This week in the Iowa Legislature

Lawmakers spared no time jumping into floor action after a very busy funnel week. The next phase of session has started, and the gears have shifted from continuous subcommittee and committee meetings to lengthy caucus sessions and floor debate. First thing Monday, the House debated and passed several noncontroversial bills on the floor. Meanwhile, the Senate started the week debating more contentious bills including the governor’s proposal expanding postpartum Medicaid coverage and a bill to allow government agencies to use private CPAs rather than the State Auditor.

The statehouse was bustling on Wednesday with Teamster members holding a protest on the steps outside the Capitol and circling the Capitol with semitrucks blaring their horns all afternoon. The demonstration was in opposition to Senate File 2734 which would decertify unions if their public employees do not submit the correct paperwork to the state Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) on time. Then Wednesday evening the House held a public hearing for their AEA proposal which received substantial feedback from countless concerned parents, teachers, and administrators.

We expect the focus on floor debate to continue next week and then the policy committee process to restart in earnest the week of March 4th leading up to the second funnel deadline on March 15th

Notable Bills Debated This Week

As noted above, the House focused largely on noncontroversial bills this week until Thursday when they debated SSA, the K-12 education funding bill, while the Senate agenda was full of fireworks all week!

  • State Auditor Bypass: Senate File 2311 would allow state-funded public entities to contract public accountants to conduct the annual audits instead of the state auditor’s office. The state auditor would not have the ability to review or access the agencies’ audits. Senate Democrats claim the bill is purposefully geared at State Auditor Sand, the only statewide elected Democrat. The Senate passed the legislation on a party-line 31-16 vote.
  • Post-Partum Medicaid Coverage: Governor Reynolds’ postpartum Medicaid expansion proposal hit the Senate debate floor Monday afternoon. With a 34-13 vote, three Democrats voted with Republicans to pass Senate File 2251. The bill would expand postpartum Medicaid coverage for new mothers from 60 days to 12 months while reducing eligibility based on income. Senator Peterson offered an amendment to strike the eligibility limitations, but it failed on a party-line vote.
  • Religious Freedom Bill: On Tuesday, Senators passed a state version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). This is the furthest the RFRA bill has come in five years of trying. Senate File 2095 would raise the legal standard for proving the government has restricted a person’s exercise of religion. Despite RFRA passing under former President Bill Clinton and a Democratic majority in Congress, the Senate Democrats opposed the bill arguing it permits discrimination based on religion. After over an hour of debate, the legislation passed on a 31-16 party-line vote and moves to the House.
  • Government Notice in Newspapers: This legislation requires newspapers to include a statewide governmental public notice section either in their paper or on their website. Senate File 2331 would require newspapers to publish the public notice within 72 hours of receiving it or pay a fine. The Iowa Public Information Board is the authority in charge of enforcing and settling disputes regarding public notices in newspapers. The legislation passed with nine Democrats joining Republicans in support.
  • Foreign Land Ownership: Another Governor’s priority sailed through the Senate on Monday with a unanimous vote. Senate File 2204 would require any foreign business, government, or nonresident that own farmland in Iowa to register twice a year with the Secretary of the State and increases penalties for noncompliance. The Governor released a statement stating: “Iowa plays a major role in feeding and fueling the world, and it is important we maintain our dominance. I am pleased that the Senate passed my bill providing greater protection for Iowa farmland and increasing penalties for foreign owners that don’t comply with our laws.” A companion bill passed a House committee last week and is now eligible for House floor debate.
  • House K-12 Education Funding: On Thursday afternoon, the House debated Supplemental State Aid (SSA) for K-12 education. This debate was their most heated of the week with Democrats offering an amendment doubling the House Republicans’ proposal of a 3% increase in school funding. Democrats argued this would be in line with the $330 million for private schools from last session. After a spirited debate, the bill passed on party lines 60-36. The Governor proposed a 2.5% increase, and the Senate has yet to set a number, but the House is insisting on 3%. This debate will continue in the coming weeks.

Hot Topics That Failed First Funnel:

  • Free School Lunch
  • Criminalizing Homelessness
  • Reinstating the Death Penalty
  • Chaplains in School Districts
  • Expanding Medical Cannabis
  • Reclassifying Gender Identity
  • Anonymous Environmental Complaints
  • Age Verification for Viewing Pornography
  • Permanent Daylight Savings
  • Raising Minimum Wage to $15
  • City Councils Overseeing Libraries
  • Nursing Home Reform

Looking Ahead

The first week following the initial funnel deadline lived up to expectations with lively floor debate. We expect more of the same next week with a little committee work, primarily in Ways and Means and Appropriations, sprinkled between debate and caucus sessions. Some subcommittees are being scheduled for next week, but we really expect those to increase significantly the week of March 4th as the push towards the second funnel really gets underway. To stay up to date on scheduled committees and subcommittees and their virtual access information, follow this link.

Bills of Interest

Advocacy Strategies continues to ensure that every bill pertaining to you will be tracked. Along with this email report each week you will see a bill tracker chart developed by our new bill tracking system, AdvoKit. Please review this and confirm your declared bills are correct. Please let us know if there are any changes that need to be made.

Our ability to best represent you is based on quick and open communication. Once the legislative session progresses further, our requests for bill declarations will increase substantially. We ask you to let us know your organization’s position on each bill within 24 hours of your receiving daily bills in AdvoKit so we can respond accordingly.