GAZETTE DES MOINES BUREAU

Following is a roundup of legislative and Capitol news items of interest from the past two weeks:

Quarterly revenue

Iowa’s monthly general fund revenue for January was 14% less than the previous January.

However, the Legislative Services Bureau chalked that up to the end-of-quarter and annual tax payment due dates falling on a weekend, which pushed tax payments into February.

The state took in $115.4 million less than the previous January, LSA reported. Personal income tax revenue was $431 million, down $56 million from a year ago. Sales taxes yielded $261 million or $63 million less than in January 2020. Corporate income taxes totaled nearly $40 million, just $300,000 less than the previous January.

Capping insulin costs

For the second consecutive year, the Iowa House voted 89-2 to pass legislation capping insulin costs for Iowans covered by a third-party payment plan.

HF 263 would cap copay, deductible or out-of-pocket cost to an individual covered by a plan to no more than $100 for a 31-day supply of insulin. It was approved 98-1 in 2020, but never was taken up by the Senate after the legislative session was suspended for nearly three months due to COVID-19.

“No one should go broke simply trying to preserve their life,” said Rep. Liz Bennett, D-Cedar Rapids, who served on the subcommittee on HF 263. “I hope this will build in us the awareness that no one in American should go without the medication they need because of funds.”

Emergency refills

HF 262 would allow pharmacists to refill prescriptions without the prescriber’s authorization once in a 12-month period. The refill could not be for more than a 30-day supply. It was approved 91-0.

Pledge of Allegiance

A house bill that would require Iowa schools to conduct the Pledge of Allegiance each day passed the House State Government Committee. It drew just one dissenting vote that produced a testy rebuke from the committee’s chairman.

Rep. Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines, was the only committee member to vote against the proposal. He said it would guarantee that any student who chose to not participate in the pledge would face harassment from classmates. While the bill states reciting the pledge is voluntary, Hunter said it will become de facto mandatory because of pressure students will feel to participate.

After the 20-1 vote to approve the proposal, committee chairman Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, admonished Hunter: “You’re the only one I know who can make the pledge political as you just did.” Kaufmann said.

Bag deposit

Single-use plastic straws would be banned at restaurants and a 5-cent deposit would be required for single-use plastic bags and containers sold in Iowa under a proposal.

HF 320, proposed by Democratic Reps. Art Staed of Cedar Rapids, Mary Mascher of Iowa City and Marti Anderson of Des Moines, would require the Department of Natural Resources to collect the 5-cent fee from manufacturers for bags sold in or sold into Iowa.

The bill was assigned to the Environmental Protection Committee.

Tax help

The Iowa Department of Revenue is reminding Iowans of its resources available to help them with filing their tax returns.

The department began processing returns at the same time as the IRS — Feb. 12 — because Iowa taxpayers are required to provide their federal return with their Iowa return. Iowa income tax returns are due April 30.

The Department of Revenue website is a starting point to find tax forms and answers to tax questions. Filing Made Easy Filing Made Easy explains the filing process and includes information on how to file.

Last year, the department announced goals to process refunds in 30 days and to shorten wait times of customer calls. Refunds averaged 30 days or less throughout the tax season, and phone call wait times decreased.

Hands-free

Legislation that would make it illegal to use a mobile phone or other electronic devices while driving, except when using hands-free technology, was approved 18-2 by the House Transportation Committee and by a Senate subcommittee.

Lawmakers in recent years have considered a hands-free requirement to Iowa’s distracted driving laws. Sen. Eric Giddens, D-Cedar Falls, said during the subcommittee hearing that he believes lawmakers would have added the requirement last year had it not been for a session shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

HF 75 would provide a six-month grace period for drivers to adjust to the new law. After that, violators could be fined $100.

Bottle bill

A Senate panel considered a proposal to require beverage distributors to maintain an account with an Iowa financial institution and place in that account an amount equal to the refund value of all beverage containers it has sold.

Supporters said the proposal would help inform to what extent the state’s recycling program is used.

Opponents said the bill will force private companies to make proprietary information public.

The three legislators on the subcommittee did not advance SSB 1087, although they pledged to continue the conversation as part of the broader debate over the state’s bottle bill.

Campaign transparency

Iowa campaigns would have to sort in-state contributions from those coming from out-of-state donors under a bill to increase campaign finance transparency.

