Second Legislative Deadline Update
More common-sense bills must be passed
We hit the final stretch in the Iowa Legislature as the second legislative deadline passed last week, known as the “funnel”, which helps narrow down the number of bills still eligible for debate before adjournment.
At the start of the session, House Democrats were ready to work together to get the pandemic under control and pass meaningful legislation that helps all Iowans, not just the special interest.
Unfortunately, we saw the demise of common-sense bills get tossed to the side including bills that enact the following:
- Constitutionally restore felon voting rights (HJR 11)
- Cap cost of insulin to $100 for month supply (HF 263)
- Allow pharmacists can give birth control without prescription (HF 434)
- Requires insurance to reimburse mental health and physical health providers at same rate for telehealth services (HF 294/HF 706)
- Prohibits employers from restricting low wage workers from getting another job (SF 496)
- Prohibits “Gay Panic” defense (HF 310)
- Creates Learning Recovery Task Force for COVID learning losses (SF 545)
- Enhances communications with our returning veterans to be sure they access benefits they’ve earned (SF 255)
Some good news is that legislators have been able to put politics aside to work together on a few bi-partisan bills including:
- Exempting COVID payments & relief from state taxes (SF 364)
- Creating more affordable housing options (HF 582/ SF 295)
- Expanding protections to prevent sexual abuse (SF 253)
- Doubling tax credit for volunteer EMS/fire fighters (HF 563)
- Encouraging more OB/GYN doctors to locate in rural Iowa (SF 129)
- Introduces new enforcement efforts to stop human trafficking (HF 452/ SF 388)
- Expanding Child Care Tax Credit (HF 230)
- Expanding adoption tax credit (HF 369)
- Creating a business child care tax credit (HF 370)
- Outlines employment leave for adoptive parents (SF 362/HF 724)
- Expansion of the popular beginning farmer tax credit to attract younger farmers (HF 694/SF 360)
- Allocates more funding opportunities for voluntary fire departments (HF 761)
- Appropriates a $3 million increase for Iowa state park maintenance (HF 749)
- Explores opportunities to expand broadband across Iowa communities (SF 390/HF 848)
Next week, the Legislature will spend more time on the budget process and sending bills over to the Senate as the end of session looms at the end of the month.
Lawmakers Call for Action on Prison Safety as Iowans Mourn the Loss of Two Public Servants Murdered at Anamosa State Penitentiary
On March 23, two inmates attempted to escape Anamosa State Penitentiary. They violently attacked and killed nurse Lorena Schulte and correctional officer Robert McFarland. It’s the first time an inmate has killed a worker since 1972. It’s a terrible tragedy that was preventable.
This week, Democratic lawmakers and other dedicated public servants joined AFSCME Local 61’s call to take immediate action and do the following before the 2021 session adjourns to keep Iowans and our dedicated public servants safe on the job:
- Full funding of DOC and fill all positions
- Restore collective bargaining
- Independent investigation at Anamosa with all stakeholders
- New training procedures in DOC
The loss of these lives is a horrible tragedy that could have been prevented. These tangible warning signs have been notably present for years:
- Rising violence in Iowa prisons. Since FY 2019, there has been more violence in our prison system with offender assaults on staff increasing from 82 to 109. This increase includes assaults with serious injuries and with throwing substances.
- Prison overcrowding. Iowa’s overall prison system is overcrowded by nearly 10% over inmate capacity.
- Prison staffing. As of March 2021, there were well-over 200 unfilled full-time positions throughout Iowa’s prisons.
- Prison funding. Funding for prisons through the Department of Corrections (DOC) is at $387.2 million in FY 2021. In Anamosa, funding peaked in FY 2016 at $33.7 million, while funding in the current year is down $800,000 to $32.9 million.
- Prison safety and security. In 2017, GOP lawmakers stripped away the rights of these dedicated public servants to bargain for their own safety and cut $5.5 million from the DOC budget. Governor Branstad’s initial proposal cut the DOC’s budget by $15 million.
This is a failure of leadership from the Reynolds Administration and Majority Party lawmakers who have consistently ignored these warning signs.
Budgeting Process Begins, Public Left in the Dark
As the budget process begins in the Iowa House, House Democrats are committed to Build Back Iowa by investing in our schools, supporting Iowa families, rebuilding our communities, and providing expanded access to healthcare.
