By Representative Dean Fisher
We have adjourned, Sine Die, which means “without a time certain”.
Thursday, April 27 we dealt with the final passage of House File 546, the Secure an Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE) bill that extends this 1% sales tax for school infrastructure from 2029 to 2051 among other changes. The bill as passed by the House earlier set 15% of this fund aside for property tax relief. The Senate amended that relief to 30%, a significant addition to property tax relief. This amendment passed the House 94-4 and goes to the governor for consideration.
Senate File 139 – Financial Literacy, made changes to the Financial Literacy requirement for high school graduation that was passed in 2018. This bill pushed the implementation date out to the 2020/2021 school year to give our schools more time to implement this requirement.
House File 779 – Omnibus Tax Bill, is a collection of changes and corrections to income tax, sales tax, and other tax related changes. Of significance in this bill was the increase in the School Tuition Organization (STO) tax credit cap from $13 million to $15 million. The STO provides a tax credit to donors to encourage funding scholarships for underprivileged children to attend private and religious schools such as the Marshalltown Christian School. Also, this bill exempted grain bins from the sales tax. The law regarding sales tax for grain bins has been confusing and frustrating for the manufacturers, dealers, and farmers. This is a much needed improvement.
Senate File 597 – Sales Tax Exemption for Blood Centers. This bill removes the sales tax from supplies purchased by a non-profit blood processing center, a much needed boost to these vital organizations. The impact to the general fund would be a roughly $630,000 reduction per year, and a reduction of roughly $139,000 per year each to the Local Option Sales Tax and Secure an Advanced Vision for Education sales tax. This sacrifice in revenue will ensure these non-profits can continue to help save lives through your blood donations.
On Friday the House Republicans were ready to debate the last few appropriations bills of the session. The Senate had sent the Health and Human Services Appropriations bill over with some significant amendments and the annual Standings Appropriation was yet to be started in the House. As usual House leadership gave the Democrats plenty of time to caucus and generate amendments to these bills throughout the afternoon and evening. Around 6:30 in the evening, after many hours of time allowed for them to caucus, House Democrats broke for supper. Many of them chose to not return without a word to House Republican Leadership, refusing to come back to the chamber for debate. Shortly after midnight our patience ran out and we adjourned, setting 8:00 AM to re convene Saturday morning. At 8:00 AM Madam Speaker gaveled us in and set a “time certain” for debate on these bills and amendments to end at 1:00 PM. That means bills and amendments will be introduced with no comment or debate and voted on as fast as the votes can happen until we are done.
Saturday’s debate began with the annual Standings Appropriations bill, Senate File 638. This bill makes updates to our standing appropriations and also becomes a clean-up bill for errors found in other pieces of legislation that have already passed, including simple punctuation errors. This bill also becomes the last effort for legislation that comes up at the last few days of the session. Included in this last category is a compromise to the judicial nominating process changes that we worked on throughout the session. The current process for nominating Supreme Court justices consists of a panel of seventeen commissioners, eight nominated by the governor, eight elected by attorneys, and one sitting Iowa Supreme Court Justice who is the most senior other than the chief justice. The compromise to change this panel was to eliminate the Supreme Court justice and increase the governor’s selection from eight to nine commissioners. This retains the attorneys electing the other eight. The panel of seventeen will then select their own chair instead of the Supreme Court justice being the chair. Also included in this language is a provision to have the chief justice be elected by the seven members of the Supreme Court every two years instead of every eight years. I believe this compromise will bring some much needed balance back to the Supreme Court selection process and give newly appointed justices a greater say in who their chief justice will be. The bill passed the House 53-45 and goes to the Senate.
We also debated the Health and Human Services Appropriations (HHS), House File 776. The House had passed this bill earlier in the session and it came back from the Senate with an amendment. Of significance were two provisions that I and several of my colleagues in both chambers had fought for. One was to prevent any funding for sex education in our schools to go to any agency that also provides abortion services or advocates for abortion. Currently Planned Parenthood provides many of these courses. During the 2017 session the legislature defunded abortion providers from receiving public funds but due to existing multi-year contracts for education we were not able to defund these education courses until now. For an abortion provider to also be providing sex education is a serious conflict of interest. They stand to gain financially from more young women obtaining an abortion. Data has shown in some cases where Planned Parenthood has provided these classes the unwed pregnancy rate has risen. Their education materials that I’ve seen do not advocate for abstinence from sex before marriage, but rather advocate for waiting until “it feels right” to engage in sexual activity. This is a highly inappropriate message to give to pre-teen and teen children. These courses can easily be taught in Iowa by many other providers. The contracts for these services are due to be renewed this summer, so this change is timely.
Another provision of the HHS amendment deals with the recent Iowa Supreme Court (ISC) ruling ordering Medicaid to pay for sex change operations. The ISC ruled that since “Gender Identity” is a protected class in the Iowa Civil Rights code then these types of surgeries must be paid for by Medicaid. The ISC overturned existing language in the Medicaid law that exempted sex change operations. Estimates are that this ruling could initially cost our Medicaid program anywhere from $13 million to $50 million dollars. It could also make Iowa a magnet for individuals from other states that don’t currently cover sex change operations under Medicaid, increasing these costs to Iowans. This amendment adds language in the Civil Rights code explicitly exempting these surgeries in hopes of overriding the ISC ruling. The HHS budget passed the House 52-47 and goes to the governor for consideration.
The session adjourned “Sine Die” Saturday afternoon after closing speeches from the leadership. This has been another monumental session with significant advancements in freedom, accountability, public safety, and efficiency in our state government.
As always, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at 641-750-3594.