In the fifth week of the legislative session, a new Republican Senator was sworn in after a special election was held to fill the vacancy left by U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks. Senator Adrian Dickey is from Packwood and will represent Senate District 41, which includes parts of Jefferson and Wapello counties and all of Davis and Van Buren counties. He is a volunteer firefighter and businessman that runs Dickey Transport, a family business that his grandfather started in 1959.
We also continued the legislative session with more debate on important education issues, as well as continuing our work in subcommittees and committees.
One of the bills the State Government Committee discussed this week is Senate File 163, which provides an extension for professional and occupational licenses for those working on continuing their education. This means Iowans licensed by the state for their occupation can apply for an extension to their licensing board if they were unable to meet continuing education requirements by the renewal deadline due to an unforeseen financial or medical hardship. While we work to bring more Iowans into our workforce and get our economy back on track, this is one way we can help our state and those people working hard to succeed.
This week the Judiciary Committee discussed Senate File 84, requiring employers use E-Verify to make sure they are not violating federal immigration law, which prohibits the employment of illegal immigrants. Currently, the law makes this practice voluntary, and while many employers use it, many also do not. This is an important bill to keep Iowa’s business climate fair for both employers and potential workers.
One of our priorities for this legislative session is getting Iowans back to work and growing our state’s economy. Iowa’s unemployment rate in December was the third lowest in the country at 3.1%. This rate has returned to pre-pandemic levels in many areas. In fact, the Iowa Business Council recently noted the significant demand from Iowa’s employers for qualified people to fill the job openings in the Iowa economy. The strength of the recovery is more evidence of the success of the reforms implemented over the last several years to improve the economy. It also emphasizes the importance of keeping the economy open, getting Iowa students back in school, funding schools with reliable and sustainable increases, and improving public education.
Reliable Funding for K-12 Education
This week, the Senate passed Senate File 269, approving additional education funding for the next school year. This bill allocates an additional $45.2 million for K-12 education in the fall. It appropriates money for a regular increase in education spending, for costs schools have incurred for in-person learning throughout the last several months, and for per-pupil and transportation equity.
The pandemic has posed many challenges, and education in our state is no different. Iowa’s education spending formula depends on the number of students enrolled in school, and with thousands of families keeping their kids home, the potential effect for future budget years could be devastating. Senate File 269 allocates a sustainable amount of funding for this year and future budget years in anticipation of enrollment returning to normal next year.
Education spending is one of the biggest allocations of funding we make during the legislative session. Iowa spends $3.5 billion on K-12 education in our state. In total, the average amount spent on Iowa students for their education annually is $14,000. Like other education bills we have talked about this year, there have been a number of unsubstantiated claims with this bill and education funding. K-12 education has been fully funded while Republicans have been in the control of the budget. There have been no cuts throughout these last several years. We have promised and delivered every single dollar. For the last five years, Senate Republicans have passed sustainable and reliable budgets for the state, education funding included. This practice has put our state in a strong financial position through the pandemic. Despite a decline of hundreds of millions of dollars in state revenue, every promise made to education funding was kept. This budget commitment will ensure promises to Iowa schools continue to be kept.
Other bills of note
• SSB 1144 is the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit and is intended to incentivize landowners to rent their land to a beginning farmer and pass tax credit savings on to the beginning farmer to help them get a foot into the farming business. The program has a tax credit cap of $12 million, but it has not reached that cap. This bill expands eligibility by allowing farmers to receive the tax credit multiple times by entering into leases with multiple beginning farmers and by removing the requirement that the rental agreement include a land lease. The bill removes the $50,000 cap on each farmer and places a $50,000 cap on each eligible agreement. Finally, the bill allows an eligible farmer to receive the tax credit for a total of 15 years instead of 10, a provision that is retroactive to 2019 to capture those who entered into the program previously.
• SSF 1076 is a bill that allows the College Student Aid Commission to utilize repayments received under the Teacher Shortage Forgivable Loan and money remaining in the Teacher Shortage Loan Forgiveness Program fund to provide additional awards to teachers in the Teach Iowa Scholar Program. This will ensure that all sources of funding related to teacher incentive programs under the purview of the Commission are utilized for that purpose.
• SSB 1030 is a bill that requires employers to treat an employee who chooses to adopt, a child up to 18 years old, in the same manner as an employee who is the biological parent of a newborn child for the purposes of employment policies, benefits, and protections for the first year of adoption. It clarifies that employees are not entitled to disability leave without a qualifying disability under their policy.
• SSB 1095 allows point of care testing by pharmacists for the testing and treatment for influenza, streptococcus A and COVID-19 to patients 18 and older. The bill also creates and defines a “Collaborative Pharmacy Practice”. This allows a pharmacist to provide patient care and drug therapy management services to a patient.
• SF46 is the Hands-Free/Distracted Driving bill that expands violations relating to the use of electronic devices while driving by prohibiting any use of an electronic device while driving unless it is in a voice-activated or hands-free mode. The bill defines electronic device as devices including, but not limited to, telephones, personal digital assistants, or portable computers. The definition of an electronic device does not include GPS or navigation systems. It also includes instruction for students in driver’s education classes concerning distracted driving and substance abuse.
• SSB 1160 is a bill that will help modernize and improve the existing Bottle Bill in Iowa by increasing the handling fee for redemption centers and allows grocery stores to “opt out” of the program.