Legislative Session Adjourned for 2021
Missed Opportunities on COVID Recovery
After three weeks of over-time, the 2021 Legislative Session ended on Wednesday, May 19th.
When session began in January, Iowa House Democrats were ready to work together to provide the balanced, responsible leadership that Iowans deserve. We developed a bold, aggressive plan called Build Back Iowa to get life back to normal and help Iowans recover from the pandemic. That plan would have positioned Iowa for long-term economic growth and helped working families, small businesses, schools, and our dedicated health care workers recover.
Unfortunately, the Governor and Majority Party leaders in Des Moines chose a different path. Instead of working together, they pursued a divisive, partisan agenda. They ignored the challenges that Iowa families and small businesses are still facing today because of the pandemic. They missed a historic opportunity to raise wages, get Iowans back to work, and rebuild Iowa’s economy for the next generation.
- The Legislature should have done more for families who need affordable child care, not raise property taxes on homeowners.
- The Legislature should have supported Iowans who lost their job due to the pandemic, instead the Governor cut off their assistance.
- The Legislature should have expanded support to help Iowa students recover from lost time in the classroom, instead Republican lawmakers took money from public schools and gave it to charter schools.
- The Legislature should have worked together to lure new workers and businesses to Iowa, but the Governor and Republicans made national headlines that make our state unwelcoming to others with several discrimination bills.
Bipartisan Legislation Approved This Session
There were a few pieces of bi-partisan legislation that passed the Iowa Legislature this year that will benefit the people of Iowa. A few of those pieces include:
- Increased funding for students learning English (HF 605)
- Expanded protections to prevent sexual abuse (SF 253)
- Encouraged more OB/GYN doctors to locate in rural Iowa (SF 129)
- Increased funding for job training at our community colleges (HF 871)
- Created new enforcement to stop human trafficking (HF 452)
- Introduced a new tracking system for rape kits (HF 426)
- Created a lifetime trout stamp for Iowans over 65 (HF 234)
- Established more funding opportunities for voluntary fire departments (HF 761)
- Allotted a $1 million increase for Iowa state parks (HF 860)
- Explored opportunities to expand broadband across Iowa communities (HF 848)
- Created new opportunities and financial assistance for small-scale meat processing businesses and lockers (HF 871, HF 857)
- Expanded services to sexual assault survivors and increase accountability in the investigations of these crimes (HF 603, HF 426)
- Increased oversight of pesticide application (SF 482)
As legislators return home to their districts, Iowans are encouraged to reach out should they have any questions or need any additional information on issues.
Below are important updates on key issues the legislature worked on this year.
Working to Make Child Care More Affordable in Iowa
In Iowa we are facing a child care crisis in both urban and rural areas. While it directly impacts families with small kids, it also hurts Iowa’s economy and is a huge barrier in recruiting and building a skilled workforce. This was especially evident during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This session, several bills trying to address this issue were sent to the Governor. While these bills did not go far enough, small steps were made in the right direction.
- HF 891, raised rates for providers who accept child care assistance (CCA).
- HF 302, created a state-funded program to allow families to gradually get off this assistance while avoiding the “cliff effect.” For a family that is near the income limit, even a slight raise would disqualify them for the benefit and be subject to the full child care costs, which is called the “cliff effect.”
The issue of child care affordability and accessibility will only be solved by big ideas and solutions. That is why the House Democrats introduced the Build Back Iowa plan that would have supported an additional 9,000 children by increasing eligibility for CCA, opened 80 new licensed child care centers through the Child Care Center Home Grant Fund, and created a small business child care tax credit that would have provided child care for 650 employees.
Unfortunately, the Majority Party refused to even discuss any of these ideas. Without big innovative ideas like the ones put forth by House Democrats, child care will continue to be an issue across the state.
Minimal Funding for PreK-12 Schools, Charter Schools Expanded
Schools hoping for greater school funding assistance this year had their hopes dashed as another year of inadequate school funding for our PreK-12 public schools passed. With the low increase in funding, SF 269 will result in higher class sizes and less class offerings. In fact, the bill, proposed by the Majority Party in the House and Senate, cuts preschool funding by $7.4 million.
