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Updates: Iowa's 2024 legislative session

Published January 5, 2024 at 1:36 PM CST
Madeleine C King

Iowa lawmakers' per diem payments to cover their expenses during the legislative session run out after Tuesday. But once again, the session won't end on time.

Taxes

Republican lawmakers propose 3.8% flat personal income tax rate

Posted April 18, 2024 at 4:02 PM CDT

Iowa’s personal income tax would fall to a single rate of 3.8% next year under a bill proposed by state Republican leaders.

The current top income tax rate is 5.7%, which is supposed to drop to 3.9% in 2026. The new plan would move Iowa to a flat 3.8% in 2025.

Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, says the budget surplus and the taxpayer relief fund would pay for the cuts.

“We are accelerating the promised tax cuts, taking it lower and returning an extra billion dollars to Iowans they would not have had otherwise.”

He says there would still be enough money left to try to get rid of the income tax in the future.

Mike Owen with Common Good Iowa says the state shouldn’t use one-time money for ongoing cuts, and that lawmakers should instead focus on tax policies to help lower-income Iowans.

“This bill compounds a patently unfair tax system that we have. It further takes us away from a tax system based on ability to pay. That principle is fundamental to good tax policy to sustain services.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds says the bill is a common-sense compromise that will benefit every Iowan who pays income tax.

Health

Bill to create new behavioral health system sent to governor for signature

Posted April 18, 2024 at 1:57 PM CDT

The Iowa House passed Gov. Kim Reynolds’ bill on Thursday to create a new behavioral health system, sending it to her desk for her signature.

The bill combines Iowa’s 32 mental health and substance use service regions into seven behavioral health districts. State health officials say the new system will promote equitable access to services across the state, and create clear entry points for Iowans to find help.

Rep. Joel Fry, R-Osceola, managed the bill’s passage.

“I have worked on a variety of different pieces related to mental health and substance abuse for my last 14 years here, and this is a great opportunity for the state of Iowa to be able to see these two worlds merge, and to have a system statewide that I believe will benefit Iowans in some pretty dramatic ways.”

A few Democrats opposed the bill, and it passed with a vote of 88-8.

Education

Bill sent for governor’s signature calls for review of K-12 curriculum standards

Posted April 18, 2024 at 10:55 AM CDT

The Iowa House is sending a bill to the governor that calls for a complete review of K-12 standards for math, science, reading and social studies.

But even before that review is done, the bill also directs the Iowa Department of Education to begin drafting new standards for social studies that emphasize U.S. history and Western civilization.

Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, says he supports the bill to focus more time in Iowa classrooms on American civics and founding principles.

“We will teach about our Republican form of government and compare the stark differences between us and the crimes against humanity that have occurred under communist regimes since 1917. We will teach about the horrors of the Holocaust to ensure that such evil is never countenanced in our own country.”

Rep. Molly Buck , D-Ankeny says the plan puts too much focus on learning about specific people and events instead of understanding how to analyze and compare them.

“I don’t really feel like an approach that talks about rote learning or memorization prepares our children for the realities of participating in modern and diverse and complex engagement in our society. Our education system needs to go beyond memorization.”

The bill passed to the governor’s desk on a vote of 57-36. If Reynolds signs the bill into law, the proposed social studies standards would go before the state board of education by the end of 2025.

Education

Bill aimed at improving reading scores sent to governor for signature

Posted April 17, 2024 at 2:31 PM CDT

The Iowa Legislature is sending a bill to Gov. Kim Reynolds aimed at improving reading scores in Iowa schools.

The bill is based on many of Reynolds’ proposals at the start of the session. It requires schools to tell families when a student in kindergarten through sixth grade is reading below grade level.

If a parent wants to hold their child back a grade because they are behind on reading, their school must honor that request.

The plan also requires an exam on research-based reading instruction for students in college teaching programs, although a passing grade is not required to graduate, as the governor first proposed.

The bill passed the Senate without opposition.

In a statement, Reynolds said the bill will help students make the transition from “learning to read,” to “reading to learn.”

Boards & commissions

House passes amended bill to eliminate, merge dozens of state boards and commissions

Posted April 17, 2024 at 12:29 PM CDT

On Tuesday, the Iowa House passed an amended version of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ bill to eliminate and merge dozens of state boards and commissions.

Democrats criticized the part of the bill that would eliminate several commissions for underrepresented groups, including African Americans, Latino Iowans and Native Americans. The bill would also make the state human rights board smaller and have it represent all underrepresented groups in Iowa.

Rep. Jerome Amos Jr., D-Waterloo, says it’s not enough to have just one person from each group advising the state government.

“You have to understand it’s going to silence numerous diverse voices in our state.”

Rep. Jane Bloomingdale, R-Northwood, says she believes underrepresented groups will have a stronger voice with these changes, and she says the bill ensures lawmakers continue to review changes to state boards in the future.

“This isn’t complete. This isn’t final. This is simply a work in progress, and this bill ensures that the work will continue year-after-year, long after we’re all gone.”

The bill passed 54-42, with eight Republicans joining all Democrats in voting against it. It goes back to the Senate for consideration.

Read the full story.

Government

House advances bill to give themselves $10,000 raise

Posted April 17, 2024 at 12:28 PM CDT

Members of the Iowa House of Representatives have advanced a bill to raise their own pay and that of statewide elected officials like the governor.

They would all get a $10,000 raise. That would put state lawmakers’ salaries at $35,000 per year, plus per-diem payments for travel during the legislative session. Under the bill, the governor would make $140,000 per year, with most other statewide elected officials earning $113,000.

Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, says lawmakers haven’t gotten a pay raise since 2007, and some lawmakers are leaving because they can’t afford to stay.

“The unfortunate reality we face is do we want our Legislature made up of a bunch of rich folks and retired folks? Because that’ll be the only ones that can afford to serve up here. Or do we want the representation of the Legislature to be based upon the people of Iowa?”

House members have also advanced a bill that would direct the legislative council to consider pay raises for legislative staff.

Read the full story.

Government programs

Bill headed to governor’s desk would prohibit cities, counties from establishing guaranteed income programs

Posted April 17, 2024 at 12:27 PM CDT

A billheaded to Gov. Kim Reynolds would prohibit cities and counties from establishing guaranteed income programs aimed at reducing the impact of poverty.

Supporters of the ban in the Iowa Senate said programs such as UpLift in central Iowa are a form of socialism. The two-year pilot program provides $500 monthly stipends to 110 low-income participants in Polk and surrounding counties.

Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale said it should be cut short.

“Where does it stop? Yeah, this is an experiment, but where does it stop when the ARPA money — which we all know is one-time money — then it’s going to be on the back of the taxpayer.”

Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, says no state funding is being used, so the Legislature should not be involved.

“If you’re not going to help, get out of the way. That’s all we ask. I didn’t come here and ask you for money. I didn’t ask you to subsidize the working poor. I’m just asking you to stay out of the way.”

The bill states that any existing programs must end by Jan. 1, 2025.

An UpLift organizer says they are reviewing the bill but plan to finish their scheduled payments through April of next year. They believe they can do that since a large part of the funding comes from private sources.

Read the full story.

Gun control

Waterloo parents react to bill that will make it easier to arm teachers

Posted April 16, 2024 at 4:17 PM CDT

With steps in motion to arm school staff in Iowa classrooms, some Waterloo parents are concerned about what that may mean for their kids.

The bill would require districts with enrollments greater than 8,000 to hire school resource officers trained in firearms.

According to a February Des Moines Register poll, 60% of Iowans support armed staff in some way, but some Black parents aren’t so sure.

Cam Campbell, a mother of a student in Waterloo Community Schools, said she worries that allowing firearms in the district could make school less safe for her middle-schooler.

“Historically, Black and brown people have been more largely impacted by gun violence. As a mom raising a Black son, I’m always thinking about stuff like that.”

The bill would also give qualified immunity to permitted armed staff and protect them from prosecution if they use “reasonable force.”

DEI

House looks to revive DEI restrictions at public universities

Posted April 16, 2024 at 9:38 AM CDT

Iowa House Republicans are looking to revive a set of proposed restrictions on diversity, equity and inclusion programs at the state’s public universities.

The measure was added to the education budget passed out of a subcommittee on Monday.

Under the proposal, DEI offices would no longer be allowed at the University of Iowa, Iowa State or the University of Northern Iowa. The universities could only spend money on diversity programs when it is required by federal law or for accreditation.

Rep. Carter Nordman, R-Panora, chaired the subcommittee. He says some of the budget numbers may still change, but he expects the rollback of DEI programs to stay in the bill.

The House budget would increase state funding for the three public universities by 2.5%, which matches the overall $12.3 million increase proposed in the Senate.

Gun control

Bill to clear obstacles for schools to arm teachers goes to Reynolds’ desk for signature

Posted April 16, 2024 at 9:37 AM CDT

The Iowa House is sending a bill to Gov. Kim Reynolds that lays out training requirements for teachers and staff who are authorized to carry firearms in K-12 schools.

Republicans say the bill is meant to help districts such as Spirit Lake, which tried to arm staff members but was told by its insurer the district would lose coverage.

Rep. Phil Thompson, R-Boone, says teachers should not have to wait for police to arrive if they can stop a shooter themselves.

“The first 30 seconds in these scenarios are extremely critical. This bill does set a high standard for districts and staff that want to participate in this and go the extra mile to protect our kids.”

Under the bill, both armed employees and their districts would receive qualified immunity, protecting them from civil and criminal liability.

Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, voted against the bill because if a student is mistakenly hurt or killed she says someone should be held responsible.

“When you have no liability for teachers and the school district, all children will be at risk. All families will have nowhere to go.”

A school employee who is permitted to carry a gun must go through training on how to respond to active shootings and coordinate with law enforcement.

The bill passed with Republican support. The final vote in the House was 62-36.

Immigration

New immigration law concerns members of law enforcement

Posted April 15, 2024 at 4:45 PM CDT

Iowa members of the Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force say they’re concerned about a new state law that will let state police arrest undocumented immigrants who were denied entry to the U.S.

The national group includes a handful of Iowa law enforcement leaders. Marshalltown Police Chief Michael Tupper, the co-chair of the task force, said the law will make their jobs more difficult.

“It will diminish public safety because it will cause people to needlessly fear the police. This law has severely harmed community relationships that took decades to build.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the bill into law last week, saying the Biden administration has failed to enforce immigration laws. The new law is set to take effect July 1. A similar law in Texas has been held up in court as judges decide whether states should be allowed to enforce immigration laws.

Transportation

Traffic camera bill goes to governor’s desk for signature

Posted April 15, 2024 at 4:45 PM CDT

The Iowa Senate passed a bill Monday to regulate traffic cameras, sending it to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk for her signature.

It will require cities to prove to the Iowa Department of Transportation that their traffic cameras that automatically issue speeding tickets are necessary for safety. Automated traffic enforcement systems could only issue tickets if footage is reviewed by city officials and the driver was going more than 10 miles per hour over the speed limit.

Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, says the bill was a long time coming after some Republicans tried for years to ban traffic cameras.

“We were in such a tie-down of ban or no ban that this came to make sense. There is a need for automated traffic cameras, especially in the urban areas.”

Sen. Mike Klimesh, R-Spillville, managed the bill’s passage.

“I think we’ve set up a very robust regulatory framework that will allow and actually require cities and municipalities to prove concepts, to prove that they need to have these traffic cameras at these locations.”

The bill passed with a vote of 46-1.

Read the full story.

Transportation

ACLU calls traffic camera bill ‘a step in the right direction’

Posted April 12, 2024 at 3:31 PM CDT

This week, the Iowa House approved a bill (HF 2681) that would place limits on the use of traffic cameras. It would require local governments to receive permits from the Iowa Department of Transportation before setting up traffic camera systems and sets standards for fines collected.

Pete McRoberts of the Iowa chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union says they’d like to see the cameras banned outright on due process grounds, but the legislation is a step in the right direction.

“Right now it’s the Wild West, and cities are getting away with highway robbery, literally, through the really unbridled — and we think unethical and unlawful — use of this traffic camera collection program that they have. So, yes, we would love a full ban, but at the end of the day we support any oversight.”

Under the bill, Iowa cities and counties would have to provide the Iowa DOT with an explanation for why the cameras are needed at the location, including records on the number and severity of accidents, speed of drivers and any safety concerns. Tickets could not be issued for under ten miles per hour above the speed limit. Warning signs would have to be placed between 500 and 1,000 feet before any cameras. The bill also got a first reading in the Senate this week.

Transportation

Bill would aim to make crosswalks safer

Posted April 12, 2024 at 3:26 PM CDT

The Iowa Legislature passed a bill this week that extends protections currently given to pedestrians to people using other forms of transportation when crossing roads.

Luke Hoffman, the executive director of the Iowa Bicycle Coalition, says it was a group effort to bring the legislation this far.

“We worked with partners like AARP, which registered in support of the bill, [and] researchers at University of Iowa to kind of come together in a coalition to support this. Because we knew it was more than just about cyclists, it was about pedestrians who are on electric scooters, who are maybe senior citizens, or kids on skateboards or parents with a baby in a stroller.”

The new law would require drivers in Iowa to yield right-of-way to pedestrians, cyclists and people using other forms of conveyance where there is a crosswalk but no traffic signal. It also applies to electric bicycles with motors up to 750 watts.

The measure passed unanimously in the Senate and awaits the governor’s signature.

Labor

House passes bill allowing more young drivers to drive to work, school

Posted April 11, 2024 at 4:23 PM CDT

The Iowa Housepassed a bill this week that would give more young drivers permission to drive themselves to work and school activities.

Teens as young as 14-and-a-half years-old who have completed driver’s ed could get a special license to drive directly to work if a parent and employer sign off on the idea.

Past rules have applied to farm work, but this would apply to all kinds of employment.

Rep. Elinor Levin, D-Iowa City, says she’s worried about teens driving to work when they’re short on sleep.

“Teens in this age range already have worse judgment, executive functioning, cognitive speed and muscle coordination than adults. Encouraging teens to engage in drowsy driving will only exacerbate these deficits.”

The bill would reduce the distance teens could travel under the special work license from the current 50 mile radius to 25 miles.

Rep. Brent Siegrist, R-Council Bluffs, says he believes that reduces some of the risk of teen driving.

The bill passed the House on a party line vote. It was amended and sent back to the Senate, where it passed last month.

Education

Bill to make it easier for schools to let teachers carry guns returns to House

Posted April 11, 2024 at 9:21 AM CDT

The Iowa Senate is sending a bill back to the House that would make it easier for schools to allow teachers and other staff to carry firearms.

Anyone authorized to carry a gun in schools would have to go through crisis response and firearm training.

The bill also gives armed staff and school districts qualified immunity from lawsuits.

Democrats said that leaves no one to take responsibility if a gun is mishandled and someone is killed or injured.

But Sen. Julian Garrett, R-Indianola, says it’s worth the risk to have the chance to stop a shooter.

“We’re better off taking that tiny, little risk than we are taking the big risk of having nobody there to protect our children if that need arises.”

A few school districts, including Spirit Lake and Cherokee, have tried to arm employees in the past, but were told they would lose insurance coverage. GOP senators say the bill is meant to make it easier for those districts to find affordable insurance.

Read the full story.

Immigration 

Reynolds signs bill allowing law enforcement to arrest, deport undocumented immigrants

Posted April 10, 2024 at 3:32 PM CDT
migrant rights advocates rally at the state capitol
Katarina Sostaric
Migrant rights advocates have rallied against bills at the Iowa Capitol including one to require businesses to use E-Verify.

Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill into law Wednesday that will allow Iowa officials to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants. It’ll take effect on July 1 if it’s not blocked by a court.

The bill would let state and local police arrest undocumented immigrants who were denied entry to the United States. State-level judges would also be able to order undocumented immigrants to leave the country.

A similar law in Texas has been held up in court as federal judges consider its constitutionality, and it’s not clear if the Iowa law would be allowed to take effect. Courts have previously found that only the federal government can enforce immigration laws.

Reynolds says the Biden administration has failed to enforce immigration laws, and this bill gives Iowa law enforcement the power to do so. Migrant rights groups and Democrats opposed the bill, saying it’ll foster fear among immigrants, disrupt their families and violate their rights.

Read the full story.

Food

Bill requiring labeling of plant-based, lab-grown meats and eggs heads to governor’s desk

Posted April 10, 2024 at 3:10 PM CDT

A bill is headed to the governor’s desk that requires companies to clearly label meat and eggs that are plant-based or lab-grown.

The final proposal passed in the Iowa Senate (SF 2391) includes a ban on public schools, universities and community colleges from purchasing products that are not properly labeled.

It also requires the state to seek a federal waiver that, if granted, would block people on SNAP and other food assistance programs from using their benefits to purchase egg substitutes.

An earlier version of the bill passed unanimously, but most Democrats opposed the latest version because of the restrictions on egg alternatives.

It passed with Republican support on a vote of 33-12.

Education

Governor rejects call for changes to AEA plan

Posted April 10, 2024 at 12:12 PM CDT
Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the AEA bill in her office with dozens of lawmakers and staffers on hand for the ceremony.
Grant Gerlock
/
IPR News
Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the AEA bill in her office with dozens of lawmakers and staffers on hand for the ceremony.

