From Taxes to Schools to Daycares to book banning – here’s some of what we’re watching in the Iowa Legislature this year

Lowering income taxes is high priority, but lawmakers may not eliminate it outright: On the chopping block: Iowa’s income tax, which Republicans argue is making the state less competitive. But leaders stopped short of recommending an immediate elimination of the state’s income tax, emphasizing the change would need to be sustainable over time. Democrats emphasized that tax cuts should be targeted to middle class Iowans.

Public Schools:  Public Education has been a flash point in Iowa politics and Iowa Senate President Jake Chapman’s remarks about the “sinister agenda” and “some teachers” tricking children into reading “disgusting sexually obscene material” is setting the stage again for this year.

“School Choice” is Back: There is a new push from the Governor to pass legislation providing taxpayer-funded scholarships to help Iowa students attend private schools. Her updated proposal will include any student who has an individualized education plan or who is part of a family with an income up to 400% of the federal poverty along with students in lower-performing Iowa schools. There is concern that providing money for private schools would harm rural districts, where losing state funding for a few students makes a larger difference so the Governor made a “clever move” to win over the House Republicans in rural districts to allot 70% of its cost per pupil to the student’s family with the remaining 30% will be distributed between rural school districts.

Banning Books/Jailing Educators? No state legislature has gone as far as a pair of Iowa GOP state senators propose. Jake Chapman, Iowa Senate president, and Brad Zaun, Senate Judiciary Chair promise new legislation to make “dissemination of obscene material to a minor” a felony and threatening teachers and the administrators that you’re going to be in jail. Certainly any such law would face a legal challenge on First Amendment grounds, and it may be that Chapman and Zaun’s bill will never appear for a Senate vote. But they have not yet backed away from their position. Reynolds weighed in on the controversy about inappropriate books in school libraries. “Parents need to know what books are in the library to give them a chance to weigh in,” Reynolds said. “They need to know what curriculum is in the syllabus… I think you’re going to see parents that are engaged and paying attention.”

Pledge of Allegiance Patriotism Test: During last year’s legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill requiring all schools to conduct the pledge of allegiance and display the American flag in class each day.  This year, Senate File 2043 would require teachers to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and stand while doing so and continues:  A teacher shall not… speak about the pledge of allegiance in any manner in which students may reasonably understand the teacher’s speech to be  an unpatriotic commentary on the United States or an attempt to politically influence the student or students.” Penalties would be: 1st offense; provide the teacher written notice, send by certified mail a written notice to the parents and guardians of students enrolled in the school, and provide the state department of education and board of educational examiners with written notice of the violation. 2nd offence adds suspending the teacher without pay and the 3rd offense is immediate termination.

Reynolds: “The safety net has become a hammock” that is leading to societal decay. Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver chimed in calling public assistance programs a “lifestyle.” These uninformed arguments about people who are struggling to feed themselves and their families are offensive and wrong.

Iowa lawmakers consider changes to application process for state assistance: Low-income Iowans applying for programs like food assistance or Medicaid would have to take extra steps to prove their identity under a bill advancing in the legislature. The bill is part of an ongoing debate over the lengths the state should take to confirm who’s eligible for benefits. Another House bill would direct the Department of Human Services to adopt a new system to double check applicants’ income.

Overhaul of Iowa’s unemployment law: Last year, Reynolds ended Iowa’s participation early in three federal pandemic unemployment programs that gave extra cash to unemployed Iowans. She also introduced rules that increased the work search requirements that unemployment recipients have to complete each week and provide more one-on-one assistance to unemployed Iowans. “The unemployment code was written a long, long, long time ago when we were in a much different position,” Reynolds said.” And today we need to incentivize work, not pay people to stay home.”

Job training, child care access proposed as workforce solutions: Reynolds promised a comprehensive legislative proposal to grow and strengthen Iowa’s workforce. She raised concerns that two-thirds of the people on unemployment were between 25 and 54 years old. She emphasized the importance of workforce training programs and access to child care to get people back to work. “We need to incentivize work, not pay people to stay home,” Reynolds said. House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst suggested affordable housing and better wages as other salves to the workforce crisis.

Iowa House Child Care Task Force proposals: One bill would allow child care centers to collect additional money from low-income families who get government-funded child care assistance in order to make up the difference between what the government pays and the actual price. The other bill would loosen the minimum staffing requirements for caring for toddlers, which could open up more child care slots, increasing the mandatory ratio of staff to students for 2-year-olds from 1-6 to 1-8 and upping the number of 3-year-olds per staff  from 1-8 to 1-10.

Republican leaders cautious on employer vaccine mandate changes: Members of the House State Government Committee debuted a proposal to prohibit employers from requiring their employees to be vaccinated. But Republican leaders urged caution on the new proposal. The U.S. Supreme Court is set to consider the legality of several federal vaccine mandates, and Reynolds argued the state should wait to implement new laws on the issue.

Abortion policy waiting on court decisions: Leaders also said state abortion laws could wait until the Supreme Court rules on the Texas abortion law, or until the Iowa Supreme Court makes a decision on waiting periods.

Bottle Bill: In 2021, lobbyists for grocers and beer wholesalers came close to an agreement, and lawmakers resurrected an effort push it across the finish line in the final days of the session that would have doubled the 1-cent handling fee for redemption centers and stopped dirty beverage containers from being returned to grocery stores. But the bill failed.

Cellphones: In recent years, attempts to address distracted driving by banning the use of hand-held communication devices — cellphones — have failed to gain the support of a majority of legislators despite support from a governor’s task force and Public Safety Commissioner. Objections to a ban involve personal freedom arguments as well as concerns about equity because not everyone has a car that supports hands-free technology.

Minimum Wage:  It’s likely there will be proposals to raise Iowa’s minimum wage for the first time since 2009 when Democrats had control of the Legislature and the governor’s office. It’s been $7.25 per hour for nearly 13 years. Minimum wages are going up in 25 states this year, with eight states tying the hourly rate to the consumer price index. However, there doesn’t seem to be much interest from Republicans, who now have the Statehouse trifecta and prefer to let the marketplace set wages.

Manufactured Housing: The proposed legislation would protect people living in manufactured housing from massive rent increases when mobile home parks are bought by investment groups, which has happened in several communities around Iowa.

Gambling: one change that seems unlikely is Iowa following moves by six states to authorize online casino gaming. In November, Iowans wagered nearly $10 million a day on sports, according to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission. That led to some talk of the state authorizing online casino gaming that would enable Iowans to set up accounts to gamble from smartphones or their computers.

The Right to trial by a citizen jury:  When Iowa citizens are wronged by people and entities that caused them harm, they deserve to be able to plead their case in a court of law in front of a citizen jury- with no predetermined cap on the value of their life, or their loved one’s life. The right to have our grievances heard with the individual attention they deserve is important to ensuring that citizens and their families are protected, and that wrongdoers are held appropriately accountable. We will watch this legislative session to make sure that our 7th Amendment rights are protected and that no government-mandated caps are created.

Information compiled from various sources including: Capital Digest, Iowa Starting Line, Des Moines Register and Cedar Rapids Gazette and affiliates: Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO and Iowa Association for Justice.


Our elected lawmakers are in office to represent us…  here’s how to stay in touch:

Find your Legislator at:

Or Call: Senate Switchboard: 515-281-3371  //  House Switchboard: 515-281-3221

Governor’s Office: 515-281-5211