Iowa legislators wrapped up the 2020 legislative session on June 14th after a marathon weekend spent passing several bills that will help Iowa small business re-open in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Both COVID-19 liability protection and occupational licensing reform bills were passed over the weekend, bills that will protect small business owners from frivolous lawsuits and reduce financial and time-consuming barriers that will make it easier for people to live and work in Iowa.
“Small business owners across the state thank lawmakers for working hard over the weekend to pass important small business bills. As small business begins to reopen, rehire, and rejuvenate the economy, these commonsense liability protections will be essential,” said NFIB State Director in Iowa, Matt Everson. “In addition, occupational licensing reform will encourage Iowans to pursue any career they choose without the worry of cost or egregious time commitments. These two pieces of legislation will help kickstart Iowa’s economy in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
SF 2338 – COVID-19 Liability Protection (Tort Reform)
This legislation will help protect small business from frivolous COVID-19 related lawsuits.
- Require that individuals bringing suit meet minimum medical conditions, in this case hospitalization or death. It also must be proved that the defendant in the case acted in a way that was intended to cause harm or acted with malice.
- Provide protections from liability lawsuits to persons in control of a facility unless that person recklessly disregards risks or acts with malice.
- Provide protection from lawsuits if the business was in compliance with federal or state regulations, orders or guidance.
- Provide protection from lawsuits to health care providers as their industry transformed to respond to COVID-19.
- Provide protection from lawsuits to those involved in providing products like disinfectants and face shields needed to fight the virus unless the person disregarded a substantial or unnecessary risk or acted with malice.
- Be retroactive to cover the entire period of the presence, to the best of our knowledge, of the coronavirus COVID-19 in Iowa.
HF 2627 – Occupational Licensing Reform (Regulatory Reform)
As one of the most regulated states in the country, this legislation drastically reforms Iowa’s professional licensing system. This bill delivers the key licensing reform components of universal recognition for those who are licensed or have work experience in other states and fee waivers for those below a certain income level.
- Requires that specified professional licensing boards issue professional licenses to applicants with out-of-state licenses if the applicants have established Iowa residency and met specified conditions.
- Requires specified professional licensing boards to extend license expiration dates to June 30, 2021.
- Eliminates the Hospital Licensing Board.
- Waives the initial application and background check fees for any professional licensure applicant if the applicant’s household income is at or below 200.0% of the federal poverty level and the applicant has not previously applied for that professional license in Iowa.
SF 2337 – Asbestos Reform (Tort Reform)
The bill would end the practice of “over-naming” – where businesses are copy and pasted as defendants in asbestos cases where there is no link between the business and the individual bringing the lawsuit. This legislation requires the plaintiff to demonstrate – with clear facts – how each defendant is factually connected to the plaintiff. There will be no more sue first and discover facts later that reveal the defendant should never have been sued in the first place. This has become a huge problem across the country and very costly and time-consuming for small business. This bill is a first of its kind in the country and will hopefully be used as a model for other states to adopt.
HF 2512 – County Agricultural Zoning (Regulatory Reform)
This legislation addresses the agriculture exemption from county zoning ordinances and the make-up of county zoning commissions and boards of adjustment. This bill was necessary after one county in Iowa tried to subvert law and require farmers to fill out an annual eight-page application along with an annual tiered application fee (tax). Current law exempts agriculture from county zoning ordinances. This bill clarifies that counties shall NOT require an application, fee, or approval process for the agriculture exemption from zoning ordinances. Additionally, the bill requires members of county zoning commissions and boards of adjustment to live in the unincorporated areas of the county – those areas in which zoning ordinances would apply.
HF 2629 – Future Ready Iowa (Workforce)
This is Gov. Reynolds’ cornerstone workforce legislation. It creates the Expanded Registered Apprenticeship Opportunities Program. It allows apprenticeship sponsors with programs of 20 or fewer apprentices to take advantage of funding to facilitate such programs. The legislation also expands computer science education opportunities for K-12 and allows for more individuals to take advantage of the Last-Dollar Scholarship Program. The Last-Dollar Scholarship has just over $13 million dollars for FY21.
SF 2400 – Empower Rural Iowa (Broadband)
This is Gov. Reynolds’ rural broadband legislation. The bill incentivizes private companies to install broadband infrastructure in underserved areas of the state. The incentives increase if higher speeds are produced. This legislation will help facilitate bringing businesses and population growth back to rural Iowa.