Week 2 of the Iowa legislative session was shortened by the MLK Jr. holiday weekend. The winter storm late this week also cancelled several committees and subcommittees on Thursday further abbreviating an already short week.
Despite the condensed week, the legislature was quite productive. Committees are organized and already taking action on bills; over a dozen bills have already moved through subcommittees and passed full committees. Bill introductions continue to ramp up, with 97 introduced this week (for a total of 290 bills between the two chambers so far this session).
Educational Savings Plan
Governor Reynolds’ Education Savings Account bill (SF 94 / HF 68) passed the Senate Appropriations Committee and the House Education Reform Committee. The bills could come to the floor as soon as next week.
Democrats say the bills are not ready for debate, citing uncertain cost estimates, lack of accountability provisions, and unpopularity with the majority of Iowans. Representative Konfrst and Senator Wahls have spoken against the bill, concerned it could take funding away from Iowa public schools. The pair of bills is Governor Reynolds’s top priority, but discussions on the Governor’s language could be drawn out if there is not a floor vote next week. Action related to school reform is likely to be the first significant action taken by both chambers and the Governor. The education savings account plan was a top priority outlined at the start of last year’s session as well.
Governor Reynolds released the following statement:
“This is just the first step in giving educational freedom to Iowa’s students and parents. For too long government has told parents when, how, and where their kids can receive an education. It’s time for the government to get out of the way and allow parents the freedom of choice in education. It is not shocking to see the same special interest groups who tried to lock our students out of their classrooms advocating against this bill. They were wrong then, and they are wrong now. I look forward to this bill reaching the floor in both chambers. Iowans deserve to see where their elected leaders stand.”
Second to education reform, property tax is a priority for both chambers and the Governor this session, with the goal of lowering property taxes and making the system more transparent for taxpayers.
There are several options for property tax limitations, including levy limits, rate limits, and assessment limits. HF 1 is a property tax assessment limit, restricting the amount a property’s taxable assessed value can increase each year. This strategy changes the relationship between property value and tax burdens. House Speaker Pat Grassley says his caucus’s priority is, “making sure there’s certainty for the taxpayer.”
SSB 1056 Governor’s Property Tax Bill
The companion bill in the Senate was proposed by the Governor and introduced Wednesday. Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver says, “everything’s on the table” for changes to Iowa’s property taxes, though the timeline for reaching an agreement could take a while.
Democrats have expressed openness to talking with Republicans on the issue but emphasize the need to protect middle and lower-income families.
Executive Branch Update
On Tuesday, Governor Reynolds announced $40 million in funding for Iowa State University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (VDL). “The Veterinary Diagnostic Lab is absolutely critical to support and protect our state and country’s agriculture industry and food supply,” said Governor Reynolds. She has also requested $20 million from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund (RIIF) for the project, totaling $60 million in state support for the VDL.
On Thursday, Governor Reynolds announced new staff to join her administration. Kollin Crompton will serve as Deputy Communications Director and Annie Hays joins the staff as the Executive Assistant to Governor Reynolds.
What is next?
Next week will bring more committee action, and if leadership calls up the Education Savings Plan bills for debate, potentially the first floor work of the session in both chambers.
The first major milestone of the 2023 Iowa legislative session comes in week 5 – February 10 is the final day for individual requests for bills from Senators and Representatives. The full 2023 Session Timetable can be found here.