Gov. Kim Reynolds says she will not consider any changes in the law she signed two weeks ago that overhauls Area Education Agencies.

“No. No, I’m absolutely not. That was the deal.”

The new plan takes effect in the 2025-26 school year. AEAs will get 90% of the state funding they use now to provide specialized services, like speech therapy, to students with disabilities.

The Des Moines Register was first to report that some House lawmakers were hoping to adjust a different part of the plan, as the new law allows school districts to spend $68 million however they wish rather than on general education and media services which have been provided by AEAs.

Reynolds said schools can spend that money on AEA services — or on anything else.

“That was part of the compromise between the House and the Senate, so it was the right thing to do and it doesn’t really change anything. If they want to use the AEAs, they’ll make that decision to do that.”

Some school administrators have said they plan to use that chunk of new money on teacher salaries and other expenses. AEA officials have said they’re having staffing issues as employees resign due to uncertainty about the system’s future. Reynolds told reporters the AEAs were “top heavy” and are being “right-sized” by the plan.

The AEA changes were the governor’s top priority for the 2024 legislative session.

Abortion

Iowa Supreme Court to hear arguments on ‘fetal heartbeat’ abortion law

Posted April 10, 2024 at 11:16 AM CDT

The Iowa Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. about Iowa’s law that bans most abortions after a so-called fetal heartbeat is detected, as early as six weeks of pregnancy.

The law isn’t being enforced while the legal challenge plays out, which means abortions are still legal up to about 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Last year, a tie vote by the Iowa Supreme Court prevented the so-called fetal heartbeat abortion ban, passed in 2018, from taking effect. So Republican lawmakers held a one-day special session in July to pass the abortion ban again.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds says she’s optimistic that the court will let the law take effect.

“We passed the heartbeat law twice in the state of Iowa. It passed by a larger majority this last go around in a special session. We’re anxious for them to argue before the Supreme Court, and we look forward to the outcome.”

Planned Parenthood challenged the law, arguing that it would ban the vast majority of abortions and put women’s health at risk. The court is expected to issue a ruling by the end of June.

Law Enforcement

House passes traffic camera regulations

Posted April 10, 2024 at 8:10 AM CDT

Cities would have to get permission from the Iowa Department of Transportation to have traffic cameras that automatically lead to speeding tickets under a bill passed in the Iowa House on Tuesday.

It would also require signs notifying drivers of the cameras. Additionally, tickets wouldn’t be issued unless drivers go at least ten miles per hour above the speed limit. Republican lawmakers have worked for many years to ban speed cameras, but they’ve repeatedly failed to get enough support.

Rep. Phil Thompson, R-Boone, proposed the bill to regulate traffic cameras.

“While I certainly would prefer to ban these outright, the longer we sit around and do nothing about this, the longer we see these systems being abused across our state.”

The bill passed 85 to 12 with support and opposition from both parties. It now goes to the Senate for consideration

Crimes & Courts

Senate passes Boy Scouts bill

Posted April 9, 2024 at 4:10 PM CDT

The state Senate unanimously passed a bill on Tuesday that would help Iowa victims involved in the national Boy Scout child sex abuse settlement get their full payout.

Iowa’s strict time limit on suing perpetrators of child sex abuse means Iowa survivors could get a smaller fraction of the money they’re owed by the Boy Scouts of America compared to victims in other states. The bill would remove that time limit for the former Boy Scouts.

Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, thanked survivors for sharing their stories.

“We are facing a clock that is ticking to ensure they will not be financially penalized because their abuse happened within the borders of our state.”

The bill now goes to the Iowa House for consideration. According to a lawyer familiar with the case, the bill needs to become law by April 19 to help the Boy Scouts abuse survivors.

Taxes

Senate advances bill to end forest tax exemptions

Posted April 9, 2024 at 1:48 PM CDT

A bill advancing in the Iowa Senate would let county supervisors end a statewide property tax exemption for landowners who have forest and fruit tree reservations.

Supporters of the bill say out-of-state landowners are unfairly benefiting from the tax exemption. They say counties with a smaller property tax base are losing out on funding while other taxpayers pick up the tab for forest and orchard owners.

Opponents say it’ll reduce Iowa’s very limited timberland, hurting outdoor recreation and water quality.

James Webster of Chickasaw County says the tax exemption lets him take sensitive land out of production to plant trees. He opposes the bill, saying it would penalize farmers who are doing the right thing.

“We’re farmers, and if we have no incentive to continue to do the right thing to protect water quality, then the temptation is to farm right up to the stream banks and right up to the gullies.”

The bill advanced with the support of both Republicans on the Senate panel and opposition from the Democrat.

Read the full story.

Agriculture

Reynolds signs foreign farm ownership bill

Posted April 9, 2024 at 1:41 PM CDT

Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed a bill into law that requires more detailed reporting on farmland owned by foreign individuals or companies.

There is already a law in place that limits foreign entities from purchasing more than 320 acres of farmland.

The new law requires foreign landowners to disclose any ties to parent companies or subsidiaries, and it increases the penalty for giving false information.

Reynolds proposed the changes. She says land purchases in the U.S. by China are a growing threat to the state’s agriculture sector.

“When Iowa speaks, the country listens. And with this bill our message is unmistakable: American soil belongs in American hands.”

The Iowa secretary of state will provide an annual summary on foreign land ownership to the governor and Legislature, but that report will not be released to the public.

Crime & Courts

Bill creates new felony crime for ‘grooming’ by school employees

Posted April 9, 2024 at 1:22 PM CDT

The Iowa Legislature has voted to establish the new crime of “grooming.” Under the bill, a school employee accused of luring a student into a sexual relationship could be charged with a felony.

Schools would be required to report the alleged grooming behavior of any school employee to state officials. The proposal also requires the Iowa Board of Education Examiners to notify law enforcement if officials believe a crime has been committed.

Sen. Chris Cournoyer, R-Le Clair, says students should feel safe at school.

“And until we get these predators out of our schools, we need to be vigilant to protect our kids.”

The bill calls on the Board of Educational Examiners to document each complaint about a school staffer’s alleged grooming behavior.

Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, said the bill was inspired by a recent case in which a woman discovered a teacher who had manipulated her into an inappropriate relationship was being sued for doing the same thing to another student in another state.

“There was a big fear that this school teacher would return back to the state of Iowa to use Iowa classrooms as a hunting ground, again, to prey on more students.”

Health

Changes to Medicaid disability eligibility advance

Posted April 9, 2024 at 12:21 PM CDT

A House panel advanced a bill on Monday that would slightly loosen income and asset limits for Iowans with disabilities to qualify for government-funded health coverage through Medicaid.

People with disabilities have been asking lawmakers to remove income limits so they don’t have to avoid getting married or turn down work promotions for fear of losing disability services.

Ben Grauer of Iowa City says he’s one of nearly 400,000 Iowans who are disabled. He says the bill being advanced doesn’t go far enough. Grauer says if nothing else, income limits should be made to apply only to his own income, not that of his future wife.

“We’re getting married in November, and we should only be stressed about what kind of cake we want, not whether one of us will need to ask for a pay cut or get divorced, simply because I need to keep access to my health benefits.”

The bill advanced with bipartisan support.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers on the panel say it’s a step forward, but they want to keep working toward bigger changes to Medicaid eligibility for disabled Iowans.

Budget

State could cover cost of law enforcement training

Posted April 8, 2024 at 4:22 PM CDT

A budget bill advancing in the Iowa Senate would have the state take on applicants’ share of the tuition to attend the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy, where many city and county law enforcement officers are trained.

Currently the state pays a third of the tuition, while the city or county that’s hiring the person pays a third and the applicant pays a third. The bill would have the state pay two-thirds of the tuition and the applicant wouldn’t pay. That would cost the state an additional $1.5 million.

Sen. Julian Garrett, R-Indianola, says he hopes it’ll lead to more applicants.

“There’s been a concern about not having as many applicants as they used to to the law enforcement academy. And a commission decided that it would help attract applicants to lower the cost to the applicants.”

A legislative committee heard testimony from the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy director last year that there’s a crisis in the recruitment of law enforcement officers.

Health

Bill to fund anti-abortion centers with taxpayer dollars sent to governor's desk

Posted April 4, 2024 at 3:55 PM CDT

Republican lawmakers are sending a bill to the governor’s desk that will authorize the state of Iowa to directly send taxpayer dollars to anti-abortion pregnancy centers without a third-party administrator.

The More Options for Maternal Support (MOMS) program was established in 2022 to fund anti-abortion pregnancy centers. But the state didn’t send money to centers right away because officials failed twice to hire an administrator for the program as required by law.

Rep. Michael Bergan, R-Dorchester, says getting rid of that requirement will facilitate help for pregnant women.

“These entities provide necessary safety nets to women in need who want to bring their child into this world. Iowa’s current law and this bill maintain oversight to ensure that Iowa’s law is followed by the pregnancy resource centers.”

Rep. Heather Matson, D-Ankeny, opposed the bill. She says one of the centers that the state intends to fund promotes abortion pill reversal—a practice that researchers halted a study on because women were experiencing severe bleeding.

"Why would we send taxpayer dollars to an organization that promotes medically dangerous misinformation as part of their pregnancy support services? That is a bad idea.”

Republicans say state officials—who started contract negotiations with pregnancy centers before this bill passed the Legislature—will ensure centers that get state money meet safety criteria.

Education

Senate Republicans lay out proposal for education budget

Posted April 4, 2024 at 3:28 PM CDT

Iowa Senate Republicans are laying out their proposal for next year’s education budget, including a funding increase for the state’s public universities.

The Board of Regents would receive an additional $12.3 million to spread across the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa.

Sen. Jeff Taylor, R-Sioux Center, says the plan is meant to align with overall spending targets set by GOP leaders. It also mirrors the 2.5% funding increase lawmakers approved for K-12 schools.

He says the final terms of the education budget still have to go through talks with House Republicans.

Food

Bill returned to Senate that would require clear labeling on food products

Posted April 4, 2024 at 2:15 PM CDT

The Iowa House has returned a bill to the Senate that would penalize companies for not clearly labeling meat and eggs that are actually cultivated in a lab or made from plants.

Rep. Norlin Mommsen, R-DeWitt, says the bill is meant to protect Iowa farmers and ranchers from companies that misrepresent their products.

"When you have a meat-like, egg-like, then you’re trying to live off the reputation of something else."

Democrats said they support clear labeling, but they opposed the bill over an amendment that seeks a federal waiver to exclude purchases of egg substitutes from food assistance programs such as SNAP.

Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines, says the bill goes farther than just informing consumers.

"I think that goes beyond labeling, that goes to dictating what poor people can eat and what they can buy."

The bill’s Republican sponsor says the provision is about proper labeling and supporting the state’s egg industry. Iowa is the top egg-producing state in the nation.

Health

Legislature approves bill to extend postpartum care coverage, lower income limit

Posted April 3, 2024 at 4:43 PM CDT

A bill that would extend postpartum care coverage for people on Medicaid from 60 days to one year is on its way to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk.

The bill would also lower Iowa’s income limit for pregnant people to qualify to 215% of the federal poverty level. That’s down from its current limit of 375% – the highest in the country.

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, opposed the income limit change, which means an estimated 1,700 pregnant Iowans and babies would no longer qualify for Medicaid coverage.

“We also believe we're in a budget situation where we can afford to fund those moms. And we can afford the $7 million. So frankly, I resent the fact that we have to make this choice.”

Rep. Devon Wood, R-New Market, says the change would put Iowa’s income limit more on par with the limits of other surrounding Midwestern states.

Courts & Crime

Reynolds signals support for Boy Scouts bill

Posted April 3, 2024 at 4:43 PM CDT

Gov. Kim Reynolds says she’s open to signing a bill that would tweak an Iowa law to help former Boy Scouts who were victims of sexual abuse when they were children.

Iowa’s strict time limit on suing perpetrators of child sex abuse means hundreds of Iowa victims could get as little as 30% of the money that’s owed to them by a settlement with the Boy Scouts of America.

A Senate subcommittee advanced a bill on Wednesday to address that issue.

Reynolds was asked if she wanted the bill to reach her desk.

“Well, I think there’s a bill that’s being proposed in both the House and the Senate, and so they had asked if we would be open to that, and I said I would be open to that.”
 
The bill would have to become law by the end of the legislative session this month to help the Boy Scouts victims.

State Government

Reynolds signs gender balance repeal

Posted April 3, 2024 at 3:20 PM CDT

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill into law on Wednesday that ends the requirement that state and local government boards and commissions have an equal number of men and women.

Reynolds proposed repealing the gender balance law as part of her effort to streamline state boards and commissions. She says the change will ensure government boards and commissions are effective and will be able to serve Iowans well.

“Our focus should always be on appointing the most qualified people. And that includes engaged citizens with a genuine interest in serving their state or local government, as well as individuals with valuable experience that directly relates to that position.”

Opponents of the repeal have said gender balance should still be required because women still face discrimination. They also point out that the Legislature hasn’t even reached gender parity.

Reynolds says she’s still talking with lawmakers about passing her proposal to eliminate or merge 40% of the state boards and commissions.

The law takes effect July 1.

Read the full story.

Hemp

Iowa lawmakers approve new regulations for hemp products, send to Reynolds' desk

Posted April 3, 2024 at 12:45 PM CDT
Store front reading "dispensary."
Madeleine Charis King
Dispensary — a shop selling consumable hemp and CBD products — opened a second location in Des Moines in the fall, citing high demand at its downtown location.

There are likely to be new limits on how much THC from hemp may be legally added to food or drinks sold in Iowa.

A bill that’s passed the Iowa House and Senate closes what bill backers say are loopholes in a 2020 law that made it legal to produce, sell and consume hemp in Iowa.

Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, says the bill lays out “desperately needed” regulations to prevent the sale of highly intoxicating products. He says the legislation protects the industry and consumers.

The bill bars businesses from selling hemp-infused “consumables” like drinks and gummies to anyone under the age of 21.

The bill also restricts the potency of hemp-derived THC products. Dawson said some hemp-infused consumables being sold in Iowa with high levels of THC seem to be competing with state-licensed medical marijuana businesses.

“That program starts at a 4.5 milligram THC usage,” Dawson said. “The Iowa Hemp Act, or the program that we’re talking about here today, needs to be at a milligram usage that’s less than our medical Cannibadiol program, otherwise the lines are blurred.”

Sen. Tom Shipley, R-Nodaway, said he had an inkling people with “nefarious motives” would exploit a law he worked on four years ago that made it legal to sell hemp in Iowa.

“Some people could find an angle to get around things and do things that are not good for Iowans.”

The House approved the bill with new regulations for hemp-infused products last month. The Senate approved the bill on Tuesday, sending it to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk for signature.

Taxes

Senate passes flat tax constitutional amendment

Posted April 3, 2024 at 11:04 AM CDT

Republicans in the Iowa Senate passed a proposed constitutional amendment on Tuesday that would require personal income taxes to be a flat rate. Iowa’s graduated income tax is phasing to a flat rate by 2026 under current law.

Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, says he believes Iowans want to keep that in place forever.

“They’d like to move ahead, they’d like to better themselves, they’d like to keep their wages. And the simple fact is that a graduate income tax is simply adding more hurdles as you better yourself.”

Democrats say it wouldn’t be fair because tax exemptions would still largely benefit wealthier taxpayers. They also say the state might have to raise sales and property taxes to make up for lost revenue.

Last week, House Republicans passed another proposed constitutional amendment that would require a two-thirds vote by lawmakers — instead of a simple majority — to raise income taxes. Proposed constitutional amendments must pass two general assemblies before going on the ballot for Iowa voters to decide.

Education

Senate confirms Reynolds’ nominee for Iowa Department of Education

Posted April 3, 2024 at 10:54 AM CDT

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ nominee for the Iowa Department of Education director was confirmed by the Iowa Senate on Tuesday.

McKenzie Snow was first appointed last June. Previously, she was deputy director of the Virginia Department of Education. Before that, she led a division at the New Hampshire Department of Education and worked on K-12 policy in the Trump administration.

Several Democrats opposed Snow’s nomination because of her lack of in-classroom experience.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, pointed out that Snow does not have experience as a teacher or principal, as many past directors have. He said Iowa educators would have more confidence in the department if the director were someone with direct experience in the field.

Sen. Jeff Taylor, R-Sioux Center, defended her appointment, saying Snow’s job is to lead a department, not a classroom.

“She’s being hired to administer a department in which over $5 billion in total funds are administered. That’s her position. It’s an administrator. She’s not a teacher.”

Snow was confirmed on a party-line vote of 34 to 15.

Read the full story.

Religion

Reynolds signs state ‘Religious Freedom Restoration Act’ into law

Posted April 3, 2024 at 10:49 AM CDT

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill into law Tuesday night that supporters say will prevent state and local government from infringing on Iowans’ religious freedom.

Opponents of the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act say it opens the door to discrimination, especially against LGBTQ Iowans.

In a statement, Reynolds said religious rights have increasingly come under attack and that the law protects Iowans' unalienable rights.

Reynolds, a Republican, signed the bill into law at a private event hosted by The Family Leader, a conservative Christian organization.

The new law took effect immediately when she signed it.

