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Water quality bill moves to Governor Reynolds' desk for signature

Iowa House meets before calling up SF512, which details funding sources for water quality projects. (Caroline Cummings)

The Iowa House passed a Senate bill Tuesday that would redistribute $282 million dollars in funding over the next 12 years to water quality improvement projects, moving the legislation to Governor Reynolds' desk for signature.

SF512 passed the Iowa Senate last session and made its way to the House, where a majority voted for an amendment to the bill that the Senate ultimately rejected. Tuesday legislators in the House voted to "recede"--double down--on that amendment and accepted the Senate version.

It was a 59-41 vote, mostly along party lines. Governor Reynolds praised the bill's passage, saying she is "proud" it's the first piece of legislation she'll sign as governor.

“This will go a long way towards our goal of providing a long-term, dedicated and growing revenue source to help fund and scale best practices through the already successful Nutrient Reduction Strategy," Reynolds said.

The bill moves revenue from taxes Iowans already pay on drinking water and gambling revenue that currently goes to an existing infrastructure fund. Now, this money will funnel into two new water quality funds set aside for water quality projects.

Rep. John Wills, R-Spirit Lake, who was the bill manager, said the funding is net-neutral, meaning there won't be a new tax on Iowans.

"The bill builds upon the successful implementation of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction strategy and provides for long-term and sustainable funding. This is just the beginning, not the end," said Wills, also saying that he is working on other legislation that tackles water quality issues.

Some Democrats voiced their concerns with the bill's shifting of money instead of creating new sources of revenue. They also were concerned about accountability and how success will be measured since it’s a voluntary program.

"Iowans are willing to pay for results if we know we are getting the results we are paying for," said Rep. Chuck Isenhart, D-Dubuque, who said that the House version would've put the state on the path to getting those results.

Rep. Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, said he initially wanted to see the House keep its amendment, which would've sent the bill into conference committee for further discussion. But Prichard ultimately voted for the Senate bill, calling it a "small step" forward.

“You have to ask yourself if something is better than nothing," Prichard said. "We’ve got some money dedicated for water quality. I view that as positive. Is it enough? No."

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