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What Passed And What Didn't During Iowa's Two-Part 2020 Legislative Session

State Capitol Ceiling
John Pemble / IPR file
The 2020 legislative session ended Sunday, five months after it was gaveled in, and after a roughly 10-week break due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Iowa lawmakers finished the 2020 legislative session Sunday afternoon after a two-and-a-half month pause because of the coronavirus pandemic and an all-night debate to push through a budget and last-minute legislation related to abortion and voting rights. 

Read more to catch up on what high-profile legislation passed and what didn't. 

Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed these into law:

Limiting secretary of state’s emergency powers. After Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate chose to send mail-in ballot request forms for the June 2 primary, some Republican lawmakers wanted to prohibit him from doing that again. A compromise between House Republicans and Democrats ultimately passed instead. The Legislative Council must approve the secretary of state’s changes to election procedures during emergencies.

24-hour abortion waiting period. Republicans filed a last-minute abortion restriction and passed it late Saturday night and early Sunday morning. The Iowa Supreme Court previously struck down a 72-hour waiting period as unconstitutional. Abortion rights opponents said they hope a court challenge of this new policy would lead to court precedent in the state that would allow for more abortion restrictions. Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Iowa filed a lawsuit to try to block this law from being enforced. 

Medical cannabis changes. This bill changes the current THC limit of 3 percent in individual products to a total THC purchase limit of 4.5 grams over 90 days, with some exceptions. Last year, Gov. Reynolds vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have allowed for 25 g of THC over 90 days because an advisory board recommended a lower amount. Some patients are concerned the new limit will keep them from getting adequate pain relief. The bill also allows more medical providers to certify people for the program.

Police misconduct bill. A group of Democrats led by the Legislative Black Caucus proposed police reforms and negotiated with Republicans to unanimously pass the bill in response to widespread protests against police brutality and racial injustice. The bill prevents law enforcement officers fired for misconduct from being rehired, and raises the legal threshold for police to use chokeholds, among other provisions. Lawmakers called it a first step in addressing racial injustice.

Education funding. Before the first coronavirus cases were confirmed in Iowa, Republican leaders agreed on a 2.3 percent increase for base per-student education funding. Some Democrats and education groups were calling for 3 percent. They allocated a total of $99 million in new money for K12 schools, including funding to address transportation and funding formula inequities.

Protection from coronavirus-related lawsuits. Republicans voted to give businesses and health care providers special protections against coronavirus-related lawsuits as virus outbreaks continue in meatpacking plants and nursing homes. Facilities wouldn’t be liable unless they recklessly disregard the risk of exposure or intentionally expose someone to coronavirus. Republicans said this is needed to reboot the economy, and Democrats are concerned it will protect bad actors.

These bills passed the legislature, and they’re still awaiting the governor’s signature:

A status quo budget. Republican leaders agreed to a $7.78 billion mostly status quo budget as revenue estimates show the state will bring in $360 million less than expected because of the coronavirus. They cut $8 million from public universities and gave some additional funds to the Glenwood Resource Center and Eldora State Training School. The bill gives the executive branch the authority to determine most of the budget details and to decide how to spend federal coronavirus relief funding.

Voting law changes. As part of the budget bill, Republicans expanded the state’s voter ID law to cover in-person early voting. It also prohibits county auditors from using existing government databases to fill in incomplete or incorrect information on a voter’s absentee ballot request form, and instead requires them to call, email or send a letter to the voter to verify their identity. Republicans say it will help prevent voter fraud, though there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Iowa. Democrats are concerned it will make it harder to access mail-in ballots in the middle of a pandemic.

These proposals didn’t pass:

Felon voting rights constitutional amendment. Senate Republicans declined to pass a constitutional amendment to restore felon voting rights even after Gov. Reynolds signed a bill they backed to add restrictions to the restoration of rights. Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, said he heard Reynolds would sign an executive order on the issue, which made the Senate GOP stop the amendment process. But he also said a majority of Senate Republicans didn’t support the current language.

Abortion-related constitutional amendment. House Republicans did not have the votes to pass this measure. It was aimed at undoing an Iowa Supreme Court decision that said abortion rights are protected as fundamental rights.

Child care access. Before the session was paused, the House passed several bills to improve child care access. The Senate didn’t pass the child care bills. Iowa’s problems with child care access will likely get worse as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

Mental health funding. Going into the legislative session, Republicans and Democrats said sustainable mental health funding was one of their top priorities. Reynolds proposed it as part of her Invest in Iowa Act. Lawmakers didn’t act on mental health funding in the end.

Invest in Iowa Act. Gov. Reynolds proposed raising the sales tax to pay for income tax cuts and water quality and outdoor recreation. She wanted to also use state funds for adult and children’s mental health services. Republican leaders never voiced full support for the plan, and Reynolds ultimately put it on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic and reduced state revenues.

This post was updated Monday, June 29, at 7:29 p.m. It was originally published on June 15. 

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter