Even as lawmakers were rushing bills through committee ahead of this week’s legislative deadline, legislative leaders were offering partisan critiques of their work so far this year.
Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, said Democrats have introduced over two dozen bills aimed at recovering from the pandemic, but only one has advanced in any meaningful way. That bill, which exempts unemployment benefits from state income taxes, passed the House this week as part of a larger pandemic-related tax relief bill.
“Republicans instead have been focused on legislation that is mean, bad for business and completely ignores the global pandemic in which we still find ourselves,” Wahls said.
Business leaders have spoken against bills they say would make it difficult to recruit workers, including a proposed ban on tenure at state universities that could curtail research and a proposal to deny state contracts and development incentives to tech companies that “censor” voices.
Twitter and Facebook have intervened in the spread of what they have deemed dangerously false information about COVID-19 and the 2020 election. Twitter drew conservative ire by suspending former President Trump’s account after the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, defended his party’s focus on free-speech legislation. “Well, first thing I’d say that’s extremely concerning that the Democrats here in this state government don’t think their free speech should be something we should be advancing,” he said. “… I think our caucus has made it very clear that freedom of speech is going to be one of the things that we emphasize.”
Grassley said the message he’s hearing from business groups is they want to see more of the policies Republicans have advanced that have led to record low unemployment before the pandemic and increasing state revenues.
March 5 marks the end of the eighth week of the 2021 legislative session, a deadline known as the funnel. But because no meetings are scheduled for Friday, that left Thursday as the last day to push bills through a committee vote.
With several exceptions, bills that do not make it through a committee in either the House or Senate would no longer be viable for the session. Bills dealing with appropriations, taxes and government oversight are among those exempt from the deadline. Bills that fail to clear the funnel can be revived in various ways, including amendments to other bills or leadership-sponsored bills.
Several bills introduced this week were being considered in back-to-back meetings Thursday to squeeze past the deadline. Other controversial bills from earlier in the session are returning for a last-minute committee vote.
Here are some of the bills that lawmakers were working on Thursday ahead of the deadline:
Fundamental parental rights
House File 714 would add a section to Iowa law to explicitly state that parents have a fundamental right to “direct the upbringing, rearing, associations, care, education, custody, and control” of their children. Any state action to interfere with a parent’s relationship with their child would be subject to strict scrutiny in court.
Rep. Eddie Andrews, R-Johnston, wrote the bill. He said Thursday it would codify the rights of parents, protecting from any future state overreach. But some in the subcommittee raised concerns that the bill could make it harder for the state to intervene in abusive family situations.
“Is it a parent’s right to send their child to bed without dinner because of a disciplinary action? Absolutely,” said Blank Children’s Hospital lobbyist Chaney Yeast. “Is it a parent’s right to withhold food for two days, two weeks? That’s when things start to get more gray.”
Andrews responded that the legislation would not change the state’s ability to remove children from dangerous situations.
The subcommittee moved the bill, with Rep. Brian Lohse, R-Bondurant, and Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Orange City, signing. Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, did not sign.
The full House Judiciary Committee will consider the proposal, which was introduced for the first time on Wednesday, in a Thursday afternoon meeting. The committee still needs to approve the bill for it to make it past the funnel.
Public records confidentiality and creating a “peace officer bill of rights”
Gov. Kim Reynolds proposed a “Back the Blue” bill in January that would ban racial profiling, increase penalties for several crimes, introduce penalties for municipalities that decrease police department funding and allow law enforcement officers to pursue civil remedies against those who make a false claim against them.
Lawmakers in the House and Senate did not take up the governor’s whole proposal, instead creating their own plans with some of her suggestions. House Study Bill 266 is one of those bills.
“This isn’t the governor’s bill,” said bill sponsor and committee chair, Rep. Jared Klein. “This is the House Public Safety’s bill in support of law enforcement. “
House Study Bill 266 would:
- Allow law enforcement officers, judges and prosecutors to join address confidentiality programs;
- Require peace officers to carry a firearm at all times while on duty;
- Allow law enforcement officers to file a civil claim against someone who files a false report against them;
- Introduce new penalties for drivers who do not pull over for law enforcement.
Several Democrats on the committee asked to see a minority impact statement on the bill.
“This is an affront to the Perfect Union (bill) that we passed before,” said Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines. He said that he wanted to be sure that policing bills passed this session were not geared toward punishing protesters from the summer of 2020.
House Study Bill 266 does not include the racial profiling ban recommended by Reynolds. The House Public Safety Committee did not consider an additional bill that would prevent municipalities from decreasing police budgets.
“Let’s pass legislation that supports good law enforcement officers,” Klein, R-Keota, said.
The bill moved by a 16-4 vote, marking it safe ahead of the funnel.
No gunfights on the highway
The House Public Safety Committee also moved a bill Thursday that would prohibit individuals from discharging a firearm from a motor vehicle on a public highway. Lawmakers voted unanimously to move House Study Bill 94 to the House floor.
We’ll be updating this story throughout the day as bills are voted out of committee.