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As we work toward adjournment of this legislative session, the focus of week sixteen remained on budget bills and lingering policy issues. This week is the last scheduled week of the 2021 legislative session, but we remain focused on accomplishing our priorities for the year, like tax relief and responsible budgets. The Senate moved forward two budget bills agreed upon with the House—the Administration and Regulation budget and the Transportation budget.

In debate this week, the Senate passed several education bills. One of these bills was House File 847, referred to as the “Education Omnibus” bill. It does a number of things related to education in Iowa and gives schools more flexibility when it comes to funding, parents more choice and say in their children’s education, and more accountability measures for local school boards. It also increases the annual amount of classroom expenditures Iowa elementary and secondary school teachers may deduct from gross income for income tax purposes. It increases it from $250 to $500. Additionally, it expands the Tuition and Textbook Tax Credit by doubling the allowed expense amount to $2,000 per qualified student and also extending the credit to families utilizing private instruction.

Another bill the Senate passed this week is House File 802, prohibiting training of certain divisive concepts in higher education institutions, K-12 schools, and state and local governments. These concepts include race and sex stereotyping, race and sex scapegoating, and other things. The purpose of this bill is to ensure individual worth and respect is dependent on the character of a person rather than their skin color or sex.

Another important education bill the Senate passed is House File 813, establishing a new charter school program in Iowa. We have heard a lot of feedback on this issue, but like many issues this year, there is a lot of misinformation about what this bill does and what charter schools can do. Charter schools are tuition-free public schools, open to all students and provide greater flexibility to serve a diverse and changing student population. They promote innovation within the classroom and flexibility with resource allocation. They also empower teachers to provide innovative, high-quality instruction by giving them the autonomy to design a classroom that fits the needs of their students.

The best way to ensure our communities have long-term growth opportunities is for the children growing up in Iowa to have access to great educational opportunities that suit their needs and help them succeed. Public charter schools have the highest level of accountability of any type of public school as they operate under performance contracts and can be closed if they don’t meet expectations. The bill requires the charter application to provide information on how they plan to accommodate under-served students. This bill does not allow charters to discriminate against students in various underserved populations. I was proud to support this bill and give parents and students another option for an education that will prepare them for the future.

The Senate Commerce Committee moved a bill this week forbidding what has become known as vaccine passports in Iowa. I am fundamentally opposed to vaccine passports and think they are an affront to personal privacy and individual freedom. Senate File 610 forbids the inclusion of vaccination status information on government-issued ID and forbid businesses and Iowa government entities to require vaccination as a condition for access to their premises. This bill would not apply to employees of these entities and would not apply to health care facilities. It also still allows the use of COVID-19 screenings in these entities. The reason for this bill is because of increasing concern about requirements to show proof of vaccination in order to shop, go to sporting events, or other routine activities in our daily lives.

On Wednesday, Governor Kim Reynolds signed the broadband legislation sent to her by the House and the Senate. The bill changes the broadband facility expansion grant program to set new matching percentages for grants, establish new minimum service speeds for qualifying projects, and change certain factors used in evaluating grant applications. The legislature has agreed to dedicate $100 million to broadband and expanding access in the state.

As adjournment for the year approaches, we are still working on guaranteeing the implementation of the next round of tax cuts passed in 2018 and a $100 million property tax cut.  I am committed to staying as long as it takes to fulfill these promises to my constituents.

Author: Zach Whiting