2018 Legislative Session

Count on Iowa Public Radio to keep you up to date on the state. Follow our coverage of the legislative session on-air, online or from your mobile device.

IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell will present the latest news from the state capitol on Morning Edition (5:00 a.m. - 9:00 a.m.), All Things Considered (4:00 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.) and throughout the day.

Ben Kieffer and the IPR talk show team will unpack conversations with lawmakers, interest groups and those impacted by legislation while also inviting listener questions on River to River each Monday at Noon.

Subscribe to our weekly podcast Under the Golden Dome. John Pemble gives listeners a front row seat for the most contentious debates and helps you understand not just what is happening, but why.  

Sukup Manufacturing, Sheffield Iowa

A new workplace drug testing law went into effect this week so Iowa employers will be allowed to discipline more workers for inebriation on the job.   

The law will lower the allowed workplace blood alcohol standard from 0.04 to 0.02 to bring Iowa in line with federal law.   

Sukup Manufacturing External Relations Manager Rachel Geilenfeld lobbied the legislature for the change.

Paul "710928003" / flickr

A pilot program in four Iowa counties that aims to make the pretrial bond system fairer for all defendants will continue through the end of the year because of a veto by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds. But a new, shorter timeline limits research efforts around the program.

Francisco Osorio / Flickr

A new Iowa law banning physicians from performing most abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected is being called the most restrictive abortion ban in the nation.

On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer discusses the law with three state lawmakers who each have very different views, including a Democrat against the change, a Republican who voted for it, and a Republican who was one of six in his party who felt he couldn’t support the law.

planned parenthood lawyer
Michael Zamora / Des Moines Register

A Polk County judge Friday temporarily blocked Iowa’s “fetal heartbeat” abortion law from being enforced while a legal challenge is underway. The law, which bans most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, was supposed to take effect July 1.

The temporary injunction is the first step in a legal challenge led by Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Iowa. They, along with the Emma Goldman Clinic of Iowa City, argue the law is unconstitutional.

North Charleston/flickr

DNA exonerations for unjustly convicted defendants aren’t happening in Iowa the way they are in other states, and Iowa’s DNA statute has something to do with that.  

That’s what officials at the Iowa Public Defender’s office are arguing, after an unsuccessful attempt this year to update the law to make it more likely that innocent people could be freed.     

Assistant State Public Defender Kurt Swaim says Iowa is one of only a few states in the country with no  DNA exonerations.

Kate Payne / IPR

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed into a law a tax overhaul she says will put more money in the pockets of virtually every Iowan. Despite concerns from Democratic state lawmakers and some voters, Reynolds says the changes are significant and sustainable.

The Republican-sponsored tax reform bill that passed on the last day of the legislative session included some tax advantages for private schools that didn’t get much attention during the debate.  That was a victory for private K-12 education advocates, who lost a bigger battle this year.  A bill to give state dollars directly to families for private and parochial school tuition, what advocates call education savings accounts and critics call school vouchers, failed to advance.  

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

The legislature went 18 days past the planned 100 when it finally adjourned on May 5th.  The biggest reason for the delay is because House and Senate Republicans took a long time to find agreement on a new tax plan. It will gradually phase in tax reductions over a six year period. The final reductions in taxes will happen in 2023 and 2024 if economic triggers are met.

In 2019, tax collections will be reduced by $100 million, while it is estimated $66 million will come in from new taxes on digital services.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Gov. Reynolds today defended a bill she signed that will scale back energy efficiency programs in Iowa.  

Critics say the money available for rebates and retrofits will be cut by as much as two-thirds.

That’s even though the Iowa Energy Plan that Reynolds oversaw championed energy efficiency as an important piece of energy policy.  

Reynolds said the final bill was the result of compromise with Republican legislators.

John Pemble/IPR

The 2018 session of the Iowa legislature came to a close Saturday, creating a new record length for overtime sessions when one party controls the House, the Senate, and the governor’s office.  Lawmakers put the finishing touches on the state budget and approved what Republicans call the most significant tax reform in a generation.

