Week 15 was very busy at the Capitol, with bills and amendments flying back and forth between the chambers. The headline was the Senate debate Monday night, which lasted until 4:50 am the following morning. The coffee consumption on Tuesday was off the charts.
Some Republican state lawmakers opted to be selective about if and which questions they answered during a debate. Senate Majority Leader Whitver encouraged his caucus to be cautious on the floor due to quotes used in a recent court case. In a statement, he said, “In LS Power Mid Continent and Southwest Transmission v State of Iowa, the Iowa Supreme Court indicated it wanted to use floor debate to determine the ambiguous definition of legislative intent. I believe legislative intent is the content of the law passed by a majority of the Iowa Legislature,” Whitver said. “In light of that decision, Senate Republicans do not expect to engage in spontaneous and speculative discussions of legislative intent during floor debate until that question is resolved.” This decision significantly delayed debate on a youth employment bill Monday night, outlined below, as Democrats held lengthy caucuses in response to a lack of answers.
The Republican response to this Iowa Supreme Court decision has the power to shape floor debate like never before.
Ideal conditions have arrived for corn planting in Iowa, due to the warm and dry weather we have been experiencing. Monday was the earliest date farmers could plant corn this year and be eligible for crop insurance replanting payments. Most of the state’s soybean planting can begin on Saturday for the same benefits. With budget conversations finally moving forward and planting season upon us, the final adjournment of the legislative session, sine die, could be right around the corner.
According to Iowa State University Soil Monitoring, the current soil temperatures around the state are in the 40s and 50s this week, which is ideal for getting seeds in the ground.
A bill changing Iowa’s child labor laws kept the Senate in session for eight hours. SF 542 allows 14 to 17-year-olds to receive parental permission to work longer hours and in specific industries. The bill also allows minors to work until 9 p.m. during the school year and until 11 p.m. during the summer — both two hours later than current law — and lets teens work up to six hours a day, up from the four hours currently allowed.
The Senate added two amendments from Senator Dickey to SF 542 to change the language that prohibited 16 and 17-year-olds from selling or serving alcohol in bars or establishments with nude or topless dancing. Similar amendments from Senator Dotzler and Senator Petersen were withdrawn or voted not germane. The bill passed 32-17 after significant debate. It now goes to the House for consideration.
A bill setting a limit on noneconomic damages that can be awarded in court to a victim of an accident involving a trucking company goes to the Governor’s desk for signature. SF 228 previously passed the Senate with a $2 million limit, but the House raised this to $5 million. The Senate concurred with the House amendment and approved the bill on a party-line vote (34-16).
SF 508 passed the Senate on a 41-9 vote, which proposes to raise penalties for fentanyl distribution. The Governor spoke about the fentanyl crisis in our state at her Condition of the State address.
The debate centered around the most effective ways to help people struggling with substance abuse. Senator Janice Weiner said harm reduction measures, increased access to treatment, and legalizing fentanyl strips would prevent more deaths than the proposed raise in penalties.
SF 391 passed both the House and Senate this week along party lines. The bill makes multiple changes to state education requirements to help schools deal with workforce shortages. Schools could choose to reduce their world language offerings from four to three, and their fine arts offerings from three to two. It would also allow schools to hire librarians who do not have their master’s degree in library science, allow community college instructors to teach high school classes, and limit schools to a maximum of five days of online instruction per school year.
SF 496 received final passage in the House on Thursday after bouncing between the chambers twice. The bill bans instruction related to gender identity and sexual orientation in public elementary schools, requires administrators to notify parents if their child expresses a gender identity different than that on file, and requires school libraries to remove any books that describe or show sexual acts. The Senate originated the bill and passed it on a party-line vote in March, the House amended the bill and returned it to the Senate at the beginning of April, the Senate further amended the bill last week, and the House concurred on Thursday. The bill now goes to the Governor for her signature.
The Senate approved the Governor’s appointments this week, including those assigned to the Iowa Board of Regents, the Department of Education, the Judicial Nominating Commission, the Iowa Economic Development Authority/Iowa Finance Authority, and several others. Democrats requested that some of those appointments be voted on individually, while most occurred en bloc, meaning they were approved in one fell swoop if there were no objections in the chamber.
Additional bills that passed the Senate
- A bill increasing penalties for evading law enforcement (HF 358) passed 43-7.
- A bill requiring institutions under the Iowa Board of Regents to publish information on income and debt for alumni (HF 135) passed 49-1.
- A bill allowing the sale of raw milk in Iowa (SF 315) received final approval and goes to the Governor’s desk. The legislation sets requirements for bacteria test records, animal antibiotics, and storage. It passed 37-13.
- A bill allowing farmers to hunt and trap nuisance animals (SF 358) passed 48-2.
- A bill limiting to-go alcoholic beverages (HF 433) was sent to the Governor. The bill brings Iowa back in alignment with federal regulations to retain federal funding for roads and highways.
Tax Reform Activity
Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Dan Dawson introduced what he called a “clean bill” to replace the other property tax bills considered this session. The bill passed both subcommittee and committee on Tuesday and now awaits the approval of the full Senate. Unlike the previous bill (SF 356), this bill increases debt levy thresholds.
The bill caps cities’ levy rate at $8.10 per $1,000 in taxable value, with caveats. Counties’ general service levy rate would be limited to $3.50 per $1,000 of assessed taxable value. The limit for rural county services would be $3.95 per $1,000 of value. Counties wanting to go above those limits would have to win approval from voters in a special levy election. Democrats have been mostly supportive of these efforts to provide relief to taxpayers.
