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On this beautiful Easter afternoon, I hope that you are enjoying the spring weather and family. Most of all, I hope that the meaning of this Easter season, celebrating the life we can have through our risen Lord and Savior, has permeated your day.

This past week was the second funnel week. It means that a bill, to remain alive, must pass out of one chamber and committee in the opposing chamber, unless the bill deals with taxation or appropriations. Its slightly more complicated than that, but that is the gist of it.

This week, we spent some time in committee and on the floor. Many of us remarked just how slow of a week it was for such an important deadline. I’m still relatively new, but the veteran lobbyists and representatives all concurred.

For this edition, I wanted to keep things simple, and simply give a rundown of the bills that passed the House this week.

House Passes Changes to Broadband Grant Program

This week the House unanimously passed House File 848 making changes to Iowa’s broadband grant program. When the governor introduced her bill, it made significant changes to the existing broadband grant program and focused on increasing broadband speeds around the state. House Republicans believed the emphasis should be placed on connecting Iowans who currently do not have access to broadband internet.

The product of the resulting conversations and negotiations resulted in a bill that focused on both speed of deployment and internet speeds. Grant funds will be eligible at varying levels based on the internet speed available to Iowans. Broadband infrastructure projects that deliver the best speeds (100 mps down / 100 mps up) must deploy fiber to Tier 1 Targeted Service Areas to receive the most in matching grant funds, except for Tier 1 areas where projects must be capable of 100/20 to receive a 50% match.

  • Tier 1 areas have speeds of 25/3 or less and are eligible for up to a 75% match.
  • Tier 2 areas have speeds from 25/3 to 50 mps download speed and are eligible for up to a 50% match.
  • Tier 3 areas have speeds from 50 mps down to 80 mps down and are eligible for up to a 35% match

Other changes include new scoring criteria to encourage projects in Tier 1 areas to be deployed first and having a designated employee to help private investors with their grant applications for state, federal, and private funds.

House File 848 sets the framework for aggressively building out Iowa’s broadband infrastructure to ensure all Iowans have access to broadband internet. However, this policy bill will have limited effect without a significant financial investment in the grant program. House Republicans have announced their goal of $100 million in funding this year.

Public Safety Committee has a Successful Funnel Week

During the second funnel, the House Public Safety committee didn’t receive many bills from the Senate, however, a significant number of House Files did advance in the Senate and have survived the funnel. Here are just a few of the Public Safety Bills that have passed both the House and Senate committees.

HF 435/HSB 136- Emergency Contact 

HF 435 allows people to provide emergency contact information when applying for or renewing their driver’s license or non-operator identification.  The emergency contact information can be used by the DOT or law enforcement if a person dies, is seriously injured or is unconscious.

HF 698/HSB 117- Brady Giglio Changes

HF 698 prohibits a peace officer from being fired simply for being on a Brady list. The bill also calls for an interim committee to study these lists.

STATUS-Senate Companion on House Floor

HF 708/ HSB 72- Public Safety Equipment Fund 

Creates a public safety equipment fund in DPS. The money will not revert to the state if not spent within the fiscal year.

State Government Makes Final Push Before Second Funnel

This week the State Government Committee passed five more bills out of committee. Of the 5, 4 bills were Senate files that will survive the second funnel of the legislative session and the other is a bill to pass yearly administrative rulemaking process updates.

Senate File 363 is a bill that would create permits for the retail sale of glass and metal smoking devices. The bill would establish the Specialty Court Fund to use fees and taxes collected in the issuance of permits, assessed penalties, and sales of these devices. The Specialty Court Fund would be created to support specialty courts to address substance use disorders and mental health-related issues. These specialty courts can be used to better address the underlying issues of certain crimes that are committed to provide better resources to increase rehabilitation.

Senate File 540 is a bill that would combine the Board of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences and the Board of Barbering to create the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology Arts and Sciences. The bill would also give the newly created board the authority to provide inspections to ensure that licensed barbers or cosmetologists are conducting their business in accordance with the rules established by the board. Iowa has seen a decline in barbering schools, despite a rise in popularity of barbershops. This bill would allow a school of cosmetology arts and sciences to also be a barber school, this is currently not allowed under Iowa law with the separate boards. By merging the two boards and allowing cosmetologists or barbers to be taught and practice in the same place, will allow people who want to cut hair, but not the extra acts that make someone a cosmetologist to more easily work.

