The eighth week of this year’s session is known as “funnel week” in the legislature. This week is the first legislative deadline of the year. All Senate policy bills must have passed through committee in order to be considered for the rest of the year.
Because it was funnel week, subcommittees and committees worked diligently to move bills through the process. One of these bills was Senate File 304. Iowa’s teacher diversity has room to improve and SF 304 addresses that need by updating the Teach Iowa Program to help recruit minority teachers to Iowa and bring qualified teachers into other areas of need. The Teach Iowa Program currently provides awards of up to $4,000 a year, for up to five years, to qualified teachers to teach in designated shortage areas. The awards are prioritized to teachers renewing from a previous year, followed by recent graduates. SF 304 increases the yearly grant maximum to $7,500 and adds a new section in the priority list: applicants who are minorities. Adding this new prioritization level is important because studies show low-income minority students perform better in school when they have even one teacher with a shared ethnic background.
Protecting our 1st Amendment Rights
Another bill passed out of committee this week was Senate File 402. Throughout the past several years, social media has become a place for billions of users to voice their own opinions and thoughts and has become the public square of this century. Recently, more and more people have been concerned about these companies censoring conservative voices and points of view. The bill stops tax breaks or other financial incentives from Iowa taxpayers to large social media companies if they censor protected speech of Iowans.
Pro-Law Enforcement Bills
The Senate has also discussed recently a number of bills commonly referred to as “back the blue” bills. Iowans have seen the hard work law enforcement does to protect our communities and the dangerous attacks some of them have endured. SF 497 provides much needed legal protections for law enforcement officers. The bill raises the penalty for those who assault a law enforcement officer, increases penalties or adds levels for certain disorderly conduct, unlawful assembly, and riot crimes, and also defines the act of damaging any publicly owned property, including a monument or statue, to be criminal mischief in the 2nd degree. The bill also ensures the holding period for a person arrested for criminal mischief in the 2nd degree, rioting, unlawful assembly, or disorderly conduct shall be held for at least 24 hours. This bill does not punish protesters and does not infringe on the First Amendment. It only punishes those who have committed a crime and protects those dedicating their lives to serving their community.
Senate File 476 aligns Iowa with the qualified immunity standard set by the U.S. Supreme Court for law enforcement officials. Qualified immunity is not blanket protection for illegal activity. Rather it ensures our law enforcement professionals are not being harassed or distracted, or second-guessing their action with concerns of being sued. It weighs the actions of an officer against the knowledge and awareness of the law. It also amends the Peace Officer, Public Safety, and Emergency Personnel Bill of Rights to allow an officer who suffered from a person knowingly filing a false complaint to bring a private cause of action and pursue civil remedies. Additionally, it makes an officer’s statement, recordings, or transcripts of any interview or disciplinary proceedings and any complaints against an officer a confidential record, while also giving law enforcement officers the ability to have their name redacted from documents available for public access online.
Over the past year a movement has emerged to defund police across the country. Senate File 479 protects law enforcement agencies from these targeted budget restrictions, or defunding. It denies state funds to an entity that decides to reduce law enforcement budgets without any justification or budgetary reason to do so. State funds would be denied until the funding has been re-established. The bill provides exemptions for certain reductions in police funding like reduced population, merger or consolidation, lower cost of entry-level law enforcement hiring, and one-time capital or equipment purchases in the prior fiscal year. It does not take away local decisions, but the state will not support a city defunding their police.
Promises Made, Promises Kept
When Senate Republicans laid out our legislative vision for this session it included three main themes: giving all Iowa parents the choice to send their children to school in-person full time, supporting law enforcement, and working to improve the tax code and improve career opportunities in Iowa. Through the first legislative deadline, those promises are on track. Senate File 160, signed into law on January 29, kept the promise to parents and gave them the option to have their children in school full time. Senate File 479 and Senate File 497 passed through committee to ensure local law enforcement is not defunded and provide them with the protections they need to do their jobs. More work remains on taxes and as the end of the legislative session nears, the pace of those discussions will quicken. Critics will always chirp at the progress of this chamber, but Iowans know we keep our promises.
Constituents/Visitors at the Capitol
This week I enjoyed visiting with the Sheriff’s and Deputy Association members from Eastern Iowa, including newly elected Clinton County Sheriff Bill Greenwalt and Brent Kilburg from Jackson County.