DES MOINES, Iowa (KWWL) - State lawmakers have adjourned the 2021 legislative session after weeks of negotiations over tax policy and the budget. Both chambers gaveled out late Wednesday evening, ending the session ran several weeks longer than anticipated.
Before doing so, Republican lawmakers passed a bill that wouldput an amendment on the ballot for voters to decide whether the Iowa Constitution provides a right to abortion.
In the closing hours, lawmakers passed legislation preventing K-12 schools, cities, and counties from mandating masks. In addition, city and county mask requirements for private businesses are also banned. Governor Reynolds signed the bill into law early Thursday morning. The law goes into effect immediately.
"More than likely, the mask conversation wasn't going to be a part of the agenda between now and the next school year," House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said. "When we were getting feedback, it wasn't just about this school year. It was about decisions being made moving into the next school year."
House Minority Floor Leader Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, called the bill an attack on local control.
"Instead of supporting school superintendents or City Council's or mayors who are who are trying to deal in a way that is as effective in protecting their community or their school district or children is basically ruling by fiat here out of Des Moines," Prichard said.
During this legislative session, lawmakers also passed bills restricting early and absentee voting, mandating schools offer in-person classes, and made it easier to create charter schools in the state. Republican lawmakers also expanded access to guns.
"Republicans brought forward the most radical and culturally divisive agenda that we've seen in our state since Republicans took the trifecta," Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Iowa City, said. "They've tried to pit Iowans against Iowans every which way you can imagine."
Grassley disagreed with that assessment and said the work the legislature accomplished reflects the priorities of Iowans across the state.
"From continuing to have tax reductions for Iowa, passing several bills over to the Senate and several bills being a part of the final negotiations to get out of here related to childcare," he said. "We have record levels of investment in things like education, public safety, Department of Corrections."
Democrats have consistently called for lawmakers to do more to help Iowans recover from the pandemic by using the state's budget surplus for relief at the state level.
"They've largely ignored the challenges that our state is facing, that our small businesses are still struggling with," Wahls said.
Grassley pointed to legislation like the tax cut lawmakers passed, getting kids back into the classroom, and the state's broadband investment as policies lawmakers passed that provide pandemic relief.
"We look at this as a broad agenda that helps provide that relief, not just dollars and cents," he said.
Other major pieces of legislation passed this session:
In the legislative session's final days, lawmakers passed a bill to increase the amount of income tax cuts that would take effect in 2023 and phase out the state's inheritance tax with complete removal by 2025. It eliminates the income tax triggers created in the state's 2018 tax reform bill. The bill includes a $300 million income tax cut and a $100 million property tax relief by removing the mental health levy and shifting funding for mental health services from the 99 counties to the state. However, Wahls said the legislation would lead to higher property taxes across the state.
On Wednesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law a bill expanding Iowa’s charter school rules, allowing groups to set up such schools by applying directly to the state and bypassing local school boards.
The newly signed law makes charter schools part of Iowa's public education program. It will allow groups interested in establishing a charter school to directly apply to the state's Department of Education. However, it will still allow the option of applying through a local school board.
State lawmakers passed legislation that no longer requires Iowans to have a permit to buy or carry a gun. If you go to a store and buy a gun from a licensed dealer, the new law won't change much. You will still have to undergo a federal background check by the FBI. Iowans can still obtain permits to carry or acquire guns, but it will be optional.
They also passed a constitutional amendment thatwould add this exact wording to Article 1 of the state's constitution: "The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The sovereign state of Iowa affirms and recognizes this right to be a fundamental individual right. Any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny." Democrats believe that wording goes too far in protecting Iowans' gun rights. The language will now go before Iowa voters in the 2022 general election.
State lawmakers passed an elections bill that shortens the early voting period, reduces election day poll hours, and creates stricter rules and deadlines for returning absentee ballots.
The bill cut the state's mail and in-person early voting period from 29 days to 18 days just four years after Republicans whittled it down from 40 days. In addition, the bill reduced the absentee ballot request period from 120 days to 70 days before an election. Iowa's 99 county auditors are no longer be allowed to send absentee ballot request forms to voters. Voters can still obtain forms on their own and send them in, but they wouldn't receive a request form directly in the mail from their county auditor.
In the closing hours, lawmakers sent the"Back the Blue Act" to Governor Reynolds's desk. The bill elevates penalties for unlawful protesters and raises qualified immunity for Iowa police officers. It makes it a felony to be involved in a "riot" and makes it an aggravated misdemeanor to be involved in an "unlawful assembly." It also raises the protection police officers to get in court. Right now, Iowa uses the "all due care" burden of proof; police officers are protected from lawsuits if their department can prove they were exercising "all due care" when they interacted with someone.
Among the pieces of legislation that fell short this session are billsbanning traffic cameras and one that would ban texting and driving.
Senate File 245, which would have allowed college athletes to profit off of the use of their names, images, and likeness also failed.
Legislation proposing a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights to Iowan's convicted felony crimes also fell short. As did bills that would have capped insulin prices at $100 and allowed over-the-counter birth control without a prescription.
House File 49, which would have banned tenure at Iowa's three public universities, did not make it through either.
Several proposals by Governor Reynolds did not make it across the finish line including one dealing with ethanol expansion.
The Governor also pushed for state lawmakers to pass a law preventing transgender girls from competing in girls' sports, saying it was a fairness issue. While lawmakers did look for a path for the legislation, they were not able to get it passed.
"We just want to make sure the house senate and the governor on the same page, and whatever we pass is an effective piece of legislation and tries to accomplish what that bill would set out to do," Grassley said. "We just had a lot of other things on our agenda and our plate to wrap up at the end of the session. And I don't think we ever got to a point where everyone was comfortable with what that would look like right now."
Grassley said the issue will be a part of the conversation between now and January, alongside other issues like childcare and broadband.
Lawmakers will most likely be back in Des Moines for a special session in August to deal with redistricting. This year, the release of the census data is delayed. A deadline of September 15th for redistricting Iowa's legislative and congressional districts will likely not be met as the data needed for such a process has to reflect specific populations in Iowa's 99 counties. That data isn't expected to be ready until August.
Iowa code indicates that if the legislature cannot complete the maps by the Sept. 15th deadline, then the responsibility falls to the Iowa Supreme Court who's stated if that happens, it would “cause the state to be apportioned into senatorial and representative districts to comply with the requirements of the constitution before December 31.”
"It looks like right now, August is the expectation when would be to come back, and the priority would be redistricting," Grassley said. "It is not just a Republican issue, having that uncertainty. It is a democratic issue, and it is for Iowans, knowing who their representatives are going to be in the coming year."