DES MOINES — Here is a summary of some of the biggest issues that came before lawmakers during the Iowa Legislature’s 2019 session, which ended Saturday:
It was a mixed bag for Gov. Kim Reynolds as she scored victories on her children’s mental health, Empower Rural Iowa and Future Ready Iowa initiatives as well as K-12 education funding. But lawmakers were less supportive of her appeal for constitutional amendments to restore felon voting rights and ensure victims’ rights. The House overwhelmingly approved putting the felon voting rights amendment on the ballot. In the Senate, it lacked votes to get out of the Judiciary Committee.
The victims’ rights legislation shared a similar fate — winning subcommittee approval in both chambers but dying in committees.
Her proposal to allow Iowa women to obtain some forms of birth control from a pharmacist without a doctor’s prescription was approved by the Senate, but stalled in the House.
“While a lot was accomplished, we’re not finished yet. Next year, I will push again for a constitutional amendment to restore felon voting rights and work to expand access to contraception,” Reynolds said in a statement Saturday.
Iowans soon could legally place bets on the Chicago Cubs, Kansas City Chiefs or their favorite college football team if Reynolds signs into law a bill legalizing sports betting in Iowa.
Lawmakers approved a proposal to legalize it in state-regulated casinos and online. Betting would be allowed on professional and college athletics, and on daily fantasy sports websites. Casinos would pay annual fees, revenue would be taxed, and the activity would be regulated by the state commission that oversees dog and horse racing.
Opponents generally expressed concern with another gambling expansion, particularly to online, and the potential damage it could do to Iowans who are or could become addicted.
Reynolds has not indicated whether she will sign or veto the bill.
City councils and county boards would be required to document and hold a public hearing when they plan to increase property tax revenues through higher rates or reevaluated property assessments.
If a city’s or county’s tax revenues will be increased more than 2 percent, the vote would require two-thirds of the board’s members instead of a simple majority.
Supporters say the proposal is needed to require transparency in property taxes so taxpayers can understand why their bill is increasing. They say it may make local leaders think twice about spending plans.
Opponents said it would place an undue burden on and infringe upon the authority of local governments. Some Democrats claimed the proposal could pit public employee pension programs — which are required by law to be fulfilled — against other areas of the budget, like services or personnel.
Reynolds has not said if she will sign the bill, but said she is supportive of efforts to lower Iowans’ property taxes.
A proposal to allow utility companies to charge a new fee on solar energy customers garnered a lot of attention but ultimately failed to pass the House.
The proposal passed the Senate but failed to move out of the House, where Republicans’ majority is slimmer.
Currently, solar energy customers pay a fee on the energy they receive from utility companies, but not on excess energy they generate and send back to the utility companies. The proposal would have allowed utility companies to charge a fee on the latter.
Republicans who control the Legislature approved a $7.644 billion general fund budget for state programs in fiscal 2020, starting July 1.
That represents an increase of about $197.2 million over current-year state funding once adjustments were made to take into account $113.1 million for a one-time repayment to the cash reserve; $69 million of a $150.3 million supplemental appropriation for Medicaid; and another $15 million in disaster funding for flood victims. That left the current state budget with a projected balanced of $166 million on June 30.
The fiscal 2020 budget included increases of nearly $90 million more for K-12 schools, $12 million for regent universities, $4.7 million for community colleges and $103 million for Medicaid, although that likely will have to be adjusted upward again next session.
The new budget plan was $16 million under Reynolds’ recommendation and minority Democrats charged it underfunded many priorities while creating a potential $285 million surplus in June 2020.
Republicans took a second crack at legislation designed to dissuade individuals from recording video of agricultural operations with the intent of causing financial or physical harm.
A similar law was struck down earlier this year by the courts.
Opponents call them “ag-gag” provisions and say they infringe upon free speech rights and would curtail efforts to unearth shady business practices. Supporters called it an “ag trespass” bill, and said it is necessary to protect farmers.
Reynolds has signed the provision into law.
And those farmers may soon be able to grow industrial hemp. Lawmakers approved a bill that would create the framework for allowing farmers to grow hemp in Iowa; the provision needs federal approval.
