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The Iowa General Assembly this week reached its first legislative milestone. February 21 is known around the capitol as the “first funnel deadline.” By rule, policy-related legislation must pass through a committee in either the House or the Senate to remain viable for the legislative session.

With the first funnel deadline behind us, I would like to highlight where things stand on some issues that I believe are important. Each of these bills is still alive and eligible for consideration by the full Senate.

HF 737: Companion Animal Protections. I heard from many constituents during the interim and into this legislative session about the importance of enhancing legal protections for companion animals. The House passed this bill last year, so it was not subject to the funnel deadline. But now that the Senate is set to focus on floor debate, I will be working with my colleagues to pass this bill as soon as possible.

SSB 3136: Medical Cannabidiol Enhancements. This bill changes Iowa’s cap on Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive part of cannabis, from 3 percent of a product to 25g per 90 days. This cap is higher than what the House included in a similar bill, but I believe legislators in the Senate and House will be able to reach a compromise on a level that Gov. Reynolds can sign into law.

SSB 3077: Future Ready Iowa Enhancements. This bill would expand Iowa’s workforce through the Future Ready Iowa program. The bill aims to expand apprenticeship opportunities in high-demand jobs, help people complete their high school education, and learn computer and technical skills. In addition, this bill creates the Child Care Challenge program, which would encourage and enable businesses, nonprofit organizations, and consortiums to establish local child care facilities and increase the availability of quality, affordable child care for working Iowans.

SSB 3071: Expansion of Scope of Practice for Physician Assistants. This bill will allow PA’s to prescribe, dispense, order, administer or procure prescription drugs as well as approves them as approved providers for Medicaid. This bill helps provide more services to all citizens of Iowa.

SF 2235: Dyslexia Taskforce Recommendations. This bill is based on the recommendations to the legislature from the Dyslexia Taskforce established in SF 2360 during the 2018 session. In 2018, the Iowa Legislature set forth SF 2360, calling for experts and practitioners across Iowa to come together to address how to better support students with characteristics of dyslexia in our schools. To meet this charge, the Iowa Dyslexia Task Force convened regularly for a year to study research-based practices, craft and administer a survey to identify current perceptions and practices in Iowa, and develop recommendations for action.

To address challenges faced in Iowa, they offered recommendations for the key stakeholder groups: the Iowa Legislature, the Iowa Department of Education, Area Education Agencies, pre-service programs in institutes of higher education, and school districts.

SSB 3023: Noncompete Reforms. This bill would prohibit an employer from requiring employees making $14.50 per hour or less to enter into a noncompete agreement. It ensures noncompete clauses are not creating extra barriers to workforce mobility. Noncompete clauses for workers in this pay range can effectively trap people in their jobs and inhibit economic growth.

SSB 3144: Independent Contractor Definition.  This bill expands the definition of “owner-operator” to help protect companies who use independent contractors. This bill ensures companies using independent contractors for their businesses, like trucking companies, are not having burdens forced upon them that would raise their costs of business. It will help them continue to use independent contractors as they have been for years.

SF 2129: Felon Voting Rights. This is a bill to clarify the language of the constitutional amendment that automatically restores voting rights for felons once they complete their sentence and pay victim restitution. A concern regularly raised regarding this issue is whether all felons should automatically have their voting rights restored, or are some crimes, like rape and murder, so serious those felons may not receive voting rights back without additional requirements. SF 2129 only goes into effect if the constitutional amendment is adopted, and it requires only those who have committed the worst crimes, to contact the governor’s office to have their voting rights restored. Most other felons will have their voting rights automatically restored once they have completed their sentence and paid applicable victim restitution.

Passing legislation like SF 2129 to address the details of this issue are important to eliminate confusion if this change is implemented. Nearly 18 months after Floridians voted to eliminate their constitutional prohibition on felon voting, lawsuits and confusion are still dominating the news as that state’s primary election quickly approaches.

While the discussion of removing the constitutional prohibition on felon voting continues, the Iowa Senate is also considering a constitutional amendment to protect the rights of victims of these felonies. Iowa is known to have one of the strongest victim’s rights laws in the country. The discussion of this bill, Senate Joint Resolution 8, focuses on strengthen those laws by putting some of this language into Iowa’s constitution. It will ensure the rights of the victim are protected if the rights of the felon are restored.

SJR 2002: Only US Citizens may vote in Iowa Elections. The Senate also moved forward a constitutional amendment to ensure only U.S. citizens are participating in all elections conducted in Iowa. Cities like Chicago and San Francisco are allowing non-citizens to vote in their local elections, and some in Iowa have openly considered it. Voting is a fundamental and critical right granted to US citizens, and any other interference diminishes the voice of US citizens who work, pay taxes, and contribute to our communities.

Reducing Barriers to Work: Iowa is one of the most heavily licensed states in the country. In fact, nearly one-third of Iowans in the workforce are required to maintain a license to perform their jobs. Government licensing of many industries is appropriate, necessary, and in the interest of consumer safety. However, licensing in some professions is either unnecessary, too burdensome, or too expensive. Licensing can even be a method for some to reduce or eliminate potential competitors. It can also be a barrier to employment and with unemployment in Iowa below three percent for more than two years, reducing the hurdles for employers to find qualified workers has been a priority for legislators all session.

In order to address these problems, Senate File 2114 reforms occupational licensing in Iowa. First, it provides for universal recognition of licenses from other states for most licenses. With this change, someone may relocate to Iowa for family or career related reasons and not be required to go through redundant licensing requirements.

This bill also streamlines the process for some felons to obtain licenses after they have completed their sentences by applying a uniform standard for criminal convictions. A good job is one of the most important factors for felons in their efforts to avoid recidivism.

One final piece of the bill lowers the fees for low-income Iowans applying for a professional license for the first time. A trade is often an accessible path out of poverty. Lowering the barrier to obtaining a license eliminates one more obstacle low-income Iowans face in rising out of poverty.

Author: Chris Cournoyer