The tax bill, with an eventual price tag of $2.8 billion, passed the House and Senate on strict party-line votes, the last bill to be approved. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

A partisan fight has erupted between the Republican legislature and Democratic Attorney General Tom Miller as lawmakers try to finalize a state budget and adjourn for the year.   

Republicans have warned the AG to back off civil suits against the Trump administration, or face a cut in his office budget.  

Miller has joined numerous multi-state challenges against the administration over a range of issues.  

bill signing
John Pemble / IPR

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the country’s most restrictive abortion law Friday afternoon, banning most abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

House and Senate Republicans sent the bill to Reynolds earlier this week after back-to-back, late-night votes.

Reynolds signed the bill surrounded by children and Republican lawmakers, while protesters chanted outside her office.

Sarah Boden/IPR File

Abortion opponents in the Iowa legislature have added language to a budget bill that will divert more federal funds away from Planned Parenthood because the organization performs abortions. 

Under the bill, Planned Parenthood would no longer be eligible for grants for sex education programs.  That follows last year’s legislation banning family planning grants for abortion providers.

If the new legislation becomes law, the health care provider would lose approximately $130,000 from the federal Community Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention program.      

tom miller
Joyce Russell/IPR

UPDATE: Governor Kim Reynolds signed the fetal heartbeat abortion bill at 3:00 p.m. today (Friday).

As Iowans wait to see if Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds will sign the fetal heartbeat abortion bill into law, Iowa’s attorney general is deciding if he would defend the law in court.

Joyce Russell/IPR

The 2018 tax cut debate continued at the statehouse Wednesday with a “walk-through” of the general outlines of a plan agreed to by Republicans in the House, Senate, and governor’s office.

Democrats lashed out against the latest version of the bill cutting income taxes and eventually corporate taxes by $2.8 billion over six years.

It’s a must-do for majority Republicans before they bring the overtime 2018 legislative session to a close.   

shannon lundgren
John Pemble / IPR

A bill that would ban almost all abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected passed the Iowa House late Tuesday night and the Iowa Senate early Wednesday morning following hours of passionate debate.

The bill would ban most abortions after about six weeks into a pregnancy, with some exceptions for rape, incest, fetal abnormalities, and to save the life of the mother. It now goes to the governor’s desk.

Iowa capitol
John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

A new program that aims to reduce jail populations could be terminated under a bill that passed the Iowa House Monday evening.

A bill appropriating funds for the state’s justice system includes a provision that would outlaw the use of the Public Safety Assessment in pretrial hearings when determining whether to detain or release a defendant before trial.

senator tom greene
John Pemble/IPR

Senators on both sides of the aisle expressed frustration Monday with the House’s refusal to consider a bill that would expand Iowa’s medical marijuana program.

Republican and Democratic senators have been calling for an expansion of the list of medical conditions that allow a patient to obtain medical marijuana. The bipartisan group also wants to remove the state’s cap on the amount of THC, the most psychoactive component of marijuana, that’s allowed in medical preparations.

Iowa General Assembly Website

Iowa’s decades-old energy efficiency programs will be reduced by about two-thirds under a bill that gained final approval in the Iowa Senate last night, in spite of a last-ditch effort by Democrats to defeat it.  

The Senate approved SF2311 on a strict party-line vote of 28 to 20.    It goes now to the governor. 

Under the bill, a smaller portion of Iowans’ electric and gas bills will go into an energy efficiency fund that pays for rebates for energy efficiency appliances and retrofitting homes.   

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Reynolds Monday took questions on an upcoming outside review of the Iowa Finance Authority, where Director Dave Jamison was fired after serious allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace.  

Reynolds announced Friday that Des Moines attorney Mark Weinhardt will investigate the conduct that led to Jamison’s firing and any similar incidents during his tenure as executive director.