Industrial hemp is plant member of the cannabis family, but hemp contains only the slightest trace of marijuana’s psychoactive chemical. The plant’s seeds and stalks have commercial uses, including in building materials, paper, textiles, oils and food.
And farmers will be on a more level playing field when bidding in land sale auctions, say supporters of a provision passed by lawmakers.
It would prohibit individuals and organizations from getting low-interest loans from a state fund to purchase land at an auction.
Opponents said the provision would hamper the efforts of organizations that use loans from the fund to buy land for conservation projects. The bill was amended to allow for narrow use of the fund for water quality projects.
“We have a variety of people with a variety of opinions” without a consensus to either ban or regulate the automated traffic enforcement devices used in 10 Iowa cities including Cedar Rapids, House Public safety Committee Chairman Jarad Klein, R-Keota, said.
He had proposed regulating the cameras, with the state scooping 60 percent of the revenue after expenses.
“That’s a non-starter, said Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, who wants to ban the speed and red light cameras.
Klein’s confident the issue will be back for an eighth consecutive year in 2020, especially if Cedar Rapids turns its cameras back on during the interim.
“That will get more people engaged,” said Klein, who sees it as a rural-versus-urban issue. Outstate Iowans who get nabbed by the cameras feel like they get no benefit from the fines, which flow into city coffers.
“The discussions not over,” Chapman agreed.
Senate File 516 to require every Iowa employer check a federal system to determine whether job applicants are legal residents of the country and eligible to work here before hiring them cleared the Senate 33-14, but was never called up for action in the House Public Safety Committee.
Opponents warned it could mistakenly flag individuals who are eligible to work in the United States. Bill manager Sen. Julian Garrett, R-Indianola, said SF 516 was not about targeting immigrants. Many businesses already use the federal E-Verify system and it results in very few false flags, he said.
In the House, Public safety Committee Chairman Jarad Klein, R-Keota, said the bill came over from the Senate at the end of funnel week and there was no time to address it. He expects to take up the issue in 2020.
Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, says he’ll have to work with House leaders over the interim to win support for his work requirements for welfare recipients. The Department of Human Services estimates about 71,000 people on the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan would qualify.
SF 538 would have required able-bodied recipients to work or volunteer at least 20 hours per week, to be making an effort to pay their child support, and for the state to more frequently verify Medicaid recipients’ eligibility.
Although it was approved 32-17, the House Human Services Committee did not act on it after a federal judge struck down similar rules in other states.
HHS Committee Chairwoman Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta, said she wasn’t closing the door on the idea, but wanted to be “really thoughtful” about whether there is a need for it.
Felon voting rights:
On a 95-2 vote, the House approved House Joint Resolution 14 calling for a constitutional amendment to make it possible for felons to have voting rights restored.
Although it was one of Reynolds’ priorities, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, pulled it from the committee agenda because he didn’t have the votes to pass it.
But the issue isn’t dead. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Steve Holt, R-Denison, said the discussion is continuing as legislators look for a way to address concerns about victims’ rights. It won’t go as far as a proposal to adopt a constitutional amendment addressing victims’ rights, such as Marsy’s Law, he said. It likely will address whether murderers, sex offenders and others will be eligible to have their voting rights restored and what they will have to do to be eligible to vote again.
Lawmakers who wanted to rewrite state election laws had to settle for a half a loaf. A nearly 60-page bill that would have banned polling locations in state-owned buildings, such as on campuses, was sliced to 28 pages with the most onerous provisions cut off.
House File 692, which was unanimously approved in the House and Senate, included language to fix a problem with absentee mail-in ballots and prevent a problem with the Iowa caucuses.
The bill requires that absentee ballots include a bar code that contains shipping information so auditors can determine whether ballots received after Election Day were mailed before deadline.
It also clarifies that Iowans may participate in only one presidential caucus. Iowa Democrats will have multiple online caucuses that will not require Iowans to be physically present on caucus night. That has created concerns about Iowans attempting to caucus multiple times within the Democratic caucuses, or once in the Democratic and once in the Republican caucuses.