Lawmakers rush over 100 bills through subcommittees ahead of ‘funnel’ deadline

By: - March 1, 2023 8:33 pm

Lawmakers are rushing over 100 bills through the committee process ahead of this week's "funnel" deadline. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa lawmakers took up over 100 bills in subcommittees in the final days before the Iowa Legislature’s first “funnel” deadline.

Bills which have not gained approval from a committee this week will no longer be viable to advance this session, with exceptions. In a race to meet that deadline, legislators held 34 subcommittees Monday, 48 subcommittees Tuesday, and 41 subcommittees Wednesday. Committees also face a larger workload: House Judiciary Committee considered 16 bills Tuesday and the House Education Committee considered 15 bills Wednesday.

Another 102 bills are scheduled for consideration in legislative committees on Thursday. No committee meetings are currently scheduled for Friday.

House Speaker Pat Grassley told reporters last week that there would be a “broad amount of bills” considered in the final days before the deadline.

Many of the Republican priority bills have already advanced through the committee process – Gov. Kim Reynolds’ private school scholarship program and medical malpractice liability limits are already signed into law, and committees have approved the governor’s health care and private-school scholarship bills. But high-profile discussions on bills relating to transgender children and carbon emission pipelines are still happening in the run-up to this first deadline.

Keep in mind: Bills that do not advance this week are not necessarily dead this session. Government oversight, appropriations, and tax bills are not subject to the deadline. The language proposed in bills that do not pass this week can also be added as amendments to surviving bills, as well as come up again as leadership-sponsored legislation.

Here are some of the bills Iowa legislators have moved through subcommittee and committee processes so far this week leading up to the first “funnel” deadline:

Bills win committee approval

Gender identity and school books: The Senate Education Committee approved Senate Study Bill 1145, one of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ education proposals. The bill would require school staff who believe that a child identifies with a gender other than the one assigned at birth to notify parents or guardians, unless the staff determines there is a risk of child abuse. In those cases, the school staff would be immediately required to notify the Department of Health and Human Services about the risk of abuse. 

The bill would also create a statewide “removal list” of all books successfully challenged in any Iowa school district. Any books on that list would require parental permission for students to access.

Bathrooms: The Senate Committee also approved legislation stopping people from using school restrooms and facilities not corresponding with their gender assigned at birth. Senate File 335 would allow schools to provide accommodations for students, such as single-occupancy bathrooms, upon request. If enacted, opponents to the bill said in subcommittees Tuesday the bill would put Iowa schools conflict with federal Title IX laws.

Age-appropriate material: Books available in school libraries would be subject to new restrictions on “age appropriate” materials through House Study Bill 219 — specifically banning visual or described depictions of sex acts. While school staff applauded the legislation for including language acknowledging librarians’ roles in Iowa K-12 schools, some questioned whether classic pieces of literature like “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Brontë, “Ulysses” by James Joyce or even the Bible would be prohibited from school libraries under the legislation. The bill was approved by both a House Education subcommittee and committee Wednesday.

Diversity, equity and inclusion: University of Iowa, Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa would no longer be able to use funds for “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion,” or DEI offices or employees through House Study Bill 218, approved by both a House subcommittee and Education Committee. Universities governed by the Iowa Board of Regents would be required to divert the DEI funds to merit scholarships for low- and middle-income students. Board of Regents staff told lawmakers in subcommittee that this legislation could put universities at risk of losing federal contracts and stop current scholarship programs such as those designated for for women in STEM or Native American students.

The House Education Committee adopted an amendment allowing exceptions for required DEI training when required to maintain federal contracts.

Disruptive students: House Study Bills 206 would provide protections for teachers who may encounter violent situations with students, saying that “reasonable and necessary” physical conduct does not count as corporal punishment, which is prohibited by state law. Additionally, the bill requires that a student is permanently expelled if they are removed from a classroom by a teacher three times in one semester.

Misgendering students: The House Education Committee also approved House File 367, which would prohibit schools from taking any disciplinary action against students or staff who do not use a person’s preferred name and pronouns, if those differ from their legal name and gender. An amendment approved by the committee allows for employees terminated in violation of the bill to seek a civil action remedy.

Child labor: The House Commerce Committee approved House Study Bill 134, allowing 14- to 17-year-old Iowans to work longer hours and more jobs. The bill proposes allowing Iowa Workforce Development and Department of Education to grant a waiver for “work-based learning” programs in workplaces currently prohibited for minors, such as mines, factories and construction sites. The bill would also allow 16- and 17-year-olds to serve alcohol, with written permission from their parent or guardian.

Public investments: The Senate State Government Committee approved Senate Study Bill 1094, which would restrict the use of social strategies for investment firms that manage state funds. The bill would prohibit the state from entering into contracts for public fund investments with companies that prioritize social investments or boycotts of certain companies, such as those dealing in fossil fuels or firearms.

Dog “breed bans”: Legislation prohibiting cities or counties from enacting “breed bans” to restrict dog ownership based on the animal’s perceived breed passed the Senate State Government Committee unanimously. Sen. Chris Cournoyer, R-LeClaire, said Senate Study Bill 1195 was “near and dear” to her because her dog, Blue, could be mistaken for a breed often targeted as “dangerous.” Cities could still pass ordinances based on a dog’s behavior, she said.

Tinted windows: A Senate subcommittee advanced a bill — similar to something that has already had support in the House — that would expand the places where people can drive and park with a firearm in their vehicle. The Senate Transportation Committee approved a bill that would significantly increase the strength of tint that is allowed for front vehicle windows.

Deplatforming: Senate Study Bill 1189 aims to penalize corporations that restrict free expression online by applying fees on corporations in the state with more than 10 million users, with exemptions made to “platforms that offer open discourse.” To be eligible for an exemption, social media companies would be required to publish a quarterly report of how many times content creators in the state were “deplatformed” or “demonitized,” as well as how many appeals were filed by and granted to these users. The funds collected through the program would go toward the Iowa Communications Network fund.

Liquid carbon dioxide pipelines: One of a handful of bills restricting the use of eminent domain by private pipeline projects has passed a House committee. House File 368 would prevent the companies from using eminent domain to force easements from landowners until they eclipse the 90% threshold for voluntary agreements. It would also give counties new authority to restrict carbon dioxide pipeline routes and delay permits for them until new federal safety guidelines are finalized, which will likely happen next year.

Subcommittee consideration

“Right to try” expansion: Iowans with a “debilitating” illness would be allowed to use “off-label” drugs, those not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treatment of the patient’s specific illness, under House File 225. Current law restricts these treatments to patients with “life-threatening” illnesses and ventilators.

Banning meat substitutes: A proposal to ban meat substitutes such as insect-based on lab-grown proteins from school lunches, House File 377, was rejected by a House subcommittee on Wednesday.

Internet restrictions: Minors under age 16 would be required to receive permission from a parent or guardian in order to access social media and gaming websites under House Study Bill 223, requiring these websites set up a method of gathering parental consent.

— Reporter Jared Strong and Editor Kathie Obradovich contributed to this report.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.