Iowa 2021 Legislative Report – End of Session Summary

Dentons Davis Brown
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Dentons Davis Brown

Two and a half weeks beyond the 110th calendar day of the session, the 2021 session of the 89th General Assembly of Iowa adjourned sine die just before midnight on Wednesday, May 19.  Originally slated to end April 30, negotiations on major tax reform took the session into overtime. 

Once leadership reached an agreement on provisions to be included in the final tax proposal (SF619), the path to adjournment was unlocked; joint budget targets were agreed to, allowing the FY 2022-FY2023 budget to come together, and the chambers reconciled their differences on a number of lingering policy issues. 

Budget

The House and the Senate had not set an overall number for the FY2022-2023 budget or joint targets prior to the 110th calendar day of session. The FY 2022 budget came together in the overtime weeks once an agreement was reached on the final Tax Reform Compromise.

The agreed upon budget appropriates nearly $8.1 billion for FY 2022.  The budget spends 97.66 percent of the ongoing revenue the state is expected to collect in Fiscal Year 2022. This is an increase of $291 million over the current fiscal year.

State of Iowa Budget FY 2022  
Admin & Reg $149.6 million
Ag & Nat. Resources $48.8 million
Economic Development $47.9 million
Education $972.3 million
HHS $2.10 billion
Justice System $620.3 million
Judicial Branch $193.2 million
Unassigned Standings $3.985 billion
General Fund Total $8.1 billion

Tax Reform Compromise

The final agreement on the tax proposal was ultimately the path to adjournment.

SF619  Details
Division I Income Tax Removes the 2018 income tax triggers.
Division II Child Care Credit Increases the income level for eligibility for the Child Dependent Development Credit to $90,000.
Division III/IV COVID Grants Exempts COVID grants and PPP relief from the income tax. Repeals the grant relief provisions as of 2024.
Division V State Inheritance Tax Phases out the state inheritance tax over four years; repeals it effectively January 1, 2025.  Retroactive to January 1, 2021.
Division VI Housing Trust Fund Increases the cap for the transfer of real estate transfer taxes (RETT) to $7 million.
Division VII High Quality Jobs (Daycare Centers) Allows EDA to consider whether an HQ proposal will include childcare for the employees of a business.
Division VIII Telehealth Parity Mental Health Requires mental health services delivered through interactive electronic media be reimbursed at the same rates as other services. Bars requiring an additional professional to be in the same room as the patient. Effective on enactment and retroactive.
Division IX High Quality Jobs (Renewable Chemical Production Tax Credits) Makes changes to the renewable chemical production tax credit program.
Division X High Quality Jobs (Reductions in Operations) Prohibits the EDA from regarding a reduction in jobs that would make a company ineligible for HQ assistance if the company can show that a reduction from March 2020 to July 2022 is due to COVID. Requires the EDA to consider whether the benefits of the proposal outweigh any reductions in operations due to COVID.
Division XI Manufacturing 4.0 Creates the Manufacturing 4.0 Technology Fund for investments into smart technologies used to improve current manufacturing processes. Allows grants, loans, and forgivable loans. Includes requirements for applications and a cap on assistance of $75,000.
Division XII Energy Infrastructure Creates the Energy Infrastructure Revolving Loan Program. Prohibits the Energy Center from making new loans as of June 30, 2021, and transfers money into the new revolving loan fund. Gives the Iowa Energy Center administration duties. Requires the Center to develop a program for loans to encourage the development of energy infrastructure. Limits the EDA to using 5% of the funds for administration.
Division XIII Workforce Housing Increases the Workforce Housing credit allocation to $40 million, with $12 million reserved to small cities for FY 2022.  Requires additional submissions to the EDA to show the completion of the project. Allows the EDA to establish a disaster housing recovery period after the declaration of a federal disaster.
Division XIV Brownfields & Grayfields Increases the cap to $15 million and deems that credits from previous years that are not awarded or are revoked can be awarded without counting against the cap. Extends the brownfield program to 2031.
Division XV Downtown Loans Establishes a Downtown Loan guarantee program to encourage investments to help downtowns recover from the COVID pandemic. Gives the EDA and IFA administration duties. Requires a building mortgage to be for less than $500,000 and for less than 50% of the value of the property to qualify. Includes other requirements for loan guarantees. Limits the guarantee to five years, with a possible five-year extension, and includes requirements for defaults.
Division XVI Disaster Recovery Housing Assistance Creates a disaster recovery housing program. Allows the EDA to transfer certain unobligated money, subject to the approval of the Governor, into a revolving loan fund for a forgivable loan and grant program to help homeowners and renters whose primary residences have been affected by a disaster. Requires the disaster to have occurred between March 12, 2019 and the effective date of the bill in a county declared to be a disaster area. Allows the EDA to enter into agreements with various cities for the city to act as the local program administrator. Includes requirements for eligibility under the program. Requires the EDA to establish an Eviction Prevention program to award grants.
Division XVII Bonus Depreciation Retroactively conforms Iowa law with additional provisions on federal bonus depreciation.
Division XVIII Business Interest Expense Deduction Removes the business interest expense deduction.  Retroactive to January 1, 2021.
Division XIX Beginning Farmer Includes provisions on the beginning farmer tax credit.
Division XX Promotional Play Phases out promotional play receipts from being included in adjusted gaming receipts.
Division XXI Targeted Jobs Extends the targeted job withholding credit pilot program until 2024.
Division XXII Food Banks Sales Tax Exempts tangible personal property and specific digital products purchased by a non-profit food bank or municipal utility/rural electric coop from the sales tax. Requires the purchase to be for charitable purposes if for a food bank.
Division XXIII FF/EMS Increases the tax credit for volunteer firefighters and EMS workers to $250.
Division XXIV Individual Income Tax Check-offs Retains all four of the tax check-offs until a two-year contribution calculation is included on individual tax forms in 2024.
Division XXV Mental Health Funding Shifts mental health funding from counties to the state; phases out counties’ mental health property tax levies over a two-year period, ending them by the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2023, shifting $100 million annually away from property taxpayers and onto the state’s general fund. Money would go into MHDS regional service fund under HHS and be distributed on a performance-based contract.
Division XXVI Commercial and Industrial Property Tax Replacement Payments Phases out the $152 million “backfill” to cities, counties, and schools by 2027. Local governments that have increased valuation in their property tax bases would see a faster phaseout than those that have not.
Division XXVII School Foundation Percentage/Public Education and Recreation Tax Levy  Increases the state school aid base to 88.4% as of the 2022-2023 school year. Authorizes a voter-approved property-tax levy for school playground equipment.
Division XXVIII Elderly Property Tax Credit Makes changes to the calculation for the elderly property tax credit.
Passed Senate (29-15) 5/17
Passed House (64-28) 5/18
To Governor

