What bills survived Iowa’s second funnel deadline? Several legislative priorities still in the works

By: - April 2, 2021 12:15 pm

The Iowa State Capitol. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Twelve weeks, hundreds of bills and several late-night debates later, another major legislative deadline has come and gone, but several big-ticket bills remain in play.

The legislative deadline known as the “funnel” takes place at the end of the eighth and 12th weeks of Iowa’s legislative session. For bills to pass the second funnel, they must pass floor debate in one chamber and be through committee in the other. Bills that do not meet this deadline are generally abandoned for the remainder of the session.

There are several exceptions. Bills that deal with the state budget are exempt, as are bills in the Ways and Means, Appropriations or Government Oversight Committees. Lawmakers also have the option of marking a bill as “unfinished business,” allowing them to continue work after the funnel. Legislative leaders also may sponsor bills that are exempt from the deadline.

Lawmakers have already passed some legislative priorities. Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a controversial election bill into law in early March and the Legislature sent kids back to school in-person even earlier. But bills on many key issues policing, schools and child care have yet to become law.

House Speaker Pat Grassley indicated House Republicans will insist on more action on child care, a top priority of Iowa business groups, before the session ends. Several child care bills from the House have not been considered in the Senate.

“Obviously, there’s some concern that we’re not seeing more activity with those bills in the Senate,” Grassley told reporters Thursday. “And from our caucus perspective, … we expect some of those bills to be moving forward throughout the session.”

Democrats continued a session-long refrain, asking why Republican leaders did not consider more COVID-19 relief bills.

“What’s frustrating to me is that a lot of the bills that are still alive are things that have nothing to do with COVID recovery, things that have nothing to do with the day-to-day lives of Iowans and that’s pretty frustrating,” Rep. Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, the House minority whip, said.

Democrats also expressed disappointment that a constitutional amendment on felon voting and several bipartisan medical proposals had stalled.

Here’s where some bills of interest stand after the second funnel:

Signed into law

Elections: Both the House and Senate have approved Senate File 413, a sweeping election bill which shortens absentee voting periods, enacts earlier poll-closing times and imposes felony penalties for violations of election laws by public officials, among other provisions.  Reynolds signed the bill into law on March 8.

Guns:

Schools:

  • Both chambers approved and the governor signed Senate File 160, which required  K-12 schools to offer 100% in-person instruction by Feb. 15.
  • Both chambers approved and the governor signed Senate File 269, which increases supplemental state aid for schools by 2.4% or about $36.5 million for the next school year.

Alive

Abortion: A proposed constitutional amendment in Senate Joint Resolution 2 would declare there is no right to abortion in the Iowa Constitution. The House passed the amendment, and the Senate has approved it in committee and designated it as “unfinished business.”

Alcohol delivery: Retailers would be allowed to deliver alcohol through third-party vendors under Senate File 408. The proposal hasn’t passed either chamber, but has been placed on the calendar as “unfinished business.”

Bottle bill: Senate File 470 would allow retailers to decline to take bottles and can returns if there is a redemption center in the area. The House Ways and Means Committee moved the bill on Wednesday.

Biofuels: Gov. Kim Reynolds has proposed a state biofuels standard and a change in tax credits meant to require retailers to sell higher blends of ethanol and biodiesel. The Ways and Means committee shepherded House Study Bill 185 through the funnel with a major amendment on Wednesday.

Broadband: The governor’s proposal in Senate File 390 and House File 848 would spend $450 million over three years on Empower Iowa grants for projects that provide service at a minimum of 100 megabits per second for both downloads and uploads in areas with no service or lower-speed service. The House passed the bill in a Monday floor debate. Both chambers have marked the bill as “unfinished business.”

Child care: The Iowa House passed more than half a dozen bills dealing with child care, which has been a priority of business groups that see the lack of affordable child care as a barrier to attracting workers. The Senate took up only a few of those proposals.

  • House File 260: Allows unregulated home child care providers to care for up to six children, as long as one of them is school aged. The bill has passed both the House and Senate and awaits the governor’s signature.
  • House File 301: Creates a state matching grant program to communities that fund the child care WAGE$ Iowa program that supplements educator salaries, or other programs to support and retain teachers. The bill is eligible for Senate floor debate.
  • House File 302: Creates a gradual phase-out program for families whose income rises while using state child care assistance. The legislation is intended to avoid a sudden dropoff of assistance if a parent receives a salary increase, known as the “cliff effect.” The bill is eligible for Senate floor debate.

Some child care bills remain eligible through the Ways and Means Committees in the House and Senate.

