This week in the Iowa Legislature

The week started off slow as the legislative systems were all down on Monday preventing the House from holding their scheduled floor debate. However, they made up for lost time on Tuesday and Wednesday by packing in subcommittee and committee work followed by long caucus meetings and extensive floor debate in both chambers. With the March 31st Second Funnel Deadline looming, lawmakers have just one week to get their priority bills through a subcommittee and full committee in the opposite chamber for the bill to be considered for the remainder of the session. We expect next week to be entirely focused on subcommittee hearings and committee blocks with little to no floorwork.

House Votes to Limit Eminent Domain for CO2 Pipelines  

The Iowa House approved legislation which would restrict carbon dioxide pipeline companies’ ability to use eminent domain on a bipartisan vote of 73-20. The bill would require pipeline companies to obtain voluntary easements for 90% of their routes before they could use eminent domain for the rest. It would also expand landowners’ ability to get compensation for crop yield damages that result from pipeline construction and create a study committee to evaluate current eminent domain regulations. There are currently three proposed carbon pipeline projects under development in Iowa. The bill’s passage is particularly notable as neither the Iowa Senate nor Governor Reynolds have indicated support for the proposal to date.

Overall State Budget Targets Released

The House released its overall state budget target this week following the Senate announcement last week. The House’s target is higher than those set by the Senate and Governor. Speaker Grassley indicated the new money would be primarily used to increase reimbursement rates for nursing homes in the state. Below are the overall budget targets from each chamber and the Governor as we expect individual budget targets to be released in the next few weeks and negotiations to start in earnest at that time.

  • Governor Reynolds Budget Target: $8.489 billion
  • Iowa Senate Budget Target: $8.486 billion
  • Iowa House Budget Target: $8.58 billion

Senate Passes Stronger SNAP Eligibility Requirements

The Iowa Senate passed new eligibility requirements for Iowans receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits on partisan lines. Senate File 494 would require Iowa families on SNAP to match federal asset test guidelines meaning households with liquid assets of more than $15,000 would not be eligible for benefits. It would also create a new system for the Iowa Health and Human Services Department to verify families’ income, assets, and identities in order to apply and remain eligible for these benefits. The fiscal analysis of the bill revealed the new system would likely cost more than the projected savings of removing Iowans from SNAP or other programs for the first few years of implementation. The companion bill, House File 613, has passed through the House Health and Human Services Committee, but it has not yet moved through the appropriations process. We have heard members in the House Republican caucus have significant concerns with the bill.

Hands-Free Driving Legislation Passes Iowa Senate

A bill banning the use of a handheld phone or device while driving passed through the Iowa Senate on Wednesday on a strong bipartisan vote of 47-3. Senate File 547 would establish fines for drivers who use their phones behind the wheel without voice-activated or hands-free technology. Law enforcement has argued it is difficult to enforce Iowa’s current distracted-driving laws because drivers are allowed to have a phone in their hands while driving. The bill has wide-ranging support from stakeholder groups and must now go through the House committee process by next Friday to be eligible for the remainder of the session. Supporters and advocates believe this is the year for the bill to become law!

Governor Signs Gender Affirming Care Ban and “Bathroom Bill”

Governor Kim Reynolds signed several bills into law on Wednesday, including a ban on gender-affirming care for minors and a requirement that individuals can only use school bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender assigned at birth. Health care providers now have six months to cease providing gender-related medical treatment to transgender youth. Gov. Reynolds argued the legislation was necessary to protect children because the long-term impact of gender affirming care has not been studied in the United States. Reynolds argued she was doing what was in “best interest of the kids”. Meanwhile, Minnesota’s Governor has issued a statement welcoming these families to the north. Several LGBTQ, education, and health care advocates have spoken out against the bills. The Legislature is poised to pass additional legislation related to LGBTQ and gender discussion in schools. This week the Iowa Senate advanced a bill restricting books and instruction related to LGBTQ identities in Iowa classrooms and libraries. It is expected to pass the House.

Looking Ahead

We have made it to the Second Legislative Funnel week! As of Friday (3/31), all bills other than Appropriations and Ways and Means bills (taxes & fees), will need to be passed out of a full committee in both chambers to be considered the rest of the session. This week will likely be completely consumed by subcommittee and committee work after both chambers passed a substantial number of bills across the rotunda this past week. The committee blocks won’t come to an end until late Thursday afternoon. Both chambers could sprinkle in some floor debate, but we expect that to be minimal, if at all. After the funnel deadline, we expect individual budget targets to be announced and then budget bills to be introduced in the next few weeks as adjournment is scheduled for April 28th, just five weeks away.