Simultaneously across the rotunda, the House passed its version of Property Tax Reform (HF718) unanimously.
Ways and Means Chairs will have to work together to reconcile the dueling property tax bills before the clock runs out if we are to see comprehensive property tax reform this session.
Judicial Branch Update
Open Records Lawsuit
Three journalists have alleged that Governor Kim Reynolds violated Iowa’s Open Records Law and filed suit in 2021. A district court judge denied a request to dismiss the case, and the governor appealed. Friday’s Supreme Court opinion concluded that appeal. The journalists requested public records in 2018; due to delays ranging from 5 to 18 months, they sued Reynolds, accusing her and her staff of violating the law requiring government entities to turn over public records in a timely manner.
The Governor’s Office turned over the records in January 2022, a month after the lawsuit was filed. Because the requests were eventually fulfilled, lawyers for Reynolds argued the case should be dismissed. The Court ruled in favor of the journalists and their organizations and sent the case back to the district court to continue.
The Governor released the following statement about the lawsuit:
“The initial outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic consumed every aspect of our daily lives, and accordingly my office shifted its entire focus to help Iowans navigate that difficult period. During that time, there was an unprecedented number of open records requests and many of those went unfulfilled for a period. While we disagree that this lawsuit should continue, my office has eliminated the backlog of open records requests and is committed to upholding our responsibility to respond to any new requests in a timely manner.“
It appears the House and Senate have reconciled their $90 million budget difference; chambers have agreed on joint budget targets, opening the door for budget chairs to hammer out the finer points, both appropriations and policy, within their appropriations bills. This development means we are closer to finalizing the state budget for FY 2024 and sine die is in sight.
The House has issued budget spreadsheets for each appropriations subcommittee.
Once a deal is cut, the shell bills that passed Senate Appropriations Committee during Week 13 simply need to be amended on the floor with final budget amounts and corresponding policy; the House will need to introduce budget bills and move them through the committee process before bringing them to the floor.
|Admin & Reg||SF 557 (SSB1209)||04/03/2023 Committee report approving bill, renumbered.|
|Ag & Natural Resources||SF 558 (SSB1210)||04/03/2023 Committee report approving bill, renumbered.|
|EcoDevo||SF 559 (SSB1211)||04/03/2023 Committee report approving bill, renumbered.|
|Education||SF 560 (SSB1212)||04/03/2023 Committee report approving bill, renumbered.|
|HHS / Veterans||SF 561 (SSB1213)||04/04/2023 Committee report approving bill, renumbered.|
|Justice System||SF 562 (SSB1214)||04/04/2023 Committee report approving bill, renumbered.|
|Judicial Branch||SF 563 (SSB1215)||04/04/2023 Committee report approving bill, renumbered.|
|Transportation||SSB1219||04/20/2023 Subcommittee recommends amendment and passage.|
Bills Signed by Governor
At the end of Week 15, 52 bills have been enrolled and sent down to the Governor. Enrolled bills must be signed within three days during the legislative session. Twenty bills and resolutions have been signed into law by the Governor to date. A complete list of enrolled bills and enactment dates can be found here.
|Bill||Description||Signed by the Governor|
|HF 68||Establishing an Educational Savings Account program in Iowa||1/24/2023|
|SF 192||Establishing SSA (School Supplemental Aid) for FY 2024||2/7/2023|
|SF 153||Single-trip permits for a vehicle of excessive size in emergencies||2/15/2023|
|HF 161||Limitations on damages in medical malpractice||2/16/2023|
|SF 181||Property tax calculation fix for residential assessments||2/20/2023|
|HF 113||Child welfare representation||03/22/2023|
|HF 133||Voluntary debt cancellation notice||03/22/2023|
|HF 202||Makes it a serious misdemeanor to use fire, destructive devices, or explosives recklessly to endanger property or safety.||03/22/2023|
|HF 205||Barrel tax revenues collected on beer||03/22/2023|
|HF 257||Strikes the current list of third-party CDL testers and authorizes the DOT to adopt rules restricting the scope of third-party testers.||03/22/2023|
|HF 337||Allows the use of any federally approved refrigerant so long as the refrigerant is used according to federal safety standards.||03/22/2023|
|SF 154||Adds specified hydro-excavation equipment to the list of vehicles exempt from size, weight, load, and permit requirements.||03/22/2023|
|SF 157||Authorizes certain persons to administer the final field test of an approved driver education course.||03/22/2023|
|SF 482||Prohibits a person from using a toilet that does not correspond to the person’s biological sex in K-12 schools.||03/22/2023|
|SF 75||Affects ambulatory surgical centers and rural emergency hospitals.||03/28/2023|
|SF 262||Creates consumer data protections and provides civil penalties.||03/28/2023|
Just one week remains in the regularly scheduled session calendar. It is likely the legislature will go into overtime, but that may be limited to just one or two weeks. Budget conversations are happening faster than expected and policy issues are being narrowed down rapidly. Differences in the property tax proposals will need to be resolved before the legislature is ready to vote on the budget and adjourn if we are to see comprehensive reform this session.
Soil temps are up, and joint targets are out. Rumors are whirling about the timing of sine die. Will they make a push to finish this week? It will be up to the leaders to manage the shutdown process. One thing is certain, the end is near.
The full 2023 Session Timetable can be found here.