Major Republican bills stall but may survive past funnel deadline
The Iowa Capitol. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)
Several Republican priorities stalled ahead of a legislative deadline this week, but negotiations on the bills will continue with the help of legislative workarounds, leaders say.
Friday marks the end of the 10th week of the 2022 legislative session. It’s the second “funnel” deadline to sideline policy bills that haven’t advanced far enough through the legislative process. In theory, a bill must make it all the way through floor debate in one chamber, and through committee in the other.
A handful of priority bills, including proposals from Gov. Kim Reynolds on private school scholarships and unemployment, did not meet that benchmark.
“We’re still in the process of trying to find compromises and trying to work things through the process… I’ve made some moves to different committees to keep things alive and keep the conversations going,” House Speaker Pat Grassley said Thursday.
Lawmakers have several options to resurrect a bill if it doesn’t meet the funnel deadline, including adding policy to other bills or budget proposals. Budget and tax bills, and legislation sponsored by leadership, are exempt from the deadline.
“These are big conversations when you talk about tort, unemployment, all the things that are still around,” Grassley said. “Those are big and sometimes complicated bills that we need to address.”
Reynolds told reporters Wednesday there were still several options to pass her tort reform and unemployment proposal.
“We’re looking at different ways to get something across the finish line,” she said. “If it gets pulled, we’ll figure out another place to put the bill.”
Democratic leaders, who hold a minority in the House and Senate, criticized the Republican laws passed so far.
“We need to put aside politics, lead with Iowa values and listen through our own disagreements,” said House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst.
Education negotiations ongoing in House and Senate
Education was the driving force in the early weeks of the legislative session. Lawmakers passed a per-pupil funding increase of 2.4% and a bill to prohibit transgender girls from playing sports while conversations bubbled about parent choice, transparency, and inappropriate material in school.
Republicans are still negotiating some major policy bills, including Reynolds’ private school proposal and a bill to charge teachers and administrators with a crime if they distribute inappropriate material.
Reynolds’ education bill: For the second year in a row, Reynolds pushed for state-funded private school scholarships. She argues it would create more parental choice, allowing low-income students to attend private schools.
The proposal, Senate File 2369, has lingered in the House and Senate. Neither chamber has debated it on the floor.
But the bill still has a path forward, despite the slow uptake. Grassley moved it to the Appropriations Committee in the House and the Senate pushed it to the “unfinished business” calendar, marking it safe from funnel requirements.
Criminal penalties for teachers over “obscene content”: Amid a surge of angry parents and controversial school board meetings, Sen. Jake Chapman introduced a bill to prohibit “obscene content” in schools, imposing a criminal penalty on teachers and administrators who allow explicit books in the classroom or library.
Senate File 2364 did not make it out of the Senate or past the second funnel. Grassley said the House Republicans would not support a proposal to create criminal penalties for teachers.
“Some real good pieces of legislation keep getting sidetracked by that, but that is not the route that we intend on going in the House,” he said.
Parent bill of rights: The Senate took another approach to concerns about inappropriate content, introducing a bill to require teachers share their curriculum and all student records with parents. The bill moved through a Senate committee, but did not advance to the Senate floor, marking it inactive after the funnel deadline.
COVID-19 and vaccines
In October’s special session, lawmakers passed a bill to require broad exemptions to employer COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Some Republicans said the bill didn’t go far enough, calling for a total ban on vaccine mandates for COVID-19 and other diseases.
Medical freedom bill: House File 2545 was the most significant proposal. It would have prohibited businesses from requiring any vaccines, inquiring about vaccination status, or mandating masks. Anti-mandate and anti-vaccination groups rallied around the proposal, which never made it to the House floor.
Grassley said the initial form of the bill did not have enough support within the Republican caucus. A scaled-back version of the proposal was tied to a bill on trucker liability, which failed on the House floor Wednesday.
No COVID vaccination requirements in schools: House File 2298 says Iowa child care centers, colleges and K-12 schools may not require the COVID-19 vaccination. The bill would sunset in 2029. It passed the House and remains active.
Allow use of Ivermectin. House File 2203 would allow terminally-ill patients to use drugs for off-label treatments. That would include the use of Ivermectin to treat coronavirus, although the drug is not an approved treatment. The bill advanced through the House and a Senate committee and remains active past the funnel.
Required written consent before vaccination. Senate File 2335 would require the written consent of a parent or guardian before a child receives a vaccination. Opponents of the bill said medical providers already must obtain verbal consent, and a written form would be unnecessarily complicated. The Senate did not bring the bill to the floor, so it does not pass the funnel in its current form.