Initially Reynolds implied that firing Jamison was enough to address the allegations.  

She says she now seeks an outside review on the advice of the attorney general.

John Pemble / IPR

Lawmakers are in the third week of overtime at the Iowa capitol. Late on Friday afternoon, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds announced she and the House and Senate had reached a tax cut deal. It came on the heels of new information regarding sexual harassment at the Iowa Finance Authority.

John Pemble/IPR

This year’s legislative session, now in its second week of overtime, could set a new record for going beyond scheduled adjournment when one party controls the House, the Senate, and the Governor’s office.  

In remarks on the Senate floor Wednesday, Sen. Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids) said since the Iowa legislature has met annually, there have been nine times when one party controlled both the legislative and executive branches.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Finance managers in the Iowa House and Senate say it is costing taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars for the legislature to remain in session past its April 17th adjournment date.  

Those costs are expected to rise as the session may continue well into next week, even once House and Senate GOP negotiators reach agreement on taxes and budgets. 

Chief House Clerk Carmine Boal explains that lawmakers’ expense accounts expired on April 17th, the scheduled 100th day of the session, so they are no longer being paid per diem. 

Wikimedia Commons

A stronger form of medical marijuana would become available in Iowa for a larger number of patients under a bill that advanced in the Iowa Senate today.  

It’s the second year in a row that the Senate has tried to pass a more expansive medical marijuana law than the one Gov. Branstad signed last year.   

RebelAt (Missouri); Carol M. Highsmith (Nebraska); Vijay Kumar Koulampet (Wisconsin); McGhiever (Minnesota)

On this edition of River to River, while Iowa lawmakers work on closing a budget deal that would end this year’s session, we learn about what other statehouses around the Midwest have been tackling this year.

Host Ben Kieffer talks with statehouse reporters and hosts from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Missouri, where allegations of sexual assault and blackmail against Missouri Governor Eric Greitens have dominated the political landscape.

peggy huppert and kim reynolds
Joyce Russell / IPR

Advocates for families struggling with mental illness are applauding Gov. Kim Reynolds' signing Monday of an executive order to create a new state board overseeing childhood mental illness.   

The Children’s Mental Health Board will make recommendations for a new statewide system for children who are not covered by the state program that serves adults with mental illness.  

Activists say the new program is long overdue.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Every seat in the House and half in the Senate are up for reelection later this year.  Twenty-two legislators are choosing not to come back.  In the final days of a general assembly, many give "retirement" speeches on the floor. This week Wally Horn, Bob Dvorsky, Mark Chelgren, and Rick Bertrand are honored with Senate resolutions. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

A gun control rally and voter registration drive was held on the west steps of the Iowa Statehouse today, part of a nationwide observance of the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings.  

A youth group known as Iowa Students United organized the rally of several hundred metro area students.      

Seventeen-year old  Tyler Juffernbruch of Norwalk said Iowa Students United came together after the February mass shooting at a Florida high school. 

He said the shootings “broke a ceiling into activism.”

Joyce Russell/IPR

Rank and file lawmakers adjourned for the week and went home today, leaving behind key negotiators to work out a tax deal so the 2018 legislative session can come to a close. 

There is broad agreement among Republicans in the House, the Senate, and the governor’s office that income tax cuts are needed so Iowans can take full advantage of federal tax cuts.   Each of their plans provide additional tax relief beyond that, while the Senate plan cuts taxes most aggressively of the three.

oversight committee
Katarina Sostaric / IPR

Iowa lawmakers are looking into whether companies known as pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) are overcharging public entities for prescription drug benefits.

The House Oversight Committee heard testimony Wednesday from Ottumwa pharmacist Mark Frahm, who said he lost money on prescription drugs he provided to the Wapello County Jail.

Frahm said CVS Caremark charged the county about $5,000 for a month’s worth of drugs, but CVS Caremark only paid Frahm about $1,000 to provide those drugs.

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