As we enter what we hope are the final weeks of the session we note they have been strangely quiet so far. Currently, signs are pointing to an on-time-ish adjournment as the Senate released its status quo budget bills and the House members began giving their retirement speeches. Last-minute policy bills from the Ways and Means and Appropriations Committees came to the chamber floors for debate throughout the week.

Governor Reynolds received several bills approved by both chambers and signed a few into law this week. Policy work is nearly complete for the year, and legislators must now reach a budget agreement and potentially pass an income tax bill in the next two weeks if they want to adjourn on schedule.

Bills Signed by the Governor this Week

  • Religious Freedom Restoration Act: On Tuesday, Governor Reynolds signed SF 2095. Similar to the federal act passed in 1993, this bill aims to protect Iowans exercising their religious freedom. Democrats opposed the bill arguing it would allow unchecked discrimination against LBGTQ+ individuals.
  • Repealing Gender Balance Regulations: On Wednesday, Governor Reynolds signed SF 2096, which allows state boards and commissions to choose individuals regardless of their gender. Since the 1980s, all state-appointed bodies have been required to appoint an equal number of men and women. The bill proponents argued it was outdated and this will allow positions to be selected solely on merit.

Budget Process

The House and Senate have yet to come to a budget agreement or release joint budget targets. The two chambers are $82 million apart as we hear budget chairs are meeting to negotiate the chambers’ spending priorities. The overwhelming majority of new money in the budget is already earmarked for education and Medicaid programs, so final negotiations are on what limited resources remain.

As shown in the chart below, House leadership has already outlined individual subcommittee budget targets while the Senate has only released a topline number. The House has yet to release any of its budget bills, but the Senate is moving bills using last year’s spending levels to keep the process moving. We are hearing the House could start releasing its budget bills early next week.

Consumable Hemp Restrictions

Three weeks ago, the House amended and passed HF 2605, which changes the consumable hemp program by imposing THC potency limits on all products and a 21-year-old age minimum. On Tuesday, the Senate debated the House’s bill and passed it along party lines. Bill manager, Senator Dawson stated the impetus for the legislation stems from concern about people misusing hemp products in place of the state’s medical cannabis program. Advocates expressed concern about removing hemp products from the marketplace as a safer alternative to opioids. Many Iowans depend on federally legal full-spectrum consumable hemp products that have no psychoactive effects to help with pain management and mitigate seizures. The bill has now passed both chambers and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.

Pesticide Warning Labels

On Tuesday, the Senate passed SF 2412, with four Republicans voting against the bill. The bill would prevent Iowans from pursuing civil liability lawsuits against pesticide producers if the product’s label adheres to Environmental Protection Agency guidelines and federal regulations. Bayer, a leading pharmaceutical company, initiated the legislation and asserts their products are safe and their labels align with EPA regulations. Despite this, critics highlight one of Bayer’s EPA-approved products, the herbicide spray Roundup, is allegedly associated with increased cancer rates. Thousands of Americans have sued Bayer over Roundup, leading to a settlement where the company paid out over $11 billion. Republicans spoke in favor of the SF 2414, arguing pesticides like Roundup play an integral part in the agricultural industry and frivolous lawsuits against chemical companies may pull the product from Iowa’s shelves. The bill awaits consideration from the House Ways and Means Committee where a companion bill was supposed to be considered but was tabled this week.

Looking Ahead

13 weeks down, and it’s unclear how many weeks are left. Everyone including lobbyists, legislators, and staff, find ourselves waiting for lawmakers in long caucus sessions more than anything else. We have heard whispers of another income tax bill hitting lawmakers’ desks for consideration, but nothing has been introduced yet. We still anticipate the session wrapping up the week of April 16th, the scheduled last day. As previously noted, the Senate and House leadership must find compromise on budget issues quickly in order for an on-time sine die.