The legislature resumed session on Monday, May 23 and adjourned for the year just after midnight on May 24. It was a bit of a marathon, but some good things were accomplished. Both House and Senate finished up the budgets and passed some new policies which I explain below:
House & Senate Agree on FY23 Budget
This week the House and Senate reached an agreement on how much the state will spend from the general fund in the next budget year. For Fiscal Year 2023, the state will spend $8.2059 billion from the General Fund. This is an increase of nearly $81 million when compared to the current fiscal year.
Final Bills Passed by House & Senate
Eliminating the Deadline for Open Enrollment: We eliminated the March 1 deadline for public school students to open enroll into another public school. With this change, students could apply to leave their school and attend a different public school at any time during the year.
We have had a number of parents in the state very unhappy with the situation at their child’s school and unable to get satisfactory remedy for their child from their school administration or school board. This was coming from parents upset with policies adopted for use of bathrooms/locker rooms/shower facilities allowing students of either sex to use facilities designated for one sex. Also, there have been parents having issues with sexually explicit curriculum or materials in school libraries, with teaching violating the state prohibition on critical race theory type indoctrination, with teaching involving sexual orientation and gender identity ideology without parents’ knowledge or approval, and with unruly and disruptive classroom and school environments. Students have not felt their safety or privacy is respected and some teachers have not either.
This bill will help provide additional school choice for parents and students who don’t feel like they’re having their voices heard by their school board and administrators.
Under current law, a student must apply to open enroll before March 1st unless they are granted a specific exception. This means that if a school board adopts a policy on March 2nd that is unacceptable for your family, your student would be trapped in that school for the following year.
This change allows parents to make the best affordable decision regarding the education setting for their child.
The receiving district would still need to have the capacity to accept the student as it is now. And all current laws regarding athletic eligibility remain in place.
Banning “Zucker Bucks”: This was an election integrity bill, a good pre-emptive strike against election fraud. Under this law, private money would be prohibited from being used to fund the administering of our elections.
This became an issue because Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg donated private money which was used to take over the administration of elections in 2020 in selected areas, especially Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and others. They used the money to conduct massive get-out-the-vote operations which were conducted from the election offices in the 5 largest and most Democratic cities in Wisconsin: Madison, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Racine, and Kenosha.
Iowa received ZuckerBucks and in 2020 it was distributed to different counties but in such a way as to give more $ per voter in the counties that went for Biden, like Polk, Linn, and Johnson.
Tax Exemption for Feminine Products and Diapers: This is a new tax exemption on regularly used products, similar to the tax exemption for food, that will help keep more money in the pockets of everyday Iowans.
This change eliminates the 7% sales tax on feminine products and diapers. It is estimated to save Iowa taxpayers $11 million a year.
With inflation at an all-time high and costs rising on just about everything, we are continuing to look for ways to ease the tax burden on Iowans.
Solar Tax Credit Backlog: We passed funding to take care of the backlog of people that had installed solar energy equipment and followed the necessary rules and applied for a tax credit, but were denied by the Department of Revenue because funding had run out.
REC’s Sales Tax Exemption: We applied a sales tax exemption for certain digital products for the REC’s, who were accidentally overlooked as qualifying for that exemption when we passed it a few years ago.
Bank Franchise Tax: We lowered the franchise tax on banks from 5% to 3.5 % over 5 years.
Last Dollar Scholarship: We allowed students who are part-time to qualify for this scholarship, which helps get students trained for high-demand jobs. This is intended to address the workforce shortage.
Mental Health Loan Forgiveness Program: This bill establishes a mental health practitioner loan repayment program for mental health providers that agree to practice in Iowa for at least 5 years. It provides a preference for Iowans and those willing to serve in an area that has a shortage of mental health providers.
Parents Rights Victory- Mask Mandate Injunction Overturned
The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down an injunction that had prevented the full implementation the prohibition on mask mandates that the legislature passed last spring. That law, passed in 2021, can now go into effect. It prohibits schools from requiring masks be worn by all students, staff or visitors. The ruling is a victory for parents to make individual healthcare choices for their children.
Why was the law passed? At that time many school districts were still requiring masks on school grounds.
What prompted the lawsuit? Parents of children who have various medical conditions filed the lawsuit claiming the law violated the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act (RA), and other federal laws. By prohibiting schools from imposing mask mandates, these parents argued their children were placed in grave danger because of their medical conditions and could not safely attend school.
How has the court ruled on this lawsuit so far? The lawsuit was filed in September of 2021 and in October the 8th Circuit issued a preliminary injunction preventing the bill from being enforced. This allowed schools to implement their own mask mandates to students, staff and visitors. So a few Iowa schools went ahead and implemented a mask mandate.
Then what happened? In January of 2022, the court determined that the original injunction was too broad since it applied to all schools in all situations and was not tailored to protect children who were medically fragile and at risk from COVID. School boards were permitted to draft mask policies focused on protecting those students who face significant health risks from COVID-19 but broad mandates were not allowed.
What’s the latest ruling that just happened? In a 2-1 decision the 8th Circuit court determined that the current injunction was no longer needed due to a lower risk for COVID in the public health environment. The majority pointed out that since vaccines are available for children over the age of four, and the new variants are less severe the families’ arguments are not strong enough to require any injunction. The case has been sent back to the lower court for the official trial.
So, what does this mean for the law prohibiting school mask mandates?
It is in full effect. This means schools cannot require students, employees or visitors wear masks.
What happens to the case now? The 8th Circuit sent it back to the district court, who will determine if our law prohibiting mask mandates in schools is a violation of any state or federal laws, but that will take time.
What can parents do? While parents don’t have to worry about their kids being required to wear masks at this time, they should continue to pay attention to actions by their school board – especially if they live in a district that was prone to imposing overreaching COVID restrictions. Parents have the right to decide if their child wears a mask or not in school and if the law is overturned by the courts parents can fill out an exemption form to excuse their child from any mask mandate.