Iowa Republicans ditch waiting period for unemployment, pass other priority bills
Bills on workforce, biofuels, child care headed to Gov. Kim Reynolds
Iowa lawmakers advanced priority bills Tuesday dealing with unemployment, child care and workforce issues. (Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)
Iowa lawmakers reached an agreement on several major policy priorities Tuesday, sending bills on unemployment, biofuels and child care to Gov. Kim Reynolds.
The movement comes after several quiet weeks at the Capitol, as private negotiations on controversial bills stalled the adjournment process. The session is in overtime, so lawmakers are no longer receiving “per diem” payments for their travel expenses.
“Legislators are here to work and make sure that we’re enacting policies that make Iowa a better place for families, for employers, to really build your life,” Rep. Michael Bousselot, R-Ankeny said. “And that doesn’t end when per diem stops.”
Senate concedes one-week waiting period for unemployment
The House and Senate passed different versions of House File 2355 in late March. The bill limits unemployment to 16 weeks and changes the definition of a “suitable” new job, prompting people to take lower-paying jobs earlier in their job search.
But the chambers remained divided on one key part of the bill: Senate Republicans amended the bill to include a one-week waiting period before Iowans received benefits. The bill lay dormant between chambers for several weeks.
On Tuesday, the House passed their initial vision of the bill again: fewer weeks of unemployment with no waiting period. Bousselot said the waiting period would harm construction workers, many of whom expect a few weeks of unemployment every year.
“The House decided to stick with what we passed the first time,” Bousselot told reporters.
The Senate voted 30-14 to pass the House’s version of the bill Tuesday afternoon. The bill goes to Reynolds for approval.
Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, said the bill was “a tremendous win for the workforce in Iowa,” even without the waiting period.
“For Iowans who are unemployed, I believe they’re going to get into a job faster… The closer you are to the job market from being just recently laid off, the more employable and more your mindset is to get back into the workforce,” Schultz said.
Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls said the removal of the waiting period made a “terrible” bill “slightly less terrible.”
“It’s another slap in the face to Iowa workers, and from our perspective, we believe it will continue to exacerbate the Reynolds workforce crisis that’s gripping literally every industry here in our state,” Wahls, D-Coralville said.
The House also passed a “workforce omnibus” bill, Senate File 2383. The bill removes some inspection requirements for manufactured housing; introduces reporting requirements for workforce learning programs; updates a loan forgiveness program for rural doctors; and waives some fees for veterans.
Democrats criticized the legislation, arguing it does not address the workforce shortage.
Lawmakers send bill to raise child care ratios, lower staff age
The House passed House File 2198, sending it to Reynolds. The bill allows 16-year-olds to supervise school-age children without an adult present, and it increases the allowable number of toddlers per staff member.
Rep. Ann Meyer, R-Fort Dodge, said the bill would align Iowa’s laws with “the majority of other states.”
Rep. Tracy Ehlert, D-Cedar Rapids, said the bill would “lower safeguards” at already-overburdened child care centers.
“This bill is still distracting from our real issues, which is providing affordable, accessible and quality health care,” Ehlert said.
The House voted 52-42 to pass the bill.
What about private school scholarships?
There was no floor action this week on the session’s major sticking point: Reynolds’ proposal for state-funded private school scholarships. The Senate passed the bill in late March. House Republicans have refused to take it up.
Reynolds told reporters she is “absolutely not” giving up on the bill as long as the Legislature is in session.
“It’s only one week past the per diem,” Reynolds said. “I mean, my gosh, we’ve gone a lot later than this in years past.”
Reynolds said she does not plan to extend negotiations into late June, a move that could prompt a government shutdown. The state’s budget year ends June 30.
“I’ll be back next year with it if I don’t get it through, I believe that strongly,” said Reynolds, who is up for reelection in 2022.
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