Friday’s close of the Iowa Legislature’s second “funnel” deadline left much of Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds’ agenda for the 2021 session in play.
The end of last week’s cutoff meant all policy had to pass the Iowa House or Senate and through a full committee in the other chamber in order to advance this session. Most of 2021’s controversial legislation, including school choice and policing bills moved forward — a lot of which had been outlined as a priority in Reynolds’ January Condition of the State speech.
“On policy issues, I think most of the high-profile types of issues that were name-checked or mentioned in the Governor’s Condition of the State address have been moved forward,” said Democratic Rep. Chris Hall in an interview with Iowa Starting Line.
With the close of funnel week, the Legislature is set to move from policy to budget negotiations in the last weeks of session.
“My sense is that the House Republicans are setting themselves up to negotiate over the budget and especially tax issues before their total cost to the state in the next few weeks. So I think tax cuts and usage of federal dollars that have come to the state is really where a lot of time and energy in the next few weeks is going to be spent,” Hall said.
Charter Schools, Open Enrollment
One of Reynolds’ largest priorities for the 2021 session was school choice legislation—a push the Republican governor differs drastically with public school advocates on.
“School choice shouldn’t be limited to those who have the financial means or are lucky to live in a district that’s confident enough to allow open enrollment. So let’s make choice an option for everyone,” Reynolds said in her January Condition of the State speech.
“We can do that by making open enrollment available in all districts and by allowing our communities more flexibility to create public charter schools where there is a need for an alternative. And we should create education savings accounts for students who are trapped in a failing school; let’s give them another choice by making sure money isn’t their barrier.”
Both charter school and open enrollment legislation is advancing this session, while a private school savings account bill was stopped.
Passed by the House and through a Senate Education Committee, a policy that would more easily create charter schools is advancing despite strong Democratic opposition.
“You can spin it any way you want, but I think this bill is not about kids, it’s about money,” Democratic Rep. Sharon Steckman said last week during a lengthy House debate.
Also passed was a bill that expands open enrollment for Iowa students, along with the creation of tax benefits for teachers and students and funds to boost innovation in schools.
A bill that would cut voluntary diversity plans and bar school districts with court-ordered desegregation from refusing student transfers also passed the Iowa House and a Senate committee.
Democratic legislators have said this year’s session feels like an attack on public education.
Reynolds’ Condition of State speech also addressed the past year’s reckoning with racial justice and police brutality following the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis. In her speech, she proposed a package on anti-racial profiling along with a number of law enforcement protections.
“I’ll be introducing a bill that protects law enforcement and continues our march toward racial justice. The bill will make clear that if you riot or attack our men and women in uniform, you will be punished. We won’t stand for it,” Reynolds said.
“The bill will also ban racial profiling and other forms of disparate treatment. Because no actions should ever be taken based upon the color of someone’s skin.”
Anti-racial profiling legislation did not advance in the Legislature this year, but additional protections for law enforcement did.
The Senate and a House committee passed a bill that would give law enforcement more information on complaints filed against them—including the names of the filers. This “qualified immunity” bill advances officer protections.
“We should never be afraid to talk about ways to improve policing, but there will be no talk of defunding the police here. Our men and women in blue will always have my respect, and I will always have their back,” said Reynolds.
A ban on denying state funding to localities that “defund” their police by reducing their law enforcement budget compared to their overall budgets didn’t pass the Iowa House, however, after advancing along party lines in the Senate. Also dead is a bill that would increase penalties for harm to officers, though lawmakers are working on an amendment to another criminal justice bill that may include some of the elements, the Des Moines Register reports.
Bipartisan Efforts On Broadband, Childcare
The expansion of high-speed broadband internet has proven to be the most bipartisan legislation this session, and a topic Reynolds highlighted in her Condition of the State speech.
“I’m done taking small steps and hoping for big change. This is the time for bold action and leadership. Let’s plant a stake in the ground and declare that every part of Iowa will have affordable, high-speed broadband by 2025,” she said.
Advanced this session is a bill which would make available more broadband service and sets up guidelines for details of the expansion.
Childcare was another aspect of Reynolds’ January speech that has been addressed this session.
“Iowa has more households with all parents working than any other state, yet we’ve lost one-third of our childcare spots over the last five years. When schools abruptly closed last spring, a system already under stress was pushed even harder,” she said, encouraging public-private partnerships to jumpstart childcare solutions.
“Let’s remove the obstacles to high-quality, affordable child care so that Iowa families can nurture their kids while parents maintain the maximum freedom to enter and remain in the workforce.
A number of bills advanced in the Iowa House, now under the Senate’s consideration, that would better childcare across the state.
Earlier this session, however, both the House and the Senate passed a school funding bill that cuts preschool dollars. Republicans say help for preschools is on the way.
by Isabella Murray
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