2018 Legislative Session

Count on Iowa Public Radio to keep you up to date on the state. Follow our coverage of the legislative session on-air, online or from your mobile device.

IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell will present the latest news from the state capitol on Morning Edition (5:00 a.m. - 9:00 a.m.), All Things Considered (4:00 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.) and throughout the day.

Ben Kieffer and the IPR talk show team will unpack conversations with lawmakers, interest groups and those impacted by legislation while also inviting listener questions on River to River each Monday at Noon.

Subscribe to our weekly podcast Under the Golden Dome. John Pemble gives listeners a front row seat for the most contentious debates and helps you understand not just what is happening, but why.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

A debate on a bill to reinstate the death penalty for first degree murder in Iowa took an unexpected turn at the statehouse Thursday.

The legislator who agreed to manage the bill has concluded he can’t support it, and the bill will not advance in the Iowa House.     

As a death penalty supporter, Rep. Steven Holt (R-Denison) agreed to head a subcommittee for House Study Bill 569.

Grendelkhan / Wikimedia Commons

Proponents of solar energy in Iowa are worried about a proposal under study in both chambers of the legislature. They say it would deregulate the rate-making process for utility companies by allowing them to change rates for various classes of customers without receiving Iowa Utility Board approval. Former legislator Tyler Olson, now president of SiteGen Solar in Cedar Rapids, says that move would harm the state’s growing solar industry.

tedd gassman
Katarina Sostaric / IPR

A House panel has sent the education committee a bill that would help school districts with high transportation costs. Some rural districts spend twice as much as the state average on getting students to school.

syringe briefing
Katarina Sostaric / IPR

Advocates for a bill to legalize syringe exchange programs in Iowa told lawmakers Wednesday it would help mitigate some effects of increasing injection drug use in the state.

Dr. Chris Buresh, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Iowa, says dirty needles are spreading HIV, hepatitis C, and a bacterial infection that reaches the heart.

Derek Jensen

Traffic cameras are getting a red light from Iowa lawmakers as Republicans debate a total ban on automated traffic enforcement devices. During this hour of River to River Ben Kieffer is joined by Senator Brad Zahn, Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, and Sergeant Paul Parizek of the Des Moines Police Department.  We also hear background and an update on an Iowa Supreme Court challenge to traffic camera in eastern Iowa from Gazette reporter Brian Morelli.

John Pemble/IPR

A limited exception to Iowa’s law making it a felony to carry firearms onto school property has cleared an initial hurdle at the statehouse, with the backing of the Iowa Firearms Coalition.

Under the bill, a gun owner with a permit to carry can remain armed while driving onto school property for the sole purpose of transporting a student, but without entering the school building.

The bill cleared a three-member bipartisan panel and will now be considered by the full Senate Judiciary Committee.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Gov. Kim Reynolds today signed her first bill into law as the state’s chief executive, approving water quality legislation while surrounded in her formal office by supporters from inside and outside the legislature.   

Senate File 512 appropriates $282 million over the next 12 years to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus flowing into Iowa waterways.     

It’s designed to help the state meet the goals of its Nutrient Reduction Strategy to reduce nutrients in the water by 45 percent.

Reynolds said good work is already being done on the farm.

tom greene
Katarina Sostaric / IPR

A three-member Senate panel is delaying a decision on a bill that would require all medical providers to electronically submit drug prescriptions to pharmacies.

Sen. Tom Greene, (R-Burlington), who worked as a pharmacist, says the bill would help curb the abuse of opioids and other controlled substances.

“I’ve so blatantly had people hand me a handwritten prescription the doctor wrote for 10 sleeping pills, and they changed the one to a four,” Greene says. “Easy change.”

Joyce Russell/IPR

Opponents of a bill backers say would outlaw so-called sanctuary cities in Iowa filled a committee room to overflowing at the statehouse today.

The bill would deny state funds to any community that approves policies to prevent local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration authorities. Under the bill, communities would be required to detain a jailed person for possible deportation at the request of federal officials. 