Read the full story.

Environment

Senate passes bill barring Iowans from suing pesticide companies

Posted April 2, 2024 at 4:02 PM CDT

A bill passed by Republicans in the Iowa Senate Tuesday would bar Iowans from suing pesticide companies for failing to warn people of health risks as long as they have a federally approved label.

Bayer, the company that produces Roundup, proposed the bill to reduce lawsuits alleging the weedkiller has caused cancer. Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, says the bill takes away Iowans’ right to sue and protects multinational corporations.

“This bill is stripping away the legal protections for Iowa farmers. And they are the people who are getting diseases like cancer and Parkinson’s from chemicals they’re putting on their land that we know it’s causing it."

Republicans who support the bill say it prevents pesticide companies from being sued for following the Environmental Protection Agency’s labeling rules. The bill passed 30 to 19 in the Senate, with four Republicans joining all Democrats in voting against the bill. A key House lawmaker says the bill could soon advance in the House.

Read the full story.

Education

House passes a version of Gov. Reynolds’ plan to improve Iowa reading scores

Posted April 2, 2024 at 3:53 PM CDT

The proposal requires that schools inform families when a student in kindergarten through sixth grade is reading below grade level. Teachers must make plans to help students who are behind to catch up.

Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, supported the bill, but said those are things that teachers are typically doing.

“Teachers talk to parents already. Teachers put forth an IEP [individual education plan] or some sort of a plan for that student to get on grade level already.”

The House bill (HF 2618) would also require students in college teaching programs to take an exam to test their knowledge of research-based reading instruction.

Unlike Gov. Reynolds' original plan, a passing grade would not be required to graduate and current teachers would not be required to take the test.

Health

Bipartisan bill overhauling mental health system passes in Iowa House

Posted April 2, 2024 at 3:12 PM CDT

House lawmakers have passed a bill that would overhaul Iowa’s mental health and substance treatment disorder system.

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ bill would get rid of the state’s mental health and disability service regions and provider networks that oversee substance use disorder treatment. In its place, it creates seven behavioral health districts that would cover mental health and substance use to be overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services. Disability services would be placed directly under a division of HHS.

Rep. Joel Fry, R, Osceola, sponsored the bill. "This bill brings to fruition the final piece in my mind of our behavioral health redesign that we started many, many years ago here at the Statehouse," he said.

The bill received support from both parties. It passed the House with a vote of 88 to 6.

CRIME & COURTS

Iowa Boy Scout abuse survivors waiting for legislative action

Posted April 1, 2024 at 4:40 PM CDT

Iowans who were sexually abused by Boy Scout troop leaders decades ago could get much less money from a national settlement than victims in other states unless state lawmakers act this month to change Iowa law.

Iowa’s strict time limit on suing perpetrators of childhood sexual abuse means hundreds of Iowa victims could get as little as 30% of the money that’s owed them by the Boy Scouts of America. Joe Gargano of Fort Dodge is one survivor who’s been asking lawmakers to change the law. He says being abused as a child “obliterated” his life, and he was angry when he found out he would get less money than survivors in other states.

“I said I’m not just going to settle after all this time. I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to just take whatever they throw out.”

Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink, R-Fort Dodge, says he’s had a bill drafted that would address these concerns, and he hopes it becomes law by the end of the legislative session to help the victims in the Boy Scouts settlement.

Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, has been trying for years to eliminate the time limit for all child sex abuse lawsuits. But the Republican majority didn’t advance her bill this year.

Environment

House passes bill that could speed up eminent domain court decisions

Posted March 28, 2024 at 3:59 PM CDT

Landowners who are subject to a pipeline crossing their land against their will could get a court decision on the use of eminent domain more quickly under a bill passed Thursday by the Iowa House of Representatives.

State representatives have been trying for years to pass a bill in response to some Iowa landowners’ concerns about carbon capture pipelines crossing their land. State regulators are currently considering Summit Carbon Solutions’ pipeline proposal.

Rep. Charley Thomson, R-Charles City, says if the Iowa Utilities Board approves the pipeline, it’ll be challenged in court, and a final ruling could take years. He says the process has already been so long that it’s like a “procedural taking” of land along the pipeline route.

“Land is the original asset in Iowa. It’s in our souls. An unjust taking of land without remedy is not only irritating, it’s outrageous. Let’s give Iowans a remedy.”

The bill passed 86-7, with most Republicans and all Democrats supporting it. It now goes to the Senate for consideration, where it’s not clear if it’ll get a vote.

Health

Proposed change to law that limits cancers that make firefighters eligible for health benefits advances again

Posted March 28, 2024 at 12:34 PM CDT

Iowa House lawmakers are once again trying to change a law that restricts accidental disability and death benefits for firefighters who get cancer to 14 specific types of cancer.

The House Ways and Means Committee advanced a bill Thursday that would make firefighters and police eligible for such benefits through Iowa’s municipal retirement system if they’re diagnosed with any type of cancer.

Brandon Pflanzer with the Iowa Professional Firefighters says the group has been fighting for the changes for four years. He says it’s about recognizing the risks firefighters take.

“It’s about fairness. It’s about making sure that we as public employees, firefighters, police officers, EMS providers across the state of Iowa get the same workers’ compensation rights and benefits as those in the private sector. Right now that’s not true.”

The Iowa House passed the proposal earlier in the session, but it died after the chair of the Senate State Government Committee declined to bring it up for a vote ahead of a legislative deadline. But Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, says he expects the Senate to reconsider the bill.

Education

Reynolds signs AEA bill into law

Posted March 27, 2024 at 4:05 PM CDT
Kim Reynolds signs the AEA bill.
Grant Gerlock
/
IPR
Kim Reynolds signs the AEA bill.

Gov. Kim Reynolds says a new law giving the state more oversight of the nine Area Education Agencies introduces more accountability into special education.

Reynolds signed the measure into law on Wednesday in her office at the Capitol with GOP lawmakers and staffers on hand.

The law puts the Iowa Department of Education in charge of making sure the AEAs meet state and federal standards for special education.

Reynolds says it changes what AEAs must show school districts about what they pay into and get out of the system.

“The bill also creates a more accountable, transparent system so schools know up front the cost of the services they purchase and the value they can expect to receive.”

Parts of the law take effect as soon as July, including the first part of a two-step raise in the minimum salary for teachers.

When it’s in full effect, the new minimum for teachers will reach $50,000, which is nearly 50% more than the current minimum.

Health

House passes bill requiring health insurance plans to cover biomarker testing

Posted March 27, 2024 at 3:56 PM CDT

The Iowa House has passed a bill that would require health insurance plans to cover biomarker testing that can help doctors more effectively treat cancer, autoimmune disease and other medical conditions.

Bill manager Rep. Brian Lohse, R-Bondurant, says biomarker testing will benefit patients and health care systems by avoiding unnecessary invasive tests and treatments.

Rep. Megan Srinivas, D-Des Moines, who is also a physician, said the bill is “crucial.”

“It’ll save lives without actually costing any extra money, which is also the beauty of this. So it’s a win-win-win all around.”

The bill passed with a 96 -1 vote. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Taxes

House approves amendment to prevent future legislatures from raising income taxes without two-thirds majority

Posted March 26, 2024 at 4:17 PM CDT

Iowa House Republicans have approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would prevent future legislatures from raising personal and corporate income taxes unless two-thirds of lawmakers agree.

Democrats say the amendment would tie the hands of future lawmakers to respond to economic conditions and could result in higher sales taxes or other taxes that disproportionately impact low-income Iowans.

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, says some other states — led by both Republicans and Democrats — have had similar policies in place for decades.

“The sky did not fall. Every example of a dystopian future did not happen. There were no grave consequences.”

The original proposal would have also required any state income tax to be a single rate, but that was taken out to be considered as a separate constitutional amendment.

Proposed constitutional amendments must get approved by two general assemblies before going on the ballot for Iowa voters to have the final say.

Read the full story.

Education

Senate sends final education package to Reynolds

Posted March 26, 2024 at 3:33 PM CDT

Iowa Senate Republicans are sending an education package to Gov. Kim Reynolds that fulfills her call for an overhaul of the state’s Area Education Agencies.

The final bill (HF 2612) requires districts to continue using the AEAs for special education services, but districts would take control of 10% of state funding for those special ed supports.

Districts would also control all funding that is currently dedicated to the AEAs’ media and education services.

Sen. Lynn Evans, R-Aurelia, says that money can continue paying for AEA services or it can go into their general purpose budgets.

“Those are local property tax dollars generated by local taxpayers. And they can use those funds for any local general fund purpose, which includes ed services and media services provided by the AEA.”

In addition to the AEA changes, it includes an increase in the minimum teacher salary and a 2.5% increase in state aid for schools.

Sen. Molly Donahue, D-Cedar Rapids, said she supports the raise, but thinks it should have been dealt with separate from the AEAs.

“I know that I will be a no on this bill, not because I don’t want to raise teachers’ pay because I certainly do. They deserve it. But the AEAs also deserve a better hand than what this is dealing with them.”

The bill passed with a vote of 30-18. Three Republicans and all Democrats voted against it.

Read the full story.

Education

Hearing held for Reynolds’ pick to run Iowa education department

Posted March 26, 2024 at 3:25 PM CDT

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ pick to run the Iowa Department of Education went before a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday, where critics questioned her lack of classroom experience.

McKenzie Snow has been the acting director of the department since June. She came to Iowa after serving as the deputy education director in Virginia.

She also worked in K-12 policy at the U.S. Department of Education during the Trump administration.

Jessica Roman, who works at the Grant Wood Area Education Agency, says if a proposed overhaul gives the department more authority over special education, the director should have first-hand knowledge.

“Ms. Snow has never taught in an Iowa classroom, yet she would have control over what professional development schools can access and what AEAs can offer. She doesn’t have a degree in education or an education-related field like a school psychologist or social worker, yet she would be named a supervisor of the AEAs.”

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, listed past Iowa education directors who were former teachers and superintendents. He questioned Snow on her bachelor’s degree in political science.

Snow pointed out the Iowa Senate confirmed another director who was not a teacher — her immediate predecessor, Chad Aldis.

“[He] had not served in a classroom and did not have the experience in executive leadership and state agency leadership or at the U.S. Department of Education that I demonstrate. And you, Sen. Quirmbach, of course voted in support of Director Aldis’ nomination.”

Snow was endorsed by several education leaders, including Daniel Clay, dean of the University of Iowa College of Education, who praised her work to promote science-based reading instruction.

Snow’s nomination was advanced by the subcommittee. To be confirmed, she must earn approval from at least two-thirds of the Senate.

Health

Department of Health and Human Services director says she supports Reynolds’ plan to merge mental health, substance use treatment systems

Posted March 25, 2024 at 4:06 PM CDT

A top state health official says Gov. Kim Reynolds’ plan for overhauling Iowa’s behavioral health system will break down regional boundaries in services and funding to make it easier for Iowans to get help.

The bill in the Iowa Legislature would combine mental health and substance use service regions into seven behavioral health districts. Several funding sources would come together under state control, but the bill wouldn’t boost mental health funding.

Department of Health and Human Services Director Kelly Garcia says the Legislature already put more money into mental health through Medicaid. She says the bill will free up existing funds for behavioral health care not covered by Medicaid.

“Do we need more money? Possibly. But right now, we’re sitting on fund balances. So I need a little bit more time to assess that. But you absolutely should be assured that we will move forward with a recommendation once we make this change and assess what’s needed.”

Garcia said the merger would ensure there’s a focus on services for children. The proposed behavioral health overhaul comes as the state has been involved in a legal settlement over a lack of mental health care for kids on Medicaid.

Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, says the mental health workforce will probably need more investment, but she says existing money that the bill would free up is a good start.

Garcia and Wessel-Kroeschell made their comments Monday on IPR’s River to River.

Read the full story.

Education

Rural superintendent reacts to AEA bill

Posted March 25, 2024 at 8:19 AM CDT

The Iowa Senate this week may take up an education package that would change funding and oversight for the state’s nine Area Education Agencies, which support special education and teacher training.

Some superintendents have said they would spend more on local services if they controlled the state money that currently flows directly to the AEAs.

But Barb Schwamman, superintendent of the Osage and Riceville school districts in northern Iowa, says the flexibility is not worth it if it causes the AEAs in her area to cut staff or programs.

“We’re not going to be able to find all of those positions, such as speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, social workers, some of the technology people. Those things are really going to hurt us because we already share a lot of those services with our AEA.”

House Republicans say the package was put together in discussions with leaders from the Senate GOP. In a statement last week, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver did not commit to the proposal but said Senate Republicans will review it this week.

Education

House’s new AEA bill version goes back to Senate

Posted March 22, 2024 at 10:40 AM CDT
Supporters of Iowa's Area Education Agencies demonstrated outside the governor's mansion to protest proposed changes working through the legislature.
Natalie Krebs
/
IPR News
Supporters of Iowa's Area Education Agencies demonstrated outside the governor's mansion to protest proposed changes working through the legislature.

The Iowa House has passed an education bill that combines changes to the state’s Area Education Agencies with an increase in teacher pay and this year’s school funding plan.

The package would increase state funding for K-12 schools by 2.5%, matching what Gov. Kim Reynolds proposed at the start of the session, but it’s less than what the House itself passed a month ago at 3%.

House Republicans say the effective increase is higher when the funding in the package to increase teacher pay is counted.

This latest House bill (HF 2612) would require school districts to use the AEAs for special education support services. As part of that, they must send through 90% of state funding for special ed services to the AEAs. It would also increase the minimum teacher salary to $50,000 and adds money to raise the wages of other school employees.

Rep. Chad Ingels, R-Randalia, has two children with Down syndrome and said he’s willing to back changes to AEA funding and oversight if it means more support for paraeducators.

“While AEA personnel are extremely valuable, paraeducators are there every day beside my kids… and they’re underpaid.”

The bill would create a task force to study outcomes for students in special education. Rep. Molly Buck, D-Ankeny, says the system will already be in flux.

“Iowans were very open to a study, a pure study, but a pure study can't really be done when the first thing we do is throw a system into chaos and disrupt the entire system.”

Democrats criticized GOP leaders for using a “time certain” motion to force a vote on the bill only two-and-a-half hours after the amendment was filed publicly online.

The bill passed on a vote of 51-43 with nine Republicans voting with Democrats against it. Now it goes back to the Senate for a second time. In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver said his caucus will discuss the package next week.

House Speaker Pat Grassley would not say the chambers have reached a consensus, but said he expects it is a package that could reach the governor.

Read the full story.

Education

AEA changes have put budget, tax conversations on hold in the Legislature

Posted March 21, 2024 at 4:17 PM CDT

A key Iowa lawmaker says tax cuts are still up in the air as proposed special education changes have put budget and tax conversations on hold.

Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, says he hopes that some income tax cuts get done this year as the state has been collecting money in a fund to be used for tax cuts. But he didn’t directly answer when asked if the state could manage losing $1.6 billion in tax revenue in one year if the governor’s tax cut plan becomes law.

“I think there are two perspectives on how to use those monies in the taxpayer relief fund…you could send a one-time check out to Iowans, right? And that’s essentially what the governor’s proposal would do is just try to get that money out as soon as possible to Iowans. But it goes back to, what’s your long term vision?”

Dawson has proposed a bill to invest budget surplus money and use that to ratchet down the income tax over many years until it’s gone. Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, says Republican tax cut proposals would jeopardize Iowa’s education and health care.

They made their comments on Thursday during a taping of Iowa Press on Iowa PBS.

Taxes

Proposed constitutional amendment would keep all state personal income taxes at flat rate

Posted March 21, 2024 at 9:20 AM CDT

Republicans on an Iowa Senate committee have advanced a proposed constitutional amendment that would say state personal income taxes must be a flat rate for all taxpayers.

A law signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds two years ago is phasing in a 3.9% flat income tax by 2026.

Sen. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport, says income taxes are just one aspect of funding the government, with sales and property taxes also bringing in revenue.

“I think that taking only one component of a taxing system and placing it in the Constitution, holding it higher than other areas, places an undue burden on the other areas of taxation.”

Republican leaders have said they believe a flat rate is the fairest form of income tax.

Proposed constitutional amendments must get approved by two general assemblies before going on the ballot for Iowa voters to have the final say.

Education

Bill to pay bonuses to Perry teachers advances

Posted March 20, 2024 at 2:32 PM CDT

A bill advancing in the Iowa Senate would allow the Perry School District to pay bonuses to teachers and staff to encourage them to stay with the district in the wake of January’s deadly school shooting.

The bill (HF 2653) does not provide additional funding, but allows the district to take $700,000 from its management fund to offer incentives to employees who agree to stay in Perry for the next school year.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, says the offer carries additional weight with Tyson announcing last week that its pork plant in Perry will close, costing nearly 1,300 people their jobs.

“We should certainly consider all different forms of help for that community, including extending further unemployment benefits. That’s a different issue than is in this bill, but it is certainly something that the Legislature should address.”

The bill would also confirm that Perry students will not have to make up the time they missed while schools were closed after the shooting at the high school — one of several requirements the Iowa Department of Education has agreed to waive for Perry schools this year.