House Transportation Committee Passes Important Legislation Through Second Funnel

The House Transportation Committee had 18 bills that survived the second funnel deadline. Below are some of the important bills:

HF 280 – Electronic CDL Renewal – This bill was brought forward by the Iowa Department of Transportation to allow for the electronic renewal of commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs). The DOT allowed for the electronic renewal of CDLs during the public health emergency unless the person holds a hazardous materials endorsement. This bill allows for this efficiency for drivers and DOT staff to be made permanent.

HF 382 – Special Permits During National Emergency – This bill was brought forward by the Iowa DOT to allow the DOT to issue special permits to commercial motor carriers that cover all vehicles operated by that entity to deliver relief supplies that exceed weight limits during a federally declared major disaster. Currently, DOT is only allowed to issue vehicle-specific permits, rather than for the entire fleet (e.g. all Hy-Vee trucks).

HF 389 – Chauffeurs License – This bill eliminates the need for a Class D-2 (operators of truck tractors, road tractors, or motor trucks with a weight over 16,000 lbs) chauffeur’s license. Individuals operating those vehicles must already have a CDL. This bill also exempts all fire fighters and ambulance operators from needing a chauffeur’s license. Law previously only exempted those that volunteered.

HF 493 – Electric Bicycles – This bill establishes regulations for electric bicycles by creating three classes of e-bikes that differentiate between speed, wattage, and operation. This bill ensures that e-bikes are not subject to the same regulations as motorcycles and vehicles.

HF 524 – Leaving the Scene of an Accident – This bill provides that an individual that leaves the scene of an accident that caused injury or death, and later realizes they were involved in the accident, that they must contact emergency services immediately and provide information on the accident. This bill also clarifies that those individuals can be charged with a Class D or C felony depending on if the accident caused serious injury or death.

HF 655 – Agricultural Animal Transportation – This bill creates a criminal offense of interference with the transportation of an agricultural animal if the person interferes with the motor vehicle transporting the animal or interferes with the agricultural animal itself.

HF 521 – CDL Skills Testing – This bill allows the DOT or a county that is providing the driving skills test for a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to charge $25 for each of the three component tests. Counties are allowed to retain these fees if they are administering the test. Currently, counties only retain $7 for the issuance of a CDL and do not receive anything extra if they are also administering the driving skills test. This bill was drafted based on a legislatively required CDL Skills Test Study Report in 2019.

SF 230 – Salvage Title – This bill increases the threshold for a vehicle to be considered salvaged from 50% to 70% of the fair market value of the vehicle.

Senate Releases Budget “Targets” for Fiscal Year 2022

On Wednesday, March 24, Republican leadership of the Iowa Senate held an afternoon press conference to release their budget targets.  Instead of the usual process of identifying how much money each budget subcommittee would propose spending in the next fiscal year, Senate Republicans released what amounted to a funding priority list.

Senate Republicans claim their budget will spend $7.999 billion in FY 2022, but they failed to disclose how much money went to each budget.

For Fiscal Year 2022, Senate Republicans stated that they intend to increase K-12 education by $55 million.  The reality is this amount includes the 2.4 percent increase in state aid to schools, 2.4 percent increase in school transportation funding, and the $27.2 million “supplemental” that the Senate insists can only occur in FY 2022 instead of FY 2021.  For higher education, the Senate says they will provide an additional $25 million next year but does not say how they will distribute it.

Senate Republicans proposed to give nursing homes and HCBS waiver providers a $15 million increase next year.  This amount would be $3 million below the Governor’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2022.  The biggest increase in this budget area comes from the Senate’s mental health levy bill, which has the state provide $50 million to replace half the mental health property tax levy and put $10 million in a new mental health risk pool.

For public safety, Senate Republicans said they would increase funding to these programs by $13 million.  Within that amount, the Department of Public Safety receives a $5 million hike in funding while the Department of Corrections gets additional $4 million from the Senate’s wish list.  That amount is $1 million below the Governor’s proposed budget.

Maybe the biggest mystery is what the Senate is planning to do with the Governor’s push for expanding broadband.  The Governor is pushing for $150 million funding stream each year over the next three years to improve high speed internet access all over Iowa.  Last weekend, Speaker Grassley said on Iowa Press that House Republicans were looking at $100 million for this effort.

And what are Senate Republicans doing for broadband?  That depends on your source.  The Senate Republican press release says “One time expenditures for broadband are not included in these targets.”  Individual senators have told people that it is still up for discussion or it will be funded with federal COVID relief dollars or it could be out of the FY 2021 ending balance.

Regardless, House Republicans will begin moving actual budget bills in the next week.

Author: Brian Lohse