Ninja Cherepashka/flickr

As large consolidated rural school districts struggle with soaring transportation costs, a bill advanced in the Iowa Senate that could reduce costs for some districts.  

Under current Iowa law, one-way bus rides are limited to 60 minutes for elementary students and 75 minutes for secondary students.    

The bill would allow 75 minute one-way bus rides for elementary students, or even longer rides for students of any age if public hearings are held and parents are notified 30 days before a route is changed.  

John Pemble / IPR

Updated at 4pm to add the committee's vote.

Republicans and Democrats split their votes Monday as a House local government subcommittee approved by a 3-to-2 vote the first step in blocking a controversial plan for constructing a $21-million health services building in Cedar Rapids.  

The plan was developed by the Democratic-dominated Linn County Board of Supervisors, and is drawing fire from the Republican-controlled legislature.

Linn County isn’t constructing the building, but will eventually own it.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

A water quality bill with a long history in both chambers passes and will be the first law Governor Reynolds signs.  It started in 2016 during the last general assembly. It passed in the house, but did not get debated in the senate.  The general assembly ended, killing the bill.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Majority Republicans in the Iowa Senate Thursday unveiled proposed budget cuts for the fiscal year that ends in June, trimming higher education and the courts more than Gov. Reynolds recommended.   

The proposal has led a Regents university spokesman and a state court administrator to warn of significant consequences if the cuts become law.

John Pemble/IPR

Advocates for and against gun rights spoke out at the Capitol today on a proposed amendment to the Iowa constitution.   

The amendment states that Iowans’ rights to acquire, keep, possess, transport, carry, transfer, and use arms for all legitimate purposes shall not be infringed, and that courts should strictly scrutinize any attempt to regulate them.    

Rep. Matt Windschitl (R-Missouri Valley) said the amendment backs up second amendment rights already secured by the U.S. Constitution

John Pemble/IPR

The state’s largest agriculture organization, the Iowa Farm Bureau, came in for bitter criticism in the Iowa Senate, one day after a Farm Bureau-backed water quality bill gained final passage in the Iowa House.   

Iowa is under pressure to reduce nitrates and phosphorus in waterways by 45 percent.

The bill, which awaits the governor’s signature, spends $282 million over the next 12 years, or about $27 million a year, to meet Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

But some experts put the cost of cleaning nutrients out of the water at $4 billion.

Joyce Russell/IPR

For the third year in a row, the Iowa House Tuesday morning took up water quality legislation, and by noon a bill finally passed on a mostly partisan vote.   

The legislation, which is now on its way to the governor, spends millions of dollars on water quality improvement projects over the next decade.       

But the final version pitted farm groups against environmentalists and there was bitter debate.  

John Pemble/IPR

As a state lawmaker steps down from a key legislative post after a drunk driving arrest, he’s getting sympathy from the top elected official in the state, Gov. Kim Reynolds.   

Rep. Chip Baltimore (R-Boone) was arrested on Friday.  He says he plans to plead guilty to drunk driving and possessing a weapon while intoxicated.

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer Monday removed Baltimore from his post as chair of the Judiciary Committee. 

State Capitol Ceiling
John Pemble / IPR

Iowa legislators have said that addressing the state's water quality is a priority.  During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Mary Skopec, who is executive director of Iowa's Lakeside Laboratory. She says that the problem with nutrient run-off from the state's 29 million acres of agricultural land is not the only issue to be addressed—it is a part of the problem. 

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

The beginning of the session is a good opportunity for groups to present their recommendations to lawmakers.  On Wednesday morning, veterans’ organizations came to the Capitol for that purpose. Iowa Commission of Veterans Affairs chair, Dan Gannon, talks with us about three of them: a bill to mandate the POW / MIA flag be flown at state buildings on designated holidays, instill Americanism and Patriotism in grades K - 12, and encourage the judicial branch to expand Veteran’s Treatment Courts.

