GUTHRIE CENTER, Iowa — Second-term Iowa Sen. Jake Chapman of Adel and first-term Iowa House member Rep. Ray “Bubba” Sorensen of Greenfield spent an hour Saturday morning answering questions in a legislative forum at the Guthrie County Farm Bureau office here.
Chapman, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, lit up the metro media skies last week with his new fireworks bill, and he spoke to the issue, claiming media accounts have falsified the truth.
“I don’t like using the words ‘fake media, fake news,’ but it’s getting out there,” Chapman said, without specifying how any stories about his bill were faked or by whom.
He said the 2017 bill legalizing fireworks gave cities and counties the authority to regulate only the use of the explosives and not their retail sale, which is governed soley by state law.
“What we said are, ‘Cities, counties, you can regulate within certain parameters the use of fireworks, okay? But we’re not going to let you regulate the retail sale of fireworks,'” he said. “Just like we do with every other product, when it comes to commerce, the state always maintains control over commerce.”
But some cities ignored the law, Chapman said, including ignoring an injunction ordered by a district court judge, and continued to burden the honest explosives sellers with extra city fees or city inspections, and some places even restricted the sellers to property zoned industrial. His proposed law prohibits all such local impediments.
“You can’t use your zoning laws,” Chapman said, “to literally zone out a product out of your community. Some cities are saying, ‘Industrial zoning only. We’re only going to let you put this retail product in an industrial zone.’ We’re saying you can’t do that.”
The bill also includes a provision intended as “a conversation starter,” Chapman said. “We made that very clear. It’s a conversation starter. Should we allow on the Fourth of July all Iowans to be able to shoot off fireworks?”
Such a law would set aside all local ordinances for one patriotic day of general liberty and license. He said the proposal arose in response to the many hard-working, taxpaying and law-abiding citizens confused about where their god-given natural right to bear fireworks ends and the dubiously legitimate power of the state begins.
“There are numerous Iowans,” Chapman said, “who have contacted myself or their representatives and have said, ‘I don’t understand what my city’s regulations are. You know. I’ve got to dig for the ordinance. I don’t know what hours. If I’m on this side of the street and in Pleasant Hill, I can shoot them off two hours earlier, but if I’m on that side of the street, I can’t shoot them off at all.’ And there’s a lot of confusion out there where you have to be and where you can be to shoot off legal fireworks. And so, in an attempt to clarify: On the Fourth of July, everyone can shoot off fireworks. It doesn’t matter which city, which county.”
Lobbyists for the fireworks sellers and other retailers have registered their support for Chapman’s bill. Lobbyists registered against the proposal represent the Iowa Police Chiefs Association, the Iowa Firefighters Association, the Iowa League of Cities, the Iowa State Association of Counties and several individual cities. Veterans groups and animal-welfare groups have also weighed in against the proposal.
“The likelihood of that passing is probably very minimal at this point,” Chapman said, “but it starts the conversation. So I’m very optimistic that we’re going to get the piece passed on making sure when it comes to commerce that fireworks is a state issue and not so optimistic on the Fourth of July.”
Talk turned to taxes, and Chapman made clear his determination to reduce property taxes and income taxes even further and to eliminate the estate tax — he calls it the “plunder tax.” He also favors making county assessors subject to retention votes in the manner of state and district court judges in consequence of what Chapman called “very egregious cases of county assessors violating the law.”
Since 1948, each Iowa county has hired and annually reviewed its assessor by means of a county assessor’s conference board, which includes representatives from the major taxing entities in the county: the county board of supervisors, the mayors and the school districts.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Dallas County Assessor Steve Helm said Wednesday in reaction to Chapman’s proposal. Helm was preparing to deliver his annual presentation to the Dallas County Assessor’s Conference Board when he spoke to ThePerryNews.com.
The “Libertarian side of me,” Chapman said Saturday, believes taxes are antithetical to freedom, rather like city fireworks ordinances. He said he cherishes the Declaration of Independence’s rights to life, liberty and “the pursuit of happiness, meaning property, and yet when you own property, you still have to pay the government. You never truly own your property. You continue to pay.”
Paul Hawkins, chairperson of the Guthrie County Republicans, said he shared the Republican hatred of taxes in general, but he urged Chapman and Sorensen to go slow with any phase out of the commercial property tax backfill because of the harm it stands to do to low-growth rural counties.
The Iowa Legislature has been threatening for several years to phase out the commercial and industrial property tax reimbursements, also known as the backfill, that followed their 2013 tax cut. The burden in lost revenues fell entirely on local taxing entities, such as cities, counties and school districts, and the backfill was intended to compensate them for the shock to their budgets.
Last year the legislature considered two different phase-out timelines — a three-year and a six-year phase out — based on whether a taxing jurisdiction is above or below the average statewide growth in taxable value of all classes of property from FY 2014 to FY 2019.
The statewide growth in taxable value used in the calculation is 19.51 percent. Cities that have seen growth above 19.51 percent, such as Guthrie Center, will be phased out over a three-year period. Statewide, some 653 cities have seen growth below 19.51 percent while the remaining 289 have had growth above 19.51 percent.
Chapman did most of the talking at Saturday’s forum, but freshman legislator Sorensen, vice chair of the Iowa House Appropriations Committee, outlined the committee’s numbers for education funding, which he said track closely with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ budget proposal for education.
Chapman closed with a strong statement in defense of life.
“Hopefully, I will make you proud with most of my bills,” he said, “but I’m not afraid, and I’m not going to shy away from taking on controversial issues. When it comes to the issue of life, we didn’t have that opportunity to really talk about the life issue. I made it clear in my campaign that every opportunity I have, I will defend life. We have activist judges who frankly are eroding and compromising the very fabric of our state constitution. Unfortunately, because of what the issue is, we can’t be united as a legislative body but if it had been other issues, and we had seen this judicial activism, I would hope that the legislature would be united in putting that branch in check. I said it before. I’ll say it again. If judges want to legislate, go get 100 signatures, put your name on the ballot, and go run for the legislature. That is the branch with the enumerated powers to legislate. Until then, stop legislating from the bench.”
The small crowd erupted in sustained applause for Chapman’s defense of life and attack on judicial activism.
“Let freedom ring, buddy,” said Chapman, who has been quoted as claiming fireworks are the best way to signify one’s American patriotism, as opposed to flying the flag or discharging a firearm. In support of his opinion, Chapman likes to quote John Adams, America’s second president, who described how Independence Day ought to be celebrated.
“I am apt to believe,” Adams said, “that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
The legislators will attend their next legislative forum Saturday, March 2 at 8 a.m. in Guthrie Center and 11 a.m. in Greenfield.