The proposal passed in the House and now goes to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Immigration

Bill to allow arrest, deportation of undocumented immigrants sent to governor’s desk

Posted March 20, 2024 at 10:08 AM CDT

The Iowa House sent a bill to the governor’s desk on Tuesday that would allow state officials to arrest undocumented immigrants and order them to leave the country — a major departure from the current practice of federal officials and courts enforcing immigration laws.

The Iowa House vote came shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed Texas to enforce its own, similar law while a legal challenge plays out. That law is now back on hold after an appeals court late Tuesday night blocked it from going into effect following the ruling.

Rep. Sami Scheetz, D-Cedar Rapids, opposed the bill. He says illegal immigration is a serious problem that requires cohesive action at the national level.

“This bill, in attempting to solve only one problem, risks creating others. Fostering fear among immigrant communities, disrupting families and potentially hindering cooperation with law enforcement.”

Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, says the federal government has abdicated its responsibility to protect Americans from some of the people crossing the border illegally, and Iowa needs to step up. The bill passed with almost all Republicans and a few Democrats supporting it.

Read the full story.

Environment

House bill would introduce new challenge for Summit Carbon Solutions’ pipeline project

Posted March 19, 2024 at 2:46 PM CDT

Opponents of Summit Carbon Solutions’ proposed CO2 pipeline are supporting a bill in the Iowa House that they say would challenge the use of eminent domain to build the project.

Under the House bill, a landowner or developer could ask a judge to rule whether a proposed utility project meets the standard of serving a public purpose. To start, the bill directs all cases to Polk County District Court, but if a case remains unresolved or unadvanced after 18 months, it can be filed in another county.

Wally Taylor, an attorney for the Sierra Club Iowa Chapter, told lawmakers he supports the bill to strengthen the hand of landowners opposing the Summit pipeline.

“The pipeline company will say, ‘Well, we’re going to get this by eminent domain if you don’t sign an easement.’ This bill would allow a landowner to go to court up front and prove there is no public use to the project.”

The bill (HF 2522) had unanimous support in the House Ways and Means committee.

Summit’s permit application for its carbon capture pipeline is still pending with the Iowa Utilities Board.

State government

Bill eliminating biannual state hotel inspection requirement goes to governor’s desk

Posted March 19, 2024 at 2:37 PM CDT

On Tuesday, Republicans in the Iowa Senate gave final legislative approval to a bill that eliminates the requirement for hotels to be inspected by the state every other year.

The Iowa Department of Inspections, Appeals, & Licensing proposed the bill to remove its own responsibility to inspect hotels every other year. The agency’s director has said it doesn’t do biannual hotel inspections, and the bill just aligns state law with current practice.

It would only require the state to inspect hotels when a hotel guest submits a complaint.

Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, said after staying in a very dirty hotel room in Iowa, he thinks lawmakers should be adding inspectors instead.

“We want to sell Iowa as a great place to live, visit and enjoy yourself. And so this bill just smacks against all that.”

Sen. Carrie Koelker, R-Dyersville, says she wouldn’t be supporting the bill if she thought it would hurt Iowa’s reputation among visitors. The bill now goes to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk for her signature.

Read the full story.

Crime

Pointing lasers at aircraft to be defined as assault

Posted March 19, 2024 at 10:40 AM CDT
A big plane is to the left of a multi-brown colored brick building.
U.S. Air National Guard/SMSGt Vincent De Groot
The newly renovated flight operations building at the Iowa Air National Guard’s 185th Air Refueling Wing in Sioux City, Iowa, on October 11, 2023. The two-year-long construction project on the 31,000 sq ft building was completed in late September of 2023.

Pointing a laser at an aircraft has been a federal crime since 2018 and it is likely to become a state crime soon.

A federal conviction carries a prison term of up to five years and an $11,000 fine for a single incident. Proposed state penalties range from a misdemeanor to a Class C felony, depending on the conduct and injury caused.

A bill making it a state crime to point a laser at an airplane cleared the Senate unanimously a year ago. The Iowa House approved it this week, sending it to the governor for her signature.

In 2021, a laser was aimed at an Iowa National Guard helicopter flying in the Waterloo area. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, there have been 271 incidents of lasers being pointed at aircraft flying over Iowa between 2010 and 2020.

Officials say if a laser hits the plexiglas windshield of an aircraft, it can flood the entire cockpit with light and temporarily blind a pilot. Pilots reported over 13,000 laser incidents to the FAA in 2023.

Education

Senate, House set to negotiate funding for state AEAs

Posted March 19, 2024 at 10:16 AM CDT
Protesters stand outside the Capitol calling for no cuts to AEA funding.
Natalie Krebs
/
IPR News
Protesters stand outside the Capitol calling for no cuts to AEA funding.

Republicans in the Iowa Senate have passed a bill that sets up a negotiation with the House GOP over how to fund the state’s Area Education Agencies and the expert services they provide for special education.

Under the Senate proposal, just 10% of state funding for special ed services would go directly to the AEAs. Local school districts would control the rest. They could use it to contract with their AEAs, but they could also choose to fund their own programs or hire an outside company.

Democrats say if large districts pull money out of the system, it will undermine small schools that receive more services than they currently pay for. Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, says going fee-for-service would wreck the funding balance in the current system across districts that are large, small, rich and poor.

“The dollars left in mostly Republican school districts will not be enough to buy the services that you are going to need. The AEAs' economy of scale and safety net is going to be gone.”

Sen. Lynn Evans, R-Aurelia, said districts deserve a choice.

“Schools deserve to have more accountability and transparency for how their special education funding is spent. This bill provides them with more local control to base their spending on the unique needs of students in their districts.”

The bill (HF 2612) passed on a vote of 28-22. Six Republican Senators joined Democrats to vote against it.

Now it goes back to the House, where GOP members passed a plan that requires all districts to stick with their AEAs for special education services.

Education

Republican leaders still haven’t agreed on public, private school funding as funnel deadline nears

Posted March 15, 2024 at 9:07 AM CDT

Republican leaders still haven’t reached an agreement on public and private school funding as Iowa schools face a Friday deadline to publish the first draft of their proposed budgets.

The Iowa House passed a 3% per-student funding increase last month, but the Senate still hasn’t passed school funding.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver and House Speaker Pat Grassley say they’re open to changing school budget deadlines that are in Iowa law. Grassley says per-pupil funding has been tied up in discussions about a proposed special education overhaul and raises for teachers.

“And I, full disclosure, recognize there is some frustrations, I think we have frustrations as well.”

Democratic leaders like Senate Minority Leader Pam Jochum say Republicans’ failure to pass school funding could lead to local property tax increases.

“Clock is ticking. I’m not sure how school districts are assembling this budget to educate their children for the coming school year.”

The Legislature is supposed to pass school funding in the first 30 days of session, but often misses that mark.

Gender & Identity

Bill that would define ‘man,’ ‘woman’ dies

Posted March 14, 2024 at 3:31 PM CDT

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ bill that would have defined man and woman in Iowa law based on a person’s sex assigned at birth appears to be dead for this legislative session.

It failed to advance ahead of this week’s so-called funnel deadline.

House Speaker Pat Grassley says Republicans may continue that conversation but for now, they couldn’t reach consensus.

“While bills will be dying through this process, if there’s things that need to be priorities, we can continue those conversations, but I just don’t think we reached a point within our caucus where there was necessarily a set definition that we felt that we needed to use.”

The bill would have also required transgender Iowans to include their sex assigned at birth and current gender identity on their birth certificate.

Public hearings on the bill earlier this session drew hundreds of protesters, who dubbed it the LGBTQ erasure act.

Immigration

Most immigration bills won't advance

Posted March 14, 2024 at 11:32 AM CDT

Three out of the four bills in the Iowa Legislature targeting undocumented immigrants won’t advance past this week’s so-called funnel deadline.

The Senate Judiciary Committee didn’t take up a bill Wednesday to create a new state crime of smuggling undocumented immigrants.

But Rep.Steven Holt, R-Denison, says a bill that would let state officials arrest and deport undocumented immigrants is still eligible for debate.

“So we’ll certainly look at the possibility of what we can do with that legislation, in terms of putting my human smuggling component back on it, send it back to the Senate. So I’m extremely disappointed that they chose not to advance that legislation.”

Bills that would require all businesses to use the federal E-Verify system to check immigration status and that would deny in-state college tuition to undocumented students also failed to advance.

Education

House passes bill allowing school districts to use state funding to arm staff

Posted March 14, 2024 at 9:31 AM CDT

The Iowa House has passed a bill that would allow school districts to use state funds to purchase firearms for staff.

The school safety infrastructure bill requires schools to do comprehensive safety reviews and creates a pilot program for firearm detection software.

It also creates a grant program that would allow school districts to use state funds to purchase guns and pay for firearm training programs for staff.

Rep. Jennifer Konfrst, D-Des Moines, opposed the bill, saying she’s concerned about using taxpayer dollars to put guns in schools.

“I also fear that we are creating a program in which teachers who are incentivized to bring guns to school might be put at an advantage that other teachers who choose not to bring guns to school might also feel.”

Supporters say the bill will make school districts safer overall from active shooter threats. Rep. Carter Nordman, R-Panora, says the bill offers many solutions to strengthen school safety.

“This bill will make our students safer by investing in infrastructure and technology that we know will make our school buildings more secure.”

The program is dependent on the passage of another piece of legislation allowing school employees to be issued permits to carry firearms.

Health

Bill to increase criminal penalties for killing ‘unborn person’ doesn’t pass

Posted March 13, 2024 at 3:40 PM CDT

An Iowa bill that critics fear could affect in vitro fertilization hasn’t advanced in the Senate ahead of a key legislative deadline.

The bill that passed the House would increase existing criminal penalties for terminating or seriously injuring a pregnancy without the pregnant person’s consent. And it would change the law’s wording from “terminates a human pregnancy” to “causes the death of an unborn person.”

Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he refused to bring that bill up for a vote.

“There was some definite concerns about in vitro fertilization and the negative effects and unintended consequences with that. And that was very problematic for myself, and so that’s why I pulled the bill.”

House Republicans — who voted for the bill — say the unborn person definition is already in Iowa law and hasn’t affected IVF. Democrats disagreed, saying the attempt to establish fetal personhood would put some fertility services at risk.

State government

Bill to allow state agencies to opt out of state audit doesn’t advance

Posted March 13, 2024 at 1:57 PM CDT

Republicans on the Iowa House State Government Committee have declined to advance a bill affecting the state auditor’s office ahead of a legislative deadline.

The bill passed by Senate Republicans would allow state agencies to opt out of being audited by the state auditor and instead hire private firms to perform audits. State Auditor Rob Sand is the only statewide elected Democrat in Iowa.

Rep. Jane Bloomingdale, R-Northwood, chairs the committee.

“The auditor bill didn’t have support in this committee. And also one of the big concerns was the expense of hiring outside firms.”

Sand has said the bill would further open the door to government corruption by letting agencies choose their auditors. Republican senators who support the bill say it would give state government the same flexibility that local governments have to hire private accounting firms.

Environment

Bill prohibiting DNR from buying land at auction doesn’t advance

Posted March 13, 2024 at 1:56 PM CDT

A bill that nature conservation groups fear would limit public land expansion wasn’t brought up for a committee vote ahead of the Iowa Legislature’s so-called funnel deadline.

But the bill’s author, Rep. Austin Harris, R-Moulton, says it isn’t necessarily dead for the session.

“We’ll see what future avenues exist moving forward. But for today, we’re just putting a pause on the bill.”

The bill would prohibit the Iowa Department of Natural Resources from buying land at auction, and from accepting donations of land that was bought at auction.

Harris says the bill would put the DNR’s existing practices into state law to ensure the government isn’t competing against farmers at land auctions. But environment, conservation and hunting groups say it has the potential to limit the expansion of Iowa’s small amount of public land.

Marijuana

Bill sets limits on Iowa sales of hemp-infused ‘consumables’

Posted March 13, 2024 at 9:50 AM CDT
Colorful cans of Climbing Kites social beverage sit in a stack on a table at the Des Moines Arts Fest 2023.
Alan Jacobs
/
Courtesy of the Des Moines Arts Festival
Climbing Kites, a THC social beverage from the people at Lua Brewing, made its debut in Iowa this year. It's been for sale at a handful of outdoor arts events in central Iowa in 2023.

The Iowa House has voted to impose new limits on hemp products, including a cap on how much THC extracted from hemp can be in food or drinks sold in Iowa.

The bill would require labels warning the products are intoxicating and set criminal penalties for selling hemp products with THC to anyone under the age of 21.

Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, said when the state made it legal to grow and sell hemp, the Legislature had no idea products with high concentrations of THC would be produced.

“It is a little bit of the wild, wild west out there in Iowa right now thanks to the loopholes we did not know we created.”

The bill passed on a 79-16 vote. Opponents like Rep. Bob Kressig, D-Cedar Falls, says retailers that are selling hemp-infused products will see sales slide if the bill becomes law.

“We have 1,100 retailers in Iowa with these products, we have 3,000 employees and we have 800,000 Iowans that access these products.”

Bill backers say some of the hemp-infused drinks and other consumables being sold in Iowa have incredibly high levels of THC and it’s time to act. A similar bill was introduced in the Senate, but has not cleared a Senate committee.

Local government

Iowa-Nebraska NAACP voices concern over anti-citizen police review board bill

Posted March 13, 2024 at 9:48 AM CDT

The Iowa-Nebraska NAACP is raising concerns about a bill advancing in the Iowa Legislature that would ban cities from having citizen police review boards that review police misconduct complaints and discipline.

NAACP President Betty Andrews says the NAACP helped start four of the five citizen review boards in the state to combat racial profiling.

“We believe in transparency in law enforcement and government and that citizen review boards are an opportunity for fair look-in and making sure that our law enforcement knows that we as citizens are watching.”

The bill was approved Tuesday by Republicans on the House Local Government Committee after it passed in the Senate last week. An Iowa law passed three years ago limits the authority of citizen review boards, but police union representatives say the bill is needed to make the law enforcement discipline process more fair for police.

Read the full story.

Environment

Iowans testify against bill prohibiting DNR from acquiring auctioned land for public use

Posted March 12, 2024 at 3:43 PM CDT

More than 20 Iowans testified against a bill Tuesday that would prohibit the Iowa Department of Natural Resources from acquiring land for public use if it was bought at an auction.

Republicans on a House panel advanced the bill, which prohibits the state from acquiring land bought at auction to expand state parks and hunting grounds.

Iowa Cattlemen’s Association lobbyist Jake Swanson says the bill doesn’t reduce public lands.

“The government should not be competing against constituents for land at auctions. The bill codifies current DNR practice.”

But conservation and hunting groups opposed the bill, saying it would restrict the state’s ability to respond to opportunities to expand public lands.

Jim Todd of Boone opposed the bill.

“If you want your children and your grandchildren to stay in this state, then I don’t think anything should be done to impede the progress of recreational opportunities and open land.”

The bill is now eligible for a vote by the House State Government Committee.

Taxes

Bill would create a pilot program offering state tax rebates for filming movie, TV productions in Iowa

Posted March 12, 2024 at 2:56 PM CDT

A House subcommittee advanced a bill that would offer tax incentives to those who want to film movie and TV productions in the state.

The bill would create a two-year, $10 million pilot project starting in 2025 that offers tax incentives to those who want to film productions in the state.

Jennifer Kingland with Renovo Media Group, a studio based in Clear Lake, says filmmakers have passed over shooting in Iowa for other states and countries that have incentives.

“One of the films that we did produce — which was based on an author from the Iowa Writers Workshop — we had to film that in Kentucky.”

Rep. Charles Isenhart, D-Dubuque, supported the bill, but suggested it could do more to support up-and-coming Iowa-based filmmakers as well.

Voting

Bill would restrict use of AI in elections, campaign materials

Posted March 11, 2024 at 10:13 AM CDT

A bill that would restrict the use of artificial intelligence in elections and campaign materials has passed in the Iowa House of Representatives. It would prohibit the use of artificial intelligence in Iowa’s electronic ballot counting systems and ballot marking devices.

It would also require video and audio deepfakes of political candidates to include a disclaimer.

Rep. J.D. Scholten, D-Sioux City, says it hasn’t been easy to craft a bill that will protect against cutting edge technology being used to influence elections.

“This bill matches the moment. Often legislation lags behind in technology and we all understand the importance of the 2024 election and election integrity.”

The bill passed with near-unanimous support.

Local government

Board member responds to Senate bill banning citizen police review boards

Posted March 8, 2024 at 4:07 PM CST

The state Senate passed a bill this week that would ban cities from creating citizen police review boards.

Residents of cities like Cedar Rapids, Dubuque and Coralville can file complaints against a police officer or department to these boards, and they follow up on the incident. But they don’t have subpoena powers or the ability to impact an investigation or court ruling.

For six years, Orville Townsend has been on Iowa City’s Community Police Review Board. He says the board’s only power is one any citizen has: to take a closer look at what happened.

“Most of the time police followed the procedure and everything’s okay. But every once in a while you find a situation where process wasn’t followed and a citizen has a chance to have their day and get justice.”

Before the governor can sign the bill into law, it must first be approved by the House.

