Iowa bills on private school scholarships, vaccine mandates make it past first legislative hurdle
The Iowa State Capitol. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)
Most Republican policy priorities, including proposals on education, COVID-19 and the workforce shortage, will remain in play after the first legislative deadline of the 2022 session passes this week.
Friday is the first “funnel” deadline of the legislative session. Most policy bills must pass through a subcommittee and a committee in at least one chamber to be eligible for further consideration.
Any bills that don’t make it through a committee are “dead” – although they might be revived as an amendment to another bill or a leadership proposal. Budget and tax legislation are exempt from the funnel.
Republican leaders were confident Thursday about their progress through the first stage of session.
“The governor laid out a very bold and ambitious agenda at the beginning of session,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver. “I’m very happy and proud that the Senate has advanced almost that entire agenda.”
House Speaker Pat Grassley said he felt “pretty good” about following through on the commitments that the House made when session began in January.
“We’ll take some time to regroup here after the funnel concludes,” he said. “I know a lot of bills have moved through the process, and (we’ll) decide what of those we’re going to take action on as a caucus.”
Here’s a look at some of the major bills we’ve been tracking through the first six weeks of the legislative session – and which will be moving forward beyond the funnel.
Education dominates early-session conversations
Education has ruled the Capitol this session. From opening day, when Senate President Jake Chapman delivered a speech decrying teachers for distributing obscene content, lawmakers have focused extensively on schools: what to teach, how involved parents should be, which kids should play sports and what content should be available to children.
Lawmakers have already set a 2.5% growth rate for 2022, promising an additional $159 million to Iowa schools for the 2022-2023 school year. Here are some other changes that may be coming down the line:
Gov. Kim Reynolds’ education proposal. Reynolds proposed a wide-ranging education bill that would create private school scholarships for students who want to transfer out of a public school. The bill would also increase transparency about what students have access to in the classroom and school libraries.
But the bill lagged in the House, which has yet to take it up in subcommittee, and the Senate, where the Education Committee passed it on Thursday with the promise of amendments. Sen. Amy Sinclair said the bill would not come to the floor as-is, but she did not expand upon which parts might be amended.
“But it was important to us to have an opportunity, a vehicle to move pieces of this bill in further discussion later,” Sinclair said.
Grassley said he moved the bill to the Appropriations Committee in the House, making it eligible for debate past the funnel deadline.
Ban on transgender athletes. Both the House and the Senate moved bills to prohibit transgender girls from playing women’s sports at Iowa schools. Grassley said an agreement between the chambers could be ready for floor debate as early as next week.
Criminal penalties for obscene materials. One of the most high-profile bills of the session came from Senate President Jake Chapman, who called for criminal penalties for teachers or school librarians who provide obscene content to students. As the bill passed through committee Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee amended it to include stricter penalties than the initial proposal.
Parent bill of rights. The Senate Education Committee also approved a “parent bill of rights” proposal, Senate File 2205, which includes similar transparency requirements to the governor’s bill.
New social studies requirements. House File 2099 would create several new standards for Iowa social studies classes, including a unit on “civil discourse” and comparative analyses of different ideologies, like capitalism, socialism, communism and fascism.
Cameras in classrooms. House File 2177 would have required schools to install live-streams in every classroom, allowing parents to tune in and watch their children’s teachers. But it was dead on arrival: Republicans canceled a subcommittee on the topic before it began, shelving the proposal indefinitely.
“I was never in support of it,” said Rep. Ray Sorensen, the Republican who led the subcommittee.
COVID-19: Lawmakers take on vaccine mandates, experimental drug use
Ban on vaccine requirements, mask mandates. A sweeping “medical freedom” bill passed through the House State Government Committee on Wednesday, marking its passage through the funnel. The bill would prohibit employers from inquiring about any vaccinations, including the COVID-19 vaccine, or requiring employees to wear face coverings.
Experimental treatments for terminal cases. House File 2203 would allow terminally ill patients to use drugs for an off-label use. That means some COVID-19 patients could use drugs like Ivermectin, which have not been approved to treat the coronavirus.
Written consent before vaccination. Minors would need written consent from a parent or guardian before receiving a vaccination under Senate File 2335.
Workforce shortage: Unemployment cuts and licensing changes move forward
Reynolds unemployment cuts. Reynolds proposed 10 fewer weeks of unemployment and a redefinition of what would be considered a “suitable job.” She said the changes would encourage Iowans to return to the workforce. Both the House and Senate passed the bill through committee.
Senate proposal would cut even deeper. The Senate Labor and Business Relations Committee approved a bill to make unemployment last just 12 weeks – 14 weeks fewer than current law allows.
Teens solo-staff day care classes. House File 2198 would allow 16-year-olds to work at a child care center without additional supervision.
More toddlers per teacher. House File 2131 would increase staffing ratios at child care centers. One worker could watch a maximum of seven 2-year-olds, or 10 3-year olds.
New public assistance requirements. House lawmakers split a 2021 Senate proposal on public assistance eligibility into seven parts, then recombined some of the provisions into one, standalone bill: House File 2438. The proposal would change some eligibility requirements for public assistance and require the Department of Human Services to routinely check eligibility.
Other bills tackle elections, can redemption and Uber Eats
Restrictions on food delivery. House File 2408 introduces new requirements for third-party food delivery apps, like Uber Eats or Doordash.
Election bill with absentee ballot identification. The House State Government Committee approved House Study Bill 719, a bill to require new absentee ballot voter identification requirements, recount procedures and restrictions on private money to conduct elections.
Bottle bill debate continues. The House Commerce Committee approved House Study Bill 709, a proposal on the bottle bill. Debate among stakeholders is ongoing, but the proposal will move forward through the funnel.
Ethanol sales requirement. The governor is trying again to require all fuel retailers in Iowa to offer E15, which is 15% ethanol blended with gasoline. House File 2128, which is exempt from the funnel, has already passed the House. It calls for at least half of pumps to be E15, but it allows fueling stations with antiquated tanks and pipes that aren’t approved for the higher blend to be exempted from the requirement.
Private land sales for conservation. Landowners who want to sell property to county conservation boards or the Iowa Department of Natural Resources would receive less than full value and a cap on tax breaks under Senate File 2312. The Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee advanced the bill this week.
New public records requirements for Iowa PBS. Senate File 2274 would allow some Iowa PBS public records to be copied and disseminated.
Eminent domain for pipelines. Senate File 2160 would have prevented liquid carbon pipeline developers from using eminent domain laws to build under private property. The bill passed subcommittee, but the Senate Commerce Committee declined to bring it up for a vote.
Sexual assault civil statute of limitations. Iowa lawmakers in 2021 extended the criminal statute of limitations for sexual assault of a minor. Senate File 2095 would have extended the civil statute of limitations, allowing survivors to bring a civil case against their abuser, after the abuser is convicted. The bill never came up for a committee vote.
Reynolds’ racial profiling prohibition. Lawmakers in 2021 passed a massive “Back the Blue” package that introduced protections for police and increased penalties for protest-related crimes. One part that didn’t make it through? Language to prohibit racial profiling.
Reynolds reintroduced the racial profiling language this year, but neither the House or Senate took it up.
— Kathie Obradovich contributed reporting.
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