  • House File 230: Increases the net income threshold to claim the early childhood tax credit from $45,000 to $90,000. The House Ways and Means Committee proposed the legislation, allowing it to survive the funnel deadline despite Senate inaction.
  • House File 370: Creates a tax credit of up to $150,000 to encourage employers to provide child care to their employees. The Senate Ways and Means Committee assigned the bill to a subcommittee that has not met yet.

Divisive concepts: Iowa schools and governmental agencies would not be able to include “divisive concepts” in mandatory training or curriculum under House File 802. The bill is awaiting floor debate in the Senate.

Driving: House File 753 would increase penalties for drivers who unintentionally cause a death or serious injury while speeding. 

Freedom of speech: House File 744 would require First Amendment training for faculty, staff and students of public universities. 

Guns: Both the House and Senate passed Senate Joint Resolution 7, which will let Iowans vote in 2022 about whether the right to bear arms should be codified in the state constitution.

Housing:  

  • Cities would be prohibited under Senate File 252 from enforcing ordinances banning discrimination by landlords against tenants using federal housing assistance. Both the House and the Senate passed the proposal, sending it to Reynolds’ desk.
  • The governor’s affordable housing proposal in House File 582 would offer housing assistance, housing tax credits, added workforce housing incentives, loan guarantees for downtown revitalization projects, eviction prevention assistance and disaster housing recovery assistance. The Ways and Means Committees in both chambers are advancing the bill.

Inheritance tax: Proposals to eliminate Iowa’s inheritance tax are advancing in the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees. The Senate voted unanimously for Senate File 576, whereas House File 841 just advanced through subcommittee.

Mental health: Senate File 587 would fund mental health services through state appropriations rather than county property taxes. The Senate Appropriations Committee advanced the bill, which also makes numerous other tax changes, in back-to-back meetings Thursday.

Parental rights: House File 819 would state that parents have a fundamental right to “direct the upbringing, rearing, associations, care, education, custody, and control” of their children. The bill is eligible for debate in the Senate.

Parks improvements: House File 749 would provide $3 million annually for three years for park repairs and improvements. Because this is an Appropriations Committee Bill, it is not affected by the funnel.

Police: Lawmakers divided Reynolds’ “Back the Blue” proposal into several parts, moving separate bills on increased penalties for protest-related crimes, consequences for defunding local police departments and legal protections for police officers. The proposal to ban racial profiling and track the race of police stops was a nonstarter and was never assigned a meeting.

Senate File 476 would give police officers qualified immunity — increased protection against lawsuits — and would allow officers to know more about complaints against them. If someone submits a false report against an officer, that officer would be able to file a civil claim. 

The bill is likely to grow significantly when it comes up on the House floor. Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, said House lawmakers plan to add parts of other policing bills to this one, including the increased penalties for riot and unlawful assembly and protections for drivers who accidentally hit protestors.  

Pregnancy: Assisted reproduction fraud would be a crime under Senate File 529, which is eligible for House debate.

Sexual abuse/assault:  House File 603 would create a forensic examiner program for training, certifying and providing technical assistance to sexual assault forensic examiners and nurse examiners. Both chambers marked the bill as “unfinished businesses.”

 Schools:

  • House File 813 would allow charter schools to operate independently of public school districts. The proposal was part of Senate File 159, a wide-ranging education bill that the House split into multiple parts. The charter school proposal passed a Senate Education Committee on Thursday.
  • Parents could request that their child repeat a grade due to COVID-19 disruptions at schools under Senate File 265

Taxes on COVID-19 aid: The House and Senate have passed different versions of Senate File 364, which would allow businesses to exclude any Paycheck Protection Program loans from their net income. The House version also includes federal pandemic unemployment assistance and state COVID-19 grants from the Iowa Economic Development Authority, the Iowa Finance Authority or the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. 

Trucking company liability: Trucking industry employers would be shielded from liability under House File 772 for deaths, injuries or other damages caused by their employees. Noneconomic damages from motor vehicle accidents involving a commercial driver would be capped at $1 million per plaintiff. Both chambers put the bill on the calendar as unfinished business.

Vaccines: House File 528 would allow dentists to administer flu shots and COVID-19 vaccines.

Dead

Abortion: House File 383 would require “informed consent” be given in advance of prescription of medication intended to end a pregnancy, including disputed information that “it may be possible” to reverse a medication abortion. The House never considered the proposal in floor debate.

Birth control: Over-the-counter delivery of certain birth control medication would be allowed under House File 434. It never made it to the floor.

Bottles: Senate File 565 would require an accounting of unredeemed container deposits.

Censorship: 

  • Senate File 402 would ban the state and local governments from having contracts with or offering aid to “certain companies that censor online content.” The House never took up the proposal.
  • House File 633 would fine social-media companies that “censor” constitutionally protected speech. The bill did not come up for a vote in floor debate.

