2019 Legislative Session

Iowa’s 88th General Assembly is being sworn in January 14, 2019, when it begins its work representing the priorities and citizens of Iowa. With Republican majorities in both houses of the legislature and a Republican governor in office, key legislative priorities for the 2019 session are expected to be lowering property taxes, funding mental health systems for adults and children, changing the judicial nominating process, legalizing sports betting, a constitutional amendment related to gun rights, and funding workforce development programs that were created in 2018's legislative session. The legislature will adjourn in spring, once the annual state budget has been passed and submitted to Governor Reynolds.

If you want the latest on news and priorities from the statehouse, IPR News is your source:

  • State Government Reporter Katarina Sostaric provides daily reports on the actions of the legislature – reporting on legislative priorities and committees, votes in the chambers, and ultimately, the bills that will be passed during the 2019 session. Her reports can be heard throughout the day on IPR’s News and News/Studio One signals.
  • Mondays at noon, River to River, co-hosted by Ben Kieffer and Katarina Sostaric, is an expanded conversation with lawmakers, those who want to influence policy, and Iowans who may be impacted by legislative action. You’ll learn about why lawmakers are supporting certain priorities. It’s also an opportunity for you to join the conversation to ask questions or share your thoughts. You can join the conversation by calling 866-780-9100 or submit questions via e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter.
  • Our weekly podcast Under the Golden Dome recaps legislative action. Reporter John Pemble summarizes the noteworthy activities of the past week. He takes you to the debates, the rallies, and the events at the statehouse, and captures the evolution of priorities and legislation from the beginning to the end of the session.
John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposed constitutional amendment to restore felon voting rights upon completion of their sentences appears dead for the session.  IPR's Clay Masters spoke with Iowa Public Radio state government reporter Katarina Sostaric about this and other issues at the Statehouse.

John Pemble

A measure strengthening Iowa's animal cruelty laws, a proposal allowing over the counter birth control, and a bill to change the limit on the potency of medical marijuana have all made it through the second funnel week at the Iowa legislature, allowing the bills to be considered and possibly passed before the end of the session.

In this hour of River to River, Ben Kieffer and co-host Katarina Sostaric talk with several Iowa statehouse reporters about the bills that have made it through the latest legislative funnel, and which did not.

Panelists include:

John Pemble / IPR

Some bills move through a chamber quickly.  A bill changing the testing to obtain a teaching license passes in the Senate after three and half minutes of discussion. In the House, the discussion is quite different.

John Pemble / IPR

The Republican governor’s proposed constitutional amendment to automatically restore felon voting rights will not win approval from the full Iowa Legislature this year after Republicans on a Senate committee declined to consider it Thursday ahead of a Statehouse deadline.

voting sign
John Pemble / IPR file photo

An Iowa Senate committee voted Wednesday to add numerous election law changes to a narrow House proposal that would ensure mail-in ballots are counted in a consistent manner across the state.

governor reynolds
Katarina Sostaric / IPR

Gov. Kim Reynolds said Wednesday she is confident Iowa will have two insurance companies ready to take on 425,000 poor and disabled Iowans after the state’s biggest Medicaid management company leaves.

Reynolds said she has “every indication” that Amerigroup will stay in the state and that Iowa Total Care will start up July 1 as planned. Contracts for the next fiscal year have not yet been signed. 

“They’re committed to Iowa. They’re committed to continuing to provide the services, and we’re going to get it done,” Reynolds said.

senator dan dawson
John Pemble / IPR

A Senate panel Tuesday advanced a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore voting rights to Iowans with felony convictions, but some Republican lawmakers are expressing doubts about its future.

The proposal—a priority of Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds—overwhelmingly passed the Iowa House last week. It has to get through a Senate committee by the end of this week to remain eligible this year.

Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs said he doesn’t know if that will happen because Republicans want to add restrictions.

marijuana plants
Katarina Sostaric / IPR file

A proposal that would allow Iowa dispensaries to sell more potent medical marijuana products to registered patients advanced Monday in the Iowa Senate after it passed the House last week.

It removes the 3 percent limit on THC (the chemical that gets people high) in individual products and replaces it by allowing a patient to purchase up to 25 grams of THC in a 90-day period.

Lucas Nelson is general manager at MedPharm, one of Iowa’s two medical cannabis manufacturers.

