This week in the Iowa Legislature

The pace of the legislative session shifted to more of a crawl this week. The chambers are deadlocked in negotiations on a budget target and property tax legislation with little progress being made. The Senate hasn’t debated any bills on the floor since March 22 and this week they only held committee meetings on Tuesday to confirm governor appointments and a handful of Ways and Means subcommittees. Meanwhile, the House passed 14 noncontroversial bills on Tuesday, three of which were sent to the Governor to sign. On Wednesday and Thursday, the House took up more controversial bills including expanding gun rights and reducing SNAP benefits, in addition to moving several Appropriations and Ways and Means bills through their respective committees.

House Passes Gun Bill

On Wednesday House Republicans passed legislation allowing individuals to have guns in locked vehicles while on school and college property. House File 654 also prohibits insurance companies from refusing to insure Iowa schools that have armed staff on school grounds. It passed on a vote of 62-37 with Republican Reps Ingels and G. Mohr joining the Democrats opposing the bill. Rep. Holt, the floor manager, said the bill would protect Second Amendment rights and allow more freedom for responsible gun owners while House Democrats criticized the majority party for passing restrictions on schools’ teaching about certain issues while lowering limits on gun access on and around school properties. Democrats said lawmakers were missing an opportunity to pass gun control measures, like requiring background checks for private sales at a time when gun violence is rising. The bill is now eligible for consideration in the Senate, where its companion, Senate File 543, has already passed through the committee process.

New SNAP Asset Test Eligibility Requirements Passes House 

On Thursday the House passed legislation requiring Iowans receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to go through an asset test to continue receiving benefits. Senate File 494 would require Iowa families on SNAP to have a maximum of $15,000 in assets to remain eligible. The bill 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. Through the process of offering 18 amendments, Democrats argued SNAP enrollment is at an all-time low, and food pantries can’t keep up with the public’s demand. Representative Fry, the floor manager, said the new verification process will ensure the recipients of benefits are eligible and could help the HHS identify applicants who are eligible for additional benefits. The Legislative Services Agency issued a Fiscal Note on the bill which shows it may cost the state more money than it saves.

The LSA based its analysis on the assumption that 1% of recipients will have their benefits canceled due to discrepancies.  It is expected that 8,000 Medicaid recipients, 600 CHIP recipients, 100 FIP recipients, and 2,800 SNAP recipients will lose their benefits due to the implementation of this bill. The LSA expects the bill to cost the HHS and Iowa Workforce Development (IWD) about $7.5 million for staff and technology costs, with a majority of these costs expected in the next two fiscal years for implementation. In FY26 and FY27, the costs to HHS/IWD are expected to be about $6.1 million, with a cost of about $5 million for the 3rd-party vendor. The legislation passed the Senate in late March and passed the House by a vote of 58-41 with five Republicans Dunwell, Lohse, Siegrist, Charley Thomson, and Young voting with Democrats against the bill. It is now on the Governor’s desk awaiting her signature.

The House Keeps their Property Tax Bill Moving

The House Ways and Means Committee advanced legislation to reduce property taxes on Thursday. HF 1 would reduce the uniform levy rate for school district property, cap the annual value of assessment changes to no more than 3% percent, and require entities to post notices about property tax rate changes and the use of those funds. Republicans say their proposal will reduce Iowans’ property tax bill with new rules on how cities, counties, and schools determine property values and fund projects. The bill, in most cases, prevents a residential or agricultural property tax bill from increasing by more than 3 percent over the preceding year, while a commercial or industrial property tax bill could not increase by more than 8 percent. The bill passed unanimously with bipartisan support, but Democrats noted some improvements were needed before they would support the legislation on the House floor.

Rule Change for Iowa Caucuses Moves Forward

This week Rep. Bobby Kauffman introduced a bill to require individuals participating in party caucus events to register with the party 70 days in advance of the caucus and attend the caucus event in person. This bill thwarts Democrats’ proposed “mail-in” caucus plan, and House Democrats vocally opposed the legislation. HSB 245 advanced through subcommittee Wednesday, and the full Ways and Means Committee on Thursday. It is now eligible for consideration on the House floor. The bill, which Kaufmann says is intended “save the Iowa caucuses,” was bolstered when the New Hampshire Secretary of State indicated they would jump ahead of Iowa on the primary calendar if Democrats moved forward with their mail-in voting caucus procedure.

Budget Process

Little progress was made on the budget this week. Last week, the Senate was criticized for implementing a new process by passing shell bills through the subcommittee and committee process with no numbers. In the meantime, House Budget Chairs spent the past week working with the Appropriations Committee Chair and their leaders to review their budget proposals before introducing them. House leaders stated they will utilize the time trusted process to move the bills through the subcommittee and committee process before they come to the House Floor. House targets are listed in the chart below as we await the Senate’s individual budget targets, hopefully to be announced in the coming week.

Leadership in both chambers will continue having conversations on the budget as they try to reach a consensus on overall targets. The House proposed a $8.58B plan for 2024, which is an increase of about 4.5 percent from FY2023. It includes a 3 percent increase in state funding for K-12 public schools and a new law adjusting an erroneous property tax formula, which added nearly $45M more to state income. Their budget targets also include another $50M of priorities House Republicans intend to still advance this session. Their proposal is roughly $90M more than the budget proposed by Governor Reynolds and the Senate.

Below is the updated chart outlining each individual budget bill, its number, and where it is in the overall process. This chart will be updated each week until the legislature adjourns.

Bill Number Department Status House Target
SF 557 Admin & Reg Passed SENATE full committee 4/4 $70.48M
SF 558 Ag & Natural Resources Passed SENATE full committee 4/4 $43.54M
SF 559 Economic Development Passed SENATE full committee 4/4  $42.11M
HF 709 Federal Block Grants Passed HOUSE 99-0 in SENATE committee 4/13 N/A
SF 560 Education Passed SENATE full committee 4/4 $984.92M
SF 561 Health & Human Services Passed SENATE full committee 4/4 $2.135B
SF 562 Judicial Branch Passed SENATE full committee 4/4 $885.84M
SF 563 Justice Systems Passed SENATE full committee 4/4 Combined with Judicial
Not yet introduced Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund (RIIF/TIC) TBA
Not yet introduced Transportation TBA
Not yet introduced Standings $4.416B


Looking Ahead

14 weeks down and it is still unclear how many weeks are left. Everyone including lobbyists, legislators, and staff find ourselves doing a lot more waiting around and that is when lawmakers are actually in the building. Neither chamber signaled a deal was cut or an on-time adjournment was realistic when they issued their ‘light’ schedules for next week indicating possible work on Tuesday and or Wednesday. We’ve heard an array of assumptions varying from the Senate doing committee work and the House not coming at all to the House moving their budget bills through the process. In the meantime, we expect the pace to remain the same until a final deal is struck between the two chambers. As always, we will continue to keep you posted as we learn more.