Major Topics of the 2021 Legislative Session

Broadband

Expanding broadband in rural Iowa was a priority for the Governor this legislative session.

Broadband Policy (HF848)–Signed by Governor

Creates a framework for broadband grants for underserved areas.  The broadband bill was a bipartisan effort, receiving a unanimous vote in both chambers.

Passed House (94-0) 3/29
Passed Senate (47-0) 4/6
Signed by Governor 4/28

Broadband Funding (HF867)

Funding for the expansion will come from the state’s general fund and be administered through the Empower Rural Iowa grant program.  In her Condition of the State address, Governor Reynolds proposed $450 million to be invested in the program over the next three years.  With the passage of HF867, the Administration and Regulation Budget, the legislature has appropriated $100 million to the program for FY2022-2023.

Passed House (55-37) 4/21
Passed Senate (47-0) 4/28
To Governor

Election Reform

Proponents of this legislation believed the reforms are necessary to encourage confidence in Iowa and protect the electoral process from potential fraud and deceptive practices. 

Voting Changes (SF413)–Signed by Governor

  • Establishes criminal penalties for failure to follow Secretary of State (SOS) guidance on election laws (Class D) and new election misconduct penalties (fines of up to $10,000 for technical violations by auditors). 
  • Limits counties to utilizing a single drop box for ballots. 
  • Makes poll closing time 8 PM.
  • Reduces the number of hours for time off to vote to two hours. 
  • Deems a voter who has not voted in the most recent general election inactive.
  • Reduces the time for mailing an absentee ballot or voting in-person absentee to 20-days; prohibits auditors from sending an absentee ballot request to voters and prohibits the SOS/auditors from mailing absentee ballots out without an application.

Governor Reynolds released this statement on the signing of SF413:

“It’s our duty and responsibility to protect the integrity of every election. This legislation strengthens uniformity by providing Iowa’s election officials with consistent parameters for Election Day, absentee voting, database maintenance, as well as a clear appeals process for local county auditors. All of these additional steps promote more transparency and accountability, giving Iowans even greater confidence to cast their ballot.”

