Iowa 2021 Legislative Report – Week 2

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This content was published prior to the combination of Dentons Davis Brown. Learn more about Dentons Davis Brown.

Update: On Monday, January 25, the Governor introduced another bill, SSB1065, which establishes a student first scholarship program for certain pupils attending nonpublic schools. 

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The legislature did not meet on Monday in honor of the MLK Jr. holiday.  Legislators returned to the Capitol Tuesday morning with an increased presence of uniformed and non-uniformed officers, due to potential security concerns related to the inauguration of President-elect Biden.

Bills are being introduced at a rapid pace and subcommittees are hearing bills both in-person and virtually.  Only a handful of bills moved through House committees this week, but we can expect committee work to pick up next week in both chambers.  The House debated its first bill of the year on Thursday afternoon.

Constitutional Amendments

Two Constitutional Amendments were advanced this week:

1. Second Amendment Constitutional Amendment (HSB9/SJR1) proposes to add the Second Amendment with strict scrutiny standard of review to the Iowa Constitution. The bill advanced out of subcommittee in both the House and Senate and received party-line support in the House Public Safety Committee. It will be eligible for debate as early as next week in the House. The House and Senate both approved SJR18 in 2019, which is the same as the 2021 amendment. If the constitutional amendment measure passes both chambers again in this General Assembly, it will be included on the ballot in 2022 for a statewide vote before being added as a constitutional amendment.

2. No Right to Abortion (HSB41) proposes to adopt an amendment to the Iowa Constitution that the state does not recognize, grant, or secure a right to an abortion or the public funding of abortion.  The Senate previously passed SJR2001 in 2020 (32-18), but the proposed amendment did not reach the House floor. This year’s HSB41 advanced out of subcommittee and received party-line support in the House Judiciary Committee.  The Senate introduced their version of a No Right to Abortion bill SJR2, which is broader than HSB41.

Education Bills

The Governor’s Education Plan was introduced on Wednesday, January 20:

  • Student First: Establishes the Student First Scholarship program for non-public school students.
  • Charter schools: Establishes new provisions on charter schools.
  • Diversity: Strikes the use of a voluntary diversity plan to deny open enrollment.
  • Electronic records: Requires the Department of Education (DOE) to coordinate electronic data and to establish a statewide system.
  • Flex plan: Requires the DOE to establish a flexible student support plan to allow schools to implement innovative plans for up to three years.
  • Tuition Credit: Increases the Tuition Tax Credit to 50% of the first $2,000.
  • Other: Allows teachers to take deductions for certain expenses (similar to federal deductions). Makes changes to enrollment determinations. Makes changes to open enrollment, including transportation costs related to open enrollment. Deems that the directors of a school corporation are responsible for student improvement when given public funds.

Another bill introduced on Wednesday also addresses a priority of the Governor, in-person learning. SSB1064 requires schools to offer full-time, in-person learning for the rest of the 2020-2021 school year. Schools without full-time, in-person learning must notify parents and give them time to decide where they will send their children to school. The bill is effective on enactment and requires in-person learning to begin by the second Monday following the effective date.

COVID-19 Rules at the Capitol

While leadership has put in place some COVID protocols, there is continued debate about public health guidelines at the Capitol and making the legislature more accessible to Iowans. 

The House debated its first bill of the session on Thursday afternoon, HR3 House Rules. Typically, there is little to no debate on the rules, but due to the disagreement over public health guidelines at the Capitol, there was a lively debate with consideration of several amendments from the Democrats, including a mask requirement and the ability for the public and committee members to participate in committee meetings remotely.  The bill ultimately passed 55-35, on party lines with ten members not voting.

COVID-19 Public Health Measures

Governor Reynolds announced Thursday that the state will expand COVID vaccine availability as of February 1, including for those people aged 65 and older.  The state has established a tiered system for the vaccine rollout:

  • Tier 1: Law enforcement, first responders, pre-kindergarten and K-12 staff, early childhood educators, and child care workers
  • Tier 2: Essential workers in food, agriculture, and manufacturing who work in settings where social distancing is difficult and persons with disabilities
  • Tier 3: Staff and individuals in congregate living and government officials and staff at the Capitol
  • Tier 4: Health and safety inspectors
  • Tier 5: Correctional facility staff and inmates

The state has administered 106,000 shots out of the 160,000 doses received, with most vaccines going to health care workers. The state will start receiving 39,000 doses weekly on February 1, and those amounts will increase.

The Governor also announced a reallocation of $17 million in relief money available to local governments for direct expenses incurred in response to COVID-19.  She also announced a grant program to help bars and restaurants deal with losses from the pandemic; businesses can apply between February 1 and February 25 for up to $25,000 in funding.

Special Election and Other News

The special election for Senate District 41 is slated for next Tuesday, January 26, with Republican Adrian Dickey running against Democrat Mary Stewart.  The district currently has a registration advantage for the Democrats, but Republicans carried the district in the last two Senate elections. This seat is open due to Mariannette Miller-Meeks’ election to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Former Speaker Linda Upmeyer was elected co-chair of the Iowa Republican Party.

Federal Report

Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States on Wednesday, January 20, just before noon.  The inauguration marks the commencement of a four-year term for President Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris.  The inauguration took place amidst extraordinary political, public health, economic, and national security crises, including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the threat of civil unrest. Inauguration festivities were sharply curtailed by efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and mitigate the potential for violence near the Capitol.

Shortly after President Joe Biden was inaugurated, his administration began taking immediate action on a number of policy priorities.  However, the top priority this week was clearly COVID-19.

On Wednesday night, the Biden Administration released a 21-page summary of their “National Strategy for the Covid-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness.” The full 200-page document was released Thursday. The plan focuses on seven areas:

  1. Restore trust with the American people.
  2. Mount a safe, effective, and comprehensive vaccination campaign.
  3. Mitigate spread through expanding masking, testing, data, treatments, health care workforce, and clear public health standards.
  4. Immediately expand emergency relief and exercise the Defense Production Act.
  5. Safely reopen schools, businesses, and travel while protecting workers.
  6. Protect those most at risk and advance equity, including across racial, ethnic, and rural/urban lines.
  7. Restore U.S. leadership globally and build better preparedness for future threats.

On Thursday afternoon, President Biden held a press event to announce his strategy to combat COVID-19. Biden announced that he will sign 10 executive actions aimed at enhancing the federal response to the pandemic. Biden warned that it will take months to vaccinate the majority of Americans and that 100,000 people could die from the virus in the next month.

The ten executive actions and memos issued Thursday:

  1. Executive order directing federal agencies to use the Defense Production Act (DPA) to speed the manufacturing of coronavirus vaccines, testing, and supplies.
  2. Memorandum directing FEMA to increase federal reimbursement to 100% for the cost of National Guard personnel and emergency supplies.
  3. Executive order establishing a Pandemic Testing Board, aimed at increasing domestic capacity.
  4. Executive order directing studies to identify COVID-19 treatments.
  5. Executive order to improve data collection, production, sharing, and analysis.
  6. Executive order directing the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services to provide guidance for the safe reopening and operating of schools.
  7. Executive order calling on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to release guidance for employers on worker safety; enhance worker health and safety requirements; and target the worst violators.
  8. Executive order requiring mask-wearing in airports and on multiple forms of interstate travel.
  9. Executive order to establish a COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force.
  10. Presidential directive to restore America’s leadership, support international pandemic response effort, promote resilience for future threats, and advance global health security