Rep. Jacob Bossman, R-Sioux City, said questions about candidates’ support from out-of-state contributors comes up after every reporting deadline.

HF 148 would add another reporting period — Sept. 15 through Oct. 14 — for campaigns. It also would make Iowa campaign law mirror federal law on contributions and campaign involvement by foreign nationals.

The bill was approved 21-1. Rep. Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines, was the lone “no” vote, citing a lack of an appropriation for the $31,000 one-time cost for software.

Housing vouchers

Legislation that would ban local governments from requiring landlords to accept prospective tenants with low-income housing vouchers advanced out of a subcommittee with Republican support.

City leaders and organizations representing local governments opposed the bill, saying it eliminates local governments’ ability to enact policies that they believe would best serve their communities.

Organizations representing landlords supported the bill while offering criticism of the federal Section 8 housing program, which provides vouchers to help low-income Americans pay rent. SSB 1079 advanced to the full Senate local government committee.

NASCAR Iowa

Traffic volume was down, but speeds were up on Iowa roads in the past year amid the pandemic, according to the Department of Public Safety.

“We saw a significant increase in dangerous driving behavior,” Commissioner Stephan Bayens told lawmakers.

The Iowa State Patrol reported an 81% increase in pursuits, a 74% increase in citations for speeds 25 mph over the speed limit and a 108% increase in citations for speeds over 100 mph.

“People treated the interstates like NASCAR,” Bayens told a House transportation subcommittee. “People were running and running and running.”

Secure the vote

The Iowa Secretary of State’s Office will provide grants of $10,000 to each county for election cybersecurity enhancements, Secretary of State Paul Pate announced.

The funding comes from a federal grant through the Help America Vote Act.

In 2020, the office adopted several new administrative rules to strengthen the security of Iowa’s elections. The rules cover guidelines such as the development of incident response plans, reporting requirements and improved password strength.

They also mandate that counties use cyber hygiene scans, assessments and tools from the Iowa Office of Chief Information Officer and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security unless the county already receives similar services from a private vendor.

The vast majority of Iowa’s county election websites have moved to the .gov domain after Pate authorized payments to reimburse counties for the transition. The .gov domain assures voters they are receiving election information from a trusted source.

Funds for rural towns

Gov. Kim Reynolds and officials with the Iowa Economic Development Authority announced two competitive funds of up to $400,000 available for rural communities with a population under 20,000.

The Rural Innovation Grant Program provides up to $300,000 in grants supporting creative, non-traditional ideas that focus on current issues and challenges faced by rural communities associated with the themes of community investment, growth and connection.

Also, the separate Rural Housing Assessment Grant Program provides up to $100,000 to support the use of publicly available online information through the “Profile of Iowa” tool and rural community efforts to interpret this hard data with supplemental information, as well as to implement through changes to development codes, local ordinances and housing incentives specific to their community needs in partnership with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Applications for the current fiscal year are being accepted via iowagrants.gov and are due by April 16.

Housing bill moves

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ affordable housing plan got a thumbs up from a House Economic Growth subcommittee Wednesday.

Lobbyists for investors, housing trust funds, local governments, developers, bankers, economic development groups and faith-based organizations applauded HF 178 as a comprehensive approach to meeting low-income and workforce housing needs, especially in rural Iowa. It’s estimated Iowa will need an additional 47,000 housing units by 2030.

It would create up to $15 million annually in new tax credits for developers of low-income housing as well as remove the $3 million cap on revenue for local housing trust funds — allowing more money to flow to those agencies. Other provisions of the bill would double workforce housing tax incentives from $25 million to $50 million for four years, with $20 million set aside for small cities.

Lobbyists suggested a variety of tweaks they said would make the bill more attractive to groups developing housing, including expanding the eviction moratorium for natural disasters to include economic disasters.

The bill next goes to the Ways and Means Committee. A Senate version has been approved by that chamber’s Local Government Committee.

Prescription price transparency

The House Commerce Committee approved without discussion HSB 46, a prescription transparency bill that would require pharmaceutical manufacturers to file an annual report disclosing the wholesale acquisition cost for drugs sold in Iowa.

If the price of a prescription drug sold in Iowa costing at least $100 for a 30-day supply increases 40% or more over three years or 15% in a calendar year, the manufacturer must file a report with the Insurance Commissioner.