Passed Senate (30-18) 2/23
Passed House (57-37) 2/24
Signed by Governor 3/8

Education Reform

Education reform was a priority for the Governor this legislative session; the bills below were introduced as provisions within the Governor’s Education Plan (SF159) in January.

Charter schools (HF813)

Establishes new provisions on charter schools allowing the establishment of a charter school by founding groups under a school board, or under the State Board of Education.  Additionally, the bill:

  • Requires that performance evaluation measures, compensation, and dispute resolution methods for staff and the educational provider, if the group wants to use an educational provider, be in the plan put before the Board of Education.
    • Requires the majority of a founding group to live in the geographic area.
    • Includes funding provisions on payments from school districts of state funds for students who enroll in the charter school and payments by the state for students previously home-schooled.
    • Makes a standing appropriation to cover the state costs.
    • Requires charter schools to be renewed every five years.
Passed House (55-40) 3/24
Passed Senate (30-18) 4/28
To Governor

Voluntary Diversity Plans (HF228)–Signed by Governor

Strikes the implementation of a voluntary diversity plan as a reason for denying open enrollment and strikes the requirement that the State Board of Education adopts rules on voluntary diversity plans

Passed House (56-32) 2/2
Passed Senate (29-17) 4/6
Signed by Governor 5/10

School Instructional Time (SF160)–Signed by Governor

Requires schools to offer full-time, in-person learning for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year. Schools without full-time, in-person learning must notify parents and give them time to decide where they will send their children to school. The bill became effective on enactment and required in-person learning to begin by February 15.

Passed Senate (29-18) 1/28
Passed House (59-39) 1/28
Signed by Governor 1/29

Childcare

Addressing the childcare crisis in Iowa was identified by all parties as a priority this session.

Child Tax Credits (SF619)

Doubles the income threshold (to $90,000) for eligibility for child tax credits (advanced out of House Ways & Means Committee).  Initially introduced and advanced as a House proposal (HF230 passed House 93-1 on 2/10), the proposal was included as Division II of the Tax Reform Compromise.

Passed Senate (29-15) 5/17
Passed House (64-28) 5/18
To Governor

On-Site Childcare (SF619)

Allows the creation or expansion of an on-site daycare at a business to qualify for credits under the High Quality Jobs program. Initially introduced and advanced as a House proposal (HF606 passed House 91-2 on 3/9), the proposal was included as Division VII of the Tax Reform Compromise (SF619).

Passed Senate (29-15) 5/17
Passed House (64-28) 5/18
To Governor

Childcare Assistance Phase Out (HF302)

Established a 12-month phase-out of eligibility for state childcare assistance after the gross income of the family has increased.

Passed House (94-0) 2/10
Passed Senate (45-0) 5/17
To Governor

Affordable Housing

Addressing the housing crisis in Iowa was a priority for the Governor this legislative session; the provisions below in the Tax Reform Compromise were initially introduced as provisions within the Governor’s Affordable Housing Plan (SF295/HF582).

SF619  
Division VI Housing Trust Fund Increases the cap for the transfer of real estate transfer taxes (RETT) to $7 million.
Division XIII Workforce Housing Increases the Workforce Housing credit allocation to $40 million, with $12 million reserved to small cities for FY 2022.  Requires additional submissions to the EDA to show the completion of the project. Allows the EDA to establish a disaster housing recovery period after the declaration of a federal disaster.
Division XVI Disaster Recovery Housing Assistance Creates a disaster recovery housing program. Allows the EDA to transfer certain unobligated money, subject to the approval of the Governor, into a revolving loan fund for a forgivable loan and grant program to help homeowners and renters whose primary residences have been affected by a disaster. Requires the disaster to have occurred between March 12, 2019, and the effective date of the bill in a county declared to be a disaster area. Allows the EDA to enter into agreements with various cities for the city to act as the local program administrator. Includes requirements for eligibility under the program. Requires the EDA to establish an Eviction Prevention program to award grants.  
Passed Senate (29-15) 5/17
Passed House (64-28) 5/18
To Governor

RFS

A priority of the Governor for 2021 was the creation of a Renewable Fuel Standard to boost the sale of corn-based ethanol and biodiesel. 

Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) (HF859/SF549)

The Governor’s proposal required gas stations and convenience stores to offer fuel with a 15% ethanol blend by 2026. The proposal divided the retailers and the agriculture producers; ultimately the chambers were unable to reconcile differences in their versions of their respective Renewable Fuel Standards bills and nothing advanced this session.

Banning COVID Passports

Banning COVID Passports (HF889)

Prohibits state and local governments from noting on an ID that the ID holder has received a COVID vaccination and prohibits businesses and governments from requiring proof of vaccination before a person can enter.  Businesses and local governments can be disqualified from receiving state contracts or grants if they do require proof of vaccination.  The most controversial provision of the bill that drew a lot of attention is the exemption for hospitals and health care facilities.  Those advancing the bill believe this is a liberty issue for Iowans but support the exemption for hospitals and health care facilities understanding these institutions must follow federal guidelines.  Earlier this year, Governor Reynolds indicated that she would ban vaccination passports by Executive Order if the legislature did not act.

Passed House (58-35) 4/28
Passed Senate (32-16) 5/5
To Governor

Racism Training

Racism Training (HF802)

Establishes rules related to training on racism and sexism in schools, colleges, and state and local governments, including prohibiting teaching that Iowa is fundamentally racist or sexist.  Prohibits teaching divisive concepts and race or sex scapegoating; specifies content on racism and sexism that is prohibited from use in trainings and curriculums in schools, colleges, and state and local governments and clarifies that teaching about slavery and racial discrimination is not prohibited. 

Passed House (59-38) 3/16
Passed Senate (30-18) 4/28 (amended)
Passed House (53-35) 5/6 (concurred)
To Governor

Anti-Big Tech

Banning Social Media Censorship (SF580/HF830/HF633)

Prohibits companies from intentionally interfering with the right of Iowans to interact on various internet platforms.

Prohibits companies found to be in violation from receiving economic incentives.

Requires that the AG take court action to enforce the bill. 

The Senate passed SF580 on a bipartisan vote, but it did not advance in the House; ultimately the bill was referred to House Judiciary.

Passed Senate (30-17) 3/17
Referred to House Judiciary 3/22

The House took up their own version of Banning Social Media Censorship, HF633, which provided civil penalties for censoring online content.  House Judiciary approved the bill, but it was not taken up for a floor vote; ultimately the bill was re-referred to House Judiciary.

Rereferred to House Judiciary 4/15

Weapons Omnibus

Weapons Omnibus (HF756)–Signed by Governor  

Strikes permit requirements to acquire or carry a handgun and repeals current background check measures that are required for all gun sales (specifically private gun sales that are made outside of a federally licensed dealer; persons seeking to acquire a handgun from a federal dealer will need a valid carry permit or to pass a background check). Creates penalties for prohibited transfers of firearms (Class D Felony). Allows reserve officers to carry guns on school grounds.  Allows EMS providers to get a professional carry permit. Banks local ordinances on firearms restrictions. 

Passed Senate (29-18) 1/28
Passed House (58-41) 1/28
Signed by Governor 4/2

 The Governor made the following statement upon the signing of HF756:

“Today I signed legislation that protects the 2nd Amendment rights of Iowa’s law-abiding citizens while still preventing the sale of firearms to criminals and other dangerous individuals. This law also takes greater steps to inform law enforcement about an individual’s mental illness helping ensure firearms don’t end up in the wrong hands. We will never be able to outlaw or prevent every single bad actor from getting a gun, but what we can do is ensure law-abiding citizens have full access to their constitutional rights while keeping Iowans safe.”

Back the Blue

Brady List Study (SF342)

Initially, this bill started as a proposal to make changes to the Brady list and establish an interim study on the Brady list. The House amended the bill and added a number of provisions from other law enforcement proposals that were introduced in the House. Part of the final deal, the bill bounced back to the House with the final amendment which includes:

  • Provisions on confidential peer communications
  • Adding judges and prosecutors to the Safe at Home program
  • Qualified immunity for law enforcement
  • Peace Officer Bill of Rights
  • Brady list and discipline provisions
  • Health insurance provisions
  • Provisions on defunding the police
  • Increasing penalties for laser assaults, riot, harassment, eluding unmarked vehicles
Passed Senate (27-18) 5/17
Passed House (55-35) 5/18
To Governor

Constitutional Amendments

Second Amendment Constitutional Amendment (SJR7)

Proposes to add the Second Amendment with strict scrutiny standard of review to the Iowa Constitution. The House and Senate both approved SJR18 in 2019, which is the same as the 2021 amendment. Since the constitutional amendment measure passed both chambers again this General Assembly, it will be included on the ballot in 2022 for a statewide vote.