Mike Gronstal testifies against new rules for employee misconduct at a subcommittee hearing.
John Pemble / IPR

Updated Friday, April 5, 2019:

This bill was advanced by the House Commerce Committe, which means it survived the funnel deadline and could come up for debate on the House floor.

Original post from Tuesday, April 2, 2019:

An Iowa Senate bill that specifies cases where workers should be denied unemployment benefits is now advancing in the House, although opponents question whether the changes are necessary.

Currently the Iowa Department of Workforce Development (IWD) decides whether to disqualify a worker from unemployment based on rules it has developed. The bill (SF 561) would codify those rules but also spells out additional forms of misconduct that would disqualify someone from receiving benefits including drinking on the job, stealing or dishonesty.

jerry foxhoven
Katarina Sostaric / IPR

State officials responded Monday to the recently announced departure of one of the two private companies that manage the government-run health insurance program for poor and disabled Iowans.

Democrats in the Iowa Legislature said the departure of UnitedHealthcare, which manages the care of about 425,000 Iowans, shows privatized management of Medicaid does not work. It’s the second such company to leave the state since privatization began in 2016.

Iowa Capitol
John Pemble / IPR file

A House subcommittee has advanced a bill (SF 523) that would increase the criminal penalty for intentionally or accidentally causing the death of an “unborn person.” It was the first opportunity for supporters and opponents of the proposal to weigh in on controversial language defining an unborn person as starting at conception.

Under the measure, some people convicted of killing an unborn person could receive a life sentence. Supporters said it is an appropriate punishment.  

governor reynolds
John Pemble/IPR file

Gov. Kim Reynolds is delaying nominating permanent directors for the Department of Corrections and the Department of Natural Resources. Interim leaders will remain in place without being vetted by the Senate.

John Pemble / IPR

Every year, the Herbert Hoover Foundation awards two members of the Iowa legislature the Uncommon Public Service Award.  Only a few people in the House and Senate chambers know who the recipient of the award will be until it is announced. Like previous winners, legislators Sen. Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa, and Rep. John Forbes, D-Urbandale, had no idea they were being honored until it was announced on the chamber floor.

bobby kaufmann
Katarina Sostaric / IPR

The Iowa House of Representatives voted Thursday in favor of a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore voting rights to Iowans with felony convictions after they complete their sentence.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds made this a priority and has been advocating for the constitutional amendment. The resolution passed the house with a 95-2 vote.

Iowa Capitol
John Pemble / IPR file

The Iowa Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would allow women 18 and older to obtain some forms of birth control directly from a pharmacist without first seeing a doctor.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds made this a priority and submitted the original proposal to lawmakers.

Iowa Senate GOP Pass Bill Democrats Say Is Attempt At ‘Personhood’ Law

Mar 26, 2019
John Pemble/IPR file

Republicans in the Iowa Senate have voted to significantly increase the sentence for anyone convicted of intentionally or accidentally causing the termination of a pregnancy against the mother’s wishes. Sen. Jake Chapman, a Republican from Adel, said a life prison sentence is “proper punishment” for such a crime.

“It recognizes that is a person in the womb and, as such, should have rights,” Chapman said.

senator jake chapman
John Pemble / IPR

This story was updated at 11:55 a.m., Wednesday, March 27, 2019.

Iowa senators voted Tuesday to ban traffic cameras in the state for the third year in a row. But the proposal is not likely to gain enough support in the House of Representatives, where lawmakers have considered regulating traffic cameras.

Those who support banning traffic cameras say they violate due process rights and are a money-making scheme for local governments.

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Under a bill being considered at the Iowa Statehouse, businesses could face the suspension or loss of their licenses if they knowingly employ workers who are in the country illegally.

In this “legislative day” edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer and Katarina Sostaric host a discussion on the bill that proposes requirements to participate in the federal government’s E-Verify program.

They also host discussion on a bill that would limit private groups' use of the State Revolving Fund to purchase land.

Guests this hour include:

John Pemble / IPR

There are around 650,000 people enrolled for Medicaid in Iowa. Around 170,000 are through the Iowa Health and Wellness plan.  Under a bill in the Senate, 40 percent of those on the Iowa Health and Wellness plan will need have part time work or volunteer to say on the program.

