Editor’s note: Below is a compilation of highlights from last week’s Iowa Legislative Session. For more information on any bill presented in the Iowa House of Representatives and Senate, visit www.legis.iowa.gov.
House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, held out hope legislative Republicans in the House and Senate will be able to close their $15 million difference on K-12 school aid for next year in time to beat this week’s statutory deadline.
House members voted 52-48 Tuesday to approve a 2.5% increase that matches the level requested by Gov. Kim Reynolds. GOP legislators defended the funding level over charges by House Democrats it was inadequate when school officials say they need 3.75%. A Democratic amendment to go to 3 percent failed, and Grassley said he was optimistic talks with majority GOP senators would yield a final agreement.
“I know we have the ability to fund this,” the House speaker said.
Earlier this week, the Senate passed a 2.1% increase on a party-line vote. Both chambers have approved legislation to provide increased funding to address funding inequities on transportation and per-pupil issues.
The House Judiciary Committee approved HSB 580 to prohibit private companies and government agencies in Iowa from forcing employees to be “microchipped” for entry and tracking purposes. Approved unanimously, the bill will move to the full House.
Microchipping may be a convenience and security benefit for employers in allowing employees to use the microchip in their hands to enter workspaces or to keep workers out of restricted areas. However, opponents worried the chips could be used to track employees when they’re not at work.
Rep. Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, encouraged her minority party colleagues to support the bill. A supporter of women’s reproductive rights, Konfrst said she appreciated Republicans’ support for giving people control of their bodies and “hoped it’s extended to other parts of the body.”
Public bidding law advances
House Study Bill 586 to give public bodies alternatives to the traditional low-bid process on projects will advance to the full House State Government Committee.
The bill would give government entities two “alternative project delivery” options. The first would be a construction manager-at-risk contract. The other is the design-build contract.
A subcommittee heard extensive discussion on the merits of the alternatives as well as the current low-bid approach. Board of Regents lobbyist Keith Saunders spoke of the value the University of Iowa saw by using the design-build process. In one case, he said, the University of Iowa built a 1,000-bed residence hall for about the same cost as a 700-bed hall.
However, Doug Struyk, of the Iowa Competitive Bidding Alliance, presented the board with 25 pages of change orders on the improvements to the north end zone of Kinnick Stadium.
Supporters of the bill said the alternative processes will be “open and fair,” but others argued openness doesn’t guarantee fairness. Anything less than a public bidding process can lead to fraud and abuse, they said.
LGBTQ legislative issues
The leader of an Iowa LGBTQ advocacy group said the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning Iowans are under “relentless assault” at the Capitol during the Iowa legislative session.
One Iowa Action Executive Director Courtney Reyes says at least 13 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced this session by Republican legislators — second nationally only to Missouri with 14.
A group of nine state representatives and one senator have filed separate bills seeking to protect religious freedom for Iowa businesses that choose not to engage in transactions or provide services in situations that violate their conscience or are counter to their beliefs and moral convictions.
Sen. Dennis Guth, R-Klemme also filed a more expansive version (Senate File 2194) that covered religious freedom. It declared marriage in Iowa only should be between one man and one woman; provided that gender should be the designation of male or female established at birth; and sets forth that life begins at conception.
“While we are not surprised, we are deeply saddened and upset that legislators continue to focus on stripping protections from marginalized groups rather than ensuring that Iowans have accessible health care, world-class educational opportunities and high-quality jobs,” Reyes said in a statement. “We will stand and fight this discriminatory agenda to the very end, and we will win,” she added.
Smoke and vapors
Definitions — or the lack thereof — tripped up efforts to ban smoking in vehicles if children are present and add vaping to the state’s 2008 smoke-free workplace law.
HF 2093 would ban smoking tobacco and vaping in cars if children are present. There was support for the underlying concept, but vape shop owners said there is no evidence that e-cigarettes present a danger to children.
Rep. Chris Hagenow, R-Urbandale, said he would continue to look for a way to move the bill forward.
A second smoking-related bill, HSB 627, would have added vaping to the Smoke-Free Air Act, but again the definition of vaping and lack of clear and convincing evidence of harm from secondhand emissions from e-cigarettes stymied the subcommittee.
A requirement that bicyclists have front and back lights on their bikes and wear reflective clothing will move to the full House Transportation Committee, although no groups are registered in favor of it.
