This week in the Iowa Legislature
The second week of the 90th General Assembly started slow with the legislature having MLK Day off, but both chambers picked up their pace first thing Tuesday as they raced to introduce bills and move them through the subcommittee process. We even saw bills move through the full committee process by the end of the week. Leader Windschitl said they expect to have floor debate on House rules and the Education Savings Account bill next week, and the following week they will start passing other bills over to the Senate. By Thursday, things had quieted down as most legislators headed back home to escape the mid-week winter storm.
Education Savings Accounts on the Fast Track
As promised, the Governor’s priority education reform and school choice package legislation is moving quickly through the legislative process. Last week, the bills were passed out of subcommittees, and this week they moved through the respective House and Senate Committees and thousands of people attended a public hearing where Iowans spoke for and against the bill. Next week, the bill is expected to be debated on the floor in both chambers and could be sent to the Governor.
Republican leaders in both chambers have been criticized by members in their own caucus, Democrats, and the public for moving the bill so quickly. The House changed their own Rules to avoid the Appropriations and Ways and Means Committees which would have slowed progress on the bill. The Governor applauded the legislature’s work and said “It’s time for the government to get out of the way and allow parents the freedom of choice in education. Iowans deserve to see where their elected leaders stand.” On the other hand, Democrats blasted Republicans stating the bills are not ready for floor work because the cost estimates are uncertain, the bill lacks provisions to ensure accountability, and it could take more than $300 million away from public schools that are already underfunded. Senator Wahls said Republicans are rushing the bill forward because it is unpopular with the majority of Iowans.
House Passes Workforce Grant Bill
A House Appropriations subcommittee unanimously passed HF6 this week. One of House Republicans’ priorities is to address workforce issues, and this bill will create a grant program aimed at funding scholarships for students in Iowa’s high-demand, high-growth occupations. The bill would give grants for tuition and provide an incentive for employment in Iowa in an aligned field. We expect the bill will be amended and limited to white collar jobs in certain fields based on comments by legislators. It has been said a separate, targeted high demands job list from the one currently used by the state could be developed.
Elimination of Gender-Balance Requirements
Although education reform commanded everyone’s attention this week, another bill, SSB 1037, garnered some media attention as well. Sen. Jason Schultz, Chair of the Senate State Government Committee, introduced legislation to eliminate gender-balance requirements for state-created boards and commissions. Schultz believes the issue has resolved itself. A majority of those in attendance expressed concerns and urged the subcommittee to oppose the bill because it has done good for Iowa, and they don’t want the state to go backwards. The bill moved forward on a party line vote and is expected to be brought before the full State Government Committee within the next few weeks.
Lobby Days in Full Swing
In-person lobby days are back in full swing at the Statehouse. New and tenured policymakers alike have engaged with Advocacy Strategies’ clients to learn about their organization and their policy agendas. We are pleased to say they have been a big success thus far. Lobby days are a great way to share your organizational goals with policy makers and legislative staff and learn a little more about them and their interests.
The third week will be the legislature’s first full week of work. We expect the pace to quicken in both chambers with a full committee and subcommittee schedule set for the first full week of the legislature. A list of scheduled committees and subcommittees with their virtual access information can be found at the provided link. We expect the Governor’s education reform and school choice package will be debated by the full House and Senate as early as Monday.