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The legislature finally adjourned for the year on Sunday, June 14 after working through the night on Saturday. When we returned to finish the session on June 3, many procedures were altered to minimize our likelihood of spreading the coronavirus. In order to keep public input as part of the process, lobbyists and citizens wishing to speak were allowed into the gallery and spoke from there to address issues with the bills being discussed in subcommittee. This process seemed to work pretty well, even though some who testified had a fear of heights and needed to speak from the front edge of the gallery.

Before we paused the session in March, the Senate passed legislation to lower barriers to some professions, bring unemployed people back into our workforce, and encourage them to build careers for themselves. We worked to expand the governor’s Empower Rural Iowa and Future Ready Iowa initiatives, and passed bills to improve access to and availability of affordable health care in our state, especially in rural areas. We passed bills that would put victims first in Iowa, and make sure their rights were just as important and protected as those who have committed crimes against them. We funded an increase of almost $100 million in new funding for K-12 schools, including transportation equity and per pupil equity, while also working to protect teachers and giving them additional tools to work with students who become violent in the classroom.

Much of our work in June centered on setting next year’s budget. This was understandably tough this year as we had to predict the effects of the economic shutdown on the healthiest economy our state has ever known. Our desire was to pass a responsible budget that would not require us to make cuts when we reconvene next January. This meant many departments will have to tighten their belts this year, just as many Iowans will have to. We tried to focus spending on the important areas of health care, K-12 education, and public safety.

While many good ideas for legislation fell by the wayside in our shortened session, some really good legislation did get finished. One bill that passed this year was HF 2627 dealing with licensing reform. Iowa is one of the most heavily licensed states in the country, with nearly one-third of all workers requiring a license to do business. Licensing can help ensure consumers get what they pay for when they seek professional service, but when carried to excess it is a significant barrier to people who create jobs or to a low-income person trying to advance himself. One such constituent contacted me for help in getting his electrician’s license in Iowa. Although he was a Master Electrician and was licensed in over thirty states, it still took him two years before he was allowed to take the test for certification in Iowa.

HF 2627 starts to ease those burdens by waiving first-time licensing application fees for low-income individuals. For many licenses, it credits work performed in other states without licensure to meet Iowa’s license requirements, establishes a universal licensing path that recognizes licenses from other states, and improves the licensing process for felons who have completed their sentence. A uniform conviction standard, focused on offense directly related to professions, will help some felons earn a living and reduce their likelihood of recidivism.

At the beginning of the year, many of us had high hopes of continuing our work on the tax reforms that helped to propel Iowa to its historically great economy and low unemployment rate. The pandemic had a major effect on what we could accomplish with tax reform this year, but we were able to do a few things to bring relief to Iowans. We ensured that stimulus payments received from the federal government would not be taxed at the state level. Also, loans that were forgiven through the Paycheck Protection Program and payments from the Iowa Small Business Relief Program will not be taxed. Finally, we made sure Iowa companies that helped out during the pandemic by switching production to make masks, gowns and hand sanitizer would not have additional tax liability.

Thank you to everyone who reached out to me during the session to give me input on legislation. I am glad to be back home and hope to see many of you during the summer months. It is indeed a privilege and honor to represent Senate District 4. 

Dennis Guth

Author: Dennis Guth