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March 14: Last week at the Iowa Legislature

IPR File
Legislators are busy this week working through the second funnel - their second self-imposed deadline to move bills forward.

It's another funnel week at the Iowa Legislature, which is the deadline lawmakers set to get bills out of committee. One big question going into the week is whether Republicans will pass Gov. Kim Reynolds’ bill to cut unemployment benefits ahead of this deadline.

Here's what went on at the Capitol last week:

Iowa Senate passes bill to end confirmation votes for some of the governor's appointees
Current law requires the governor’s appointees to get confirmed by a two-thirds Senate vote. With the current makeup, that means the Democratic minority has the power to block confirmations supported by the GOP majority. The bill the Senate passed would change that. A majority of senators would have to agree to review an appointment, and then that person would be subject to a two-thirds vote. Democratic senators criticized the bill, saying it removes checks and balances from the process of filling seats on state boards and commissions.

Iowa revenue is expected to decrease in the next two years as tax cuts take effect
The Revenue Estimating Conference has estimated the state will bring in more money in the current fiscal year than previously expected. However, starting next fiscal year (July 1, 2022), state revenue will begin to decrease as the new tax cuts start to phase in. Republican leaders say that won't affect state services because they’re planning to spend a lot less money than what's available. Democrats say that as the cost of business keeps going up, services will have to be cut in the future, positions will be left open, or there will at least be fewer opportunities to address priorities like child care and mental health services.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has announced her re-election bid
Reynolds, a Republican, officially launched her campaign at the state fairgrounds. As part of her announcement, she said this election will be about who is protecting peoples’ freedom. Deidre DeJear, the Democrat running for governor, got endorsements from former Democratic candidate Fred Hubbell and Democratic legislative leaders. A recent Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll found 51 percent of likely midterm voters support Reynolds, and 43 percent support DeJear.

What's coming up:

Unemployment benefit cuts
House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said he wants to move the governor's bill forward, but more support is needed to pass it.

The bill would cut the maximum amount of time Iowans can receive unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to 16 weeks. Claimants would have to wait a week to start receiving benefits, and would be required to accept a lower-paying job offer more quickly. The bill also limits how much money a person could get in noneconomic damages in lawsuits against medical providers and trucking companies.

There’s also a proposal that would add COVID-19 vaccine policy to the bill. If added, it would ban schools from requiring the COVID-19 vaccine and fine employers $50,000 if they fire someone for not getting vaccinated.

Private school scholarship program
House Republicans held their first hearing on the governor’s proposal for state-funded private school scholarships last week. They’ve moved it to the appropriations committee, which exempts it from this week’s deadline.

Supporters are still trying to convince the Republicans who oppose the bill to change their minds. Proponents say it’s important to give lower- and middle-income families a chance to send their kids to private schools. Democrats and public school advocates say this will take money away from public schools without ensuring that the private schools receiving the new funding follow the same rules that apply to public schools.

For even more on Iowa politics and legislation, subscribe to the Political Sense weekly newsletter and check out the weekly podcast Under the Golden Dome.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter
Clay Masters is Iowa Public Radio’s Morning Edition host and lead political reporter.