The seventh week of session was busier as many bills moved out of committee. Next week is the first funnel week of this legislative session, meaning all Senate policy bills need to be out of Senate committees in order to be considered for the rest of the year. This deadline ensures we are focusing on the bills with enough support to advance through the process.
The Senate has also been discussing a few interesting bills important to many Iowans. One of these bills was House File 260, which allows for a person or program to provide childcare in someone’s home for five or fewer children. It also would allow six or fewer children if at least one of the children is school-aged. Currently, a childcare home providing childcare to more than five children must register as a child development home. Finding affordable childcare in Iowa, especially in rural areas, has been difficult, and even more so this last year. This legislation is one step we can take to help families looking for childcare in their area and provide more options to working Iowans.
The Senate debated Senate File 413 this week. Iowa’s election system was already one of the best in the country, and now it will be even better. Using lessons learned from other states in the last election, this legislation bans ballot harvesting, shortens the early voting time period to cut down on the possibilities of fraud, prevents pre-filled out election materials from being sent, requires that absentee ballots must be received by election day in order to be counted, and creates stiff penalties for election officials who blatantly defy or disregard election law, which several auditors did in the last election.
Over the years, Senate Republicans have been making improvements to election law in Iowa like requiring a voter ID to vote and request an absentee ballot. Each time a bill comes before the Senate, opponents throw wild accusations claiming the new laws will suppress voters or make it harder to vote in Iowa. All legislative Democrats opposed this legislation and called it “voter suppression.” In every election since these reforms began, Iowa has had record voter turnout. The claims of voter suppression are simply not true.
The bill would strengthen Iowa’s elections and standardize election law across the state and across every county. It changes the signature requirements of candidates seeking state and federal office to a uniform benchmark, brings our state more in line with the national average for early voting days and return deadlines, and standardizes the times polls close in Iowa instead of having it vary for different elections. Iowans will have three weeks to vote in an election, which provides time for informed voting and reduces voter remorse.
We heard from many county auditors with concerns about one section of the bill that adds new penalties for auditors who refuse to follow the law. This legislation will not punish auditors who simply make mistakes. This legislation will only punish those auditors who openly defy the election law as written by the Iowa Legislature. Auditors found to be intentionally violating state law are subject a fine up to $10,000 from the Secretary of State and the county attorney will be notified to investigate possible election misconduct.
This legislation does not inhibit any voter from requesting and voting by absentee ballot. Iowans will still have all avenues to request an absentee ballot as they did in previous elections. Request forms can be found on the Secretary of State’s website, at the county auditor’s office, or even by mail if a campaign, organization, or political party decides to send them out or if a voter requests one from their auditor.
Senate File 413 continues the legislature’s work in bringing more integrity to elections in Iowa, ensuring it will always be easy for Iowans to vote, but hard to cheat. The House passed this bill Wednesday night after hours of debate. This election security bill now heads to the governor for her signature.
This week the Senate debated SF 389 on the floor. This policy has been debated a few times in the Senate and its purpose is to ensure individuals on Iowa’s public assistance programs meet the requirements and are eligible to receive benefits. It also ensures taxpayer dollars are truly going to those who need them and not those abusing the system.
The current verification process has too many manual features, causing more errors than permitted by the federal government. Modern technology has created an opportunity to immediately verify the residency, income, assets, and citizenship of applicants required by federal and state law. This bill takes advantage of that technology and improves accuracy, saves tax dollars, and preserves resources for those truly in need.
SF 389 passed the Senate 30-18. It now moves to the House for their consideration. Senate Republicans have taken the common-sense approach of protecting taxpayers since coming into the majority and that agenda continued this week.