Debate underway

I thought about putting the headline "Google It Yourself!" on this post; more about that later. At approximately 12:20 p.m. on Friday, February 20, 2008, the Iowa House began debating the "prevailing wage" bill.  Debate is scheduled to end at 5:20 p.m. this afternoon.

Representative Rick Olson, a Democrat from Des Moines who is the bill's floor manager, delivered opening remarks on the bill.  Here's Olson's prepared text:"We are committed to helping middle class families by rewarding hard work and those who play by the rules.  A prevailing wage will reward middle class families who put in the work of rebuilding our state after the historic floods and help our state grow out of the recession while developing a highly-skilled workforce ready for the jobs of the 21st Century.  It will protect the jobs of local workers by stopping big corporations and construction companies who drive down wages by using low-skill laborers and illegal immigrants.

Like we've seen in neighboring states, a prevailing wage will be good for middle class families.  It will encourage apprenticeship & job training programs to build a healthy, highly-skilled workforce ready for the jobs in today's global economy.  It will increase wages and expand benefits like health insurance for hard working families while reducing reliance on government programs.  It will reduce on the job injuries and save lives.

It will encourage competition for public contracts based on quality of work, efficiency, and safety.  It will discourage the "race to the bottom" bidding that rewards out of state contractors who lower wages and exploit their workers. 

I know this bill is complex and there is a lot of misinformation out there about what this bill does and does not do.  While there are amendments and changes that will be made to this bill tonight, I want to set the record straight on one key point. 

This bill does NOT have any impact on private projects.  Iowans won't need to hire a contractor who pays prevailing wage to get their furnace fixed.  Small businesses won't have to pay prevailing wages for construction or renovations.  Manufacturers expanding their facilities won't have to pay a prevailing wage, even if they receive state assistance."

Republicans intend to offer a wide range of amendments to the bill.  The first was from Representative Lance Horbach, a Republican from Tama, who used part of his allotted speaking time as a sort of pop quiz.

"I'm gonna ask about six or even of you to stand up…and I'm going to ask you to tell me the prevailing wage rate in your county," Horbach began.  Horbach, however, quickly reduced his list of six or seven and focused on Rep.Bob Kressig, a Democrat from Cedar Falls.  "Your county that was one that was disastrously impacted by the floods.  Do you know what the prevailing wage will be when we go to send the FEMA money in to Black Hawk County?" Horbach asked.

"It's my understanding that hasn't been determined yet," Kressig replied.

"So we're gonna vote on something that we don't even know how it's gonna impact our taxpayers?" Horback said.

"Why don't you just tell me what it is, Representative Horbach?" Kressig said. "I'm sure you have it there, don't ya?"

"I have it for every county," Horbach replied.

"Why don't you just share it with me?" Kressig said.

"What I want to know is this, when this bill comes into effect we will not have the prevailing wages made, correct?  Emergency rules will apply and we'll have the Davis-Bacon Act rules applied to your county, correct?" Horback said.

"I would just ask that if you would consider asking my colleague from Polk," Kressig said. "He's actually the floor manager of the bill and I'm sure he can give you any information you'd like to have on this bill."

"Absolutely," Horbach said, and a few moments later he addressed his question to Olson: "What is the prevailing wage doing to be for Des Moines or Polk County?"

"Representative Horbach, for a disaster area we're following the Davis-Bacon rates.  You can reference it online.  Go to Davis-Bacon.  Google it.  You can pull up a chart.  There are numerous classifications.  If you want me to do that on the laptop next to me, I'll be more than happy to do it.  We have five hours certain set for this debate, but I would tell you 'Google it yourself,'" Olson said.

"OK, thank you," Horbach said.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.