This week in the Iowa Legislature

Republicans in both chambers were able to pass another longtime priority during the fifth week of the 2023 session. The week started with Governor Kim Reynolds signing a 3% increase in state aid for Iowa’s K-12 public schools then the conversation turned to medical malpractice tort reform which consumed the rest of the time and energy left at the statehouse. Both the House and Senate also passed a handful of noncontroversial bills on the floor this week. Bills continue to be introduced at a slower than normal rate, but as soon as they come down hearings are scheduled quickly to keep priorities moving through the process with the first funnel deadline just three weeks away.

State Supplemental Aid for K-12 Schools Signed into Law

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a 3% increase in state aid for Iowa’s K-12 public schools into law on Tuesday after the bill passed the Iowa House and Senate. The increase amounts to $107 million more for Iowa’s public schools in Fiscal Year 2024. Republicans voted down two Democratic amendments to raise the increase to 5.85%, and to add $10 in per-pupil funding for districts that are currently at a lower cost per student. Iowa State Education Association President Mike Beranek said the 3% increase does not address “the rising cost of inflation” nor the effects of lawmakers underfunding Iowa’s public schools for over a decade. Republican lawmakers such as House Speaker Pat Grassley touted the legislation as a success and a “record level of investment” in education.

Medical Malpractice Tort Reform

A bill capping noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits passed both chambers of the Iowa Legislature on Wednesday. House File 161 would cap noneconomic damages in lawsuits against health care providers in medical incidents that result in the loss or impairment of a bodily function, disfigurement, or death at $1 million for clinics and individual doctors and $2 million for hospitals. Despite being a legislative priority of Gov. Reynolds, Republicans did not present a unified front on medical malpractice liability limits. Sixteen Republicans in the House and the Senate voted against the legislation. Advocates of the bill like Representative Ann Meyer, R-Fort Dodge, argued setting a liability limit can help health care providers stay open and lawmakers have a responsibility “to keep the medical system intact.” Opponents of the bill including Senator Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, argued the limits further victimize people who have to contend with the consequences of a medical malpractice incident for the rest of their life. The legislation is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds on Friday.

Child Labor Law Proposal

A new bill which advanced through a Senate Workforce Subcommittee on Thursday would completely rewrite Iowa’s child labor laws. The legislation, Senate File 167, would allow teens to work in fields previously deemed too hazardous amid a worker shortage. The list of jobs kids under the age of 18 are not allowed to hold, such as working in slaughterhouses and meatpacking or rendering plants would remain, but a new section would make exceptions to any of the prohibited jobs if kids aged 14-17 are participating in an approved training program. The bill would also shield businesses from liability if a child got sick, injured, or killed due to the company’s negligence. Several groups including the Iowa Association for Justice and Iowa AFL-CIO voiced strong opposition to the bill in the subcommittee. In a statement, Charlie Wishman, President of the Iowa Federation of Labor, said “rolling back child labor law isn’t the answer to anything”. Business organizations and the Restaurant Association supported pieces of the legislation while commenting amendments were necessary.

Looking Ahead

The House is expected to pass the property tax multi-residential valuation fix legislation early in the week and committee work will continue to be a priority for both chambers. With the first funnel deadline now just three weeks away, subcommittees will only increase in number and the length of full committee blocks will likely be long. To stay up to date on scheduled hearings as the process moves forward rapidly, here is a list of scheduled committees and subcommittees with their virtual access information can be found at the provided link.