The 2021 Iowa Legislative Session
Week of April 5th, 2021
This Week in the Iowa Legislature
This week the House and Senate both worked diligently to introduce budgets and quickly move them through the subcommittee and committee process. Both chambers are positioned to start passing their budget bills on the floor next week despite not having a joint budget target. They also worked to move their priority bills across the finish line focusing mostly on non–controversial bills. However there were a few exceptions in the Senate passed three controversial bills over to the House including an Abortion Constitutional Amendment, Voluntary Diversity Plans and Open Enrollment, and a Tax Omnibus bill.
Federal COVID Relief Funds
With the passage of the CARES Act last year and the American Rescue Plan (ARP) just recently, federal funds will begin flowing to the states to support numerous departments, services, and projects. The AS team met with the Governor’s Office this week to learn more about how they are managing requests for the funding. Staff recommended waiting to request American Rescue Plan dollars until the state receives Federal guidance which is expected at the end of the month. Should you have questions or need assistance with an ARP funding request, please reach out to the AS team directly. Additionally, staff stated if there is an immediate need those requests can be put forth now.
One week after the House unanimously passed HF 848, the Governor’s priority Broadband Expansion bill, the Senate followed their lead with a unanimous vote. The bill is designed to expand broadband connectivity and bring high-speed technology to more areas of Iowa, especially those places underserved or unserved. Currently, Iowa has the second-lowest broadband speeds in the country. Governor Reynolds has asked for $450 million over three years to build out the broadband infrastructure and increase download and upload speeds in areas that fall short of the service although no agreement has been reached on funding. Meanwhile, House Republican leaders indicated $100 million may be more realistic and Leader Prichard suggested the legislature appropriate enough to maximize matching federal funds. The Governor is expected to sign the bill.
Senate Passes their Priority Tax Bill
Tuesday evening brought with it a plethora of debate, including dissent over the largely controversial wide-ranging tax bill that would change how the state funds mental health, eliminate the backfill paid to local governments, accelerate tax cuts, increase state school aid, and eliminate several tax programs. Senate Republicans were met with major pushback from Senate Democrats and mental health advocacy groups alike when they offered a new way to fund mental health through a state appropriation rather than county property taxes. This move would set the stage for property tax relief while transitioning the funding source back to the State. Ultimately, SF 587 was passed by a party line vote and is now moving to the House for consideration where its fate is unclear as overall budget and tax policy negotiations continue.
State Budget Update
The budget process started in earnest this week despite no announcement of a joint budget target. It typically takes approximately three weeks for the entire budget process to resolve itself after it begins. Below is a chart outlining each individual budget bill, its number, and where it is in the overall budget process. This chart will be updated each week until the legislature adjourns which is currently scheduled for April 30th.
|SF 594||Administration & Regulation||In SENATE 4/6|
|HF867||In HOUSE 4/8|
|HF 860||Agriculture & Natural Resources||In HOUSE 4/7|
|SF 595||Economic Development||In SENATE 4/7|
|LSB1003YA||Education||In HOUSE subcommittee 4/8|
|N/A||Health & Human Services||Expected in the Senate this week|
|HF 864||Judicial Branch||In HOUSE 4/7|
|HF 861||Justice Systems||In HOUSE 4/7|
|HF 862||Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund (RIIF)||In HOUSE 4/7|
|SF 592||Transportation, Infrastructure, & Capitals||In SENATE 4/6|
|HF 863||In HOUSE 4/7|
|SSB 1257||Federal Block Grant Appropriations||In HOUSE 4/7|
House Republicans Propose an Increase for the Justice System Budget
After two staff members were attacked and killed by inmates late last month at the Anamosa State Penitentiary, Governor Reynolds vowed to conduct an external investigation into the attack in addition to an internal Department of Corrections review which she said will tell her if additional investments are needed in the system. This tragic loss was the catalyst to further discussion at the Statehouse during the Justice Systems budget hearing. The House Appropriations Committee approved a $34.6 million increase to the proposed budget, $20.5 million of that for state prison salaries and staffing. Democrats voted against the bill arguing the increase was inadequate. The increase is much contrary to Governor Reynolds’ original budget recommendation in January. AFSCME, the state employees labor union, decried the increase as far too little and called for further protections for corrections officers. Senate Republicans have not yet released their proposed Justice Systems budget.
COVID-19 Vaccine Update
Vaccination appointments opened for all Iowans 16 or older on Monday (4/5) and Iowa realized our largest vaccine distribution to date. The state recently prioritized college students and young adults to ensure they are promptly vaccinated to help keep the virus activity low and manageable until a higher percentage of Iowans are fully vaccinated. Over 45,000 one-and-done doses were allocated for the younger population. However, due to manufacturing issues there will be a significant reduction in the one-shot Johnson & Johnson doses over the next few weeks, which will slow down the current progress.
Governor Reynolds stated Wednesday she plans to take executive or legislative action to prohibit the use of “vaccine passports” in Iowa. Although Reynolds has encouraged Iowans to get vaccinated as soon as possible, she stands firmly opposed to vaccine passports suggesting it would create a two-tiered society. At this time, the White House has said Americans will not be required to carry proof of vaccination, but Governor Reynolds is one of several Republican governors who are willing to issue an executive order to prohibit proof-of-vaccination requirements.
Currently, 1,683,624 doses have been administered to Iowa Residents, with 658,559 individuals who have completed their second dose of the two-dose vaccines. Meanwhile, another 53,189 residents have completed the one-and-done vaccine at this time. For those looking to schedule a vaccination appointment, the Iowa Department of Public Health announced vaccine navigators are available 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to help eligible Iowans by calling 211 or (800) 244-7413. There are also translation services available. The CDC continues to maintain a case and vaccine data tracker which is updated daily.
Thirteen down, three to go! As we approach the final few weeks of session, we will continue to see a shift in energy in the building. It has officially transitioned to the hurry up and wait time of session for those inside and out of the chamber. In the coming weeks, we will continue to see the legislature keep busy with floor debate on priority pieces of legislation as we wait for leaders to finish negotiating the state budget. In addition to wrapping up appropriations work, the House and Senate still need to resolve differences on the pending tax bills. With per diems expiring on April 30th, the 110th calendar day of session, we will likely see a push to ensure everything is wrapped up on time.