Fighting for Iowans’ Freedom to Vote
This week, instead of working together on COVID relief and vaccine distribution, Republican lawmakers fast-tracked a bill making it more difficult for Iowans to vote.
The 2020 November general election saw a record turnout in the state, with 73.2% of eligible Iowan voters making their way to the polls – this was one of the best turnouts across the country. We should be working together to build on that success and expand voter access so all Iowans have the freedom to vote equally.
The bill, House File 590, will move us backward by making it more difficult for Iowans to vote, especially seniors and those with disabilities. A prominent voting rights lawyer deemed this bill one of the worst pieces of legislation introduced in any state legislature this year. Here are a few of the worst voter suppression tactics included in the GOP bill:
- Shortens early voting window by a third
- Creates new barriers for early voting
- Removes registered voters by purging voter rolls
Rather than making it more difficult to vote, we should continue to ensure every Iowan can cast their vote and have their voice counted. House Democrats have offered an alternative to the bill that would protect Iowans’ rights to vote safely.
Sign the Petition: Don’t Let Them Take Away Your Freedom to Vote
There is still time to help stop Iowa Republican lawmakers and Governor Reynolds from making it more difficult for Iowans to vote.
Add your name today to demand Iowans are able to vote freely and stop the voter suppression bill.
Sign the petition now!
New Pandemic Assistance for Iowans and Small Businesses
Since session began, Democratic lawmakers have been working to stay focused on pandemic recovery for Iowans and small business owners. This week, Iowa lawmakers took the first step on a bill that could provide some relief and President Biden announced some additional support is available for small businesses.
Small Businesses Only Paycheck Protection Program
President Biden has made a change to the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to benefit small businesses affected by closures due to COVID mitigation efforts. PPP is a forgivable loan that gives small businesses a loan to pay for payroll and other overhead expenses. From Wednesday, February 24th through Wednesday, March 10th, only businesses with 20 or fewer employees can apply for a PPP forgivable loan. The loan is forgivable as long as the business continues to pay employees. Businesses apply directly with a lending institution. For more information and to find a participating lender visit: sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/paycheck-protection-program.
Pandemic Assistance Exempt from State Taxes
Matching a Federal tax initiative, the House Ways & Means Committee in the Iowa House passed legislation this week to assure that these Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and other similar state programs are not overly taxed. The bill, Senate File 364, assures that tax protections for these programs apply to all businesses that received the money. The amended bill also provides tax relief to much of the pandemic unemployment that many Iowans received during the shutdown.
Last week, Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation that would also exempt the first $10,200 of unemployment payments from Iowa income taxes, but Majority lawmakers have yet to take this measure up.
Legislative Republicans Set to Cut Unemployment Benefits During Pandemic
Instead of helping record numbers of unemployed Iowans during this historic pandemic, this week the Majority Party voted to cut unemployment benefits.
Iowans who receive unemployment insurance have lost their jobs due to no fault of their own, and desperately want to return to the workforce. The average benefit is only $410 per week, barely enough for a family to pay bills and put food on the table. The bill, House Study Bill 203, passed the House Labor Committee this week and instituted a one-week waiting period for a person to receive these important benefits. It also cut benefits for families with more than three children.
In response, House Democrats offered legislation to raise wages, stop wage theft and make equal pay for equal work to help these Iowans, not punish them during the pandemic. These are policies that will not only help individual Iowans, but will help to boost the economy. Republicans chose the worst time to pass this legislation, and displayed true cruelty to Iowans who are trying their best to provide for their families.
Governor Signs Insufficient School Funding Bill
The past year has been hard on parents, students, and schools. The Iowa Legislature must do more to help students recover. Unfortunately, the school funding plan approved by Republican lawmakers and Governor was worse than expected. This plan will not help our students or schools with pandemic recovery.
This week, the Governor signed the PreK-12 school funding bill, which means larger class sizes, reduced course offerings, and it will do less to return kids to the classroom safely.
The annual school funding bill aimed to help schools keep pace with on-going expenses, increases public school funding by $22.3 million. It does not keep up with actual school costs and, in the middle of pandemic, it is $74 million less than last year’s increase. The bill leaves 137 school districts receiving less funding than last year, preschools will be cut $7.4 million next year, and millions in school expenses will be shifted on to local property taxpayers.
Unfortunately, a reasonable school funding plan brought forth by Democratic lawmakers to help kids recover from the pandemic was rejected. It would have done more to address kids’ ever-increasing mental health needs, help kids get back in the classroom safely, and keep class sizes low.
House Passes Additional Funding for Schools
Additional funding for PreK-12 schools aimed at helping certain school districts with additional financial assistance for pandemic relief in this year’s budget has passed the Iowa House. Under House File 532, districts are required to report to the Department of Management the number of full in-person days. Districts with less in-person instruction would count as a ½ day, and would receive less funding.
Under the House plan, all districts would receive some funding, which differs from an earlier Senate plan. However, districts who have tried to maintain education programs through a pandemic with online or a combination of online and in-person instruction will receive less funding.
The bill will provide a small amount of relief to schools, but prioritize schools who chose to be fully in person – consequently punishing schools retroactively for simply trying to keep their students safe. Many were opposed to the bill, as it picked “winners and losers” for school funding.
Bill Will Double Tax Credit for Volunteer Firefighters, EMTs, and Reserve Officers
The Iowa House passed a bill that would double the current volunteer firefighter, EMT, and Reserve Peace Officer tax credit. House File 563 would be retroactive to the start of this tax year, meaning that volunteers could claim the increased tax on taxes filed in April 2022.
The volunteer firefighter/EMT tax credit was started in Tax Year 2013. The credit was $50 when the legislature created it. In 2014, the credit was increased to $100 and expanded to include reserve peace officers.
Over 13,000 volunteers claim the credit every year and the credit currently saves these volunteers over $1.3 million annually. According to the Department of Revenue, it is estimated that 78% of the volunteer firefighters, EMTs, and reserve officers claim the credit every year.
House Democrats offered a proposal to increase the credit even more, but the proposal was defeated on a party line vote.
Other Iowa News
MORE COVID VACCINES EXPECTED SOON: Due to inclement weather across many parts of the United States, vaccine distribution was delayed. President Biden and Federal officials said this week that they expect to significantly boost the number of shots delivered to states in the coming weeks. Governor Reynolds’ troubled roll-out of the vaccine has now landed Iowa among the slowest of states in delivering two shots of COVID-19 vaccine. To schedule a vaccine appointment or find a location near you go to: coronavirus.iowa.gov.
IOWANS COULD SEE MORE USE OF ELECTRIC BIKES ON IOWA TRAILS: Electric bicycles, more commonly known as e-bikes, are becoming more popular in Iowa but there is confusion on where e-bikes can be ridden and who can ride them. This week House File 493 passed the House which defines a low-speed electric bicycle as a bike with an electric motor with no more than 750 watts. E-bikes can be ridden anywhere a regular bike can operate unless a local government creates an ordinance limiting where they can be ridden. The bill now moves to the Senate for their consideration.
ARTS AND CULTURE GRANTS: The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs is accepting applications for grants for arts and culture, film and media, history and historic preservation in Iowa. The application deadline for the Iowa Arts Fellowship is March 15 and various other grants are available with a deadline of May 3. To see all the grants available visit: iowaculture.gov/about-us/news-and-media/press-releases/iowa-department-cultural-affairs-announces-new-grant-round.