Unfortunately, Majority Party lawmakers are keeping Iowans in the dark on their ideas, by passing budgeting bills with little to no public input and no way for the public to search for information. Budgets covering a wide range of issues from water quality to public safety were passed before having a bill number, making it impossible for them to look up information.
Passing budgets so fast without the ability for the public to weigh in, makes it hard to believe that they are not trying to hide their priorities from working Iowans. If Majority Party lawmakers, in charge of the Iowa Legislature, were passing budgets that had the best interest of Iowans and were popular, they would have a more open and transparent process.
All Iowans 16 and Older Now Eligible for COVID Vaccines
COVID-19 vaccine appointments are now open to all Iowans ages 16 and up, but as demand still outpaces the supply Iowans are still encouraged to make appointments. To find a provider near you, please visit: coronavirus.iowa.gov/pages/vaccineinformation#VaccineProviders. If you are on Twitter, you can also follow @IAVaccineAlerts, which posts open appointments as soon as they are released.
Iowans who are currently eligible to receive the vaccine but have barriers to scheduling an appointment can call 2-1-1 or (800) 244-7431 for assistance scheduling an appointment. The vaccine navigators at 2-1-1 can assist in multiple languages. Iowans can also visit vaccinate.Iowa.gov to find a vaccine provider.
Mid-week, over 1.67 million doses have been administered across the state, and over 675,000 Iowans have received both doses.
Iowans should also remember to cancel unneeded vaccination appointments because it can lead to wasted doses that have a very short window of time when they can be used.
Governor Signs Law Ending Background Checks Despite Public Safety Concerns
Last week, the Governor signed legislation that no longer requires background checks or a permit to carry a gun. Currently, Iowa law requires people to pass a criminal background check, before purchasing a handgun from any seller and when obtaining their permit.
According to national published research, state laws requiring background checks for all handgun sales are associated with lower firearm homicide, suicide, and trafficking rates.
HF 756 repeals the state’s background check requirement by allowing individuals to buy handguns without a permit. By eliminating the permit requirement, the new law lowers standards for who may legally carry – to include individuals with dangerous histories, convicted stalkers, and people who may have never fired a handgun or received safety training.
The new law becomes effective July 1, 2021.
Other Iowa News
USDA PANDEMIC ASSISTANCE FOR FARMERS & AG PRODUCERS: Help is on the way for farmers, ranchers and agricultural producers who have been impacted by COVID-19 market disruptions from the USDA with $6 billion in programs. The new funds are to help a broader set of producers, including socially disadvantaged communities, small and medium sized producers, and farmers and producers of less traditional crops. Applications will be open for 60 days beginning on April 5th. More information on the grants is available on the USDA’s website, farmers.gov/pandemic-assistance/cfap. The USDA is also adding additional money to existing programs and services. A full list of programs and applications can be found on the USDA’s website, farmers.gov/pandemic-assistance. More programs will be added to the website later.
SHUTTERED VENUE OPERATIONS GRANTS: The long-awaited Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) program will begin accepting applications on April 8. Live venue operators, promoters, theatrical producers, live performing arts organizations, and some museums and zoos are eligible for a grant. Organizations can receive financial benefits from both the SVOG program and the Paycheck Protection Program. A new application portal is now available. Go to sba.gov/svogrant for frequently asked questions, video tutorials and other key details on applying for a grant.
GRANT TO ADD HIGH SCHOOL CAREER COUNSELING POSITIONS: The Iowa Department of Education (DE) and the College Student Aid Commission have awarded six $50,000 grants for new college and career transition counselors. They will focus on preparing more high school students for success in college, postsecondary career training and the workforce. Des Moines Area Community College, Hawkeye Community College, Iowa Lakes Community College, Iowa Valley Community College District, Kirkwood Community College and Western Iowa Tech Community College each receive a grant for the positions. The college and career counselors will work closely with high school juniors and seniors and their first year of college or career training. This is the first year of awards. Applications for future three-year grant cycles will be open in 2022 and 2023.
CALL 8-1-1 BEFORE YOU DO ANY SPRING DIGGING: April is Safe Digging Month in Iowa. Before Iowans start digging, they should call 811 to locate underground utilities. There is now an online option available at IowaOneCall.com to view the mapping system, it’s very detailed and allows the user to pinpoint where there are utility wires. The utility location service is free, but it can cost in damage and fines if a utility is hit.