Joyce Russell/IPR

The head of the Iowa Department of Human Services took tough questions yesterday at the statehouse about a report commissioned following the deaths of two young Iowans who were adopted out of foster care.   An outside agency looked at Iowa’s foster care system and at the caseloads for DHS social workers.   Director Jerry Foxhoven said the problems won’t be solved overnight.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

A bill to ease the penalties for first-time possession of small amounts of marijuana cleared a Republican-dominated panel at the statehouse Thursday.  GOP lawmakers stressed that marijuana would still be illegal, but possessing five grams or less would be a simple misdemeanor instead of a serious misdemeanor.  Urbandale Republican Brad Zaun says youthful indiscretion is penalized too harshly under the current law:

John Pemble/IPR

The head of the Iowa Department of Human Services Wednesday admitted problems with Iowa’s new family planning program that takes the place of Planned Parenthood clinics around the state.      

After lawmakers said no state money should go to clinics that perform abortions, the state is redirecting funds to other clinics for subsidized birth control.      

Director Jerry Foxhoven took questions about the program in an appearance before the Senate Human Resources Committee.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

A coalition of more than two dozen state, local, and national organizations rallied at the statehouse today against the proliferation of large hog confinement operations known as CAFOs, which they say have diminished the quality of life in the Iowa countryside.   

The Iowa Alliance for Responsible Agriculture is calling for a moratorium on new large hog operations until fewer than 100 Iowa waterways remain impaired.   

It’s one of a package of 15 bills offered by Senator David Johnson (I-Ocheyedan) to strengthen regulation of hog farms.

Joyce Russell/IPR

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Pat Grassley  (R-New Hartford) is warning about competition from a proposed new Indian-run casino in Carter Lake in southwest Iowa.  

At a statehouse budget briefing, Grassley said if the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska proceeds with its plans, the new casino would draw gamblers away from the three state-regulated casinos in Council Bluffs.  

Those include Ameristar, Harrah’s and Horseshoe.   

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

This is the beginning of the 2018 session where legislative leaders lay out their intentions.

During the opening week, party leaders speak about their goals.  Republican praise their work from last year and intend to support the governor’s new tax code for Iowa.  Only a few details are revealed about a tax code changes, and the governor says the process may take several years.

capitol
John Pemble/IPR file photo

Iowa Senate Republicans on Friday released recommendations made to them to ensure a safe workplace at the Iowa Capitol. The report was commissioned after taxpayers covered a $1.75 million sexual harassment settlement against Senate Republicans in October 2017.

John Pemble/IPR

The Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court Mark Cady Wednesday painted a worsening picture of the condition of the Iowa justice system, after years of declining or status quo budgets for the judicial branch.  

In his Condition of the Judiciary Address, Justice Cady said that insufficient resources are beginning to “tear at the fabric of the mission of the courts” to provide justice for all Iowans.  

The judicial branch workforce was cut this year by 10 percent and there are over 115 unfilled positions, including 11 district court judgeships.

John Pemble/IPR

Gov. Kim Reynolds delivered a 43-minute Condition of the State Address to a joint convention of the Iowa House and Senate Tuesday, the first ever by a woman in the state’s history.   She laid out her agenda for the upcoming legislative session, and took the bully pulpit on the issue of sexual harassment.   

Reynolds received an unusually long standing ovation….just for showing up.

“It's an honor to be here today as your 43rd governor and to deliver my first Condition of the State address,” Reynolds began.   

kim reynolds
John Pemble / IPR

Gov. Kim Reynolds called for tax reform Tuesday in her first Condition of the State address before the Iowa Legislature.

Reynolds says her proposal will include personal income tax cuts for this year. She says she also wants to reduce corporate taxes, but "this is not the year" because of a tight state budget.

After a federal tax overhaul passed late last year, Reynolds is proposing eliminating Iowans’ ability to deduct their federal taxes from their state income taxes.

John Pemble / IPR

At the capitol, state lawmakers gaveled in for their 2018 legislative session.

Majority Republicans are promising a pro-growth, low tax agenda and a balanced budget before they head home to face the voters.     

Minority Democrats are warning that Iowans are paying attention, after last year’s conservative program was signed into law.

Republicans started off the day with their traditional fundraising breakfast in downtown Des Moines, since they can’t raise money for their campaigns once the legislature convenes.       

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