Lawmakers, LGBTQ advocates expect transgender athlete ban proposal will return next session

Students with Iowa Safe Schools, some draped in LGBT or transgender flags, wait for rides after being ejected from the State Capitol on March 12, 2020. (Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa lawmakers passed dozens of bills this week in a final sprint to the session’s finish line, but one proposal was notably absent: a ban on transgender athletes competing in women’s sports.

Through the final weeks of session, Republican leaders said they were discussing the proposal, which Gov. Kim Reynolds had supported openly at a Fox News town hall.

“I think it’s an issue of fairness,” Reynolds told Iowa journalists after her Fox News appearance. “Do we have women’s and girls’ sports or not?”

Democrats and LGBTQ advocates condemned the proposal. Keenan Crow, director of policy and advocacy with One Iowa, said the weeks between Reynolds’s Fox News appearance and the end of the session were “incredibly stressful.”

“We thought this was gone for the year,” they said, noting that the Legislature chose not to take up several other proposed bills to restrict transgender youth in Iowa.

When the chambers gaveled out Wednesday without introducing a transgender athelte bill, One Iowa sent out a celebratory press release. None of the 15 bills they flagged as anti-LGBTQ had passed.

However, Republican leaders say the issue is still on the table for next session. House Speaker Pat Grassley said conversations would continue about restricting transgender athletes, but that there just hadn’t been time to find the right language on the bill.

“Iowans should not read into that that there isn’t a level of support within the Legislature … I think we just want to make sure the House, Senate and the governor are all on the same page,” Grassley said.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver concurred, saying that there was “interest in the caucus” but that lawmakers had to focus on other bills in the final weeks of session.

Crow said the number of anti-LGBTQ and specifically anti-transgender bills were on the rise nationally. They expect many of the same bills from this session, including the athlete ban, to return in Iowa next year.

“All 15 of those that were already introduced are going to become live rounds again at the beginning of next year,” Crow said. “So whatever they introduce in addition to that will be up and over the top.”

Other bills that didn’t pass in 2021

While Iowa legislators kept a number of bills alive until the final days of the legislative session, some high-profile ideas failed to reach the finish line. Here’s a sample:

Bottle bill: Lawmakers considered several proposals that would have let grocers opt out of accepting bottle and can returns if a redemption center was nearby. But the grocery industry, distributors and redemption centers never reached a consensus.

Biofuels standards: Compromise was also elusive on Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposal to expand ethanol and biodiesel sales, which faced opposition from fuel marketers. Reynolds said she would convene stakeholders before next session to seek consensus.

Liability relief for trucking companies: Even after the bill was narrowed to address only commercial carriers, the proposal to excuse trucking companies of much liability for employee wrongdoing raised concerns it would lead to less-stringent hiring and training practices.

Forest reserve tax breaks: The Senate shelved language that would have put more conditions on getting tax breaks for forest land, a move that was widely opposed by environmentalists and others.

Restore the Outdoors: A proposal to earmark $3 million a year from gambling revenues for state park improvements and repairs stalled.

Social media censorship: A proposal to penalize tech companies that engage in “censorship” ran into static from businesses, schools and local governments that use their services.

Unemployment benefit waiting period:  A business and industry proposal to delay unemployment benefits for a week and to eliminate extra benefits for plant closings faced heated opposition from Democrats.