The work requirement has 11 exemptions. They include those who are pregnant, disabled, in rehab or enrolled in the Future Ready Iowa program. It’s estimated the implimenting the reporting requirement will cost $5 million in the first year and $12 million each subsequent year.

John Pemble/IPR file

A bill that creates the framework for a children’s mental health system in Iowa passed the Iowa House of Representatives Thursday.

It directs the state’s mental health regions, which administer the adult mental health system, to develop and provide services for children. Gov. Kim Reynolds proposed the bill after receiving recommendations from an advisory board.

Rep. Joel Fry, R-Osceola, said it seeks to provide equal access to services across the state.

Iowa College Games Could Be Dropped From Sports Betting Bill

Mar 20, 2019
iowa capitol
John Pemble / IPR

It appears a bill that would legalize and tax sports betting in Iowa may ban bets on games involving college and university teams from Iowa. Rep. Vicki Lensing, D-Iowa City, said there were concerns some athletes might be pressured to miss a free throw or drop a pass in order to secure certain outcome.

“I’m not assuming that young athletes would be swayed, but we want to take away that temptation,” Lensing said.

jason schultz
John Pemble / IPR

Republicans in the Iowa Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would require some Medicaid recipients to report they are working or volunteering at least 20 hours a week in order to receive the government-funded health benefits.

Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, said it will give people a “better chance at life.”

“If there’s nothing holding you back except your own decision not to move forward, we’re going to bump you forward,” Schultz said.

Max Pixel

Mary Neubauer and her husband tried to find their way through Iowa's mental health system for years, seeking help and support for their son Sergei, who died by suicide at the age of 18 in 2017. 

"Truly a labyrinth." That's how Neubauer, now an advocate, describes mental health services in Iowa.


More than 70 thousand students would be unable to vote early on their college campuses under a wide-ranging election bill making its way through the Iowa Senate. 

On this "news buzz" edition of River to River, host Emily Woodbury speaks with University of Iowa College Republicans Chair Kyle Apple and Iowa State College Democrats President Taylor Blair to learn about student reactions to the proposed bill. 

Also on this episode:

John Pemble / IPR

The governor appoints hundreds of people to serve in state departments. The roles range from board member, director, or member of a judicial nominating commission.  All of these individuals require confirmation by the Senate by a two thirds majority for them to continue in their appointed role.

University of Iowa
Vladimir Kulikov / Wikimedia Commons

This story was last updated at 12:27 p.m., Wednesday, March 27, 2019. 

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill into law Wednesday that she says protects free speech at public universities and community colleges in Iowa. 

"Our public universities and community colleges should always be places where ideas can be debated, built upon, and creative thoughts flourish without limits," Reynolds said in an emailed statement.

reynolds signs bill
Katarina Sostaric / IPR

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill into law Thursday that critics are calling “Ag Gag 2.0” just two months after a federal judge struck down a similar law as unconstitutional.

The law creates a specific trespass crime for a person who lies to get into an agricultural facility with the intent to cause financial or physical damage. It would allow the prosecution of people who go undercover to investigate livestock operations, slaughterhouses and puppy mills.

Iowa House And Senate Endorse Gun Rights Amendment Again

Mar 14, 2019
iowa senate
John Pemble / IPR file

The Republican-led Iowa Legislature has again endorsed a proposed gun rights amendment to Iowa’s constitution.

Sen. Brad Zaun, a Republican from Urbandale, said the amendment’s “strong language” is necessary “in case of laws coming out of D.C. or in case of any court decisions that would weaken our Second Amendment rights.”

Sen.Tony Bisignano, a Democrat from Des Moines, was among those who suggested that if voters approve the amendment, it could lead to the repeal of current gun-related laws.

iowa capitol
John Pemble / IPR

An Iowa House panel advanced a proposal Wednesday that is meant to address concerns Republican leaders said they heard from voters about property taxes.

The bill caps property tax revenue growth at 2 percent each year.

felon voting application
John Pemble / IPR

Iowans with felony convictions will receive invitations from Gov. Kim Reynolds to apply to get their voting rights restored upon release from prison or completion of probation or parole in a simplified process.

Reynolds announced Tuesday her office is streamlining and expediting the process for ex-felons to apply to get their voting rights restored as she continues to advocate for a constitutional amendment to automatically restore those rights.