Health

Bill passes that would raise penalties for terminating pregnancies without consent

Posted March 8, 2024 at 8:58 AM CST

Republicans in the Iowa House passed a bill Thursday that would raise existing criminal penalties for terminating a pregnancy without the pregnant person’s consent. It would also change the law’s wording from “terminates a human pregnancy” to “causes the death of an unborn person.”

The bill defines an unborn person as “an individual organism of the species homo sapiens from fertilization to live birth.”

Rep. Heather Matson, D-Ankeny, says the bill is an attempt to establish fetal personhood, and that would put in vitro fertilization at risk.

“What a tragedy it would be for all Iowans if what has come to pass in Alabama comes to pass here, because as written, this bill does not explicitly protect IVF and sets a precedent with new language of unborn person.”

Republican Rep. Skyler Wheeler says the unborn person definition already exists in Iowa’s abortion laws, and that hasn’t affected IVF. He says the bill is simply meant to enact harsher penalties for people who hurt pregnant women.

Read the full story here.

Immigration

Bill passes that would criminalize smuggling undocumented immigrants

Posted March 8, 2024 at 8:56 AM CST

The Iowa House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday to create a new state crime of smuggling undocumented immigrants. It would apply when a person knowingly transports undocumented immigrants in exchange for payment or other benefit.

Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, says it’s needed to give Iowa law enforcement the ability to arrest people for transporting undocumented immigrants into the state.

“The very real and profoundly serious crisis on our southern border demands we stand up as a state and protect our citizens and our sovereignty, and perhaps discourage human trafficking, labor trafficking, sex trafficking and all of the garbage that is happening on our southern border and transferring into our state.”

Almost all Democrats opposed the bill. They say immigration is a federal issue, and Republicans should support bipartisan immigration legislation in Congress.

Education

House passes bill that would increase teacher salaries

Posted March 7, 2024 at 4:31 PM CST

The Iowa House has passed a plan to increase pay for teachers and school support staff.

Over two years, the bill would increase the minimum salary schools can pay teachers from $33,500 to $50,000. It includes money to help districts reach a $15 per hour minimum wage for hourly staff, such as paraeducators.

Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, pointed out that the House teacher pay plan was separated from its proposal on Area Education Agencies. The Senate and Gov. Kim Reynolds have tied the two issues together.

"The House of Representatives is united in support of paying our teachers, paying our educators, paying our paraprofessionals in a way that is non-politicized and is good for Iowa kids."

Rep. Bill Gustoff, R-Des Moines, says the bill should help recruit and retain educators.

"The bill achieves a significant goal set forth by Gov. Reynolds... and I thank her for setting a bold target that will vault Iowa to the top of the list to attract teachers in terms of pay."

In a recent letter to superintendents, Gov. Kim Reynolds also said she wants to include a minimum salary of $62,000 for teachers with 12 years of experience.

Read the full story here.

Voting

House passed bill that would ban ballot drop boxes

Posted March 7, 2024 at 4:31 PM CST

This week, House lawmakers voted to ban ballot drop boxes. Currently, state law permits county auditors to set up these drop boxes at their offices so long as they are under constant video surveillance.

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, says they were a product of the pandemic and aren’t necessary. Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert says he worries about having his hands tied in the future.

"One of my biggest concerns is what happens if we have another pandemic? To me, I don’t see any reason why we're getting rid of these dropboxes. I mean, these are just as secure as putting them in a mailbox on your street."

The ballot drop box ban is part of a larger election package that sets earlier deadlines for returning mail-in ballots and lets candidates with felony convictions run for federal office in Iowa.

Before the governor can sign the bill into law, it must first be approved by the state Senate.

Local Government

House panel advanced bill that would prohibit citizen police review boards

Posted March 7, 2024 at 3:45 PM CST

Republicans on an Iowa House panel advanced a bill Thursday that would prohibit cities from having citizen police review boards.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Dubuque and Coralville have citizen police review boards that review police misconduct complaints. The bill would get rid of those.

Rep. Jerome Amos, D-Waterloo, opposed the bill. He says citizens should have a voice at the table.

“The review board increases transparency, and at the very least, the appearance of transparency to the general public. Knowing that citizens sit on the police review boards helps the public to feel that police are being held accountable.”

Skylar Limkemann, an attorney for the Iowa Fraternal Order of Police, says citizen police review boards aren’t needed, and this bill would make things more fair for law enforcement officers.

“So what we’re trying to do is to say, because there’s a civil service process, that is the civilian review process here in Iowa, and make sure that there’s standardization.”

Lobbyists for cities opposed the bill. They say it’s very one-sided, and that cities that already have police review boards would like to keep them.

Crime

Senate advances bill that would make fentanyl-related deaths lead to murder charges

Posted March 7, 2024 at 2:45 PM CST

A fentanyl-related death could lead to first-degree murder charges under a bill advancing in the Iowa Senate.

The proposal passed the House earlier this week. It says that a person who provides fentanyl which results in another person’s death would be guilty of first degree murder.

Under the bill, it would not matter whether the person knew they were handing out fentanyl or not.

Sen. Tom Shipley, R-Nodaway, says the penalty for sharing fentanyl should match the extreme risk of overdose.

"Somebody, somewhere, started giving them this stuff. I have very little sympathy for those people."

Sen. Janice Weiner, D-Iowa City, says if the goal is to cut off the source of the deadly drug, what a person knows should matter.

"If it’s a dealer, great, lock them up. If it’s something accidental, I don’t want to ruin someone’s life for something accidental."

The bill moved on to the Senate Judiciary Committee, but could see changes.

Misc.

Iowa House approves Gadsden Flag specialty license plate

Posted March 7, 2024 at 2:22 PM CST

Iowans could pay extra for a license plate that bears the message “don’t tread on me” if a bill that’s cleared the Iowa House becomes law.

The new specialty license plate would feature the image of the Gadsden Flag, with its coiled rattlesnake on the left side of the plate. The Gadsden Flag design dates back to the Revolutionary War. The snake on the flag features 13 rattles that represent the 13 colonies that revolted against Great Britain.

“I can’t think of anywhere in the world where individual rights, individual sovereignty has been more cherished and respected than here in the great State of Iowa,” said Rep. Jeff Shipley, R-Birmingham. "I think having this display on our license plate will be another great addition to the right fabric of our state.”

The bill passed with the support of 60 Republicans. All House Democrats voted no. The fees from these specialty plates would be distributed as grants to groups that promote education and training about the right to keep and bear arms.

Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, says that means the money will go to the National Rifle Association.

“The bill itself diverts tax dollars from a 500% fee increase to a private organization with political agendas,” Jacoby said.

Democrats unsuccessfully proposed a series of alternatives to finance things like children’s mental health services or anti-discrimination programs instead.

The bill now goes to the Iowa Senate, where a similar bill was introduced last year. About a dozen states sell Gadsden Flag specialty license plates, including Missouri and Kansas.

Technology

House passes age restrictions for social media

Posted March 7, 2024 at 8:21 AM CST

A bill passed in the Iowa House (HF 2523) on Wednesday would require social media sites like Instagram and TikTok to have a parent’s permission before a minor could start an account.

A parent must also have access to see posts and replies on the account and have a way to set time limits for it.

Rep. Charley Thomson, R-Charles City, says if parents are more involved, it could prevent problems with harassment and cyberbullying online.

“It still permits parents to have some supervision over their children while their children can have social media accounts with monitoring.”

If the bill becomes law, Iowa would join states like Utah and Arkansas with similar measures. In some places,like Ohio, they have resulted in court challenges.

EDUCATION

Bill to arm school workers advances in Iowa Senate

Posted March 7, 2024 at 8:06 AM CST

A bill that aims to secure schools by making it easier for school employees to carry guns is working its way through the Senate after passing in the House last week.

GOP lawmakers are hoping it resolves a problem with finding insurance for schools that arm teachers.

Jodi Thomas is the president of the Cherokee school board. Her district planned to allow school staff to carry firearms until its insurer threatened to drop the district’s coverage.

Thomas believes a bill provision providing legal protection for teachers and school districts will allow Cherokee to implement its plan.

“Every student has a different need, and so does every district, and their safety plans are going to look different. Cherokee is a small town. We have a sheriff’s department and a police department. We do have an SRO, but we have three school buildings, and he cannot be everywhere at once.”

Opponents of the bill told a Senate subcommittee on Wednesday that arming teachers introduces the risk of someone misplacing or mishandling a gun.

Trey Jackson attends high school in Des Moines and volunteers with the gun control group Brady United Against Gun Violence. He says lawmakers should work on prevention instead of asking teachers to respond like police officers.

“Frankly, I find that profoundly nonsensical. I don’t understand why that is the goal, why we are focusing on reactionary policies, why we’re saying school shootings are always going to happen at such a high rate that we might as well just put guns in schools”

The bill advanced out of subcommittee.

A separate bill passed out of the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday would put $3 million toward grants to help districts cover the cost of providing guns and training for school employees.

The money was added to a bill that would help schools connect with police communications systems.

Public Assistance

House panel advances bill extending child care assistance pilot program

Posted March 6, 2024 at 2:45 PM CST

An Iowa House panel has advanced a bill that would extend a current pilot program that helps child care providers pay for their own kids’ child care.

The pilot program started last July and was initially meant to last one year, but the bill would extend that to two years. It lets child care workers get state-funded child care assistance even if their family income is too high to qualify.

McKinley Bailey, an Early Childhood Iowa area director in north-central Iowa, says child care workers were excited about the program, and it’s helping retain employees.

Several years ago we were in a situation where buildings were staffed at 50% or 60%. They’re at capacity now, or close to capacity, and this the pilot project has certainly played a role in that.”

Bailey says he hopes the assistance for child care providers can continue for a long time and become permanent.

Immigration

Senate passes bill authorizing arrest, deportation of undocumented immigrants

Posted March 6, 2024 at 10:38 AM CST

The Iowa Senate has passed a bill that would authorize law enforcement in the state to arrest undocumented immigrants and empower Iowa judges to order deportations.

Under the bill (SF 2340), it would become a state crime for a person to enter the state if they were already deported or refused entry into the U.S.

Sen. Jeff Reichman, R-Montrose, says the state must step in because the Biden administration has allowed record numbers of illegal border crossings.

“They refuse to enforce the laws.”

Democrats opposed the bill. They say immigration is a federal issue and it would be unconstitutional for the state to get involved with arresting and removing people from the country.

The bill is similar to a Texas law the U.S. Supreme Court has put on hold until at least March 13.

The bill passed the Iowa Senate on a party line vote.

Voting

House passes bill further restricting absentee voting

Posted March 5, 2024 at 3:34 PM CST

Republicans in the Iowa House passed a bill on Tuesday that would put more restrictions on absentee voting.

The bill would ban absentee ballot dropboxes and require absentee voters to include their voter identification numbers when returning their ballots. It would also move up the deadline for returning absentee ballots and let them be mailed out a bit earlier.

Rep. Amy Nielsen, D-North Liberty, says this will make it harder to vote. She says Iowa’s elections were already safe and fair before Republicans got control of the statehouse in 2017.

“But we have changed those laws every year since I’ve been here. And now we’re adding even more hoops for our voters to jump through just to exercise their constitutional right to a vote.”

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, says he doesn’t think there is widespread voter fraud in Iowa. But he says the bill would ensure Iowa has the most secure elections in the country.

Read the full story.

Taxes

Proposed amendment would restrict lawmakers’ ability to raise personal, corporate income taxes

Posted March 5, 2024 at 10:15 AM CST

A proposed constitutional amendment that would restrict state lawmakers’ ability to raise personal and corporate income taxes in the future is advancing in the Iowa Legislature.

It would require at least a two-thirds vote — rather than a simple majority — to raise income taxes. The amendment would also ban graduated income tax rates. Any income tax would have to be a flat tax.

Mike Owen with Common Good Iowa told lawmakers this would make it very difficult for future legislatures to fund state services if Iowa needs more tax revenue.

“If you want to be in the Legislature for 30 or 40 years, just keep running. But in this case, you make a vote now that will make it virtually impossible for somebody to change course later who is sitting in your same seat.”

Groups that seek to cut taxes and regulations support the proposal. They say it protects taxpayers and prevents future lawmakers from undoing recent tax cuts. A proposed constitutional amendment must be passed by two general assemblies to get on the ballot, and then Iowa voters can decide whether to adopt it.

Public assistance

House passes bill to ban guaranteed income programs

Posted March 5, 2024 at 10:13 AM CST
A central Iowa guaranteed income program working with 110 low-income households would be forced to end early under a bill passed in the Iowa House.
Madeleine Charis King
/
IPR News file photo
A central Iowa guaranteed income program working with 110 low-income households would be forced to end early under a bill passed in the Iowa House.

A bill passed in the Iowa House (HF 2319) would ban guaranteed income programs such as the UpLift pilot program currently underway in central Iowa.

UpLift is providing $500 per month to 110 low-income households in Polk, Warren and Dallas counties.

Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, sponsored the bill. He says there can be issues behind poverty that a monthly stipend doesn’t solve.

“These income programs do not cure addiction, health issues, lack of marketable skills or other factors that contribute to poverty. Actually, I think you could make a compelling argument that guaranteed income programs could indeed exacerbate these problems.”

Democrats say since no state funding is involved and the program was approved at the local level, state lawmakers should stay out of it. Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, says researchers are studying how families are using the money. She says that should be allowed to continue.

“This bill is nothing but a roadblock. It removes local control and it is one more attempt to assure Iowans who are struggling will continue to struggle.”

UpLift is meant to continue until spring 2025, but the bill would force it to end by Jan. 1.

Seven Republicans and all Democrats voted against the bill, but it passed on a vote of 55-43.

Read the full story.

Local government

Senate votes to ban cities from having citizen police review boards

Posted March 5, 2024 at 10:12 AM CST

The Iowa Senate voted on Monday to ban cities from having citizen police review boards, which allow a panel of civilians to review police misconduct complaints and recommend, but not determine, disciplinary action.

Sen. Scott Webster, R-Bettendorf, says the boards don’t give enough due process rights to police officers.

“We’re going to vote to defend our law enforcement from political interventions by citizen review boards and the media frenzy that goes along with them.”

Sen. Janice Weiner, D-Iowa City, says her community’s police review board has improved relations between local police and city residents. She says the Legislature shouldn’t take away local control on this issue.

The bill passed on a 37-9 vote, with just over half of Senate Democrats voting no.

Education

Iowa Poll finds majority hold favorable view of AEAs

Posted March 4, 2024 at 3:37 PM CST

A Des Moines Register/Mediacom Poll has found 56% of Iowans have a favorable opinion of the state’s nine Area Education Agencies.

The AEAs provide special education services, teacher training and other services to Iowa school districts. In early January, Gov. Kim Reynolds said the AEAs are failing students with disabilities, and she proposed major changes in how AEAs operate, including an end to some services she says schools can get from the private sector or hire staff to provide.

The Iowa House has approved its own bill which would keep the AEAs as the sole provider of special education services for schools. It calls for creation of a task force to study the AEAs and pushes back the timeline for changes in non-special ed services provided by the AEAs.

The bill passed the House late last week with the support of 53 Republicans. Nine Republicans and all Democrats in the House opposed it.

Senate Republicans have developed their own proposal for AEA changes that more closely resembles the governor’s bill.

In the poll, 20% of those surveyed have an unfavorable view of AEAs, while 24% said they weren’t sure how they viewed AEAs.

Education

Iowa House passes bill capping tuition hikes, restricting DEI at public universities

Posted March 1, 2024 at 10:00 AM CST

Tuition hikes would be capped and diversity, equity and inclusion programs would be restricted at Iowa’s public universities under a bill passed by the Iowa House on Thursday.

The bill would also add two lawmakers to the Board of Regents as nonvoting members and make many other changes to higher education policies in Iowa, including some that the universities have already set into motion.

Rep. Taylor Collins, R-Mediapolis, says the regents have spent too much on DEI initiatives.

“This bill stops the pursuit of these distractions and ideological agendas, reorients the focus of our higher education system back to the pursuit of academic excellence, which should’ve been the point from the start, controls the ever-rising cost of higher education and gives this body increased oversight over the regent enterprise.”

Democrats and six Republicans opposed the bill. Democrats say they support capping tuition hikes, but this bill doesn’t help the universities make up for lost revenue. They also say Republicans are politicizing DEI efforts, and that will have negative impacts on Iowa’s future workforce.

Religion

Religious Freedom Restoration Act sent to governor’s desk for signature

Posted March 1, 2024 at 9:58 AM CST

House Republicans voted Thursday night to send a bill to the governor’s desk that they say will prevent the government from infringing on Iowans’ religious freedom.

Opponents of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act say it opens the door to discrimination.

The bill says state and local regulations can’t restrict people from acting in accordance with their religion unless the government has a compelling interest. Rep. Timi Brown-Powers, D-Waterloo, says this could allow discrimination against LGBTQ Iowans and others in services like health care.

“What would Jesus do? Not this. This bill weaponizes religious belief to justify discrimination.”

Rep. Charley Thomson, R-Charles City, says the bill would protect religious freedom in a narrow way. He says it wouldn’t permit the examples of discrimination listed by Democrats.

“It doesn’t mean that a religious claimant is going to win. It just means that they’re going to get a hearing and a balancing test.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds released a statement indicating she’ll sign the bill into law.