As concerns grew for schools regarding derecho and the drop in the number of students due to COVID-19, the House passed HF 532. This one-time $27.2 million assistance bill to schools, but the bill never passed the Senate.
The biggest blow to public schools this session was an expansion of charter schools in Iowa. HF 813 takes money away from public schools and gives it to out-of-state run private schools. It allows a private company to form a school anywhere, while bypassing the local school board. Nationwide, charter schools have largely been unsuccessful and have had a great deal of corruption without accountability.
Tax Changes on the Way
Just a few days before adjourning, Iowa lawmakers passed a significant tax bill that will impact the pocketbook of Iowans. While there were many areas of agreement on the bill, many Iowans voiced concern about a tax change that will raise property taxes on homeowners and farmers.
House Democrats focused on their Build Back Iowa Plan, while supporting certain provisions in the final version of the bill, such as a sales tax exemption for food banks and an increase in the volunteer firefighter/EMT/reserve peace officer tax credit.
The most controversial piece of SF 619 removes the “backfill” promised to cities, counties, and schools by the Iowa Legislature in 2013 to cover the cost of property tax cuts for commercial and industrial property. Removing this backfill will result in over $150 million less every year to make up for lost tax revenue designed to keep property taxes low. While the original bill from 2013 led to an increase in property taxes for homeowners and farmers, the state breaking its promise will again raise property taxes on homeowners and farmers.
Senate File 619 also does the following:
- Phases out the state’s inheritance tax over several years. According to the state of Iowa, over 80% of the state’s inheritance tax is collected on estates with over $500,000 in estate value.
- Allows businesses to take additional business expenses, especially for very large business purchases. Property taxes for certain low-income seniors over the age of 70 will be effectively frozen going forward.
- Increases the state share of the funding of schools and mental health, but provides no additional funds for these programs.
Divisive Agenda Hurting Iowa’s Economy
Majority Party lawmakers worked on and passed several bills this session that make Iowa unwelcoming and adversely impacts Iowa’s ability to attract new workers and create good-paying jobs. The focus on divisive bills also meant not enough work was being done to help small businesses in Iowa recover from losses during the pandemic.
Twice, Democratic lawmakers offered legislation that would have reopened and expanded the successful small business relief grant program, but majority party leaders refused to take up the legislation.
There was some success for small businesses this session as lawmakers extended the income tax exemption for pandemic related assistance, including the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans many businesses used to keep their doors open and pay their employees.
As Iowa continues to recover from the pandemic, it still faces a significant labor shortage. Right now, there are more jobs available than Iowans still looking for work. As remote working became more common during the pandemic, the Governor and majority party lawmakers missed an opportunity to lure more people to Iowa and instead worked on legislation that deters workers and businesses from locating in Iowa. Some of that legislation includes:
- Voter suppression
- Anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-diversity legislation
- Stripping away the rights of Iowans to make their own reproductive health care decisions
- Underfunding education and other cultural/recreational programs
Iowa is also facing a housing shortage in both rural and urban areas. While legislation was passed to expand current programs that build new housing in Iowa, Senate majority leaders blocked a proposal to create a new affordable housing program. Current businesses cannot expand and new businesses cannot move into the state if their employees have no place to live.
Voter Suppression Effort Shortens Early Voting in Iowa
All across the country GOP-run state legislatures have curbed or shorten early voting windows in their state, and Iowa was no different. In fact, Iowa was the first state in the nation to pass a wide-ranging voter suppression effort, just months after the highest turnout election in Iowa history.
While other states like Georgia made most of the headlines, Republican lawmakers in Iowa led the charge in national efforts to make it harder for people all across the country to cast their constitutional right to vote.
Action Needed to Improve Safety at Iowa’s Correctional Facilities
This spring, nurse Lorena Schulte and Officer Robert McFarland were murdered by two inmates while doing their job at the Anamosa State Penitentiary. Given years of warning signs, it remains a terrible and preventable tragedy.