Two Republicans on a House subcommittee signed off on HF 2037 after hearing from lobbyists who opposed the bill. HF 2037 would require a front white light visible from 300 feet and a rear red light visible from 300 feet. The lights could be steady or flashing. The fine for no lights would be $25, but a bicyclist would be given 72 hours to repair or replace the light.
The bill also would require bicyclists to wear at least 144 square inches of high-visibility or reflective clothing visible to the rear of the bicycle. The fine for not complying would be $25. The requirement would not apply to riders on a large group ride, such as RAGBRAI.
A bill calling for college student-athletes to have control of their names, images and likenesses advanced to the Senate Education Committee over the concerns of regents, universities and private colleges.
Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, who sponsored SSB 2058, said college sports are generating more and more revenue that goes to coaches and facilities.
“It’s not isolated away from athletes who are putting their bodies on the line,” Boulton told the subcommittee.
Regents lobbyist Keith Saunders appreciated the spirit of the legislation, but said the issue can’t be handled on a state-by-state basis.
“It needs a national solution ... not 50 different solutions,” Saunders said. The NCAA is working on a solution by 2021 and there was a hearing in Congress on Tuesday on the issue.
Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, cautioned against having too much confidence in either the NCAA or “our do-nothing Congress.” The NCAA is acting only because of pressure from states like Iowa and others.
“It’s the athletes who create the value,” he said. “People aren’t paying to see the coach.”
Extreme risk legislation
Members of the Iowa chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America applauded extreme risk legislation introduced by two minority House Democrats on Tuesday.
The bill would empower law enforcement officers to ask a court to temporarily block a person’s access to guns if there is evidence they pose a threat to themselves or others. House Minority Whip Jo Oldson, D-Des Moines, and Rep. Kristin Sunde, D-West Des Moines, said the bill is needed to curb gun-related deaths in Iowa and would make Iowa the 18th state to adopt such legislation.
“Not only do extreme risk laws save lives — they also have the support of the majority of Iowans,” said Traci Kennedy, a volunteer with the Iowa chapter of Moms Demand Action. “As a gun owner myself, I can tell you it is possible to put an end to this gun violence and protect responsible gun owners’ right to own a gun.”
On average, 212 people in Iowa die by gun suicide every year — equaling 80 percent of all gun deaths in the state, according to the organization, which also reported that in the last decade, gun deaths have increased 24 percent in Iowa.
A proposal to expand the four-decade-old bottle bill and double the handling fee on redeemed bottles and cans got mixed reviews in a Senate Commerce subcommittee. SSB 3109 also could lead to the eventual repeal of the bill enacted in May 1979 if the three-year rolling redemption average fell below 65%.
Retailers generally opposed a provision requiring them to pay a penny-per-container fee to distributors. That could cost the state grocery industry $15 million a year, its lobbyist said.
Conservation groups said increasing the handling fee would encourage redemption centers, which have not seen a revenue increase in 40 years.
Several groups at the hourlong hearing found things to like — and dislike — about the bill and are registered undecided.
Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, said the subcommittee might consider advancing the bill to the full committee next week. However, Friday was the deadline for bills to be approved by a committee to remain eligible for consideration.
In the House, HF 2205 calls for the repeal of the bottle bill in 2023. In the interim, the revenue from estimated 30-plus percent of containers that are not redeemed would be used to promote recycling efforts. It was scheduled for a hearing Feb. 17.
Hand-held device ban advances:
Motorists would not be able to use hand-held electronic devices under legislation aimed at reducing distractions while driving that cleared the House Transportation Committee.
Representatives voted 21-0 to advance House File 2119 to the House debate calendar. The measure would extend Iowa’s texting ban to prohibit drivers from using a smartphone or other electronic device they would hold in their hand while operating a motor vehicle.
Violating the provision would be a moving offense carrying a $100 fine, but there would be a “grace period” from July 1 to next Jan. 1 when only warnings would be issued for violations.
“It’s for safety. We’ve all been on the highway driving 70 mph and you look over and someone’s weaving in another lane and they’re looking at a phone for whatever reason,” said Rep. Ann Meyer, R-Fort Dodge. “I think it’s as dangerous as drunken driving.”
Drivers would be able to use electronic communication devices in hands-free mode that were physically or electronically integrated into their vehicles or could be operated with minimal contact.
The prohibition would not apply to public safety agencies performing official duties, health care professionals dealing with emergencies, or in cases where a motorist was reporting an emergency.
A driver could use a hand-held device in a stopped vehicle not parked on the travel portion of a street or highway.