Unemployment changes didn’t clear either chamber. Reynolds proposed a workforce bill, House File 2279, that would limit Iowans to 16 weeks of unemployment – 10 fewer weeks than currently allowed. The Senate proposed its own bill, Senate File 2249, to lower the cap to 12 weeks.
Neither proposal made it to floor debate in the House or Senate. But Reynolds and Grassley suggested negotiations are ongoing.
Trucker and medical liability tort reform. Another piece of Reynolds’ workforce bill was increased liability protections for trucking companies and medical facilities. The House took up the trucker liability Thursday, but the bill faltered on the floor.
New public assistance requirements. House File 2438 introduces new eligibility requirements for some public assistance programs. It moved through the Human Resources committee before the first funnel, then got moved to the Appropriations calendar, marking it safe from the second funnel deadline.
ICU rate for mental health. House File 2546 creates psychiatric intensive inpatient care rate for Medicaid recipients. It passed the House unanimously this week, but didn’t make it all the way through a Senate committee. The Senate marked the bill as unfinished business, allowing them to continue work on it.
Psychiatry residency program. House File 2529 instructs the University of Iowa Hospitals to open 12 psychiatry residency positions. The bill is in Senate Appropriations, immune to the funnel deadline.
More teen employees. House File 2198 allows 16-year-olds to provide care to school-age children without additional supervision. It is through the funnel and ready for Senate debate.
More toddlers per staff member. Senate File 2268 would let one child care worker supervise seven 2-year-olds or 10 3-year-olds. The Senate passed the bill along party lines, but the House did not move it. Instead, the Senate plans to add an amendment to House File 2198 that change the ratios.
Agriculture and environment
Bottle bill. Lawmakers are trying once again to change the state’s bottle and can redemption program. The Senate advanced a bill through its Ways and Means Committee Thursday to increase the handling fee and allow retailers to opt out of the program. It is immune to the funnel.
Eminent domain moratorium. House Republicans took Senate File 2022, a bill on cosmetology, and created a new bill to suspend the use of eminent domain for carbon capture pipelines. Thanks to the legislative maneuver, it remains alive past the funnel.
Biofuels requirement. House File 2128 requires Iowa gas stations to offer a gasoline blend with 15% ethanol. That’s on the Ways and Means calendar, so it’s alive beyond the funnel.
Private land sales for conservation. Senate File 2312 said landowners would receive less than full value if they sold land to county conservation boards or the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The Senate never debated the bill, making it inactive beyond the funnel.
Election bill with absentee ballot ID. House File 2526 would create new requirements for absentee ballot voter identification requirements. Both chambers put the bill on the unfinished business calendar.
No license for eyebrow threading. Both chambers have passed Senate File 2119, which allows people to practice eyebrow threading without a license. The bill awaits a signature from Reynolds.
Permanent daylight saving time. A Senate committee moved House File 2331 on Wednesday. The bill would transition Iowa to daylight saving time year-round – if the federal government approves the idea and border states also make the switch.
Definition of antisemitism. House File 2220 defines antisemitism in Iowa law and instructs the state to consider antisemitism when investigating discrimination. It also requires training for state employees on antisemitism. Both the House and the Senate have passed the bill.
Amended law on Israel divestment. House File 2373 changes a 2016 law on divestment from Israel. It expands the definition of company to explicitly prevent Iowa from investing in companies that boycott Israel – including Ben & Jerry’s, owned by British company Unilever. The House and Senate have passed the bill.
Religious freedom. House File 2437 says the state must not limit religious conduct more restrictively than secular conduct. Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Orange City, said the legislation was spurred by unequal COVID-19 closures, when churches were required to close while some businesses could remain open. The bill passed the House almost unanimously Thursday, and the Senate put companion legislation on the unfinished business list, allowing the bill to remain alive.
Restrictions on food delivery apps. House File 2408 introduces requirements for third-party food delivery apps. Both chambers placed it on the unfinished business calendar.
Iowa PBS public records. House File 2488 would allow people to request and use public records from Iowa PBS to create new projects. It passed the House and the Senate placed it on unfinished business.
Mobile home resident protections. House File 2441 would lengthen the amount of notice given to mobile home residents ahead of an eviction or rent increase. It advanced through a House committee and then was placed on the unfinished business calendar.
Insurance appraisal changes. House File 2299 would have changed the insurance appraisal process. It advanced through the House on a unanimous vote, but senators halted consideration of the bill after a series of tornadoes swept through Iowa and destroyed several homes. It did not advance far enough to pass the funnel deadline.
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