Currently, Iowa’s prison system is 10% over capacity while 9% staff positions remain vacant. Since 2009, staff levels have dropped by 17% throughout the state’s correctional facilities while offender assaults on staff have increased.
For the last several years, the Reynolds Administration and DOC have disregarded several warning signs leading up to the Anamosa tragedy, including: rising violence, prison overcrowding, staff reductions, and continued budget cuts. 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.
This session, Democratic lawmakers responded immediately by requesting an independent, federal investigation into the deaths and rising violence in Iowa prisons. Lawmakers also toured Anamosa’s facility and reported seeing overcrowded cell blocks, as well as inadequate surveillance and radio equipment.
Following the tour, lawmakers called on the Reynolds Administration to immediately act and outlined recommendations to: increase funding to fill and restore public safety positions, give frontline workers a say in their own workplace, launch an independent investigation, and start new safety training procedures.
During session’s end, Democrats proposed legislation that would have provided DOC with the resources needed to keep workers safe, including:
- A $34 million budget increase to fully fund and replace half of the lost public safety staff that the Majority and Administration have cut in the last decade;
- an additional $4.8 million to update DOC radios and improve communication infrastructure in Iowa’s most overcapacity prison facilities;
- require all external probe findings into the Anamosa’s attacks to be public;
- require the DOC to implement new safety training based on Anamosa Correctional Facility’s safety measure comprehensive review; and
- restore DOC officers and nursing staff collective bargaining rights.
Despite the continued increasing violence against DOC’s public safety workers, the Majority party rejected the above proposals. To date, the Governor, DOC, and Majority party leaders’ continuous failed leadership have led to an additional Correctional staff assault and bomb-making materials being found in an Anamosa State Penitentiary inmate’s cell.
More Attacks on Reproductive Health Care
Instead of protecting rights, the GOP-led legislature voted to change Iowa’s Constitution to take away the basic right of an Iowan to make their own reproductive health care decisions. HJR 5 would make abortion illegal and would ban In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and some other common forms of birth control. It would also ban abortion with no exceptions allowed for rape, incest, or even the life of the mother.
This is just the latest attack on reproductive health care decisions. Over the years, Majority Party Leaders have banned abortions once a heartbeat is detected and declined $3 million in federal funding every year to create their own state family program making them responsible for closing down multiple family planning and health care clinics.
One common sense approach to helping this crisis is giving women easy access to birth control. This year, HF 434 would have done just that. This bill would have allowed pharmacists to dispense birth control to women ages 18 and older without a prescription. However, the Majority Party did not allow this bill to be brought up for debate.
Iowa will continue to be a dangerous place for women to live until laws are passed that puts their health care decisions back in their own hands, and not controlled by the politicians in Des Moines.
Other Iowa News
REMEMBERING IOWA VETERANS THIS MEMORIAL DAY: As Memorial Day approaches, it is a good time to remember the sacrifices our veterans have made, and to thank them for their service. To celebrate and honor our veterans during Memorial Day weekend, there are several events being held across the state. The main event at the Iowa Veterans Cemetery will be held virtually on Monday, May 31st at 8:00AM. Watch live at: fb.me/e/EgI1muee.
IOWA STATE PARKS PASSPORT: As we head into the summer, Iowans will be ready to get outdoors. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Iowa Tourism Office have teamed up to provide a free digital passport for people to use to explore Iowa’s state parks. People can use the passport to learn about the parks, visit new parks, and earn prizes. To sign up for a passport visit, explore.traveliowa.com/PARKS.
OVER 40% OF IOWANS VACCINATED: All Iowans ages 12 and older are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccination. The vaccine is safe, effective, free, and now widely available across Iowa. Public health officials are encouraging Iowans to get the vaccine as soon as possible to stop transmission of the virus, save lives, and get life back to normal. Vaccine navigators at 2-1-1 can assist in multiple languages to help set up vaccine appointments. Iowans can also visit vaccinate.Iowa.gov to find a vaccine provider. Many providers are now allowing drop-in vaccinations and an appointment is no longer needed.