The legislature has officially finished the 2021 legislative session. Republicans in the legislature set out this session with ambitious goals as the session began after nearly a year of dealing with the COVID pandemic. Iowans were eager to get back to the lives they knew and move Iowa forward.
Throughout the summer and fall we had heard from Iowans looking for a little more cash in their pocket, business owners looking for workers to help keep the doors open, and parents knowing their kids needed to get back in the classroom. Rather than pass out one time checks for a temporary impact, we focused on permanent tax relief to help rebuild Iowa’s economy on stable ground. We wanted to continue Iowa’s road to recovery by getting Iowans back to work and students back in school.
Most Iowa schools started on time last fall with the necessary options to adapt to local spikes in infection rates. Those schools did a remarkable job, and I deeply appreciate the efforts those schools made to continue teaching our children while at the same time protecting the health of children, teachers, and staff. But other schools had refused to follow state law by refusing to provide in-person learning. So we had to strengthen Iowa law to get those kids back in school, and we did just that.
In the following weeks we passed more election integrity measures aimed at further securing Iowa’s elections, making it easier to vote but harder to cheat. We passed a constitutional amendment to be added to the Iowa Constitution to protect life and to put power back in the hands of the people. We passed legislation that helps Iowans get back to normal, and to ensure their own health care decisions remain private. We prohibited school districts and nonpublic schools from implementing a policy that requires its employees, students, or members of the public to wear a facial covering for any purpose while on school property. We prohibited cities and counties from adopting mask mandates that are more stringent than state policy. Iowa’s Second Amendment rights received further protection by allowing Iowans the freedom to carry without a government permission slip. We passed an increase in funding for K-12 education, and we also funded other areas of the budget that are important to Iowans, like $100 million for broadband infrastructure.
Responsible, conservative budgets have been a priority for us since 2017, and those budgets have put the state in the strong fiscal position we are in today. Iowa was recently rated as one of the best states recovering from COVID-19. The unemployment rate is approaching pre-pandemic levels and the state budget is sound, being recognized as one of the most resilient in the country to the fiscal effects of COVID-19.
A big priority for Iowans this year was passing meaningful tax relief. This year alone we passed legislation to repeal Iowa’s inheritance tax, eliminate the income tax triggers to provide certain tax relief for Iowa families, and to provide one billion dollars in tax relief. Accelerating tax relief measures passed in 2018 reduces the number of tax brackets and brings the top rate down from 8.53 percent to 6.5 percent. After a lifetime of paying taxes, the inheritance Iowans leave to their heirs should not be taxed yet again, so we are eliminating the remainder of the state inheritance tax over a four-year period. Small businesses receive more tax relief by being able to utilize bonus depreciation to deduct more business-related expenses from their taxes and invest more in the Iowa economy. By moving mental health costs off of property taxes, funding for mental health services in Iowa increases and Iowa property taxpayers get tax relief.
The tax bill, SF 619, also eliminated the backfill to local governments. The backfill was originally created in 2013 to help bridge a revenue gap for cities and counties created by a previous tax relief package. Since that change, revenue growth for cities and counties has averaged 131 percent. In fact, over the last 20 years, local governments have grown 2.5 to 3 times faster than median household incomes growth. The backfill was never meant to be a long-term solution. A promise was made in 2013 to these cities and counties, and that promise has been over-kept at the expense of Iowa taxpayers, and it is time it come to an end.
In addition to these important policies, we passed legislation to support law enforcement in the difficult jobs they do to protect our communities each and every day. We added legal protections for law enforcement officers on the job, making difficult decisions in dangerous situations on a moment’s notice. Rioters will face harsher penalties for the destruction they cause to Iowans and to property, and injury to law enforcement officers. Lastly, we passed legislation defunding cities if they fail to enforce state and local laws and allow rioting and destruction in their communities.
This legislative session was not without its difficulties, but I am proud of the legislation we passed and the bills signed into law. It is an honor to serve you at the Capitol. Thank you for reaching out throughout the session. I look forward to talking with constituents throughout the summer and fall, hear more about the issues affecting you, and any feedback on bills and legislation that was discussed throughout the session.