firm: Davis, Brown, Koehn, Shors & Roberts, P.C. - Des Moines Office
  • The session continues into extra innings following its scheduled end on April 17. No budget agreement had been reached on the “big number” for the overall State budget, so conference committees could not meet to negotiate. Most House members were sent home early and left the building Wednesday. At this point those in the lobby (and probably a lot of legislators) are hoping the session does not continue through much of the summer like last year. At the end of the week, one Capitol rumor was that an overall budget number was loosely agreed to but the House and Senate do not have agreement on how the funds should be appropriated. If this is true, conference committees could begin working early in the week. The end could come quickly once a deal on the budget is reached, with one or more of the large policy issues deferred until the next General Assembly. We will keep you posted.

    The Senate passed its version of tax increment finance (TIF) reform. The Senate bill focused largely on new reporting requirements, “anti-piracy” language and transparency measures. The amended bill stripped out many of the House provisions chambers, developers and cities opposed. It passed on a 26-22 vote along party lines—only this time the parties took the opposite positions they did in the House with Republicans locking up against the bill and the Senate Democrats voting for it. This has been an interesting and unusual political issue  to  watch unfold. The bill now goes back to the House and is on the debate calendar for Monday. It is unclear whether the House will concur with what  it consider the much weaker Senate version.

    The “storm chaser” bill SF466 took another procedural step this week, although not exactly the one the property and casualty insurance companies hoped for, when the House refused to concur with the Senate amendment that makes clear the Attorney General’s powers under the state’s consumer fraud laws. If the Senate takes the bill up to insist, the bill would go to a conference committee to resolve the differences between the two versions. Negotiations continue between the involved parties, who hope to resolve the issue before time runs out this session.

    Legislation to create a new open meetings/open records advisory board, championed by the Iowa Newspaper Association for six consecutive sessions, passed the Senate clearing its final hurdle before going to the Governor. SF430 creates the nine-member Iowa Public Information Board. The Board will consist of one representative each from the Iowa League of Cities, the Iowa State Association of Counties and the Iowa School Board Association, three media representatives and three citizen members. Board members will be appointed by the Governor, subject to confirmation by the Senate. There can be no more than three local government and three media representatives among the appointees. There will also be an executive director who will serve as the attorney for the Board.

    The new Board has significant powers including:

    • Rulemaking and enforcement authority over Chapters 21 and 22 the open meetings and open records chapters of Iowa Code
      • The ability to investigate complaints, request and view records at issue, determine facts, issue subpoenas and hold contested case proceedings
      • The power to impose a penalty for violations of the open meetings/records laws, with increased fines for elected officials where the board finds that the violation was made knowingly or willfully
      • Issue advisory opinions when requested

    Interestingly, the Board will not have powers over the state legislature or the Governor’s office.

    Over the many years this issue had been discussed, local governments, regents institutions, and even the attorney general’s office had concerns over this type of board with enforcement powers.  Proponents argued that there should be an agency where any person can file a complaint alleging a violation of open meetings or open records laws and have them enforced.

    The final bill has an added twist with a provision which gives confidential records protection for drafts or preliminary versions of documents prior to their official use.

    “Sec. ---. Section 22.7, Code Supplement 2011, is amended by adding the following new subsection:

    NEW SUBSECTION . 65. Tentative, preliminary, draft, speculative, or research material, prior to its completion for the purpose for which it is intended and in a form prior to the form in which it is submitted for use or used in the actual formulation, recommendation, adoption, or execution of any official policy or action by a public official authorized to make such decisions for the governmental body or the government body. This subsection shall not apply to public records that are actually submitted for use or are used in the formulation, recommendation, adoption, or execution of any official policy or action of a governmental body or a government body by a public official authorized to adopt or execute official policy for the governmental body or the government body.”

    Some in the media are already saying this provision will be abused and will have to be tested in court.