This week in the Iowa Legislature

It was a very busy seventh week at the Capitol with bills moving nonstop through the subcommittee and committee process. Next week is Funnel Week, which means the pace and intensity will only increase. Subcommittees have already been scheduled to start early on Monday and committee blocks have been extended to accommodate the substantial workload. All policy bills must make it out of subcommittee and one full committee in their respective chamber by Friday, March 3rd to be considered further, though Ways and Means and Appropriations issues are not subject to the funnel deadline.

Government Reorganization

Legislators and staff are continuing to work through the Governor’s 1,700-page government reorganization bill. The Senate wrapped up their subcommittee work this week and passed the bill out of the State Government Committee after amending it. On the other side of the rotunda, the House only started their subcommittee week this week, meeting every day for an hour to give members time to sort through the details of the bill. The House has at least one more meeting scheduled on Monday to continue to work through the bill. Several groups expressed concerns with the proposals to change term appointments to serving “at the pleasure of the Governor.” Opponents argue this allows for more political appointments and possible corruption. Other concerns raised include combining departments and conflicts of interest within those departments. The bills are still facing challenges and will likely be amended before being finalized. The Senate also indicated they are looking at additional amendments to address concerns raised by the Department of the Blind and Deaf, Cultural Affairs, the Child Advocacy Board, as well as technical and corrective amendments.

An outline of some of the proposed changes are below. House Republicans stated they will continue to diligently review the legislation and speak to stakeholders to ensure that government realignment is used as a method to improve the responsiveness and effectiveness of the Government without sacrificing services and accountability.

Department of Health & Human Services Reorganization
The Department of Health and Human Services would absorb several agencies and programs that serve related services. Early Childhood Iowa would move from the Department of Management and Volunteer Iowa would move from Iowa Economic Development Authority to DHHS. The Department on Aging and the Department of Human Rights would move their services into respective divisions in the DHHS.

Department of Inspections, Appeals, and Licenses Reorganization
The Department of Inspections and Appeals would be renamed the Department of Inspections, Appeals, and Licensing (DIAL). Currently, the Department protects the health and safety of Iowans through regulatory and licensing functions. This bill would move more licensing and regulatory services under one Department to provide a more efficient service. The licensing and management of 136 professional licenses is currently overseen by 11 state agencies. Under DIAL the majority of those licenses would consolidate under the Licensing Division in DIAL.

Additionally, Division of Labor and the Division of Workers Compensation would move from Iowa Workforce Development and operate as divisions within DIAL. Administrative Law Judges would also move under DIAL to provide a centralized location for hearing administrative appeals.”

Eminent Domain Limitations

New legislation regarding CO2 pipeline projects was introduced in the Iowa House on Monday with 22 Republican cosponsors including House Speaker Grassley. The bill, House File 368, would place more restrictions on pipeline permits, requiring companies to get voluntary easements from landowners on at least 90% of the projected path. The bill is a response to proposals by three companies hoping to construct more than 1,500 miles of pipe in Iowa to transport captured carbon dioxide away from ethanol plants. All three companies oppose the bill. Representative Holt, a co-sponsor of the bill, argued “private property rights have to mean something.” The bill advanced through a House Judiciary subcommittee and is expected to meet the funnel deadline next Friday.

Death Penalty Legislation Moves Forward

The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced SF 357 with a 10-8 vote on Tuesday. Iowa struck down the death penalty in 1965, and the most recent push for it was in 1995 when it died on the Senate floor with bipartisan opposition. Senator Garrett, the floor manager of the current bill, said SF 357 is narrowly tailored for the specific crime of kidnapping and raping a child. Senator Quirmbach opposed the bill strongly stating crimes of passion are not deterred by capital punishment, and wrongly convicting innocent people is a problem in the justice system. The bill is garnering media attention, but it is unclear if the proposal will move much further in the legislative process.

Trucking Company Tort Reform

On Wednesday afternoon the Senate passed legislation limiting noneconomic damages a victim can receive in an accident involving a trucking company. Senate File 228 places a $2 million limit on noneconomic damages in lawsuits against trucking companies whose employees caused injury, death, or other damages while on the job. The $2M cap was adopted during floor debate as a compromise to the originally $1 million proposed cap to garner enough votes for the bill. It ultimately passed on a vote of 30-19, with GOP Senators Mark Lofgren, Sandy Salmon, Jeff Taylor, and Cherielynn Westrich joining Democrats in voting against the legislation. The bill now awaits floor debate in the House, which passed its version of the legislation through committee earlier in February.

Looking Ahead

Funnel Week is here! The first legislative deadline is already upon us which means all bills except for tax and budget bills have to be through a full committee in the House or Senate by Friday, March 3rd.  The first funnel is typically the busiest week of session, and we are expecting it to live up to its reputation. Stress runs high as lobbyists and lawmakers pull out all the stops to keep bills alive as they face the impending deadline. Subcommittees will dominate the first part of the week followed by long committee blocks where lawmakers deliberate behind closed doors. As a reminder, a list of scheduled committees and subcommittees with their virtual access information can be found at the provided link. Also, if you tune in at the start of the meeting and there is no activity, know they are likely caucusing before the meetings starts. Lots of patience is needed this week, especially if you are keeping an eye on things virtually. Finally, please feel free to text us with questions as you will get your quickest response and remember we do not control the subcommittee or committee calendars, however we will do our best to keep you posted on scheduled meetings and any changes as we learn of them.