This week in the Iowa Legislature

The first week of the 90th General Assembly kicked off on Monday and the Governor and Republican majorities in the Iowa House and Senate outlined an ambitious agenda for the next 110 days. More than 50 new legislators and their returning colleagues were sworn in on Monday. Typical ceremonial activities directed the week including the Governor’s Condition of the State address on Tuesday night, but then legislative committee activity started at a quick pace. In an unusual fashion, the Senate held a few subcommittee hearings on legislation including the Governor’s education reform and school choice proposal on Thursday. We only expect next week to get busier!

Condition of the State

On Tuesday night during primetime Governor Reynolds delivered her annual Condition of the State Address outlining a very bold agenda for the session with a huge emphasis on her education reform and school choice package. Highlights include:

  • School Choice: The Students First Act, or SSB 1022, allows public school students to attend private institutions using state funding while also including more pay for teachers.
  • Paternal Involvement Non-Profit Grant: This grant would fund programs encouraging more paternal involvement and provide non-profit relief to at-risk dads. The goal is to reduce abortions.
  • Medical Health Care Apprenticeship: An increase in funding for the state’s medical health care apprenticeship program from $3 million to $15 million. The goal is to build more staff in the medical field to help with the overwhelming surge of patients.
  • Tort Reform: Approve a new reform placing limits on damages in medical malpractice lawsuits.
  • Penalties for Fentanyl Distributors: An increase in criminal penalties for individuals who manufacture and distribute fentanyl that leads to overdoses or death.
  • Decrease Executive Branch Agencies: A reduction in Iowa’s executive branch agencies from 37 to 16 by merging branches.

Governor’s Administrative Rules Moratorium

In what was arguably the most surprising announcement from the Governor’s Condition of the State, she revealed a moratorium on administrative rulemaking starting Feb. 1, 2023. This caught many legislators and state officials off guard, but we learned rules will be allowed to move forward if they meet arduous necessity requirements or are implementing new legislation. The full executive order with all the new requirements can be found here. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have specific questions about this. 

Legislative Leadership Priorities

In addition to the Governor announcing her agenda, the leaders of each legislative caucus highlighted their priorities for the session this week as well. The priorities mentioned by the leaders in each caucus include:

  • House Republicans: School Choice and Public School Funding Flexibility, Gun Rights Expansion, Rural Hospital Support, School Curriculum Transparency, Tort Reform, and Property Tax Reform
  • House Democrats: Lowering Cost of Living, Investing in Public Schools, Legalizing Marijuana, Protecting Reproductive Rights
  • Senate Republicans: School Choice, Property Tax Reform, Workforce, and Regulatory Reform
  • Senate Democrats: Workforce, Childcare, Opposing School Vouchers, LGBTQ Rights, and Property Tax Reform for Middle and Lower Class

Governor’s Budget Recommendations  

Governor Reynolds released her budget Tuesday night, calling for an increase in state spending to $8.4 billion in 2024. This is an increase of $271.8 million or 3.3 percent from FY 2023, leaving nearly $2 billion in surplus. You can find the full budget details here. If you receive a budget allocation and didn’t hear from us, your appropriation has been recommended for level funding. Below are some of the new spending highlights in her recommended budget:

  • Education Saving Accounts: A large majority of the increased funding in the proposed budget goes to the Governor’s newly proposed Educational Savings Accounts, which will receive $106.9 million in its first year of operation. This program allocates money for parents to enroll their children in any accredited nonpublic school.
  • Department of Health and Human Services: The newly merged Department of Health and Human Services would see a $15 million increase for Medicaid, with the new funds designated for increasing reimbursement rates for nursing homes.
  • The Judicial Branch: The Judicial Branch would receive an additional $18 million. As part of changes to child welfare and juvenile justice programs being imposed on states by Congress, $14.5 million of this increase will support the transfer of two juvenile justice programs.
  • Highway Safety: The Iowa Highway Patrol’s budget would increase by $15.6 million as the result of the Governor’s proposal to move Motor Vehicle Enforcement from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Public Safety and the General Fund.
  • Infrastructure: Infrastructure project spending would decrease significantly from FY2023, as the number of available dollars in the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund drops from $292 million to $216.7 million. This decrease was expected as gambling revenues have decreased to previous levels.

Condition of the Judiciary

Chief Justice Susan Larson Christensen delivered her third Condition of the Judiciary address on Wednesday, highlighting the need to increase judicial staff to meet the demands of the system. A current shortage of court reporters, attorneys, and judges has slowed the system down substantially. Justice Christensen also requested increased funding to meet increased demand. Here is the link to her full speech.

Condition of the Guard

Adjutant General Benjamin Corell delivered the Condition of the Guard speech on Thursday. He said that the Iowa National Guard has nearly 10,000 members with only 2,000 being full-time. General Corell reported the COVID-19 pandemic has put a damper on recruitment and has seen a reduction in younger generations joining the Guard. The Iowa Guard scholarship program is the most successful way to recruit new members and there continues to be a high demand for those scholarships. Here is the link to his full address.

Looking Ahead

Due to the federal holiday of Martin Luther King Day, the legislature will not meet on Monday. However, we expect Tuesday through Thursday to be incredibly busy with a substantial uptick in bill introductions and subcommittee hearings as the committee process gets underway.