Capitol Report: 2021 Iowa Legislative Session Kicks Off

January 11, 2021

By: Paula S. Dierenfeld


It All Looks Familiar, So Far.   The first session of the 89th Iowa General Assembly is set to convene at 10:00 a.m. on Monday, January 11. The session is scheduled to last 110 days. While leaderships’ plans are to proceed with a timetable consistent with those in the past, time will tell what impact COVID-19 will have on the workings of this legislature. Here are some important dates:



January 11, 2021

First day of session



January 12, 2021


Condition of the State address by Governor Reynolds, at 6:00 p.m. on Iowa PBS. Triggers the release of the Governor’s proposed budget


March 5, 2021


First “funnel” – Bills not reported out of their originating committee by this date are “dead” for the session


April 2, 2021


Second “funnel” – House bills not passed out of Senate committees and Senate bills not passed out of House committees are “dead” for the session


April 30, 2021


Last day of session (maybe) – It is the last day legislators receive per diem expenses



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Some things Change, Others Stay the Same.  2020 was a general election year. Governor Kim Reynolds was not up for re-election, however, all 100 seats of the Iowa House were on the ballot and half (25) of the seats in the Iowa Senate. As a result of the elections, Republicans maintained control of both chambers. In the House, Republicans picked up 6 seats, giving them a 59-41 majority. In the Senate, Republicans lost one seat but picked up another, allowing them to keep their majority at 32-18. The Republican trifecta continues.


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It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over. One Senate seat held by a Republican is now vacant with the election of Senator Mariannette Miller-Meeks to Congress. Miller-Meeks’ opponent for the 2nd Congressional District seat, Rita Hart, has appealed the election results to the U.S. House of Representatives. Miller-Meeks won the election by just 6 votes, after a district-wide recount, the closest race anywhere in the country. Miller-Meeks was sworn in last week and provisionally seated, pending the outcome of Hart’s appeal.


A special election has been called for Miller-Meeks former Iowa Senate seat (SD-41) and is scheduled to be held on January 26. Mary Stewart of Ottumwa, a retired Indian Hills Community College instructor and community activist, has been selected by the Democrats to be their candidate. Adrian Dickey of Packwood, who serves as president of his family’s trucking business, Dickey Transport, is the Republican’s pick.


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Legislating in the Time of a Pandemic.  This past Friday, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver and House Speaker Pat Grassley issued “protocols” for the 2021 legislative session that focus heavily on COVID-19 health and safety measures but also lay out their expectations for legislators, legislative staff, lobbyists and visitors. Included among them:


  • Legislators are expected to be in the Capitol to participate and vote in committee meetings and during floor debate.
  • Legislators, staff and members of the public are asked to stay home if they are sick, have a fever or any other symptoms.
  • Social distancing of 6 feet should be practiced. If social distancing is not possible, “a face covering is recommended.” Masks and face shields will be available for anyone who voluntarily wants to wear one.
  • Members of the public will be required to have their temperatures taken and to complete a health check questionnaire upon entering the Capitol.
  • Subcommittee meetings will be livestreamed in both chambers. In the Senate, members of the public who would like to make comments will do so via Zoom during the meeting. In the House, subcommittee meetings will be held in one of six designated rooms that will be set up to accommodate spaced seating. However, the public is “strongly” encouraged to submit their comments in writing.
  • Committee meetings in the Senate will be held on the Senate floor with public seating available in the galleries. In the House, committee meetings will be held in committee rooms with spaced out seating available to the public. All committee meetings in the House and Senate will be livestreamed.
  • Legislators and legislative staff who contract COVID-19 or come in contact with someone with the virus are not required to “self-identify” but if they do, certain protocols must be followed.


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What We Can Expect.  The gavel has not yet fallen to convene the 2021 session but legislative leaders and the Governor are beginning to hint at what their priorities will be. A few of the things they are talking about are:  


  • Taxes and Mental Health Funding. Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver has said his caucus will be pursuing an “aggressive” reduction in taxes. Ultimately they would like to eliminate state income taxes all together but this session, Whitver said they will likely seek a reduction in the individual income tax because it affects individual Iowans and most businesses. Governor Reynolds has said she will not be  pushing forward the Invest in Iowa Act, a plan she proposed last session to cut income taxes, increase funding for water quality and outdoor recreation programs and reduce property taxes by shifting the costs of mental health services from counties to the state. Even though she has put a pause on Invest in Iowa, the Governor has said her budget will include a sustainable funding source for mental health programs.


  • Childcare. Before the legislature suspended its activities last session due to COVID-19, the House passed four bills to expand child care in the state. The bills addressed the affordability and accessibility of childcare, as well as shortage of child care workers, and were championed by House Speaker Pat Grassley. The Senate did not take the bills up when the legislature returned in June. In a recent interview, Speaker Grassley is quoted saying he believes the impact of COVID-19 on the economy makes these bills more important than ever and that there is enough momentum behind them that lawmakers will find a path forward.


  • Broadband. Programs and funding to expand internet broadband access across the state have been the focus of legislation the past several years. The pandemic has further highlighted the gaps in broadband service coverage, particularly in rural areas. Governor Reynolds says she will be making expansion of broadband services a priority this session. In her words, “we need to make sure that we can provide telehealth, that we can tele-learn, and that we can have employees work from home when they need to.”


  • Redistricting. Every ten years following the census, the legislature goes through a process of redistricting, a redrawing of the Congressional and state legislative districts based on changes in population. Under Iowa law, the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency is tasked with drawing the maps of the proposed new districts. Specific requirements for drawing the maps are prescribed in the Iowa Code and Iowa Constitution. Iowa’s nonpartisan approach is unique and is viewed as a model for the nation. The legislature’s work on a redistricting plan will begin on April 1.


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Final Word. Iowa Department of Management Director Dave Roederer has announced his plans to retire at the end of January. In addition to his 10 years as the state’s budget director, he has also held senior positions in the Iowa Department of Public Safety, Iowa Criminal and Juvenile Justice, Iowa Department of Commerce, as the Governor’s Chief of Staff and at Iowa State University. His retirement brings to a close a 38-year career in state government.  Roederer leaves behind a long legacy of dedicated service to the state and many cherished friends.