Iowa 2021 Legislative Report – Week 11

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The eleventh week brought a steady bustle around the Capitol as we head into the next important legislative deadline, the second and final funnel ends on Friday, April 2.  In order for bills to continue to be considered by the legislature, they must be passed by one chamber and advanced through committee in the opposite chamber.  Bills that have not had this success are effectively “dead” and cannot be considered for the remainder of the legislative session.

There are two exceptions:

  1. Ways and Means bills are funnel-proof and are eligible for consideration the entirety of a legislative session.
  2. Any language can reappear as an amendment to another bill or be included in an appropriations bill.  Meaning everything is fair game until sine die. Typically, the second funnel signals narrowing of the policy discussion and rings in the appropriations phase of the legislative session.

2021 Session Deadlines

2021 Session Deadlines

Appropriations

The REC’s budget estimates for FY 2021 and FY 2022 were released Friday, March 19. The REC increased the estimate for FY 2021 (from the December estimate) by about $109 million, from $7.969 billion to $8.078 billion, about a 1.9% increase.

Within one week of receiving the REC budget estimates, on Wednesday, March 24, the Senate Republicans released their budget targets.  Budget targets provide an overview of overall estimated spending and a rough outline for how those monies will be spent among budget categories.  Their total budget for FY2022 is $7.999 billion ($195 million increase from FY2021) and represents about 94% of available revenue.  The proposed targets account for the elimination of the triggers in the 2018 tax bill, effective January 1, 2023, and the phasing out of the inheritance tax (both are included in SF576), and significant property tax relief (as provided in SSB1253).

Tax relief provisions in Senate Republican budget targets include eliminating the:

  • Revenue triggers in the 2018 tax cut
  • Mental health levy on property taxes
  • Inheritance tax

Overview of FY 2022 increases in Senate Republican budget targets:

  • Education funding increases over $80 million including:
    • $55.3 million for K-12 education
    • $25 million for higher education including additional dollars for Last Dollar Scholarships
  • Healthcare funding increases of $98.1 million including:
    • $15 million for provider increases for nursing homes and home and community-based service providers
    • $60 million for mental health services. Over the next two years, the state will provide over $125 million for mental health services
  • Public safety funding increases of $13 million including:
    • $5 million for the Department of Public Safety
    • Just over $4 million for the Department of Corrections

Note: One-time expenditures for broadband are not included in the Senate Republican budget targets.

Significant Floor Action

On Monday, March 22, the Senate approved the Weapons Omnibus bill (HF756) on a party line vote.  This bill was approved by the House last week and the Senate substituted their version of the bill for the amended House bill.  The bill strikes permit requirements to acquire or carry a handgun and repeals current background check measures that are required for all gun sales (specifically private gun sales that are made outside of a federally licensed dealer).  After it is enrolled by House and Senate leadership, the bill goes to the Governor for her consideration.

Wednesday, March 24 was a late night in the House, with representatives approving 10 bills and one resolution before adjourning just before 1:00 a.m. Thursday.

The House approved HJR11 Felony Voting Amendment unanimously and HF818 Discharge of a Sentence on a 67-28 vote.  In the 2020 session, the House approved a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights to felons; the Senate Judiciary approved the proposed amendment, but it did not reach the Senate floor.  In the 2020 interim, Governor Reynolds signed an Executive Order restoring voting rights of felons who have completed their sentence.  The Governor has since called upon the legislature to take legislative action to approve a constitutional amendment that will confer these rights constitutionally.

The Discharge of a Sentence bill (HF818) defines when a sentence is discharged and voting rights can be restored; this bill was approved by both chambers and signed by the Governor in 2020, but the measure included a repeal of the provision if the felon voting amendment was not approved (which it was not).  This bill contains the same language from 2020, requiring restitution to victims be paid before a felon can regain the right to vote.

The House debated HF813 Charter Schools for around six hours on Wednesday into Thursday before the bill passed on a 55-40 vote.  The bill had to be referred back to the Appropriations Committee during the debate for the committee to consider a bill that creates a standing appropriation for charter schools.  When the House returned, the majority voted to adopt a time certain, which ended the debate on many of the proposed amendments.  The bill establishes new provisions on charter schools, allowing the establishment of a charter school by founding groups under a school board, or under the State Board of Education.  Additionally, the bill:

  • Requires that performance evaluation measures, compensation, and dispute resolution methods for staff and the educational provider, if the group wants to use an educational provider, be in the plan put before the Board of Education.
  • Requires the majority of a founding group to live in the geographic area.
  • Includes funding provisions on payments from school districts of state funds for students who enroll in the charter school and payments by the state for students previously home-schooled.
  • Makes a standing appropriation to cover the state costs.
  • Requires charter schools to be renewed every five years.

Republicans believe the bill encourages innovative methods to give schools the flexibility to improve student learning.  Democrats believe the bill lacks oversight to ensure charter schools are high performing and treating students and staff properly and that the state appropriation is a blank check that does not give the state oversight.

Executive Branch Update

On Tuesday, March 23, a Department of Corrections officer and a nurse were killed by an inmate attack at the Anamosa State Penitentiary. Governor Reynolds released the following statement:

Today, our state grieves the loss of two public servants who were attacked while on duty at the Anamosa State Penitentiary,” said Governor Reynolds. “My prayers and deepest condolences are with their families, friends, and colleagues as they begin to cope with this senseless tragedy. We will exhaust every available resource to deliver justice to those who committed this act and bring a sense of closure and peace to the victims’ families.

Redistricting

Last week, the US Census Bureau announced that they may be able to release updated 2020 census data in August in an old format; this may provide a solution to those states that need census data for redistricting in order to meet constitutional deadlines.  Iowa’s constitutional deadlines require the Legislature to finalize a redistricting map by September 1 and for that map to become law by September 15.  If this timeline cannot be met by the Legislature, it is up to the Iowa Supreme Court to draw a map by December 31.

The Iowa Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission was scheduled to meet on Monday, March 22, via video conference but the meeting was cancelled.

Federal

American Rescue Plan

According to the LSA, Iowa will receive about $4.451 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act with individuals receiving another $3.77 billion in direct stimulus payments. The state is expected to receive:

  • $1.379 billion from the State Fiscal Recovery Fund
  • Local governments are expected to receive about $1.162 billion ($612 million to counties, $335 million to metropolitan areas, and $216 million to other local governments)
  • The state will receive another $152 million for capital projects
  • The remainder of the aid will go to state agencies for assistance in various areas, including:
    • $774.5 million for K-12 schools
    • $365.5 million for colleges
    • $385 million for programs for childcare, pre-school, and toddlers
    • $55 million in LIHEAP funds

State and local governments have broad authority to spend the funds as needed but cannot use the money to reduce taxes, either directly or indirectly, or to make pension payments.

2nd Congressional District

The fate of Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District remains up in the air.  Attorneys for Rita Hart and U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, submitted initial legal briefs to a House panel on Monday.  The House Committee on Administration voted earlier this month along party lines to consider the case and postpone a decision on Miller-Meeks’ motion to dismiss Hart’s election challenge.  Republicans at the State and Federal level have engaged publicly, casting this contest as a partisan power grab.  There is no set deadline for the House to resolve Hart’s election contest.