Read the full story.

Education

Iowa House passes its version of AEA bill

Posted March 1, 2024 at 9:56 AM CST

Iowa House Republicans have passed their bill that replaces Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposed overhaul of the state’s Area Education Agencies.

Under the House plan (HF 2612), school districts must continue using the AEAs for special education services, but they could eventually go outside the system for other things like media services.

It also creates a task force to examine how to improve test scores for students in special education.

But Rep. Molly Buck, D-Ankeny, says the task force should weigh in before lawmakers make changes that no one had considered until a few weeks ago.

“No one asked for this bill. No one campaigned on this issue. The AEAs were blindsided by this bill, and I can tell you that schools and teachers felt really blindsided, too.”

Unlike the governor’s bill, no funding would be cut from the AEA system and schools must continue using the AEAs for special education services.

Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Hull, said as the parent of a daughter with autism, he knows personally how important AEA services are to families.

“This bill does not change anything with special education, it does not dismantle the AEA system and it does not have the Department of Education provide special education services.”

The bill does give the Department of Education more authority over the AEAs. It passed on a vote of 53 to 41, with nine Republicans joining Democrats to vote against the bill.

Now, it heads to the Iowa Senate, which has been working on its own version of AEA legislation.

Read the full story.

Rep. Steckman says she won't seek reelection

Posted February 29, 2024 at 2:48 PM CST

After nearly two decades in office, state Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, will not seek reelection.

Steckman is a Democrat who represents District 59 in northern Iowa. She’s a retired teacher and has held the office for 16 years.

In that time, she says she’s become a staunch defender of the state’s public education system. She is the ranking member of the House Education Committee.

She says part of the reason she’s stepping down is the promise she sees in Iowa’s next generation of politicians.

“A lot of the new folks that came into our caucus are young, excited about Iowa. They’re passionate, they’re enthusiastic and I would love to see someone in north Iowa step up and fill those shoes up here.”

Steckman’s district includes roughly 32,000 Iowans, stretching from Plymouth at its northernmost to Thornton in the south, including Mason City.

Education

Bill would give retention bonuses to Perry High School teachers

Posted February 29, 2024 at 2:46 PM CST

Iowa House lawmakers are taking steps to help Perry keep teachers from leaving the district in response to the deadly shooting in January at Perry High School.

Superintendent Clark Wicks told lawmakers on a House Appropriations Subcommittee on Thursday that leaders in other districts that have gone through shootings have warned him about losing teachers.

The subcommittee advanced a bill (HSB 728) that would allow Perry to use up to $700,000 in existing funds to offer retention bonuses to teachers and other school employees.

The Iowa Department of Education has also granted waivers that will allow Perry to reach high school graduation and the end of the school year on time.

Education

Iowa House passes bill to teach students about Declaration of Independence, Northwest Ordinance by 5th grade

Posted February 29, 2024 at 10:13 AM CST

Social studies and civics classes in Iowa schools would have to follow a new set of standards under a bill passed in the Iowa House.

The bill (HF 2544) lists specific people, events and documents that teachers must cover. By fifth grade, students must learn about not only the Declaration of Independence but also the Northwest Ordinance and the Federalist Papers.

Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Orange City, says the goal of the legislation is to instill students with pride in their country.

“I have to ask: What actually binds us together right now as a people? It used to be pretty easy. We were proud of our Constitution, we were proud of our heritage, we were proud of our founders and we were damn proud to be Americans. And today that’s gone.”

Democrats said the bill is an overreach into curriculum decisions that should be left to local districts. They questioned why some events were not listed in the bill, such as the Kennedy assassination or the Vietnam War.

Education

House passes bill to make it easier for school districts to let staff carry guns

Posted February 29, 2024 at 10:12 AM CST

A bill passed in the Iowa House Wednesday night would make it easier for school districts to allow teachers and other staff members to carry guns.

Districts such as Spirit Lake that have tried to arm teachers in the past were told by their insurers that they would be dropped from coverage.

House Republicans say the bill (HF 2586) reduces the insurance risk by creating a professional permit for school employees who carry firearms, which protects the district from criminal or civil liability.

Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, says lawmakers should be investing in violence prevention, not putting guns in teachers’ hands.

“This bill reduces the risk for insurance companies and raises the risk to students and their families. If a student is hurt or killed in crossfire under this bill, no one will be held accountable.”

The bill requires school staff who are permitted to carry guns to go through regular training on providing emergency medicine, communicating with law enforcement and responding to the scene of a shooter.

Education

Iowa House passes bill requiring schools to teach fetal development by 7th grade

Posted February 29, 2024 at 10:11 AM CST

Republicans in the Iowa House have passed a bill that would require all schools to teach about fetal development starting in seventh grade. They’d have to include an animated video that shows fertilization and every stage of human development inside the uterus.

The bill says the video must be “comparable” to a video called Meet Baby Olivia that was developed by an anti-abortion group.

Rep. Molly Buck, D-Ankeny, says the video mentioned in the bill is medically inaccurate and promotes one viewpoint.

“The question of when life begins is deeply personal. It varies among individuals. It varies among families. And honestly, it varies among faiths. And it is not the role of our chamber to prescribe what people believe or require teachers to influence young people with propaganda.”

Supporters of the bill say they hope it will help kids believe that life begins at fertilization and inform their future choices. The bill passed on a 59 to 35 vote, with two Republicans joining all Democrats to vote against it. It now goes to the Senate.

Read the full story.

Labor

Iowa Senate passes bill to require businesses to verify if employees can work in the U.S.

Posted February 29, 2024 at 10:10 AM CST
migrant rights advocates rally at the state capitol
Katarina Sostaric
Migrant rights advocates have rallied against bills at the Iowa Capitol including one to require businesses to use E-Verify.

Republicans in the Iowa Senate passed a bill on Wednesday to require Iowa businesses to use the federal E-Verify system to ensure their employees are authorized to work in the United States.

Sen. Julian Garrett, R-Indianola, says the bill is needed because undocumented immigrants are undercutting wages for others.

“It’s very unfair for law-abiding, legitimate businesses and employees to have to compete with people that are coming across the border.”

Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, says Republicans are prioritizing making an anti-immigrant statement. He says the bill sends this message to the major business groups that oppose it:

“We’re looking for you, and we’re gonna penalize you. And Casey’s, we’re going to run you out of the state of Iowa.”

Employers would lose their business license if they’re caught knowingly hiring undocumented workers twice. The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

Read the full story.

Environment

Senate votes to prohibit DNR from buying land for public use at auctions

Posted February 28, 2024 at 3:36 PM CST

The Iowa Senate voted on Wednesday to prohibit the Department of Natural Resources from buying land at an auction to expand public land access.

The bill would also keep the state from receiving donated land that was bought at an auction by a nonprofit.

The Iowa Farm Bureau has been trying to limit public land expansion to keep Iowa’s land available to farmers.

Sen. Tom Shipley, R-Nodaway, says landowners can still choose to sell their land directly to the DNR. He says he hears arguments that the DNR acquires land that isn’t suitable for agriculture.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to tell you that some of that land they want to buy has cows grazing on it. And it has value to the families out there that are using it. Mine included.”

Democrats opposed the bill, saying Iowa already ranks about 47th in the country for public lands, and Iowans want more land for recreation. Democrats also say the bill could undermine the ability of people selling their land at auction to get the best possible price for it. The bill now moves to the House.

Health

Bill would cap the amount temporary staffing agencies can charge for health care workers

Posted February 28, 2024 at 12:41 PM CST

The Iowa House has passed a bill that would establish rate caps on the amount temporary staffing agencies could charge for health care workers.

The bill would cap the amount staffing agencies could charge for temporary health care workers at 150% of the statewide average cost of that position.

The allowable charges schedule would be determined by the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services annually.

Rep. Timi Brown-Powers, D-Waterloo, says the cap is necessary to support hospitals and nursing homes financially.

“It's a morale issue for health care workers that have been there, stuck in there, that are working for a rate and working alongside traveling nurses making three, four times what they're making.”

Rep. John Forbes, D-Urbandale, says he’s concerned the cap will drive temporary staffing agencies out of Iowa at a time when some health care facilities need the help.

Food

Iowa Senate passes bipartisan bill requiring companies to label alternative meat products appropriately

Posted February 27, 2024 at 3:51 PM CST

The Iowa Senate passed a bipartisan bill on Tuesday that says if a company makes plant-based or lab-grown meat, their product labels must say so.

The original bill would have entirely banned the sale of lab-cultivated meat in Iowa, but was amended to focus only on how the products are labeled.

Sen. Dawn Driscoll, R-Williamsburg, says as more alternatives reach supermarket shelves, people may not be sure where their meat is coming from.

“Consumers deserve to know how their food is made and to understand that lab-grown products are made in a bioreactor and not the same as the high-quality beef raised by farmers and ranchers amongst Iowans.”

A food company that sells a meat alternative could be fined up to $10,000 per day if it does not identify the source of a product on the label.

For instance, Impossible Meat sells sausages and chicken tenders but the labels also announce that the products are made from plants.

The Senate passed the bill (SF 2391) on to the House with a vote of 49 to 0.

Health

House kills Senate-approved bill that would let patients choose blood donors

Posted February 27, 2024 at 3:47 PM CST

A House panel has killed a Senate-approved bill that would have required hospitals to let patients in need of blood transfusions to use their own banked blood or that of a chosen donor instead of standard donor blood.

The only person to speak in favor of the bill at a subcommittee hearing was Sen. Jeff Edler, R-State Center, who sponsored the bill.

“We would like to ensure that the patient can continue with the basic right of being able to know who their donor is.”

But doctors and blood bank officials say using one’s own blood or that of a chosen donor should only be done when a doctor deems it medically necessary.

Robert Shreck, an expert in blood disorders, says people donating blood to their family are more likely to lie in response to screening questions.

“We know this is the case because direct donors’ blood is three times more likely to test positive for all the things we’re afraid of — HIV, infections, hepatitis and so forth.”

Opponents of the bill say it would also cause logistical problems and delays in the blood bank system. A House panel unanimously declined to advance the bill.

Health

House lawmakers pass bill requiring nursing home inspector training

Posted February 27, 2024 at 3:44 PM CST

Iowa House lawmakers have passed a bill that would require biannual trainings for nursing home inspectors. The bill also clarifies when an on-site inspection is needed.

The bill requires that inspectors from the Iowa Department of Inspections, Appeals and Licensing provide two training sessions a year to go over frequently issued citations at nursing homes.

It also reduces the amount of time inspectors have to make an on-site visit in response to a complaint, depending on its severity.

Rep. Megan Srinivas, D-Des Moines, said the bill does not address underlying issues.

“That training is only effective if we actually have enough inspectors to do the job, which we do not in our state of Iowa.”

Rep. Thomas Jay Moore, R-Atlantic, who sponsored the bill, said it helps to create a stronger collaboration between state inspectors and nursing homes.

Labor

House Democrats propose state-facilitated retirement plan for Iowans without one through job

Posted February 27, 2024 at 11:11 AM CST

House Democrats are proposing a state-facilitated retirement plan for Iowans who don’t have access to a retirement plan through their job.

Rep. Austin Baeth, D-Des Moines, says businesses with five or more employees would have to send information to the state, so that IRAs could be started for their employees. Workers could opt out of contributing to a retirement plan.

Baeth says many Americans don’t have sufficient retirement savings, and 19% of Iowa seniors are relying solely on social security.

“It’s not right that so many of Iowa’s seniors, at a time when they should be enjoying the fruits of their labor, are instead just struggling to get by.”

House Democrats are also proposing a constitutional amendment to expand collective bargaining rights, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, expanding Iowa’s sales tax holiday and helping child care workers pay for child care. They plan to propose these ideas as amendments to other bills, as the Republican-majority Legislature isn’t likely to advance Democratic bills.

State Government

Bill to repeal gender balance law sent to governor’s desk

Posted February 27, 2024 at 11:10 AM CST

The Iowa House passed a bill on Monday to end requirements for state and local boards and commissions to be gender balanced, sending it to the governor’s desk for her signature.

Rep. Jane Bloomingdale, R-Northwood, says the laws are antiquated.

“This isn’t about men, it’s not about women. It’s about gender balance. It’s unnecessary. Gender balance often causes us to eliminate some of the most qualified candidates. And that’s the last thing we want to do.”

Democrats voted against the bill. Rep. Elinor Levin, D-Iowa City, opposed the bill. She says fewer women will get opportunities and the government will become less representative of Iowa’s population.

“For how many years did we have all-male boards, commissions and committees in our state? Are we headed back there, because those are the loudest voices still in our state? If they were not, we would be gender balanced on more of our boards and commissions.”

They say repealing the gender balance law will hurt women’s chances of being appointed to positions and will make boards less representative of Iowa’s population. Just over 60% of local boards and commissions have reached gender parity.

Read the full story.

Agriculture 

Bill to strengthen enforcement of limits on foreign ownership of farmland sent to Reynolds’ desk

Posted February 27, 2024 at 11:09 AM CST

The Iowa House has unanimously approved Gov. Kim Reynolds’ bill to strengthen enforcement of limits on foreign ownership of farmland, sending it to her desk for her signature.

Iowa prohibits foreign entities from owning more than 320 acres of farmland. The bill would require foreign owners to provide more information to the state, allow the attorney general to investigate wrongdoing and significantly raise financial penalties for violations.

Rep. Derek Wulf, R-Hudson, says Chinese nationals are buying farmland and trying to steal intellectual property and practices related to agriculture. He says that needs to stop.

“We as a body have the opportunity to strengthen Iowa’s already strongest and most comprehensive laws on the books for monitoring and restricting nonresident aliens, foreign entities and foreign governments from owning one of our most precious commodities here in Iowa — our farmland.”

Reynolds says she’s proud that the bill has bipartisan support and will protect Iowa’s farmland.

Labor

Labor unions rally outside Statehouse

Posted February 26, 2024 at 5:03 PM CST

Iowa labor union members rallied at the Statehouse on Monday to urge the Legislature to make Iowa’s laws more favorable to unions and working people.

Sara McFarland, the wife of a murdered correctional officer, says she’ll keep fighting for safer working conditions.

McFarland’s husband, Robert, was murdered by inmates trying to escape from the Anamosa State Penitentiary in March 2021.

With a crowd of labor union members behind her, McFarland said her husband was a very proud union member, and she promised him she wouldn’t stop fighting until his fellow officers were safe at work.

“We stand here not just to mourn, but to also demand change and demand it now. Before one more family gets told the horrific heartbreaking news that their husband, wife or loved one isn’t coming home.”

McFarland says Iowa lawmakers should classify corrections officers as public safety workers to give them the right to negotiate safety conditions with the state.

Other union members and advocates at Monday’s rally called for expanding collective bargaining, improving worker’s compensation and overturning the decades-old so-called “right to work” legislation.

Education

Bill to raise minimum salaries for teachers receives bipartisan approval in House committee

Posted February 26, 2024 at 5:02 PM CST

A bill that would raise the minimum salary for K-12 teachers was approved Monday on a bipartisan vote in the House Appropriations Committee.

But if it passes in the House, it’s not clear how it will be received in the Iowa Senate.

The House bill (HF 2611) would raise the minimum salary for new teachers to $50,000. It would also budget funding to help schools reach a minimum wage for school support staff of $15 per hour.

Rep. Heather Matson, D-Ankeny, says staff such as paraeducators deserve credit for helping keep schools running.

“They truly do so much critical work in our districts and unfortunately for any number of reasons have been left behind in terms of salary and pay.”

In the House, teacher pay is separate from a bill that makes changes to Area Education Agencies. But in the Senate it’s all in one, just as it was in the governor’s original bill.

Rep. Carter Nordman, R-Panora, says the House is moving forward on teacher pay, but GOP leaders in the House and Senate will have to work out their differences to reach a final plan.

Agriculture

Bill would allow feedlots to spread manure without DNR approval

Posted February 26, 2024 at 8:56 AM CST

A bill that cleared a Senate committee would relax rules governing manure spreading by animal feeding operations in the state.

Under the bill, feedlots could spread manure to prevent a possible violation of water quality standards as long as they submit a nutrient management plan to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and notify the agency ahead of time.

Steve Veysey, a retired chemist, is part of “Save Bloody Run,” an organization that is challenging the nutrient management plan filed by Supreme Beef, located in the headwaters of Bloody Run Creek in Clayton County.

He says he can’t understand why there would be a situation where the law is needed.

“Under the statutory limit, Iowa DNR only has 60 days to approve or deny a manure plan that’s submitted to them. So if you’re required to have 12 months of manure storage at your facility, and it only takes two months to get a plan either approved or denied, what is the purpose of this legislation?”

Veysey says this legislation will only make large agriculture operations less accountable to the public when it comes to water quality.

Education

House lawmakers approve 3% increase in state aid for public schools

Posted February 22, 2024 at 3:52 PM CST

Iowa House lawmakers have approved a3% increase in state aid for public schools.

That would put general state funding for K-12 schools at over $3.8 billion for the next fiscal year, which is nearly $100 million more than Gov. Kim Reynolds had proposed in her budget plan.

House Democrats say it’s still not enough for schools to avoid budget cuts because of rising costs for insurance and supplies.

