Capitol Report: November 1, 2021

November 1, 2021

By: Dustin J. Miller, Brad C. Epperly, Casey Nickel

Redistricting Update


The Iowa legislature returned to the Capitol on October 28th to consider the proposed redistricting maps drafted by the Legislative Services Agency after rejecting the first proposed plan on October 5th. The Senate voted 32-18 to reject the proposed maps, with Republicans unanimously opposing and Democrats unanimously supporting the maps.


On October 28th, the legislature voted to approve the second proposed plan. Both House and Senate State Government Committees passed the bill out of committee with little discussion. The Senate voted 48-1, and the House voted 93-2 to support the maps.


"After review of the second redistricting plan, I believe it corrects the failures of Plan One to redistrict the state in a compact manner with minimal differences in population," Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said in a statement. "Despite years of fear-mongering about gerrymandering and claims the first map could not be improved, the Iowa Senate followed the process outlined in Iowa Code, and a more compact map with better population differences has been approved."


Several incumbent state senators and representatives are drawn together in the new plan, creating many open seats that will be filled next November. The newly drawn 3rd Congressional District now includes incumbent Congresswoman Cindy Axne (D – West Des Moines) and current 2nd Congressional District Congresswoman Marianette Miller-Meeks (R – Ottumwa). A summary of the impacted legislators can be found here.


 The bill will now go to Governor Reynolds to sign into law.


“Today’s decision by the Iowa Legislature to approve the second draft of the legislative and congressional redistricting maps is very encouraging," Reynolds said in a statement. "I am confident in how the process played out — just as the law intended, and I believe these new districts will fairly and accurately represent the citizens of Iowa for the next decade.” 



Vaccine Legislation


In addition to redistricting, House File 902, was introduced and taken up by the House State Government Committee on October 28th during the second Special Session. HF 902 would require employers who require the COVID-19 vaccine to allow exemptions if an employee submits a written statement that receiving the vaccine would be injurious to their health or the health of an individual living with the employee. An exemption must also be granted if an employee submits a statement that receiving the vaccine is against their religion. Finally, the bill provides that if an employee is discharged for refusing to receive the vaccine, said employee can not be disqualified from unemployment benefits on account of such discharge.


After passing subcommittee and committee, the House passed HF 902 with a 68-27 vote and sent it on to the Senate for consideration. The Senate concurred with the House with a 45-4 vote.


"I believe we have found a meaningful solution to protect Iowans and Iowa businesses from the Biden administration's extreme government overreach," House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said in a statement.


Democrats in the House who opposed the bill sited concerns about the legitimacy of the exemptions.


"This bill, I think, is more problematic than it will solve any kind of problems," said Rep. Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines. "It will be a burden on the unemployment trust fund and it’s not solving any problems it’s purporting to solve.” 


Governor Reynolds signed the bill and released the following statement.


“I am proud to sign this bipartisan piece of legislation today. This is a major step forward in protecting Iowans’ freedoms and their abilities to make healthcare decisions based on what’s best for themselves and their families. This legislation also gives employees the assurance that they will still receive unemployment benefits despite being fired for standing up for their beliefs. 


“As I’ve stated publicly numerous times, I believe the vaccine is the best defense against COVID-19 and we’ve provided Iowans with the information they need to determine what’s best for themselves and their families, but no Iowan should be forced to lose their job or livelihood over the COVID-19 vaccine. 


“This is only the first step. We will be taking other legal actions against the Biden Administration’s vaccine mandate.” 



Special Election Update


Republican Jon Dunwell won the special election for Iowa House District 29, flipping the Newton-based district that Democrats have held through numerous election cycles. District 29 includes Newton, Colfax, Mingo, Kellogg, Prairie City, Baxter, and parts of rural Jasper County. Former State Representative Wes Breckenridge stepped down in September after accepting a job with the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy. 



New Grant Opportunities


On October 11th, Governor Reynolds announced $200 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding would be allocated toward the Empower Rural Iowa Broadband Grant Program. Governor Reynolds and the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) announced the awardees of the $100 million state-funded program in mid-September. The additional $200 million of ARAP funds will fund the remaining applications. 


“Broadband has never been more important for our future. I continue to hear from Iowans who still lack access to the broadband speeds necessary to start a business, telework, or connect with a healthcare provider,” Gov. Reynolds said. “With this additional investment, we have invested more than $300 million this year alone on bringing future-ready broadband to rural and unserved areas of our state.” 


On October 20th, Governor Reynolds announced two new programs aimed at addressing Iowa’s workforce shortage. Both grant programs focus on expanding Manufacturing 4.0 and received a $30 million appropriation from the American Rescue Plan Act funds. The first grant opportunity will supplement the existing Manufacturing 4.0 program for small manufacturers, employing up to 75 employees, with $5 million. The second grant opportunity will invest $25 million to make similar grant opportunities available to mid-size firms employing 76 – 250 employees.