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The Senate is now in week 17 of this legislative session, working on our priorities for Iowans and finishing up the last bills of the year.  We passed several more bills this week, some sent back to us from the House.  One of these bills was House File 744, protecting free speech and other First Amendment rights at state universities and K-12 schools.  The Senate has debated this bill before.  It does several things, like prohibiting retaliation against a member of the campus community or school district who files a complaint, requiring First Amendment training for members of the campus community, and requiring a disciplinary hearing if a faculty member knowingly and intentionally restricts freedom of speech.

The Senate also passed Senate File 356, limiting civil liability for persons involved in agricultural tourism.  This bill provides limited liability protections for agritourism businesses from injuries occurring due to the inherent risks of farming, such as the behavior of farm animals or the operation of equipment used on a farm.  The liability protections do not apply if the injury was caused by an action or inaction performed by the farmer that was illegal, intentional, reckless, or grossly negligent.  This bill helps promote agritourism in Iowa and cut down on costs incurred by potentially frivolous lawsuits.

Banning Vaccine Passports

Since shortly after the pandemic began more than a year ago and the world screeched to a halt, “when can we get back to normal?” was a common refrain.  With the production and delivery of vaccines for COVID-19, cases have waned, hospitalizations reduced, and there are fewer deaths.  Life is beginning to resemble normal once again.  With the success of the vaccines some local entities and businesses in other states have begun to require a vaccine passport to access normal functions of daily life.

This week the Senate passed House File 889, a significant step toward returning to normal.  It is a short, straightforward bill.  HF 889 prohibits local governments, businesses, and non-profits from requiring proof of vaccination to go to a ball game, do business at the courthouse, or enjoy dinner at a restaurant.  Violation of this prohibition would make any covered entity ineligible for state contracts.

Many actions related to the pandemic have been handled through executive actions and Governor Reynolds has had an incredibly challenging job navigating through these uncharted waters.  However, constantly relying on executive actions is inconsistent with the tenets of our republic.  Unilateral executive actions are a concern for many Iowans.  The governor asked the legislature to consider this policy and it is important for the legislature not to further cede its constitutional duty to write laws.  The policy was reasonable and necessary to address the rising issue of vaccine passports, and received bipartisan support in both chambers of the Iowa legislature.

If nothing is done to address the issue of vaccine passports, communities in the state inclined to excessive government involvement could require a vaccine passport to go into a government building, certain businesses owners could require vaccine proof to enter their business, or a well-intentioned non-profit could make it a condition of entry.  It is not normal nor acceptable to have to show proof of vaccination to access routine, everyday functions of life.  I am proud of the work went into this bill, and I look forward to Governor Reynolds signing HF 889 into law.

We Don’t Need to Finish Fast — We Need to Finish Strong 

When we set out our priorities at the beginning of the year, they included helping Iowa recover from the pandemic, passing tax relief for hard-working Iowans, and implementing responsible, conservative budgets for the state.

This week WalletHub reported Iowa ranked second in the country for fastest recovery following the pandemic.  Iowa also has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, and April general fund receipts were the highest in Iowa’s history for that month.  Additionally, Iowa has more job openings than people looking for work, making it even more important to pass legislation that will grow our state, expand the workforce, and help businesses find the qualified workers they need.

Iowa is in a great position to cut taxes and help taxpayers keep more of the money they earned.  The Senate has passed several bills this year aimed at this goal.  We have passed bills to remove the triggers put into place by the 2018 tax bill and give Iowans the tax relief they deserve.  The Senate has also passed legislation to provide over $100 million in property tax relief to Iowa taxpayers and while also providing increased funding for mental health services.

Ideally, the legislature will conclude this session having accomplished these priorities for Iowans this year, but we are still working out the details of a compromise with the House of Representatives.

We are not sure what the coming weeks will look like at the Capitol, but I appreciate those of you that took the time to reach out to me with questions and concerns about what is happening and the bills the legislature is considering.

Author: Zach Whiting