Democratic Rep. Molly Buck, a teacher in Ankeny, says even though it’s one of the state’s larger districts, Ankeny is still planning to cut corners based on the House funding level.

“It looks like 27 report cards to fill out instead of 20. It looks like eight kids sitting around my kidney table for help because they don’t understand instead of four.”

Rep. Phil Thompson, R-Boone, says a 3% increase keeps school funding sustainable in the state budget. Speaker Pat Grassley says House Republicans still hope to follow up with another bill that would raise pay for teachers and paraeducators.

“This was part of a global package and we want to make sure we give schools some flexibility with SSA, at the same time recognizing we need to put more money into paraeducation and teacher pay.”

The same increase applies to funding for education savings accounts awarded to students going to private schools. Per student, funding for ESAs next year would grow to $7,864.

Education

House lawmakers take more feedback on latest proposal to change how schools work with AEAs

Posted February 22, 2024 at 1:05 PM CST

The Iowa House held a public hearing Wednesday night on its bill changing how schools do business with the state’s Area Education Agencies. Parents and educators told members of the House Education Committee they worry about losing services that help students.

Currently, school districts are expected to go to the AEAs for services that are covered by state funding.

Under the House plan, school districts would still have to use the AEAs for special education services. But they could take state funding for education and media services and spend it outside of the AEA system.

During the hearing, Spirit Lake Superintendent David Smith told House members his district would handle all of the services in-house if it controlled the money.

“You’ve taken it this far. It seems like something is probably going to happen one way or the other. And I’m begging you, if you do that, put the funds toward the school district and let the AEAs earn our business.”

Parents of students with disabilities say they are scared the current plans working through the Legislature could unintentionally harm the services they depend on.

They asked lawmakers to take time to closely study the system before moving forward.

The House and Senate passed their AEA bills through the committee level last week, but neither chamber has brought their bill up for a vote.

State Government

Bill to repeal gender balance on boards passes in Senate

Posted February 21, 2024 at 11:20 AM CST

The Iowa Senate voted on Tuesday to repeal a law that requires state and local boards and commissions to have an equal, or nearly equal, number of men and women.

The gender balance requirement was passed in the 1980s with the goal of helping women attain board positions and eventually elected office. Gov. Kim Reynolds is asking lawmakers to end that requirement.

Sen. Annette Sweeney, R-Iowa Falls, says she’s experienced discrimination based on her gender. But she doesn’t want appointments to boards and commissions to be based on a gender quota.

“I don’t want to go to a meeting and they say, ‘Hey Annette, guess what? You’re a token female because we had to fill the gender.’ No. I want to be there because I earned it.”

Most Democrats opposed the bill, saying gender balance should still be required because gender discrimination is still prevalent. Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott, D-West Des Moines, says even the Iowa Senate isn’t representative of the state’s population. She says the gender balance law for boards and commissions can help ensure better representation in state government.

“The world is not fair. Bias persists against women, bias that causes a woman’s qualifications to be judged as less than a man’s, bias that results in a woman’s qualifications being dismissed or not even considered.”

The bill passed on a 32 to 15 vote, with one Democrat joining Republicans to vote in favor.

Religion

Senate passes bill that strengthens religious freedoms

Posted February 21, 2024 at 11:19 AM CST

The Iowa Senate has passed a version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act that would apply at the state and local level.

The bill says there must be a compelling interest for the government to limit a person’s religious practices.

But Democrats say the way it’s defined in the bill, a person’s private faith could be used to defend acts of discrimination.

Sen. Liz Bennett, D-Cedar Rapids, says the bill is anti-LGBTQ.

“You’re voting for a world that slams doors in my face, in the faces of the other LGBTQ legislators in this building who you work with every day and LGBTQ Iowans and their families.”

Republican supporters say judges would still have to take civil rights protections into account in religious freedom cases. Sen. Jeff Taylor, R-Sioux Center, says the bill gets back to the country’s early principles.

“It doesn’t mean that the courts can’t circumscribe freedom of religion, but it sets the bar very high as it ought to. It’s a foundational right. It’s a fundamental right. It’s the very first one in changing the document of the Constitution in terms of the Bill of Rights.”

The bill passed on party lines. A companion bill is waiting to come up in the Iowa House, where a similar measure passed two years ago.

If the bill becomes law, Iowa would be the 26th state to adopt a version of the act passed by Congress in 1993.

Agriculture 

Bill to strengthen limits on foreign ownership of farmland unanimously passes Senate

Posted February 20, 2024 at 9:12 AM CST

The state Senate unanimously passed Gov. Kim Reynolds’ bill Monday to strengthen reporting and enforcement related to foreign ownership of Iowa farmland.

Iowa already prohibits foreign investors from buying more than 320 acres of land. Foreign landowners would have to provide more information to state officials, and the bill would strengthen penalties for violations. A new annual report on foreign land ownership would be made available to top state officials but not to the public.

Sen. Dan Zumbach, R-Ryan, managed the bill’s passage.

“This is making sure that they register — that they register twice a year — and if they’re cheating the system at all, the fines will be substantial.”

Reynolds says in a statement she’s pleased the Senate passed the bill. She says Iowa’s laws should adapt along with changing threats of foreign ownership of land.

Health

Proposal to extend Medicaid coverage period for pregnancy passes in Senate

Posted February 20, 2024 at 9:11 AM CST

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposal to extend Medicaid pregnancy coverage from 60 days postpartum to a year after giving birth passed in the Senate on Monday.

Her bill would also lower income limits for the program so fewer pregnant Iowans would qualify for Medicaid. Doing so would ensure it doesn’t cost the state more money to cover qualifying moms for a longer period of time.

Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, says it’s very disappointing.

“Forty-seven states have already done it. We finally get the governor’s bill to expand postpartum coverage and she does it at the expense of pregnant women and their babies.”

Sen. Mark Costello, R-Imogene, says the bill expands Medicaid for people who truly need it.

“We’ve found that not all the medical needs associated with pregnancy happen in the first two months, so we want to enable those women to get that coverage for a full year.”

The Legislative Services Agency estimates 2,300 women per month would maintain Medicaid coverage past 60 days, and about 1,300 women would lose coverage because of new income limits.

The bill passed 34 to 13, with three Democrats joining all Republicans in support of the bill. Reynolds says in a statement her bill will help get “families get off to the right start.”

Read the full story.

Government oversight

Bill that would allow state agencies to opt out of state audit passes

Posted February 20, 2024 at 7:50 AM CST
Rob Sand gesticulates in front of a crowd.
Madeleine Charis King
State Auditor Rob Sand speaks to a crowd in his office.

Republicans in the Iowa Senate passed a bill on Monday to allow state agencies to opt out of being audited by the state auditor. Instead, they could choose to contract with private accounting firms for required audits, as many local governments currently do.

Sen. Michael Bousselot, R-Ankeny, sponsored the bill.

“These nonpartisan accountants would deliver value, expertise and accountability for Iowa taxpayers and taxpayer dollars. These audits would be subject to review by the state auditor and in fact they have to be submitted to the state auditor.”

Outside accounting firms’ hourly rates for local government audits have been higher than what the state auditor charges for state agency audits.

Democrats say the bill is a political attempt to further limit the authority of State Auditor Rob Sand, who is the only Democrat who holds statewide elected office in Iowa. Sen. Janice Weiner, D-Iowa City, says everyone should want to be tough on corruption to save taxpayers money.

“Iowans elected the auditor to do his job, not to be kneecapped. You’ve heard about accountability and it all sounds super slick. But actually this bill might as well be titled, ‘A bill for an act to incentivize graft and corruption.’”

Sand says the bill would make it harder to root out waste and fraud in state government.

Recap: Here’s what got past funnel week

Posted February 19, 2024 at 2:42 PM CST

Lawmakers faced their first legislative deadline of the 2024 session last week. The so-called “funnel week” cuts down on the number of bills in play during the session. To remain eligible, a bill had to be approved by a committee in the chamber it started in, with some exceptions. Here are some of the bills that made it:

Rep. J.D. Scholten worried about "shady" bills

Posted February 16, 2024 at 11:20 AM CST

The flood of bills that moved through committees ahead of a legislative deadline may be confusing not just for regular Iowans. Speaking to the Iowa Farmers Union Thursday, Democratic Rep. J.D. Scholten said there’s been so much questionable legislation proposed this session, he’s having difficulty keeping track of it all.

“It’s hard enough to know what’s in the House, then you add in what’s in the Senate and in the House. But there’s some really shady and crappy bills out there right now... I’m worried about the state."

Scholten calls proposed changes to Iowa’s voting laws “undemocratic." He says he hopes there can be bipartisan negotiation on bills that come to the floor of the House. As a member of the House Agriculture Committee, Scholten says one of his goals is to strengthen the Iowa Grain Indemnity Fund, which protects farmers in case the business storing their products goes out of business.

Education

Bill advances that would raise minimum teacher salaries

Posted February 16, 2024 at 11:12 AM CST

A bill advancing in the Iowa House would raise the minimum salary for new teachers from around $33,000 to $50,000.

That’s the same increase that Gov. Kim Reynolds proposed at the start of the session.

The House bill would take effect over two years. It would also provide funding to help schools raise the wages of support staff such as paraeducators to at least $15 an hour.

Rep. Molly Buck, D-Ankeny, says that could help convince paraeducators in the school where she teaches to stay in education.

"Because of the lack of being able to earn a livable wage at our school they leave to go to Target. And those are our closest to some of our kids and the most needed and most necessary."

The bill passed out of the House Education Committee. The Senate has its own plan to increase the minimum teacher salary to around $46,000.

Education

House Republicans move forward with AEA bill

Posted February 16, 2024 at 9:27 AM CST

Iowa House Republicans are moving forward with their own proposal for the state’s Area Education Agencies. It changes much of what Gov. Kim Reynolds proposed at the start of the session.

Over the course of three years, the bill (HSB 713) would give school districts control over the funds used for education and media services that currently flow directly to the AEAs.

AEAs would remain the sole provider of special education services, as they are today. The bill would also create a task force to make recommendations around costs and accountability in the system.

Melissa Peterson of the Iowa State Education Association told a House subcommittee that lawmakers should wait for that report before deciding what would actually improve things.

"Create a quality task force that allows us to dig into this issue deeply to address all of the concerns you’ve heard over the course of the last six weeks."

The bill passed out of committee Thursday on a party line vote. Democrats said they are glad to move away from the governor’s overhaul, but the new plan still puts too much power in the state Department of Education.

A different plan for the AEAs moved out the Senate Education Committee this week. It would allow school districts to choose a different special ed provider and would give them control of 90% of their state special education funds.

Education

Senate Republicans propose AEA funding alternative 

Posted February 15, 2024 at 10:45 AM CST

Senate Republicans are offering their alternative to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposed overhaul of Iowa’s nine Area Education Agencies.

Under an amended bill passed by the Senate Education Committee Wednesday night, 10% of a school district’s special education funding would pass directly to their AEA.

But the district would control the remaining 90% and could use those funds to either buy special education services from the AEA or from a different provider.

Sen. Lynn Evans, R-Aurelia, says the guaranteed funding provides a safety net for the AEA system.

“So everything provided by the AEAs will continue to be provided by the AEAs. And we have reestablished funding that the governor stripped out.”

Media services that Reynolds would have cut are fully funded in the Senate bill. But the money is split — 60% controlled by the district and the rest going to the AEA.

Democrats on the committee said dividing the funds that way would make budget decisions more difficult for both the AEAs and the school districts.

The Senate bill would also reset the minimum salary for new teachers at just over $46,000. That’s less than $50,000 as proposed by both the governor and the House GOP. Evans says the difference would allow for a larger increase than Reynolds had proposed for state school funding.

Evans says more changes are likely when the bill comes up on the floor of the Senate.

Education

House proposes bill for AEA in place of Reynolds' proposal

Posted February 14, 2024 at 4:08 PM CST

The Iowa House is proposing its own plan for the state’s Area Education Agencies in place of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposed overhaul.

Reynolds’ plan included cutting funding for media services and allowing local districts to contract for special education services outside of the AEAs.

The three-year plan unveiled by House leadership Wednesday will not cut any money from the system.

Speaker Pat Grassley says that by year three, school districts could choose where to spend funds for education and media services. But they must continue to spend their special education funding through their local AEA.

"The feedback that we got from Iowans is the special ed services — whether they’re perfect, they need improvement, some cases some people are unsatisfied — they wanted a level of certainty in those special ed services and the delivery mechanism. That’s why we kept it in there going forward through the AEAs."

Grassley says the House plans to move its bill (HSB 713) through committee Thursday ahead of the legislative funnel deadline. The House will also offer a separate bill that would raise the minimum salary for new teachers to $50,000 over two years.

Government reorganization

Legislature advances two proposals to streamline state's boards and commissions

Posted February 14, 2024 at 4:07 PM CST

The Iowa House and Senate are advancing two different proposals to streamline the state’s 256 boards and commissions.

Gov. Kim Reynolds proposed merging and eliminating boards to reduce the total number by about 40%. Republicans in the Senate advanced her bill Wednesday after hearing opposition from Iowans who don’t want their licensing boards merged with other professions.

In the House, lawmakers advanced a much shorter version of the bill that eliminates 49 obsolete boards but doesn’t change professional licensing.

Rep. Jane Bloomingdale, R-Northwood, says it wouldn’t be fair to ask lawmakers to vote on a 300-page bill that came out this week.

“... So I thought, let’s take the more obvious, easy. And I sent it out to everybody on Sunday, what I wanted to do, everyone looked at it, Democrats, Republicans, and this is the list we came up with and said, let’s start here.”

Bloomingdale says she’s still open to adding more of the governor’s ideas to the House bill.

Education

Bill that would arm school employees advances

Posted February 14, 2024 at 1:34 PM CST

A bill creating standards for arming school employees has made it past a legislative deadline this week.

The proposal that passed in the House Public Safety Committee (HSB 675) creates a permit for school staff who volunteer to carry weapons in school buildings. They would have to pass an annual background check and go through training.

Committee chair Rep. Phil Thompson, R-Boone, says the bill is a response to events like the deadly school shooting in Perry last month.

"You know, at the end of the day response time in a desperate situation like this really is everything. And we need to give districts and staff the tools they need to protect our children and protect themselves."

The bill grants qualified immunity to school districts that allow teachers to carry guns. That's a response to insurance companies that have threatened to drop coverage for districts that tried to do it in the past.

Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, says if insurers think it’s too risky to arm teachers, it should give Republican lawmakers pause.

"If the risk is too high for insurance companies, the risk is too high for me. Putting more children in the line of fire is frightening."

The original bill said school districts with more than 8,000 students must have a school resource officer in every high school. But the amended version passed out of committee allows school boards to opt-out of that requirement.

Education

Bill advances that would allow non-residents to sit on charter school boards

Posted February 14, 2024 at 1:33 PM CST

Three years after passing a law expanding charter schools in Iowa, lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow people from out of state to sit on charter school governing boards. Instead of requiring all charter board members to be Iowa residents, the bill proposed by Gov. Kim Reynolds would require only a majority of local residents.

Rep. Sue Cahill, D-Marshalltown, said requiring Iowans on charter school boards was meant to ensure local control.

"... That we had people who lived in Iowa, who are invested in Iowa, who lived in the geographical areas, who made connections with those communities to be part of our charter schools."

The latest batch of eight new charters approved by the Iowa State Board of Education involves charter school management companies based in Florida, California and Ohio.

Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Independence, said those companies have a vested interest in overseeing how the schools are run.

The bill would also give charter schools the right of first refusal to purchase any vacant public school buildings across the state. It was passed out of the Education Committee to the full Iowa House.

Education

Bill is alive that would restrict DEI programs at public universities

Posted February 14, 2024 at 1:31 PM CST

A bill that would restrict diversity, equity and inclusion programs at Iowa’s public universities is still alive in the Iowa House. Any diversity programs that are not required to meet federal or state laws would be eliminated.

Rep. Taylor Collins, R-Mediapolis, mentioned a Gallup Poll that shows confidence in higher education has fallen nationally.

"... I think the reason for that is [for] over a decade now we’ve seen our higher education system become not only more expensive but also more distracted by issues like DEI and others."

Democrats on the House Education Committee said they were concerned about overreach into the public university system.

The amended version of the bill that advanced Tuesday night would add legislators as non-voting members of the Iowa Board of Regents. It would allow for post-tenure reviews of university faculty. It would also cap tuition increases at 3% each year.

VOTING

Bill advances that would ban ballot drop boxes and move up absentee ballot deadlines

Posted February 14, 2024 at 10:11 AM CST

A bill that would ban ballot drop boxes and move up the deadline for returning an absentee ballot is advancing in the Iowa Legislature. Republican lawmakers are also proposing letting absentee ballots be mailed out a bit earlier than current law, and requiring voters to include their driver’s license or voter ID numbers when returning their absentee ballot.

Opponents of the bill say it’ll make voters more confused, as GOP lawmakers have changed Iowa’s voting laws several times in the past few years. Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, proposed the bill.

“I take any statement like that to mean that the voters are stupid. And I disagree with that. I think that they can figure it out. And... rule changes to ensure that election integrity is strong are well worth any small inconvenience, which I believe voters are plenty smart enough to figure out.”

