Iowa 2021 Legislative Report – Week 3

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Both chambers gaveled in for the third week of the legislative session, despite a massive snowstorm that dumped historic levels of snow across most of Iowa and the Des Moines metro. 

While the emphasis this week was largely on committee work, with dozens of bills advancing out of subcommittee each day, the week closed with two main accomplishments–floor action on education bills and constitutional amendments. 

Education Bills

Education bills requiring full-time, in-person learning for the 2020-2021 school year quickly became a top priority for both chambers and the Governor in response to virtual learning plans rolled out by numerous school districts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Senate moved the Governor’s Education Plan (SF159, formerly SSB1065, more details here) through subcommittee and committees (Education and Appropriations) on Monday along party-line votes.

Highlights of the bill include:

  • Scholarships that would allow parents to move students out of public schools that do not meet federal guidelines
  • End the use of voluntary diversity plans to deny open enrollment requests
  • Adopt provisions on charter schools
  • Require the coordination of school records electronically
  • Increase the tuition tax credit

Also on Monday, the Senate Education Committee approved SF160 (formerly SSB1064) School Instructional Time, which would require in-person learning. 

The House Education Committee began debate on both HF229 (formerly HF103 and the companion to SF160). School Instructional Time and HSB64 Voluntary Diversity Plans on Monday and finished the debate Tuesday, moving both bills forward. Provisions of HSB64 are included in the Governor’s proposals on education (which was approved by Senate Education in SF159).

Thursday brought floor action in both chambers on the education bills. The House and Senate both approved School Instructional Time (SF160) with the Senate amending the bill to concur with the language in the House bill. The Senate messaged the amended bill to the House who took it up late in the evening on Thursday, substituting HF229 for SF160, and approved the bill 59-39 before gaveling out for the week. Governor Reynolds signed the bill on Friday, January 29. The bill is effective on enactment and requires in-person learning to begin by the second Monday following the effective date, which is February 15.

The Senate also approved the Governor’s Education Plan (SF159) on a 26-21 vote with three Republican Senators voting with the Democrats.  A fiscal note on the Governor’s Education Plan was also released Thursday, January 28, estimating the impacts to school districts of reductions in state aid and reduced property taxes.  The bill now awaits action in the House.

Constitutional Amendments

In addition to the education bills, both chambers were eager to advance Constitutional Amendment resolutions this week. The Second Amendment Constitutional Amendment is a top priority for the Republicans.

  • Second Amendment Constitutional Amendment resolutions (SJR7/HJR4) were debated and advanced in both chambers on Thursday evening (the House substituted HJR4 for SJR7).  Passing on party-line votes, the bill now goes to the Secretary of State to be noticed and placed on the ballot in the 2022 election for a statewide vote before being added as a constitutional amendment.
  • No Right to Abortion Constitutional Amendment (HJR5) was debated in the House on Wednesday evening. The House adopted the amendment on a 55-44 vote, with three Republicans voting against the amendment.  The bill was immediately messaged and awaits action in the Senate.

Childcare

A number of childcare bills are being considered and advanced to address the “childcare cliff” in Iowa, which has been identified by all parties as a priority this session.  Significant work was done on these bills this week and it is worth noting which bills have advanced: 

  • Child Tax Credits (HF230 formerly HF1)— Doubles the income threshold (to $90,000) for eligibility for child tax credits (advanced out of House Ways & Means Committee).
  • Business Childcare (HF4)— Establishes credits against the income tax, franchise tax, or gross premiums tax for businesses that offer childcare for employees of up to 25% of costs. It caps the credit at $150,000 and allows it to be carried forward. Includes building an on-site child center or leasing or paying the expenses of a childcare center (advanced out of House Ways and Means subcommittee). 
  • On-Site Childcare (HF3/SF176) — Allows the creation or expansion of an on-site daycare at a business to qualify for credits under the High Quality Jobs program (HF3 advanced out of House Economic Growth subcommittee). 
  • Childcare Matching Grants (HF6)— Creates the Iowa Childcare Workforce matching grant program to offer matching grants to communities that provide funding for the childcare WAGES stipend program, the teacher education and compensation helps scholarship program, or other childcare workforce strategies (advanced out of House Human Resources Committee).
  • Childcare Reimbursement Rates (HSB2)— Requires DHS to set the reimbursement rate under the Child Care Assistance program for providers whose reimbursement is under 50% level of the most recent market rate (advanced out of House Human Resources Committee).
  • Childcare Phase Out (HSB3)— Established a 12-month phase-out of eligibility for childcare assistance after the gross income of the family has increased (advanced out of House Human Resources Committee).

Special Election

Republican Adrian Dickey won the special election in Senate District 41 against Democrat Mary Stewart 5,040 votes to 4,074. Republicans now return to a 31-18 advantage in the Iowa Senate. 

Former State Senator Miller-Meeks has been seated by the U.S. House, though her challenger Former State Senator Hart has petitioned to contest the election; Miller-Meeks resigned before the start of session, which initiated a special election for her open seat.

Other News

Representative Ross Wilburn was selected as the new chair of the Iowa Democratic Party.  A former mayor serving his second term in the Iowa House, Representative Wilburn replaces former Representative Mark Smith who took the position in 2020.

Judge Thomas Bower was re-selected as the Chief Judge of the Iowa Court of Appeals; Judge Bower has served on the Court of Appeals since 2012 and was first elected Chief Judge in 2019.