Child care: House File 292: Increases the reimbursement rate for the state child care assistance program. All child care providers would be brought up to the 50th percentile of the market rate. The Senate never took up the bill.

Daylight saving time: Iowa would remain on daylight saving time year-around under Senate File 335. The Senate did not debate the bill.

Direct care workforce: House File 692 would expand the state’s registry of direct-care workers to include not only the certified nurse assistants who work in nursing homes and care facilities, but all types of direct-care workers. The House did not debate the bill.

Driving: Senate File 330 would forbid the use of any electronic communication device that would take a driver’s hands off the wheel. The Senate placed the bill as “unfinished business” but the House has not.

Executive orders: House File 815 would prohibit state and local governments, and any entity that gets money from them, from complying with a presidential order that “restricts a person’s rights or which the attorney general has determined to be unconstitutional.” Lawmakers working on the bill acknowledged the proposal itself was likely unconstitutional. It never made it to floor debate.

Felon voting: Voting rights would be restored for felons who have discharged their sentences under House File 818 and House Joint Resolution 11. The House passed both halves of the legislation in March, but the Senate never took up the bills in subcommittee. Gov. Kim Reynolds signed an executive order in 2020 to allow people with past felony convictions to vote, but the change has not been added to Iowa law.

Hunting/fishing: Senate Joint Resolution 16 proposes a constitutional amendment providing that hunting, fishing and trapping are “a valuable part of our heritage” that should be preserved. The proposal did not make it to floor debate in either chamber.

Insulin:  

  • The monthly out-of-pocket cost for insulin would be capped at $100 under House File 263. The Senate held a subcommittee on the bill but never passed it in committee.
  • House File 262 would allow pharmacists to refill up to a month’s worth of a prescription without a doctor’s sign-off in emergency situations. A Senate subcommittee moved the proposal, but the Human Resources Committee did not take it up.

Immigration: Employers could face loss of business licenses for knowingly employing undocumented workers under Senate File 339. The Senate did not bring the bill to debate.

Littering:  New penalties for littering could include the loss of hunting and fishing licenses and state park camping privileges under Senate File 465. The bill did not make it through the Senate.

Marijuana: Possession of 5 grams or less of marijuana would be downgraded to a simple misdemeanor under Senate File 533.

Mobile home parks: House File 442 would regulate various aspects of the relationship between a mobile home or manufactured home owner and the owner of the mobile home park or property where the dwelling is located.

Pet shops: Cities could not restrict certain operations of pet shops or zoos under Senate File 483.

Police: 

  • Senate File 479 would cut off state aid for cities that “defund” or cut police budgets. The House did not take up the legislation. Speaker of the House Pat Grassley said in March that he was concerned about “unintended consequences.”
  • “We’re going to want to work with local law enforcement,” Grassley said in a call with reporters. “We don’t want to impact our small communities or communities that may increase their budget, and then just naturally have to reduce it because of the revenue.”

Pregnancy: Employers would be required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees based on pregnancy and childbirth under Senate File 485.

Schools:

  • Senate File 159 would create new avenues for charter schools to form in Iowa and would fund scholarship programs for some students to attend private schools. The House split that bill into multiple pieces of legislation and did not take up the scholarship program component.
  • House File 415 would require public and certain nonaccredited private schools to display the American flag in classrooms and start each day with recitation of the pledge of allegiance. 

Traffic cameras:  Traffic cameras would be prohibited except for a section of Interstate 380 through Cedar Rapids under Senate File 516.

Universities: House File 496 would ban tenure for faculty at state universities. Neither chamber brought the bill to floor debate, but Grassley said Thursday there was still interest in making changes to the tenure system.

“There still is interest within the Legislature to do something within tenure, it just may be a different approach. It may be as more of a reform proposal that we would see,” Grassley said. He didn’t offer any specifics of what sort of changes might be proposed. 

Unemployment benefits: Senate File 492 would impose a one-week waiting period before the start of unemployment benefits, reduce benefits for families with more than two dependents and eliminate expanded plant-closing benefit periods. The Senate marked the bill as unfinished business, but the House did not.

Vaccines: 

Workplace: Senate File 496 bars employers from entering into noncompete agreements with “low-wage” workers who make $14.50 an hour or less.

(Note: Some bill numbers may have changed from previous coverage and many bills listed here have companion legislation in the opposite chamber.  For complete lists of bills currently eligible for debate, see the House calendar and Senate calendar. Bills passed by both the House and Senate so far this year are listed here.)

— Kathie Obradovich contributed to this report.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Reporter Katie Akin began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.

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