Legislative Update: “Alive” after the Funnel

Excerpts from a February 20, 2022 Des Moines Register article by Stephen Gruber-Miller and Ian Richardson

Iowa lawmakers have introduced hundreds of bills this legislative session, but many died after falling victim to the Legislature’s “funnel” deadline. To survive, bills must have received approval from a full committee in one chamber. The funnel does not apply to tax-related or spending bills, meaning Republicans’ various tax cut proposals are still alive regardless of the deadline. Lawmakers can also still resurrect proposals in other ways — such as introducing them as amendments to other bills — but the deadline often signals what lawmakers expect to prioritize as the session continues.

Here are some bills that are still “Alive.”

BOOK CHALLENGES: Parents could sue schools and teachers and administrators could face criminal penalties for distributing obscene material or “hardcore pornography” to students, under a Republican bill in the Senate. The proposal comes as parents in schools across the state and country have challenged books for young adults by mostly Black, Hispanic and LGBTQ authors. Senate File 2198.

PARENTS’ BILL OF RIGHTS: This bill specifies parents have certain rights for their children such as the right to know the curriculum their children are being taught and the right to review certain school records. The bill also bans schools from requiring activities involving certain explicit material without parental consent. Support for the bill has been generally bipartisan, although Democrats have been wary of how Republicans may choose to define what material is “sexually explicit” in the final version of the bill. Senate File 2205.

PRIVATE SCHOOL SCHOLARSHIPS: Reynolds proposed giving up to 10,000 students taxpayer-funded scholarships to help pay for private school expenses. Her bill would divide the scholarships between families below 400% of the federal poverty level and students with individualized education plans. The bill would require schools to publish their curriculums and lists of library books online, as well as make a handful of other tweaks to educational processes and requirements. The Senate has advanced the bill through committee. In the House, where a similar bill died last year, leadership moved the bill to the Appropriations Committee to keep it alive. House Study Bill 672/Senate Study Bill 3080.

SCHOOL VACCINE MANDATES: Lawmakers have advanced multiple pieces of legislation aimed at preventing certain vaccination mandates for children in schools or child care centers. House File 2298 would prevent students who are enrolled in K-12 schools, colleges or child care centers from COVID-19 vaccination requirements.  Senate File 2079 would require vaccination rules for those entering schools, colleges and child care centers to be uniform throughout the state. It would also add that medical and religious exemptions for requirements would apply “in times of emergency or epidemic,” changing a sentence in Iowa law that currently specifies they do not.

SOCIAL STUDIES INSTRUCTION: This bill would expand the requirements for high school and middle school social studies courses, requiring that they include classes on civics and civil discourse along with history and government. The bill spells out certain subjects that must be covered within the various courses. House File 2418.

TEACHER LICENSING: As Iowa faces a shortage of teachers and support staff, House Republicans have proposed a handful of changes to licensure requirements. They include: House File 2083: Expands eligibility for teachers to receive grants through Iowa’s Teach Iowa Scholar program; House File 2085: Sets up an alternative initial license for those entering the teaching field from other career fields; House File 2081: Eliminates exams teachers must take prior to receiving a license.

PHARMACY BENEFIT MANAGERS: Companion bills in the House and Senate would place more regulations on pharmacy benefit managers, which serve as the “middlemen” between insurance companies and drug manufacturers. Iowa is among many states considering more regulations on the industry. House File 2384/Senate File 2231.

BANNING VACCINE MANDATES: This far-reaching bill would widely ban vaccination and mask mandates at businesses, governmental entities and schools. It would also prevent workers from being fired based on their medical treatment status, including whether they are vaccinated. Entities that violate the law would be liable for any adverse reactions that stem from “forced medical treatment.” House Study Bill 647.

PUBLIC ASSISTANCE: Iowans would have to cooperate with the state’s child support recovery unit to qualify for food assistance under a series of proposed welfare changes in the House. The proposal is a more limited version of the efforts the Senate has attempted for years to increase eligibility checks in the state’s welfare programs. House File 2438.

BIOFUELS: Gas stations would be required to offer gas with higher blends of ethanol under this bill. Fuel retailers with compatible infrastructure would have to sell gas with 15% ethanol, known as E15, beginning in 2026. Retailers could get waivers if their equipment isn’t compatible with the higher blend. Any new or upgraded infrastructure would have to be compatible with E85, or gasoline with 85% ethanol, and B20, which contains at least 20% biodiesel, starting next year. The bill has passed the House and cleared a committee in the Senate. House File 2128.

BOTTLE BILL: Lawmakers are trying once again to overhaul Iowa’s decades-old bottle redemption program. One proposal on the table would temporarily increase the handling fee that bottle redemption centers receive and add canned cocktails to the list of containers that can be redeemed. Grocery stores and other retailers could opt out of accepting empty beverage containers if there is a dedicated redemption center within 15 miles. However, at least some aspects of the bill are likely to change if it moves forward. House Study Bill 709.

CHILD CARE PAYMENTS: A House proposal would let child care providers collect additional payments from families who are on Child Care Assistance to make up the difference between the reimbursement rate and the rate a provider would receive from a family paying for its own child care. House File 2127.

CHILD CARE RATIOS: Companion House and Senate bills would raise the maximum child-to-staff ratios at child care centers for 2- and 3-year-olds. For 2-year-olds, child care centers could have seven children per staff member, up from six. For 3-year-olds, child care centers could have 10 children per staff member, up from eight. House File 2131/Senate File 2268.

CHILD CARE WORKERS: Another House proposal would allow people 16 years or older who work at a child care facility without supervision. Currently, staff under 18 must have adult supervision. House File 2198.

CUTTING UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS: Iowa would go from offering 26 weeks of unemployment benefits to 16 weeks, under this proposal that’s passed committees in the House and Senate. Workers would also be required to take lower-paying jobs sooner, or risk losing their benefits. And it would cap damages in medical malpractice and truck-driving lawsuits. A separate Senate proposal would further cut unemployment benefits to between 12 and 16 weeks, depending on Iowa’s unemployment rate. House File 2279/Senate File 2275.

JUDICIAL NOMINATIONS: The governor would have the power to appoint an additional person to the commissions that interview candidates for district court judges — giving Reynolds control over the majority of the panels’ members. It would align the district court panels with changes Republicans passed in 2019 altering the nominating commission that interviews candidates for the Iowa Supreme Court and Iowa Court of Appeals. Senate File 2132/House File 2437.

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