Yeager: The Governor has signed into law a statewide smoking ban and the legislature is creeping toward ending its session. Kay Henderson of Radio Iowa is here and she's going to help us keep score on what's going on in the final days. It looks like we're getting to the final week of sorts here. It looks like maybe Wednesday or Thursday of next week you're hearing. But earlier this week there was the signing of the bill by the Governor. This is one that we've talked about over and over again. Since that bill has been signed has any new loopholes appeared to have popped up or anybody saying, hey, this is a way we think we can get around this?
Henderson: Well, this is something that was mentioned during debate but I think more attention has been paid to it of late as the weather has gotten a little bit better and people contemplate going out on the patio of a bar or restaurant they frequent. The legislature has written it in such a way that smoking will be allowed in that outdoor space, in that bar or patio. So, if you go outside to have a beer, maybe some nachos served to you on the patio of your favorite neighborhood bar be prepared for perhaps someone lighting up beside you.
Yeager: It's not a complete ban; that is one loophole that has popped up. Let's move along now to a transportation bill, the Time 21. The bill looked like or at least the hole the Department of Transportation says is $200 million. What was signed? Where is the money coming from? And how short are they in filling that $200 million?
Henderson: Well, it hasn't been signed into law yet but it has cleared the legislative process. And Governor Culver has indicated he will sign it. The legislation raises title and registration fees so that when Iowans go to renew their plates, that's the vernacular, you're going to be paying much more unless, of course, you're a farmer or you use your pickup truck for business. But Paul, let's say you have a pickup and you're one of those urban cowboys, from here after if you buy a new one of those in the 2010 model year or purchase something after January 1st of 2009 you're going to be paying a plate fee that is based on the weight and the value of the vehicle. That is the same calculation that is used when people buy plates for their SUV's.
Yeager: Okay, so is that going to be a change to people -- the pickup has kind of been a long standing problem for getting this bill moving forward hasn't it?
Henderson: It has because farm groups, particularly the Farm Bureau, have been opposed to it. One of the most interesting parts of this debate as it has unfolded is what people have been saying behind the scenes. I had a conversation this past week with a republican senator who made the case that hey, I'm paying for it either at the front end or the back end arguing that it is time to raise the gas tax because he says the roads that he's driving on in the part of Iowa where he's from, I'm not going to divulge who this is, are just filled with potholes and his car is being damaged by driving over these roads. And so he argues that the gas tax should be raised and it appears that Governor Culver has sort of given the green light to a discussion in the next legislative session about that. So, as this sort of percolates around it appears that is more likely than it was a couple of weeks ago.
Yeager: Something that will come up, you said, in the campaign season of next year. One other transportation thing that will take place tomorrow is an announcement in the Iowa City area about Amtrak and some folks from the Quad City area as well as Iowa City are going to be there. What is this about? We've talked about it on this program before, about how expanding passenger rail could be a benefit to that part of the state as well as central to the west. What do we expect is going to come out of this announcement tomorrow?
Henderson: Well, it's about a feasibility study whereby is there enough passenger traffic in the Iowa City area to, I guess, necessitate the conversion of rails that are already used for freight traffic to run passengers all the way to Chicago. It was several decades ago when President Eisenhower spearheaded the construction of a super highway system around the country, that freight was diverted off rails and onto semi trucks that ran on those roads. And now as you have skyrocketing gas prices, you know, the discussion that there may be $4 per gallon gasoline this summer and today as we're looking at gas prices in Iowa that seems ever closer it seems as if there may be now a discussion shifting from roads perhaps to rails and public transportation.
Yeager: We'll see how that one plays out and we'll cover it on the next Iowa Journal.