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What Passed And What Didn't During Iowa's 2019 Legislative Session

iowa capitol
John Pemble / IPR
Iowa Capitol

This post was updated Friday, May 3, 2019 at 5:35 p.m.   

Iowa lawmakers wrapped up the 2019 legislative session Saturday afternoon. It was the third consecutive year with Republicans controlling the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the governor's office.

Read more to catch up on what high-profile legislation passed, what didn't, and what is still waiting for Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds' signature. 

Gov. Reynolds has signed these into law:

Last-minute additions to health budget. In the final days of the legislative session, Republicans proposed banning publicly-funded health insurance, including Medicaid, from covering transition-related surgery for transgender and intersex Iowans. The Iowa Supreme Court struck down a similar ban in March. Critics say this is discriminatory and potentially life-threatening. Some Republicans said taxpayers should not have to pay for these surgeries, even though major medical organizations determined they are medically necessary. Lawmakers also added a provision to block Planned Parenthood from getting government grants to provide sex education programs in the state because the organization also provides abortions. Democrats say this will restrict access to sex education that has helped reduce teen pregnancy rates. Reynolds signed the full budget bill including these provisions into law Friday, May 3. 

Children's mental health system. This bill, a top priority for Gov. Reynolds, creates a framework for a children's mental health system. It directs the state's mental health regions to develop services for children. Advocates think the state could do a lot more, but many are applauding the progress made after many years of failed attempts to start a statewide children's mental health system. Reynolds signed this into law Wednesday, May 1. 

'Ag gag 2.0.' Lawmakers moved quickly to pass this law creating a specific trespass crime for those who lie to gain access to a farm or agricultural facility with the intent to do harm. This version of the law came after the original one was struck down by a federal judge. The ACLU of Iowa has sued to block the new law, too. Supporters say it protects farmers and the state’s economy. Critics say it violates free speech protections and has a chilling effect on advocates and journalists investigating abuses in ag production facilities.

Campus free speech. This law aims to expand free speech rights on public college campuses by requiring colleges to promote free expression, avoid trying to protect students from others' speech, and get rid of designated "free speech zones." Critics say one section could allow discrimination. It prohibits colleges from denying benefits to student groups that require their leaders to "agree to and support" the group's beliefs. It was inspired by a lawsuit a Christian student group brought against the University of Iowa.

K-12 public school funding. Lawmakers approved nearly $90 million in new money for the next school year. Republicans called this a 'historic investment' in education. Democrats said the increase isn't enough to keep up with the rising costs of running a school, so many districts have been cutting budgets in recent years. A plan to put a portion of that funding into transportation and per-student funding equity issues got bipartisan support.   

Iowa CARE Act. When a patient is being released from a hospital, this requires hospitals to inform a designated family caregiver of the patient's home health care needs and discuss whether the family caregiver is capable of filling all of those needs. 

These bills passed the legislature, but they're still awaiting the governor's signature: 

Judicial nominating changes. Republicans passed a plan in the final hours of the legislative session to give the governor more power in the process of selecting Iowa Supreme Court justices and appeals court judges. It's a scaled-back version of a bill that was considered earlier in the year. Republicans say changing the state judicial nominating commission gives the people of Iowa more say in the selection of the state's appellate judges, through the election of the governor. Democrats say the move is a power grab that will politicize the courts. 

Property tax transparency. Republicans passed a bill they say will make local property taxes more transparent, by requiring city and county officials to hold an additional public hearing and vote to raise property taxes. It also requires a two-thirds vote to raise property taxes more than 2 percent. Democrats say this will hurt growing communities. They also claim it could affect the state's public pension system known as IPERS. 

Medical marijuana expansion. This bill would allow for more potent medical marijuana products at Iowa's five dispensaries. It would also include nurse practitioners and physician assistants among the medical providers able to recommend patients for a medical marijuana card. This passed with broad bipartisan support, but some Republicans may ask Reynolds to not sign this into law after a member of the state's medical marijuana advisory board said this change conflicts with the board's recommendation. 