Groups advocating for people with disabilities and older Iowans also oppose the bill because of concerns about making it harder for them to vote.

SAFETY

House advances bill that would require training for nursing home inspectors

Posted February 14, 2024 at 10:06 AM CST

An Iowa House panel advanced a bill Tuesday with bipartisan support that would require joint training for state nursing home inspectors and nursing home workers.

The twice-per-year training would have to include a review of the most frequently issued federal citations.

Rep. Ann Meyer, R-Fort Dodge, says she wants nursing homes to stay open, and that the bill would help develop a more collaborative relationship between inspectors and facilities.

“Our thought process is making sure that complaints in the nursing home are going to be addressed. And the training, we want to make sure that both entities are on the same page, the nursing homes and the inspectors.”

Senate Democrats proposed a package of bills Tuesday that would raise wages for direct care workers and add more state nursing home inspectors. They would also create a board for nursing home oversight and raise the personal needs allowance for long-term care residents on Medicaid.

EDUCATION

Bill advances that would support full-day preschool programs

Posted February 13, 2024 at 3:37 PM CST

A bill advancing out of an Iowa House subcommittee is aimed at supporting more full-day preschool programs across the state.

Currently, a school district receives half of the regular state cost per pupil for each student in preschool.

Republican Rep. Henry Stone says his bill (HF 2357) would provide full funding for the low-income students in those programs.

Katie Trainer is the early childhood director for Oskaloosa schools. She says if lawmakers want to improve reading scores, they should expand access to preschool.

"With all of the governor’s talk about early literacy, early literacy, early literacy, this is an investment in early literacy that we can really target and not have to wait until third grade."

Trainer says Oskaloosa has a waiting list for a pilot program providing full-day preschool. The bill is now headed to the House Education Committee.

SAFETY

Dems propose bills that would address safety issues in nursing homes

Posted February 13, 2024 at 3:37 PM CST

State Senate Democrats are proposing four bills aimed at addressing issues around safety and accountability in Iowa’s nursing homes.

The bills would add more nursing home inspectors, raise the wages of direct-care workers, create a board for nursing home oversight, and raise the personal needs allowance for long-term care residents on Medicaid. They are also proposing alternatives to nursing homes for older Iowans.

Sen. Claire Celsi, D-West Des Moines, says she got input from advocates all over the state to help craft these bills.

“This issue should not be partisan. All of us are going to get old. All of us are going to need care someday to some extent. And we all have family members that need care. So every single one of us should be able to relate to this issue.”

Senate Republicans have rejected Democrats’ request for an oversight hearing about nursing homes. And they’re not likely to advance these bills. House Republicans advanced a bill Tuesday that would require joint training sessions for nursing homes and inspectors.

Public Safety

Two bills advance that would enforce age restrictions online

Posted February 13, 2024 at 2:27 PM CST

Two bills that would enforce age restrictions online were advanced by the Iowa House Judiciary Committee Tuesday. That makes them both viable past this week’s legislative deadline.

One proposal (HF 2255) would require social media companies to have permission from parents before allowing minors to create accounts. Parents would also receive access to see what their children are posting.

The other bill (HF 2114) was amended to require users to prove they’re over 18 years old before they can go on porn sites. Similar measures have passed in several other states in recent years, including Louisiana and Utah, where they have drawn First Amendment legal challenges.

Both bills can now come up for debate in the Iowa House.

Guns

"Ghost guns" bill killed in subcommittee

Posted February 13, 2024 at 2:25 PM CST

A Democrat-backed bill to require Iowans to put a state-issued serial number on guns they manufacture themselves won’t advance in the Iowa House. A key Republican killed the bill at a subcommittee hearing Tuesday.

Supporters of the bill say it could help police trace so-called “ghost guns” that are used in crimes. Trey Jackson with March For Our Lives Iowa says he supports the bill because teens are increasingly able to build or 3D-print guns.

“You’ll see an increase of suicide among youth and an increase in homicide among youth as well.”

Robert Nazario of Iowa Falls opposed the bill. He says it could lead to mandatory gun registration.

“We know that gun grabbers want our guns. How many original colonists would have lined up at a public service building to receive their special markings on their firearms? Absolutely none.”

Rep. Phil Thompson, R-Boone, killed the bill. He says setting up a framework for the state to provide serial numbers for guns “terrifies” him.

GENDER & IDENTITY

House committee hears from Iowans on Reynolds' bill defining "man" and "woman"

Posted February 13, 2024 at 8:54 AM CST

The Iowa House Education Committee heard from Iowans at a public hearing Monday about the governor’s proposal to define words like “man” and “woman” in state law based on a person’s sex at birth.

The bill could allow certain facilities to separate people based on their sex at birth. And it would require transgender Iowans’ birth certificates to include their sex at birth and current sex.

Courtney Collier of Waukee says the bill is based on biology and common sense.

“It is truly ridiculous that we need to codify the definitions in this bill and legislate to keep humans with penises and testicles, also known as boys and men, out of our designated-for-women spaces. However, here we are because the privacy and safety of girls and women are being disregarded and threatened.”

Shea Daniels of Des Moines says as a transgender woman, the bill is unnecessary and would put her in danger.

“I know in my brain and in my heart that I’m a woman. Medical science recognizes this fact. I’m not delusional. I’m not a threat to other women. My identity is not a mental illness. It’s not something that can be erased from me through therapy or legislated away, or even beaten out of me from being forced to use the wrong facilities.”

Supporters of the bill say it’s needed to protect spaces—like locker rooms and domestic violence shelters—that should be reserved for people who are female at birth, while opponents of the bill told lawmakers it seeks to erase LGBTQ Iowans and anyone who doesn’t fit the bill’s definitions of male and female.

Education

Bill advances that would allow school employees to carry guns

Posted February 13, 2024 at 8:49 AM CST

An Iowa House subcommittee is advancing a bill that would allow school employees to carry guns, if their districts choose to allow it. Armed employees in schools would be required to go through regular training on how to respond to shootings. The bill would also require districts with more than 8,000 students to employ at least one school resource officer or security guard at their high schools.

Hannah Hayes of Students Demand Action is a senior at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines. She told lawmakers more guns in schools will not make her feel safer.

"This doesn’t provide enough training or oversight for teachers. It takes resources away from actual solutions such as mental health support, conflict resolution programs and other preventative measures. And it impacts the learning environment by making it feel like we’re living in a war zone, and not at school.

"School officials who spoke in favor of the bill said lawmakers should make certain that districts allowing teachers to carry guns can buy insurance. Cherokee and Spirit Lake schools both repealed armed teacher policies last year because their insurance carrier, EMC, said it would stop covering the districts.

Opponents of the bill questioned a provision that would grant qualified immunity to teachers who are trained to carry guns in schools. They said it doesn’t allow for enough oversight of their conduct.

Labor

Pickets, protests planned over proposal on Iowa’s public sector unions

Posted February 12, 2024 at 3:19 PM CST

A leader in the Teamsters union is calling on members to prepare for action if the Iowa Legislature passes a bill that could dissolve some union bargaining units that represent government employees.

Jesse Case, the secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 238, representing workers in the private sector and state and local government employees, said to prepare for “rolling strikes across the state.”

Public employees in Iowa are barred from striking. A statement on the local Teamsters union’s website does not mention strikes, but says there will be “rallies, pickets, press conferences and protests” against the GOP legislators who back the bill.

“Here’s what we’re going to do: we’re going to take the fight to them,” Case said. “We’re going to take the fight to their town, to their county, to their farm, to their business.”

In 2017, the Legislature passed a law that requires public employees to vote before contract talks begin on whether they want union representation in negotiations.

The proposed bill would automatically end union membership for public sector workers if their employer fails to send a list of eligible voters to the state agency that oversees the recertification elections. The Iowa Public Employment Relations Board says 40% of government agencies failed to submit those lists in the past four years. Republican senators say union members are pressuring their bosses to avoid recertification votes.

Senate Minority Leader Pam Jochumcalled the proposal a “union-busting bill” and said it’s not the union members who failed to follow the law, but their managers.

Education

Bill would call on education department director to review school standards

Posted February 9, 2024 at 8:41 AM CST

A bill in the Iowa House would call on the state’s top education official to lead a comprehensive review of state standards for K-12 schools.

The bill (HF 2329) says the director of the Department of Education should report back with a plan to “return to the basics” of reading, writing, arithmetic and U.S. history.

It also calls for eliminating social-emotional learning and critical race theory, although critical race theory does not exist in school standards.

State lawmakers would be part of the curriculum review committees, but Dave Daughton of the School Administrators of Iowa says the bill should be specific about involving other experts.

“While legislators have a completely great knowledge about how things work in the Legislature, they may not have a great knowledge of Algebra Two.”

The same K-12 standards apply to public schools, charter schools and private schools accredited by the state.

Government reorganization, health

Bill would consolidate 32 mental health, substance abuse services into 7 behavioral health districts

Posted February 8, 2024 at 1:37 PM CST

Lawmakers in a House subcommittee have advanced a bill that would create a new behavioral health system combining the mental health regions with disability services.

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ bill would combine the state’s 32 different substance-use and mental health regions into seven new behavioral health districts.

The system would be under the Department of Health and Human Services and would go into effect on July 1, 2025.

Flora Schmidt, the executive director of the Iowa Behavioral Health Association, says her nonprofit is concerned about the proposed timeline.

“Our members are… they’ve got a lot of angst right now, they just don't know what it's going to mean to their workforce, to their funding and ultimately, their ability to maintain a continuity of services over the next 18 months.”

DHHS Director Kelly Garcia says the proposed plan would streamline services that have a lot of overlap and make it easier for Iowans to get help.

“As part of our assessment work over the last seven months, we have heard from thousands of providers. And they've told us that our system is cumbersome, we say it on the back end, too. And so this, this bill really does take a huge step forward to cure that issue.”

No one spoke out in opposition of the bill, but some had concerns about the timeline and proposed funding structure.

Public resources

Bill advances that would allow city councils to take power from library boards

Posted February 8, 2024 at 1:36 PM CST
FILE - A pile of challenged books appear at the Utah Pride Center in Salt Lake City on Dec. 16, 2021. Attempted book bannings and restrictions at school and public libraries continue to surge, according to a new report from the American Library Association.
Rick Bowmer, File
/
AP Photo
FILE - A pile of challenged books appear at the Utah Pride Center in Salt Lake City on Dec. 16, 2021. Attempted book bannings and restrictions at school and public libraries continue to surge, according to a new report from the American Library Association.

A bill that would allow city councils to strip library boards of their power without letting residents decide on changes at the ballot box is advancing in the Iowa House.

Library directors and board members from across Iowa spoke out against the bill at the Statehouse on Thursday. They say the Legislature should leave the current law in place, which requires any big proposed changes to library boards to be put to a vote of city residents.

Wade Dooley, who chairs the library board in Albion, called the bill a "train wreck."

“It opens up all sorts of possibilities for very disastrous consequences if you get an activist city council that starts see-sawing on what they believe for a library to be or not be. Our city council has barely any training to be a city council. Now you also want them to run a library? I’m sorry, but that’s not a good idea. This bill should be squashed.”

Rep. Carter Nordman, R-Panora, advanced the bill. He says he’s heard from city council members who want more direct control over spending and personnel decisions at libraries.

“City council funds the libraries. There’s personnel issues, there are taxpayer dollars being spent. And these are the individuals who are elected to make those decisions. So if there’s issues with the library board, I think the buck stops at the city council.”

Read the full story.

Crime & Courts

Bill would mean human trafficking victims wouldn’t have to pay damages if convicted of murdering their traffickers

Posted February 8, 2024 at 1:33 PM CST

Under a bill moving forward in the Iowa House, a person convicted of murder would not have to pay damages to the victim’s family if they are themselves a victim of human trafficking.

The proposal (HF 594) follows the nationally publicized case of Pieper Lewis, who was sentenced to supervised probation for killing a man she was forced to have sex with.

Lewis was also ordered to pay $150,000 in restitution to the victims’ family. The judge in the case said he had no choice but to order the payment.

Lawmakers say the legislation now moving to the House floor would give judges the option to decide whether restitution is justified in cases involving a human trafficking victim.

Religion

Proposal to expand religious freedom protections advances

Posted February 8, 2024 at 1:32 PM CST

GOP lawmakers in the House Judiciary Committee are advancing a proposal that would expand religious freedom protections in Iowa, but opponents claim it invites discrimination.

The bill (HSB 614) is modeled after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed 30 years ago.

It says the state must show it has a compelling interest in cases where a person claims their religious rights are violated.

Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, says the balancing test provides a way for courts to uphold religious freedom, while also recognizing that the state sometimes gets to override religious freedom rights.

Rep. Lindsay James, D-Dubuque, says the bill could allow for religious freedom to be used as a justification for violating others’ rights, such as women or same-sex couples.

A Senate version of the same proposal (SF 2095) also recently passed out of committee.

Business

Bill would set new limits on sale of consumable hemp products

Posted February 8, 2024 at 10:13 AM CST
A man and a woman stand facing another women who is inside a vendor booth at the 2023 Des Moines Arts Festival. The couple is drinking Climbing Kites social beverage.
John Ryan
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Courtesy of the Des Moines Arts Festival
Climbing Kites made it's debut for central Iowa outdoor music events at the 2023 Des Moines Arts Festival.

A bill to set new state limits on the sale of hemp-infused pills, food and beverages is eligible for consideration in a House committee.

The 2018 Farm Bill made it legal to grow hemp and a state law passed a year later allows the sale of non-intoxicating hemp products. The bill sets a significant penalty for selling hemp-infused products with high levels of THC, the substance in marijuana that creates that high.

The Iowa Department of Public Safety proposed the bill after seeing an emergence of high potency products with no age restrictions to purchase.

The bill would make it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to buy consumable hemp products in Iowa. Leslie Carpenter of Iowa Mental Health Advocates said research shows a higher incidence of psychotic disorders among teens who’ve consumed products with high levels of THC.

“I fully support medical marijuana. It’s the high potency THC products and that currently a child can walk into a store and purchase them that makes me very concerned.”

Scott Booher, who operates Four Winds Farm and Apothecary in the Amana Colonies, said he makes non-psychoactive products and the bill lumps him in with bad actors.

“Some of these people who are creating high THC products need to be held accountable in a different way, maybe not with people who have low THC products.”

Another hemp grower said he got state permission to produce hemp as a food ingredient on Jan. 31 and this bill attempts to ban it.

Rachel Gulick, who owns House of Glass in Des Moines, which sells consumable hemp products, drew applause from some in the packed Capitol meeting room when she told lawmakers the bill is designed to favor the state-licensed businesses allowed to grow, manufacture and sell medical marijuana in Iowa.

“It seems to me that we are trying to monopolize the industry for a very specific private interest.”

The Republican lawmakers who advanced the bill say “intoxicating hemp products” are being sold and served in Iowa and it’s time for legislators to act.

Immigration

Immigrants rally against Statehouse bills

Posted February 7, 2024 at 4:48 PM CST

Immigrant rights advocates are criticizing Iowa Republican lawmakers for supporting bills that target undocumented immigrants. They held a rally at the Statehouse on Wednesday.

Republican lawmakers have advanced a bill that would prevent undocumented immigrants from getting in-state college tuition. They’re considering a new crime of human smuggling that opponents say would criminalize driving undocumented immigrants to a doctor’s appointment, and have once again advanced bills that would require employers to use a federal system to check the immigration status of job applicants.

Vanessa Marcano-Kelly with Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice says lawmakers who support these bills aren’t interested in real solutions.

“Legislators are following an obvious and tired trend. Every election year they attack immigrants and lean into misinformation and fear to try to mobilize their voters.”

Marcano-Kelly says these bills are attacks on essential workers, young people who dream of higher education and low-income families who are going through a hard time. 

Education

Plan to improve reading scores passes, but required test for teachers faces some pushback

Posted February 7, 2024 at 4:10 PM CST

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ plan to improve reading scores in Iowa passed out of a House subcommittee on Wednesday, but a required test for teachers ran into some opposition.

Reynolds wants to align reading instruction with research on how children learn to read. Her bill would require many new and existing teachers to pass an exam on reading instruction, including early childhood and special education teachers.

Rep. Tom Moore, R-Griswold, reminded a House subcommittee that lawmakers got rid of a licensure test two years ago because it was viewed as a barrier for new teachers.

“We have teacher prep institutions and I think it would be great for those institutions to be held accountable for making sure that these things are taught. But to put it on an assessment will do nothing but lower the number of reading teachers that we have.”

Department of Education director McKenzie Snow told lawmakers on a House subcommittee that Iowa needs to make changes to improve both federal and state reading scores.

“Our NAEP scores in fourth grade reading show about 33% of fourth graders are reaching grade-level proficiency. And then our ISASP scores, or state summative assessment scores, show that about 73% of fourth graders are proficient in ELA.”

Reynolds’ bill would inform parents that they can hold students back in third grade if they are not reading at grade level. From third through sixth grade, schools would have to make reading plans for students that need help improving their skills.

Lawsuits

Bill advances that would limit Iowans’ ability to sue pesticide companies

Posted February 7, 2024 at 4:08 PM CST