September 28, 2021

Iowa lawmakers end session noted for conservative new laws

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Iowa Legislature ended the 2021 session nearly three weeks later than expected after Republican lawmakers completed negotiations over a complex tax plan that they approved to add to a host of other conservative priorities they passed, ranging from restricting voting rights to expanding gun access.

On the final day of the session that ended late Wednesday night, Republicans passed a proposed constitutional amendment on abortion that must pass again before the measure can go before Iowa voters. They also approved a last-minute measure that prohibits counties, cities or school boards from imposing face-covering requirements more strict than those ordered by the state. Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the mask restriction into law early Thursday and it take effect immediately.

The Senate adjourned at 11:41 p.m. Wednesday and the House followed at 11:46 p.m.

Senate Democratic Leader Zach Wahls called this year’s Republican priorities “the most radical cultural divisive agenda” since the GOP took control of all of state government in 2017.

House Speaker Pat Grassley said Republican leadership in the House for 10 years is proof that Iowans support the party’s leadership.

“If you think those things are a radical agenda or don’t fit with what Iowans expect of us, I think Iowans would disagree for over a decade now,” he said.

Republicans used their large majorities in the House and Senate to push through many bills with little or no Democratic support. Throughout the session, Democrats also complained that Republicans refused to require masks or require reporting of coronavirus infections.

People working in the Capitol acknowledged numerous COVID-19 infections, including Rep. Amy Nielsen, D-North Liberty, who was infected in late January and remained sick for weeks. Nielsen said she was infected at the Capitol.

Among topics where lawmakers approved measures:

Taxes

The tax bill passed in the final days phases out the state inheritance tax, moves up implementation of a previous income tax break and moves the cost of mental health care from county property taxes to the state general fund. In the bill, lawmakers end promised payments to cities, counties and school districts to offset property tax revenue lost from a 2013 business and industry tax break. Democrats contend the decision will ultimately lead local governments to cut services or raise property taxes.

Schools

Republicans pushed ahead with Reynolds’ proposals to expand charter schools in Iowa amid Democratic objections that such schools would not be as accountable to school boards as public schools and would allow public money to be shifted away from public schools to fund the charters. Reynolds signed the bill Wednesday, and the law is effective July 1.

Guns

Republicans continued their longstanding push to make it easier to buy and carry guns with a law that allows people to buy firearms and carry a concealed handgun without first obtaining a state permit. The law eliminates current state permit requirements and the accompanying background checks that ensure the person obtaining or carrying a gun isn’t disqualified from ownership due to past felonies or abuses. The bill also eliminates firearms training now required to obtain a gun permit. It was signed by Reynolds in April and becomes effective on July 1.

Voting

Iowa Republicans, like those in dozens of other states where the GOP has majorities, approved a bill that makes it harder to vote early, potentially eroding a key aspect of Democratic campaigns. Reynolds signed the bill.

The law, which became effective in March, makes numerous changes, including shortening the early voting period to 20 days from the current 29. It also requires most mail ballots to be received by Election Day, rather than counting votes postmarked by Election Day that arrive by noon on the Monday following the election. Voting sites will close at 8 p.m. rather than 9 p.m. and voters will be removed from active voting lists if they miss a single general election and don’t report a change in address or register as a voter again. A lawsuit has been filed to challenge portions of the law as unconstitutional.

Police

Republicans passed a bill that offers extensive new rights to law enforcement officers in Iowa. The measure goes to Reynolds, who proposed much of it in her “Back the Blue” proposal announced earlier this year. While Reynolds and lawmakers promised Iowans last summer that they would work on substantial criminal justice reform measures this year, Republicans instead drafted a bill that protects officers by giving them immunity from prosecution and makes rioting a felony. Republicans refused to support Reynolds’ proposed ban on racial profiling by law enforcement. Democrats claim the bill is an attack on those who protested against racial injustice for months last summer. Democrats also opposed a portion of the bill that requires motorists to pull over for plain-clothed police officers in unmarked police cars or face enhanced criminal eluding charges.