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The highlight of this week in Iowa and around the country remains Mother Nature and the unprecedented weather cycle causing major disruptions in the power grid. Here in Iowa, temperatures spent much of the week below zero, which caused a slow start to the week at the legislature. Pace and temperatures picked up progressively throughout the week. At least a dozen bills were sent to the Governor this week for her review and signature.
The next legislative deadline is Friday, March 5 – the first funnel. With only two weeks left, the urgency to get bills through at least one committee continues to build. Bills that do not advance through one committee by the first funnel are no longer eligible for consideration this session and are otherwise “dead.”
Weather-Related Governor Proclamation
On Monday, February 15, the Governor signed a proclamation to ease rules for hauling diesel fuel, propane, natural gas, and other fuels used in agriculture and commercial heating. The proclamation temporarily suspends limits on hours of service and oversize and overweight loads of fuel. The proclamation was issued due to the demand created by hazardous cold in the Midwest and across the country.
Supplmental State Aid (SSA)
Late last week, the House approved the SSA bill (SF269) sent over by the Senate last week but amended the bill to set the SSA at 2.4% (the original Senate version set the SSA at 2.2%). On Wednesday, February 17, the Senate concurred with the House amendment setting the SSA at 2.4%. This amendment will increase state aid to schools by about $36.5 million.
The Senate Commerce Committee approved the Governor’s Broadband Grant bill (SSB1089), which would assist in the expansion of broadband access across Iowa. Governor Reynolds has proposed $450 million over three years to pay for the expansion.
On Wednesday, February 17, the Senate also approved Rental Vouchers (SF252) on a party-line vote. The bill prohibits cities and counties from adopting ordinances that prohibit landlords from refusing to accept federal housing vouchers. This bill comes amid conversations about how to increase affordable housing, including the Governor’s Affordable Housing proposal.
Identical versions of election reform (SF 413 and HF 519) moved very quickly through Senate and House subcommittees and committees ensuring that both are ready for floor action next week and plans to have a bill to the Governor for her signature by the end of the week. Republican chairs of both the Senate and House State Government Committees are coordinating closely to ensure that the bill will keep moving through the legislative process.
According to proponents, this legislation is necessary to protect the electoral process from fraud and deceptive practices that happened in 2020. Opponents question the need for such legislation and argue that it will result in voter suppression. A public hearing is scheduled for Monday, February 22, evening to give the public another opportunity to weigh in.
The U.S. Census Bureau has announced there will be a delay in the release of census information to the states due to COVID-19. Most recently, the Bureau announced that it expects to deliver redistricting data to all states and the public by September 30, 2021. The redistricting process in Iowa is driven by a constitutional timeline that requires approval of a redistricting map by September 15. Legislators in Iowa were already anticipating a special session to approve a redistricting map. With the recently announced delays, legislative leadership will now have to consider how to best move forward to reconcile the situation.
Despite delays from the Bureau, lawmakers are starting to move forward with the redistricting process; on Monday, leaders of each caucus appointed a member to the Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission (two Republicans and two Democrats). This group will then elect a fifth member that will serve as the chairperson.
- Republicans appointed Chris Hagenow, Vice-President of Iowans for Tax Relief and a former House Majority Leader, as well as David Roederer, who recently retired as director of the state’s Office of Management.
- Democrats named Deidre DeJear, a 2018 candidate for Iowa Secretary of State, and Ian Russell, an attorney from Bettendorf.
Once the Bureau delivers population data to the states and the state Legislative Services Agency drafts the first round of proposed maps, the committee will be tasked with holding at least three public hearings across the state and submitting a report to the Legislature. Constitutionally, the Legislature is required to approve a plan for legislative redistricting and send it to the Governor by September 1, and it must be enacted by September 15. If those deadlines are not met, the Iowa Supreme Court is directed to weigh in and draw the maps by December 31.
In a retraction from statements last week, Governor Reynolds has said that the state has decided not to use Microsoft as a statewide scheduling app for COVID vaccinations.
According to the state’s COVID-19 vaccine dashboard, 529,445 doses have been administered to Iowa residents and 131,500 individuals have completed the COVID-19 vaccine series.