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One bill being considered in the legislature would take away state and local tax incentives for “Big Tech” social media companies that violate citizens’ 1st Amendment free speech rights. Amazon, Facebook, and Google all have a physical presence in Iowa and would be affected. A more complete solution to this problem will require federal action but in this bill the state does what it can do constitutionally to protect our rights to freedom of speech.

Some may wonder that these three “Big Tech” companies are private and so they are not bound by the 1st Amendment as it only restricts government from infringing on free speech rights, not private individuals, companies or schools. However, state and local tax incentives are not rights these companies are entitled to; they are merely privileges the state can take away.

This bill is needed because companies that provide social media platforms (Facebook, YouTube, Google, Twitter, etc.) have been guilty over the past years, and especially over the past few months, of countless acts of censorship and other free speech violations on the internet. They are typically and particularly aimed at religious and politically conservative viewpoints and content on social media. They are suppressing viewpoints that run counter to their preferred ideologies. Historic Christian teaching particularly as it applies to Christian sexual ethics is often being censored on search engines and social media.

Recently these tech companies have “taken the gloves off” and have entirely shut down former President Trump, other prominent conservatives like Mike Lindell, and thousands of other conservative citizens. Parler attempted to form a new social media platform but got shut down by Amazon. By the way, they are still allowing the leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, normal access to social media….

Instead of using the 1st Amendment to protect big tech companies, I believe it could be argued that the 1st Amendment protects us as citizens from the big tech companies. Freedom of speech is a fundamental right. As such, the state has a compelling interest in holding social media companies to higher standards for having substantially created a digital public square. The state has an interest in helping its citizens enjoy their free speech rights in public forums commonly used for political and religious speech, including the modern-day digital public square.

When a social media company sets up a digital public square they “sell” it to a user as a free, fair, and open-to-the-public platform from which to express 1st Amendment-protected speech. When someone signs up to use a social media website they enter into a contract with the social media company. When the social media website shuts them down for their speech they are violating the contract. I believe they have acted in bad faith, committed unfair dealing, and have engaged in a deceptive trade practice and in false advertising. They have advertised as one thing and practiced another. That activity is not protected by the 1st Amendment and should not be, even though they are a private company. This is a consumer protection bill.

The state can set some parameters around those contracts and this bill does that.

The idea that conservative citizens who do not like how they are treated by the current social media companies can just leave is totally unfair since social media is now the modern-day public square. The idea that everyday citizens can go out and form their own social media companies is totally unrealistic. These big social media companies reached critical mass and it appears they did so by fraud.

Other states are moving bills just like this one: North Dakota, Florida, Texas, Utah, Missouri, etc.

Absent federal action, this bill gives Iowans a measure of protection against what appears to be the fraudulent actions of the big tech companies and I am supporting it.

Bills Passed by House

Charter Schools Expansion – Expands charter school law; The purpose of establishing a pathway for charter schools is to provide another choice for families to receive an education for their children in areas of need in the state. Charter schools would be part of the state’s program of public education and can be established either by the school board or by a founding group. Both must apply to the State Board of Education for approval. Community need and community support must be demonstrated. Oversight would be provided by the Dept. of Education.

Funding is the same as open enrollment. Charter schools are exempt from some rules but rules required include: facilities must meet health and safety requirements, program must operate as a non-religious school, program must not charge tuition, must welcome all who apply, must comply with civil rights law, must provide special education services, must be subject to financial audits and open meetings law, must meet instructional time requirements, and teachers must be licensed. For more information, please read the whole bill at: https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislation/BillBook?ga=89&ba=HF%20813

Municipal Police & Firefighter Disability Benefits Expansion – Makes 411 disability benefits similar to IPERS benefits; Expands injuries that are covered under the 411 system to include injuries that arise out of and in the course of employment; Provides disability benefits for injuries and diseases that are accumulated, not just one-time instances; Adds mental disorders to the list of presumed injuries that are covered.

Tuition and Textbook Tax Credit & Teacher Expense Deduction – Raised teacher expense deduction to $500; Raised tuition and textbook tax credit to 25% of the first $2000 for each dependent in private K-12 school; Also includes homeschoolers as eligible for the tuition and textbook tax credit.

Beginning Farmer Tax Credit Expansion – Keeps the $12 million funding cap. Removes some participation restrictions. Specifies that an agricultural asset subject to an agreement may include an agricultural improvement such as a building. Increases the current 10-year maximum that a taxpayer may participate in the program to 15 years. Allows a taxpayer to participate in the program through multiple agreements and with more than one beginning farmer. Allows agreements to be renewed more than once.

Unauthorized Sampling from a Farm – This creates a special type of trespassing crime on private property of sampling of fluids, substances, or products from an agricultural animal or soil or water samples without the owner’s consent. Also includes cameras to record images or data on private property without the owner’s consent.

Driver’s License Convenience Fee – Counties are allowed to charge a “convenience” fee of $10 to county non-residents (unless they pay property taxes in the county) when they obtain a driver’s license.

Excessive Speeding – A driver going 25 mph or more over the speed limit, who kills another, commits a Class “C” felony.

Felon Voting Rights – One of Governor Reynolds’ top priorities is a constitutional amendment to automatically restore voting rights for certain convicted felons once they have served their sentences. She has passed an executive order regarding this, but the constitutional amendment would make it permanent. We also outlined which felons would qualify: a) Must complete their sentence, b) Must not have convictions under chapter 707 – Homicide and related crimes, Special Sentence crimes under chapter 903B – Rape and sex-related crimes, child endangerment resulting in a death, or 1st degree election misconduct, and c) Must have paid all restitution owed to a victim. This now goes over to the Senate for its consideration.

Flood Insurance – Sets up the rules for a private residential flood insurance market.

Iowa ABLE Account – Updates rules for ABLE accounts, which function as trust accounts for disabled or low-income individuals, so they may save for qualified disability expenses without losing eligibility for certain assistance programs. Administered like a 529 program through the state treasurer’s office thus bypassing attorney fees.

Parental Rights – Incorporates Iowa court case law into Iowa Code  regarding the fundamental rights of parents to direct the upbringing, rearing, associations, care, education, custody, and control of their children. Any government infringement is subject to strict scrutiny, the highest legal standard. It is presumed parent’s actions are in the best interest of the child, overcome only by clear and convincing evidence. Passed unanimously.

Adoptive Parents – Employers offering parental leave to biological newborn parents must offer the same leave to adoptive parents for children up to 6 years old.

Author: Sandy Salmon