Capitol Report: October 4, 2021
October 4, 2021
By: Paula S. Dierenfeld, Dustin J. Miller
Iowa legislators will return to the Iowa Capitol this week for a special session to vote on redistricting. Following the 2020 census data released in August, Iowa’s Legislative Services Agency (LSA) began the legislative redistricting process. Iowa has been praised nationally for our non-partisan redistricting process that results in very little gerrymandering. LSA uses a computer program to generate new districts based on population from the census data before submitting the maps to the legislature to consider. Lawmakers can only vote yes or no on the first two sets of proposed maps. If a third set of maps are required, lawmakers then have the opportunity to amend the maps.
LSA released the first round of proposed maps on September 16th. The state held hearings on September 20th, 21st, and 22nd to gather public input before the special session.
Under the proposed maps, 62 incumbents are grouped with another incumbent. This creates 22 open seats in the Iowa House and 11 open seats in the Iowa Senate. While the maps impact more republican incumbents than democrats, Iowa Code Chapter 42 prohibits members from voting on the maps for political reasons. Democrat leaders have indicated they will vote to approve the proposed maps, while republican leadership has not indicated which way they will vote.
Members of the House have indicated they would like to consider legislation prohibiting mask and vaccine mandates during the special session in response to President Biden’s national mandate. On September 9th, President Biden announced that all employers with more than 100 employees must require a COVID-19 vaccine or weekly testing. This mandate is estimated to impact nearly two-thirds of American workers. Additionally, President Biden mandated COVID-19 vaccines for all health care workers, federal contractors, and federal employees. Employers are waiting for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to draft rules for this mandate to go into effect. Speaker Pat Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver have commented that they intend to vote only on redistricting during the special session. The legislature will reconvene in January for the second session of the 89th General Assembly to consider policy proposals.
On September 14th, Republican Mike Bousselot won the special election for House District 37 following the passing of Representative John Landon in late July. District 37 covers the north-eastern portion of Ankeny.
A special election for House District 29 is set for October 12th. Representative Wes Breckenridge resigned his seat after accepting a position with the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy. District 29 includes Newton, Baxter, Colfax, Mingo, Kellogg, Oakland Acres, and Ira.
Fiscal Year 2021 closed on June 30th, while the accrual period officially ended on September 30th. Governor Reynolds announced that the state would end FY21 with a balance of $1,238.6 billion in the General Fund. This results in a budget surplus of $1.24 billion.
"Iowa is in a very strong financial position due to our fiscal responsibility," said Gov. Reynolds. "This surplus proves we accomplished exactly what we set out to do—overcome the financial challenges caused by the global pandemic and invest in education, workforce, healthcare, agriculture and technology. We will continue to invest in these important priorities going forward to meet the needs of our citizens and state."
In addition to the budget surplus, Governor Reynolds also has American Rescue Plan funds to allocate. On September 8th, Governor Reynolds announced $100 million of the ARP funds would be allocated towards housing. The investment includes $45 million for the Federal Housing Tax Credit Program, $20 million for the Workforce Housing Tax Credit Program, $20 million for the Downtown Housing Grant Program, $10 million for Homes for Iowa, $4 million for the Home Repair Block Grant Pilot Program, and $1 million for the Minority Homebuyer Down Payment Assistance Pilot Program.
After months of weighing the decision to run again, Senator Chuck Grassley announced he will seek an 8th term in the U.S. Senate. Historically, Grassley has received some of the highest approval ratings in the state at 80%. According to the latest Iowa Poll, 47% of Iowans approve of the job he is doing, with 40% disapproving and 13% unsure.
Former Democrat U.S. Representative Abby Finkenauer announced her campaign to challenge Grassley in July.
Republican Representatives Hinson, Miller-Meeks, and Feenstra have all announced they will be seeking re-election to their U.S. House seats in 2022 as well. Democrat Representative Cindy Axne has not yet decided if she will run for re-election, indicating she is also considering a bid for Governor.
Nyemaster Goode Legislative Coordinator Casey Nickel helped compile this edition of Capitol Report.