Sports betting. A bipartisan bill to legalize sports betting would allow Iowans 21 and over to place bets on professional and college sports. Casinos would host in-person and mobile app betting. It also allows Iowans to claim fantasy sports prizes based on the performance of professional athletes. 

New limit on attorney general. Republican lawmakers added a provision to a budget bill that would limit the Democratic attorney general's ability to pursue out-of-state lawsuits. Attorney General Tom Miller was elected to his tenth term in 2018, but some Republicans don't like that he has joined multi-state lawsuits against the Trump administration. Democrats say it's a power grab that will limit Miller's ability to do the job he was elected to do. 

'Right to bear arms' constitutional amendment. Republican lawmakers were forced to restart their effort to specify gun rights in the Iowa Constitution. The House and Senate passed this constitutional amendment again, which some Republicans say is necessary to prevent any federal laws or court decisions from weakening gun rights in the state. Democrats say they would support language identical to the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but they say this proposal goes further than that and could even result in existing gun laws being overturned. This amendment would have to be approved again in 2021 or 2022, and then it would go on the ballot for Iowa voters to decide. 

These bills didn't pass, but lawmakers will likely consider many of them again next year: 

Felon voting rights. Reynolds proposed a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore voting rights to Iowans with felony convictons. The House passed it, but the resolution did not make it to the full Senatebecause Republicans in that chamber want to add more restrictions before potentially advancing it. It's a constitutional amendment that requires approval of two consecutive general assemblies and Iowa voters. If the Senate passes the resolution in 2020, it would still be on track for a vote of the people in 2022. 

Medicaid work requirements. Senate Republicans passed a bill that would require some Medicaid recipients to report they are working or volunteering at least 20 hours a week in order to receive government-funded health insurance. Some Republicans said it would give people a better chance at succeeding in life, while Democrats said many people in the targeted population are already working. It was also estimated to cost the state $17 million in the first two years of implementation. Other proposals aimed at what some Republicans call "welfare reform" also failed to advance in the House. 

Birth control access. Reynolds proposed legislation that would allow Iowans to get some forms of birth control directly from a pharmacist, without first going to a clinic. The Senate passed this with bipartisan support. The proposal advanced out of a House committee, but never made it to the House floor for a vote. 

Traffic cameras. Once again, Republican lawmakers failed to agree on how to deal with traffic cameras. The Senate passed a full ban on traffic cameras. The House was considering a proposal that would regulate traffic cameras and require cities to give 60 percent of traffic camera ticket revenue to the state. That bill never got debated on the House floor. 

Mandatory use of E-Verify. The Senate passed a bill that would require all Iowa businesses to use the federal E-Verify program to check the immigration status of new hires. The state could suspend or revoke the business license of any business found to have knowingly hired undocumented workers, which is already a federal crime. The House did not consider this bill. 

Solar fees. A bill that would introduce additional fees for new solar energy customers passed the Senate, but did not get a vote in the House. Pork producers joined environmental groups and solar companies in opposing this, because they say it would raise the cost of getting solar panels and hit the state's small but growing solar industry hard. MidAmerican Energy and some Republicans argued the new fees are necessary for solar customers to pay their fair share for using utility infrastructure. 

Gun legislation. Bills that would have expanded Iowans' ability to bring guns onto school and work property failed to pass. Another attempt at passing a bill to drop the requirement that Iowans get a permit before buying or carrying a gun also failed. 

Fetal homicide bill that defines personhood. This would have increased the criminal penalty for accidentally or intentionally causing the death of an "unborn person" without the consent of the mother. The concept had bipartisan support until the language "unborn person" was inserted and defined as starting at conception. Critics say this could threaten access to abortion, birth control and in vitro fertility treatments. After the Senate approved the bill, a key House Republican said he supports the proposal and his committee will likely consider it again in 2020.    

Katelyn Harrop is a producer for IPR's River to River and Talk of Iowa
Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River