Capitol Report - Week 19 2021
May 24, 2021
By: Paula S. Dierenfeld
Whirlwind Finish. After three long days of negotiations and debate, the Iowa legislature adjourned sine die just before midnight on Wednesday, May 19. The Senate gaveled out at 11:41 pm, and the House did the same at 11:45 pm. A lot happened in the final 72 hours to make the “shut down” possible.
* * *
Logjam Broken. The major issue holding up adjournment for the past three weeks was agreement between the House and Senate on what to include in a tax relief bill. Compromise was reached on Tuesday on a bill, SF 619, that will provide $1 billion in tax cuts to Iowans over eight years. The bill includes provisions to eliminate the 2018 income tax “triggers,” shift funding for mental health services from local property taxes to the state, phase out the inheritance tax, double the child care tax credit, exempt COVID-related federal relief payments from taxation, eliminate the “backfill” to local governments, require parity for telehealth mental health services, and increase funding for the brownfield redevelopment program, among other things. The bill passed both chambers largely along party lines, 29-15 in the Senate and 64-28 in the House. Governor Reynolds, who helped to forge the compromise, is expected to sign the bill.
* * *
Uncharted Waters. As sessions drag on past their scheduled end dates, the likelihood that new issues will arise and become legislative proposals increases. Such was the case with a proposal introduced Wednesday morning as an amendment to an education programs bill, HF 847. The amendment prohibits schools from requiring masks to be worn and local governments from implementing mask mandates more stringent than those imposed by the state. The bill, along with the amendment, passed both chambers Wednesday evening and was signed by the Governor, just after midnight. Had the Centers for Disease Control not changed its policies on mask use a few days before, the issue probably would not have come up. Timing can be everything.
* * *
Calmer Seas. The Standings Appropriations bill is usually the last budget bill to be passed. It often becomes a Christmas tree for amendments of proposals that failed as stand-alone legislation. It is the “last train” offering hope for those still trying to get legislation passed and feared by those who have defeated the bad stuff so far. Much to everyone’s surprise, the Standings bill, SF 615, that passed both chambers Wednesday night was different. In the words of Rep. Gary Mohr, the bill’s floor manager in the House, “It’s one of the most boring standing bills in recent memory.” His description drew applause from nearly everyone, inside and outside the House chambers. The bill was void of any last minute controversial policy proposals.
* * *
Staying the Course. On Wednesday, the Senate passed for a final time, HJR 5, a resolution to amend Iowa’s Constitution to state it should not be construed to “recognize, grant or secure a right to abortion or require public funding of abortion.” The resolution must pass again in 2023 or 2024 before it can be voted on by Iowans. And on Wednesday, the House cast the final vote on the “Back the Blue” bill, SF 342, that expands protections for police and other law enforcement and increases penalties for protest-related crimes. Also a bill, SF 688, that makes a number of changes in Iowa’s elections laws, including limits on who can deliver a ballot for another voter, passed both chambers. All passed along party lines, with Republicans voting for and Democrats against.
* * *
Turbulence Encountered. One of the few powers a minority party in the Senate has is to vote against the confirmation of a gubernatorial appointee. A two-thirds vote of the Senate is required for approval. Six of Governor Reynolds’ appointees were still on the Individual Calendar Wednesday night when the Senate finished its work on legislation. The names of three of the appointees were brought up - only one received sufficient votes to be approved – Tom Reilly for the State Transportation Commission. Derek Muller, appointee for the State Judicial Nominating Commission, and Mallory Hanson, appointee for the Natural Resources Commission, were both five votes short. The names of the other three were not brought up. They included Michael Bousselot for director of the Department of Management, Adam Steen for director of the Department of Administrative Services and Erik Helland for the Public Employment Relations Board. The Senate Journal for Wednesday shows the names were withdrawn from consideration by the Governor.
* * *
Landed But Not for Long. Legislators have gone home and the Capitol is quiet once again. In a typical year, we would not expect them to return again until the second Monday in January of the following year. That is not the case this year. One of the tasks they must complete yet this year is redistricting, i.e. the redrawing of Iowa’s legislative districts. That task would have been done but for failure of the U.S. Census Bureau to deliver the data the legislature needs to perform the work. Expect the legislature to return sometime later this year, most likely in August, to adopt a new redistricting plan. Just know that when they come back, they are not limited on what or how many issues they can consider in a special session.
* * *
Following are excerpts from the remarks of Governor Reynolds and legislative leadership on the end of the 2021 session:
Governor Kim Reynolds: “This legislative session, I charged the House and Senate to work together to further advance Iowa’s strong recovery from COVID-19 and promote policies that strengthen our families, communities, schools, workforce and economy. I’m proud that we delivered on the promises made to the people of Iowa.”
House Speaker Pat Grassley: “Iowans… sent us a message – loud and clear - on the direction they wanted to see for the state of Iowa. They gave us an agenda; get kids back in school, support law enforcement, expand access to child care and broadband internet and deliver a responsible budget…This chamber led the way for the expansion of access to quality, affordable child care. We passed over ten bills addressing the problem from all angles. We were successful in seeing many of those bills become law.”
House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl: “This is going to be the year of freedom for Iowans. It comes in many shapes, fashions and forms.”
House Minority Leader Todd Prichard: “Instead of working together to enact aggressive recovery plans in the middle of this life-changing pandemic, Governor Reynolds and Republican leaders chose a partisan agenda that by and large ignored the pandemic. Division over unity and partisanship over common sense. This was a session without courage. It was a session that ignored the historic challenges Iowans face today. Strong leadership requires courage.”
Senate President Jake Chapman: “[W]e leave this legislative session with much optimism, optimism that we made a difference and optimism for a promising future. Though more work is needed, we can be assured that Iowans will wake to a much brighter tomorrow because of the work and sacrifice of this general assembly. May God continue to richly bless our great state and her people.”
Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver: “This session ran a little longer than normal. But as I’ve said many times, Senate Republicans come to Des Moines to do something, not be someone. We are happy to do the hard work necessary to provide certainty on income tax relief, property tax relief, make sure K-12 students can go to school full time, pass a reliable, sustainable budget, and defend law enforcement… Iowa is a great place to live and it’s only getting better.”
Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls: “[T]his session was a missed opportunity. COVID-19 turned our world upside down and gave us all a new perspective. With this new perspective, we could have reimagined our social contract and responsibilities to each other. We could have boldly addressed all of the challenges Iowa faces, nearly all of which were exacerbated by COVID-19…”
The Nyemaster Goode Government Affairs team tracks and analyzes legislation as part of its full range of legislative services. At the statehouse, our public policy attorneys use experience, knowledge, and technical skills to achieve our clients’ goals.