Passed Senate (29-18) 1/28
Passed House (58-41) 1/28
To Secretary of State

No Right to Abortion (HJR5)

Proposes to adopt an amendment to the Iowa Constitution that the state does not recognize, grant, or secure a right to an abortion or the public funding of abortion. This constitutional amendment measure will need to be passed again in both chambers in the 90th General Assembly (2023-2024), to be included on a general election ballot for a statewide vote.

Passed Senate (30-17) 4/6
Passed House (54-38) 5/18
To Secretary of State

Other Significant State Events of the 2021 Session

  • Former Speaker Linda Upmeyer was elected co-chair of the Iowa Republican Party.
  • Representative Ross Wilburn was selected as the new chair of the Iowa Democratic Party.  A former mayor serving his second term in the Iowa House, Representative Wilburn replaces former Representative Mark Smith who took the position in 2020.
  • Republican Adrian Dickey won the special election in Senate District 41 against Democrat Mary Stewart 5,040 votes to 4,074. Republicans returned to a 31-18 advantage in the Iowa Senate.
  • In February, Governor Reynolds named Michael Bousselot as the new Director of the Department of Management. Bousselot replaced Director Dave Roederer who served in the role for 10 years.
  • Governor Reynolds’ Economic Recovery Advisory Board issued recommendations on steps the state should take to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report  includes recommendations for legislative action such as expanding access to childcare; expanding access to broadband; creating housing programs; improving health care with emergency response, more providers, and telehealth; improving education with work-based learning, school choice, and charter school options. 
  • Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack was confirmed to a second term as the Secretary of the USDA on a 92-7 vote in the U.S. Senate. Vilsack previously served as the Secretary of the USDA during the Obama administration.
  • Governor Reynolds signed Executive Order 8 launching a new Child Care Task Force to develop a comprehensive strategy to address the childcare shortage and barrier to work in Iowa. The governor also announced awardees of two childcare grant programs totaling $13,053,372 and contributing to the creation of more than 4,000 new childcare slots across Iowa.
  • On Tuesday, March 23, a Department of Corrections officer and a nurse were killed by an inmate attack at the Anamosa State Penitentiary.
  • Rita Hart ended her contest to Iowa’s Second Congressional District election.  Rita Hart, a former State Senator, lost to U.S. Representative Miller-Meeks by six votes; Hart contended that 22 additional ballots should have been counted.  Miller-Meeks has been seated and representing the Second Congressional District of Iowa since January.
  • State Patrol Trooper Jim Smith was shot in the line of duty on Friday, April 9.
  • Chief Justice Christensen announced a Lessons Learned Task Force to make recommendations to the Iowa Supreme Court on the rule and practice changes that were made during the COVID pandemic; the Task Force is expected to make recommendations by June 4, 2021.

Redistricting

The U.S. Census Bureau released its first results from the 2020 Census on Monday, April 26.  Apportionment determines which states gain or lose congressional districts based on their total population.  Several southern and western states have gained seats in the U.S. House of Representatives according to the apportionment counts released. Iowa will retain its four U.S. House seats, with a population of 3,190,369 in 2020 (an increase of around 144,000 from 2010).

The state expects to receive census data for state redistricting by August 16 in an older format from the Bureau.  The Iowa Legislative Services Agency (LSA) has confirmed that will take at least five business days to convert that data into a format that can be used for redistricting. 

Once LSA drafts the first round of proposed maps, the Redistricting Advisory Commission is tasked with holding at least three public hearings across the state and submitting a report to the Legislature.  Constitutionally, the Legislature is required to approve a plan for legislative redistricting and send it to the Governor by September 1, and it must be enacted by September 15.  If those deadlines are not met, the Iowa Supreme Court is directed to weigh in and draw the maps by December 31.

The Iowa Supreme Court issued a statement on redistricting. The Court said that while it cannot commit to a future course of action, it is prepared to meet its constitutional responsibility as directed by Iowa Code Chapter 42 if the legislature is unable to meet the constitutional deadline for redistricting due to the lack of data from the U.S. Census Bureau. 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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