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State Government News

Jan. 17: Last week at the Iowa Legislature

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Madeleine King
/
IPR
The 2022 legislative session kicked off Jan. 10.

The 2022 legislative session kicked off Jan. 10.

Here's what went on at the Capitol during the legislature's first week:

Iowa's 2022 legislative session begins with speeches about taxes, workforce, and a 'sinister agenda'
The session began Monday with speeches from state Republican and Democratic leaders, who outlined their priorities for the next few months. Republican leaders repeated calls to reduce income taxes and make changes to public assistance programs. In addition, Senate President Jake Chapman, R-Adel, renewed calls to keep certain books, many of which tackle issues of racism and sexuality, out of public schools. Chapman has called for criminal penalties for teachers who make what he called 'obscene material,' available in schools. Democrats say their top priority this session is workforce shortage. Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, also called for expanding career training, giving more funding to public schools, make child care and housing more affordable, and guarantee access to free pre-Kindergarten programs. House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, has said that Democrats will propose their own tax cut plan targeted to the middle class.

Reynolds calls for flat tax, unemployment cuts, school choice in 2022 Condition of the State address
Gov. Kim Reynolds gave her Condition of the State address Tuesday, in which she shared goals and initiatives for this year, which align with the priorities of Republican lawmakers. In her speech, Reynolds called for a flat income tax, cuts to unemployment benefits, and state-funded scholarships for students to transfer to private schools. She also announced she’ll use federal funding to give $1,000 retention bonuses to teachers who sign on to continue teaching next year, and she proposed legislation that would require schools to post lesson information and a full list of school library books on their website.

In annual address, Iowa’s Chief Justice says the Judicial Branch is making efforts to provide equal treatment across the state
Iowa’s Chief Justice says the Judicial Branch needs to know more about where the state falls short of providing equal treatment in the legal system. In her Condition of the Judiciary address, Chief Justice Susan Christensen said the state should be a leader in researching procedural and access issues in Iowa courts, including where there are racial disparities. Christensen says later this year a task force will propose changes to Iowa’s juvenile justice system. That’s expected to include possible answers to address disparities in the number of young, Black Iowans detained in juvenile facilities. Christensen also said federal pandemic relief funding was used to update videoconferencing systems in county courts, and that the technology allows for remote hearings, and will also help jurors to better see evidence and hear testimony when they’re sitting in the courtroom. Christensen says remote meetings will still be an option for many different kinds of court hearings even after the pandemic.

In Condition of the Guard address, Adjutant General says Guard could lose members due to Pentagon vaccine mandate
Iowa National Guard Adjutant General Benjamin Corell said during the annual Condition of the Guard address that the Guard is going to lose some soldiers due to the Pentagon’s COVID vaccine mandate. Corell later told reporters for Radio Iowa and The Cedar Rapids Gazette that about 80% of the Iowa Army National Guard soldiers and Iowa Air National Guard airmen are fully vaccinated. Airmen in the Iowa Air Guard faced a December deadline to get vaccinated. The deadline for soldiers in the Iowa Army National Guard is this summer. Some of the unvaccinated are seeking medical or religious exemptions, which must be approved the secretaries of the Army or Air Force. Last year, 81% of Iowa Army National Guard soldiers who faced the decision reenlisted. The rate was higher among Iowa Air National Guard airmen, as 93% reenlisted. Soldiers and airmen sign an initial contract to serve eight years and then are given a choice to reenlist every eight years after that. Also this week, Correll said that several Iowa National Guard units are likely to be called to active duty this year. Members would likely be deployed to Poland in support of NATO allies as fears rise about a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Supreme Court blocks Biden's vaccine-or-test mandate for large private companies
The U.S. Supreme Court has blocked the COVID-19 vaccine-or-test mandate for large companies from taking effect, but it’s allowing the vaccine mandate for most health care workers to move forward. Reynolds says the decision for large employers is “a major victory for Iowans, their personal freedoms and liberties.” And she says she’s “very disappointed” that the Court is letting the health care worker mandate take effect. Earlier this week, Iowa’s labor commissioner said Iowa would not enforce the mandate for workplaces, regardless of the court’s decision. Last week, two Republican lawmakers released a proposal that would ban Iowa businesses from hiring or firing workers, requiring masks or testing, and denying services to customers based on a person’s vaccination status.

What else we're watching:

Iowa Senate Democrats propose constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana
Democrats in the Iowa Senate are proposing a constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana.

A key Iowa lawmaker wants carbon pipelines to get majority landowner support before requesting eminent domain
Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, chairs the House State Government Committee. Kaufmann says he wants to require carbon pipeline companies to get support from a large majority of landowners in the pipeline’s path before asking state regulators for eminent domain.

Iowa House panel advances proposals from child care task force
A panel of Iowa state representatives advanced the first pair of bills to come out of the governor’s child care task force Wednesday. One bill would allow child care centers to collect additional money from low income families who get government-funded child care assistance in order to make up the difference between what the government pays and the actual price. The other bill would loosen the minimum staffing requirements for caring for toddlers, which could open up more child care slots.

Iowa lawmakers consider changes to application process for state assistance
Low-income Iowans applying for programs like food assistance or Medicaid would have to take extra steps to prove their identity under a bill advancing in the legislature. The bill is part of an ongoing debate over the lengths the state should take to confirm who’s eligible for benefits. Another House bill would direct the Department of Human Services to adopt a new system to double check applicants’ income.