Capitol Report - Week Three 2021
February 1, 2021
By: Paula S. Dierenfeld
Let the Games Begin! Three weeks into the 2021 legislative session and we’ve seen our first real floor debate.
Law Makers v. Black Robes. On Wednesday, the House took up House Joint Resolution 5, a bill that would amend the Iowa Constitution to specify that it should not be construed to “recognize, grant or secure a right to abortion or require public funding of abortion.” Following two hours of debate, HJR 5 passed the House, 55-44, along party lines. Republicans argued the bill is needed to respond to judicial overreach by the Iowa Supreme Court that ruled Iowan’s have a constitutional right to abortion. The amendment would return the constitution to “neutrality” on the issue, they said. Democrats countered it would open the door to further restrictions on abortion or a complete ban. HJR 5 now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to be approved. HJR 5 must pass the legislature again in 2023 or 2024 before it is placed on the ballot for Iowa voters.
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Match Point. On Thursday, legislators in both chambers debated and passed Senate Joint Resolution 7, a bill to amend the state Constitution to grant Iowans the right to keep and bear arms. SJR 7 passed the Senate by a vote of 29-18, and the House, 58-41, along party lines. SJR 7 would amend the Iowa Constitution to state “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” and “any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.” Legislators arguing for the amendment said Iowa is one of only six states that does not have gun rights written into its state Constitution and the U.S. Supreme Court has narrowly upheld the Second Amendment against constitutional challenges. Those opposing objected in particular to the “strict scrutiny” standard. They insisted it would make it more difficult to require background checks and permits to carry guns, and to restrict possession of firearms by felons. Identical legislation passed the legislature in 2019. Having passed the legislature now for a second time, the amendment is ready to be voted on by Iowans in 2022.
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Quick Play. Also on Thursday, Senate File 160, a bill requiring all K-12 schools to offer parents of students the option of full time, in-person instruction passed both houses of the legislature. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 29-18, and the House by a vote of 59-39, largely along party lines. While SF 160 mandates that schools offer the 100 percent in person option, it does not prevent them from also offering hybrid or fully on-line learning options. The bill was one of the Governor’s priorities coming into the legislative session. In her Condition of the State address she called on the legislature to immediately send her a bill giving parents the choice to send their kids back to school full time. Governor Reynolds signed SF 160 into law Friday morning. Schools must begin offering the 100 percent in person option by February 15.
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First Score. A “school choice” bill, Senate File 159, also passed in the Senate on Thursday. Another priority of the Governor’s, the bill would create a Student First Scholarship Program to provide financial assistance to students attending private schools, remove the ability of school districts to use their voluntary diversity plans as a reason to deny requests for open enrollment and provide more flexibility to form charter schools. SF 159 passed the Senate by a vote of 26-21, with three Republicans joining the Democrats in voting “no.”
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COVID at the Capitol. On Saturday, Iowa legislators were informed that two more people associated with the House tested positive for the coronavirus. Rep. Amy Nielson (D), who participated in meetings and floor debate this past week, sent an email to legislators and staff telling them she tested positive on Saturday. The other individual has not been identified but according to Chief Clerk Meghan Nelson the person was last in the Capitol on Friday, and was primarily in space controlled by the House and wore a face mask at all times. On Wednesday, Nelson reported another person, who also has not been identified, tested positive, bringing the total to three for the week.
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