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Iowa's 2023 legislative session begins Monday

iowa capitol
John Pemble
/
IPR News
Iowa’s Capitol on a cold snowy sunny afternoon.

Iowa’s 2023 legislative session begins on Monday, when 150 elected officials will come to the Statehouse in Des Moines to pass new laws and decide how to spend the money the state collects in taxes. This year, about one-third of the state’s lawmakers are new, following an election year and a redistricting cycle.

Republicans have full control of the legislature for the seventh year in a row, and they’ve expanded their majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate. Here are some of the main issues legislative leaders say they will work on this year:

Private school scholarships

This is the third year in a row Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds is expected to push for state-funded private school scholarships. For the past two years, a significant number of House Republicans opposed her plan, and it failed to pass. Reynolds got involved in some GOP primaries last year and was able to get rid of some of the people who opposed her plan.

Reynolds has not said publicly if her proposal will be the same or different from the bill she proposed last year. Either way, the top Republican in the Iowa Senate said creating state-funded scholarships for private schools is a priority for the Senate GOP. House Speaker Pat Grassley said he’s “pretty confident” the House GOP will get on board with the concept this year. Democratic leaders said they will continue to oppose state-funded private school scholarships, and they’re calling for more investment in public schools.

Property tax changes

Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver said reducing property taxes is a top priority for Republicans, but they haven’t provided any details about how they plan to do that. Property tax rates are set by local governments, and the money collected through property taxes pays for local services like snow removal, law enforcement, and park maintenance.

In the past, the legislature has tried to address property tax rates by taking on the cost of providing certain services, with the idea that local government officials would lower their tax rates or not raise them because they no longer have to pay for those services. Republican leaders say they’re frustrated that not all local governments pass those savings on to property taxpayers.

Iowans for Tax Relief, a group that lobbies for tax cuts and government spending limits, is asking for a two-year freeze on property taxes to give lawmakers a chance to overhaul the property tax system. Whitver said he is not committing to that but also not ruling it out. He said “everything’s on the table” when it comes to reducing property taxes.

Restricting abortion

This is the first time lawmakers are convening since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and since the Iowa Supreme Court declared there is no fundamental right to abortion in the Iowa Constitution. Top Republicans in the Iowa House and Senate said they want to wait for an ongoing court case regarding abortion to be resolved before they take more action to restrict abortion.

Reynolds is asking the Iowa Supreme Court to reinstate the 2018 “fetal heartbeat” law that has been blocked by a court order and was never enforced. The law would ban abortions after cardiac activity is detected, with exceptions. That can be as early as six weeks into pregnancy. Abortion is currently legal up to 20 weeks of pregnancy in Iowa.

Grassley and Whitver said they want to wait for the Iowa Supreme Court to determine how far lawmakers can go in banning abortion before passing a new law. It’s not clear how long that will take. Rank-and-file Republican lawmakers will likely propose abortion restrictions in the meantime.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter