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.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

State lawmakers heard preliminary plans for a new statewide system for childhood mental health care Wednesday.  Advocates say currently there is no organized way to deliver care to kids to match the statewide program for adult mental health.   

A Department of Human Services working group studied the issue over the summer.  They’re recommending a new state board to set standards for children’s mental health care statewide.   

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Katarina Sostaric / IPR

The Iowa Senate Tuesday passed a bill to ban traffic cameras in the state, with mostly Republicans voting in favor of the measure.

Democrats offered several amendments that would allow traffic cameras when justified by data, and allow speed cameras near schools and road construction zones.

Sen. Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale), the bill’s author, urged his Republican colleagues to vote down the amendments because he says they would change the intent of the bill. Zaun says traffic cameras violate the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A bill to address Iowa’s low ranking among states for services for the mentally ill was unanimously approved today by the Iowa House.    

The bill expands treatment options across the state to address crisis situations which fall short of the need for hospitalization.  

A bipartisan coalition of providers, patients, advocates, and law enforcement came up with the recommendations.   

Rep. Shannon Lundgren (R-Dubuque)  said mental health and substance abuse disorders have touched every Iowa family.

IowaPolitics.com / Flickr https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms, but Iowa is one of a handful of states that does not mention this right in its constitution.

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer and IPR correspondent Joyce Russell talk with lawmakers for and against the proposal to add the right to bear arms to the Iowa Constitution. 

Gov. Kim Reynolds has said a major overhaul of the Iowa tax code is important to her this legislative session. The Senate has released its plan. IPR Morning Edition Host Clay Masters talks with Joyce Russell about what to expect this week at the capitol.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

During Gov. Kim Reynolds' weekly press conference, she talks about the shooting in a Florida high school that killed 17 people. She reintroduces a Department of Homeland Security public campaign "If You Something, Say Something" as a result of the murders in Florida.

John Pemble/IPR

Republicans in the Iowa Senate Thursday put a tax cut bill on the fast track which would cost the state treasury a billion dollars a year.   Business groups are generally excited about making Iowa’s tax climate more competitive.   Democrats question how the state can afford the tax cuts without catastrophic effects on public services including education. 

Sen. Randy Feenstra (R-Hull) has been dreaming about this tax cut bill for a long time.

Iowa General Assembly

By a vote of 33 to 16, the Iowa Senate Wednesday night approved a bill to crack down on protesters who cause disruption to critical infrastructure in the state.

The bill is backed by Energy Transfer, developer of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which was damaged along its Iowa route by protesters opposing the project.

The pipeline was built to carry crude oil from North Dakota diagonally across 18 Iowa counties.

The bill creates a new offense of sabotage against critical infrastructure. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

One by one, the presidents of Iowa’s public universities gave severe warnings to lawmakers today about declining state support for higher education, and what it will mean for the institutions in the future.  

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld told the House Appropriations Committee that over the past 20 years, the state budget, the student body, and consumer price index have all grown, while state support for the U of I today is a few million dollars less than it was back then.  

John Pemble/IPR file photo

Iowa Senate Republicans are proposing a tax overhaul plan that it says would provide $1 billion a year in individual and corporate tax relief. 

It proposes lowering the top individual tax rate from 8.98 percent to 6.3 percent beginning in 2019.

“Working families in Iowa deserve big, bold tax relief,” said Sen. Randy Feenstra (R-Hull).

The proposal, called the Iowa Working Families Tax Relief Act, also lowers the state’s corporate tax rate, which is currently 12 percent.

Iowa General Assembly

On a vote of 30 to 20, the Iowa Senate passed a bill to allow longer bus rides for schoolchildren in large rural districts struggling with transportation costs.  

Under the bill, both elementary and secondary students could ride up to 75 minutes one way. 

Longer bus rides would be allowed if public hearings are held and parents are notified 30 days before a route is changed.

Currently, younger children’s rides are limited to 60 minutes.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Advocates for schools, social services, and the courts turned out at the capitol today for a public hearing on mid-year budget cuts.   

Tax receipts have not met projections so lawmakers are negotiating how much to cut the Regents universities, human services, and most other areas of state government.  

A Senate bill would cut university funds for this academic year by $14 million.    That’s after this year’s budget was already reduced by $30 million.    

Iowa State University student Kody Olson is worried the cuts will result in higher tuition.

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Cory Doctorow

The Iowa Senate will take up a bill requiring all school districts to work with local law enforcement and emergency personnel to develop safety plans for an active shooter situation. The bill advanced out of committee the day after a deadly school shooting in Florida last week.

Manson Northwest Webster Community School District Superintendent Justin Daggett says his district has a protocol ready.

"It is something that we are trained and prepared for and we pray to God that we never have to do it," Daggett says.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

This is the final week for most bills to pass a committee and become eligible for debate in a chamber. It's known as "funnel week." Exceptions are for bills in appropriations, ways and means, government oversight, and administrative rules, which is why most budget bills are approved at the end of a session.

On this show, we focus on two bills. One that passed and one that didn't pass through the senate judiciary committee.  Both are among the most controversial bills that come before lawmakers, dealing with abortion and capital punishment.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A bill to protect doctors who do not provide patients with diagnostic information that could prompt some to seek an abortion has advanced in the Iowa House.

House Republicans are focusing on the so-called wrongful birth bill as a pro-life initiative this year. 

“It’s something the caucus would like to address,” said House Speaker Linda Upmeyer.  

Under the bill, a woman would not be able to sue a doctor for withholding information about fetal abnormalities.  

Cannon Air Force Base

Consolidated rural school districts that require long bus rides for students would get help with transportation costs under a bill that cleared the Republican-dominated House Education Committee at the statehouse Wednesday.

Transportation costs per student vary from $100 in urban districts to $900 or more in districts that cover large geographic areas.

Under the bill, the state would spend $11.2 million next year to buy down per-pupil busing costs so no district pays more than $432 per student.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A bill to divert public school funds to private schools received an emotional hearing at the statehouse Tuesday. 

Under the so-called school choice bill, the state would take most of the money that would normally cover one student’s education in a public school and give it to a family to cover private school tuition instead, up to $5,000.  

Advocates for private schools, including religious schools, lined up in favor of the bill.

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Jeff Gitchel / Flickr

A bipartisan bill that would restore voting rights to Iowa felons who have completed their criminal sentences moved forward Monday in the Iowa House.

Rep. Greg Heartsill, R-Chariton, co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton. They both agreed to move the bill to the full House Judiciary Committee.

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John Pemble / IPR

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill Monday that would require a supermajority of Iowa Supreme Court justices to declare a law unconstitutional.

Five of the Supreme Court’s seven justices would have to agree in order to declare an Iowa statute unconstitutional.

Sen. Julian Garrett, R-Indianola, said he feels the Iowa Supreme Court has “overstepped its bounds.”

Joyce Russell/IPR

As Iowa lawmakers consider legislation to outlaw so-called sanctuary cities, Governor Kim Reynolds is using the issue in a fundraising appeal.   

In a fundraising letter to supporters,  the Reynolds re-election campaign warns that Des Moines and Iowa City are moving in the direction of becoming sanctuaries to protect undocumented immigrants. 

She asks supporters to join the effort to ban sanctuaries, and stand with her for the rule of law.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A so-called religious freedom bill advanced in the Republican-controlled Iowa Senate Monday, in spite of vigorous objections from major business groups.   

The bill would give Iowans more legal protection if they deny services to gay and lesbian people for religious reasons.   

John Pemble / IPR

Opioid use is a growing problem across the country, and Iowa is no exception. During this hour of River to River, we’ll hear about legislation being considered at the statehouse to curb issues created by the use of opioids in Iowa. 

Iowa Public Radio's Joyce Russell, Republican State Senator Dan Dawson, Republican State Representative Shannon Lundgren, Republican State Representative Dave Heaton, and Democratic State Representative Chuck Isenhart all join the conversation. 

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

The human brain has opioid receptors that process pain and pleasure.  An opioid drug like morphine, oxycodone, or Percocet is often prescribed to alleviate physical pain from a surgery or physical injury.

Opioids are addictive. In 2017, about 200 people died in Iowa from an opioid drug overdose.

On this show, two bills to help curb opioid drug abuse are moved out of subcommittees.

John Pemble/IPR

There was bitter debate in the legislature Wednesday over how much money the state can afford to spend on K-12 schools next year. 

The  GOP-controlled House and Senate tentatively agreed to raise per-pupil spending by 1 percent for all districts,  which  was sharply opposed by minority Democrats.  

Rep. Phil Miller is a Democrat from Fairfield.    Last year at this time, as school board president, he was  overseeing a $900,000 budget cut.

“Two years ago we cut  $550,000, and three years ago it was $330,000,” Miller said. “Those were  all painful events.”

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John Pemble / IPR

A three-member Senate panel Wednesday unanimously agreed to move a bill forward that would legalize needle exchange programs for people who inject drugs.

Needle exchange programs have been used in other states to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and help get drug users into treatment. In Iowa, it’s still illegal to distribute needles for drug use.

Dave and Buster's/flickr

Games of skill played in retail establishments for non-cash prizes would be expanded under proposed legislation at the statehouse, but some Iowa casinos are lining up to oppose the bill. 

Establishments such as  Chuck E. Cheese and Fun City reward winners of skill-based games with non-cash prizes or coupons valued up to $100.

The bill would raise the limit to $950 to accommodate a restaurant and arcade chain known as Dave and Buster’s that wants to expand into Iowa.

John Pemble

It’s been a month since the 2018 legislative session began. On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with three statehouse reporters to discuss the many issues being debated at the capitol, including: changes to Iowa gun law, plans to get tough on so-called sanctuary cities, speed cameras getting the red light, and proposed budget cuts to Iowa’s judicial branch, state universities, and human services.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Dozens of subcommittees occupy a lot of space and time at the Capitol at this point during the session.  These three panel members are a more informal discussion about a bill to determine what needs to be modified, removed or added.  Often members of the public offer their input during these meetings.

In this program we visit the senate lounge, where two subcommittee meetings are happening a few feet from each other. We focus on the State Government subcommittee’s discussion about a bill that would allow Iowans to bring alcohol back from another state.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A debate on a bill to reinstate the death penalty for first degree murder in Iowa took an unexpected turn at the statehouse Thursday.

The legislator who agreed to manage the bill has concluded he can’t support it, and the bill will not advance in the Iowa House.     

As a death penalty supporter, Rep. Steven Holt (R-Denison) agreed to head a subcommittee for House Study Bill 569.

Grendelkhan / Wikimedia Commons

Proponents of solar energy in Iowa are worried about a proposal under study in both chambers of the legislature. They say it would deregulate the rate-making process for utility companies by allowing them to change rates for various classes of customers without receiving Iowa Utility Board approval. Former legislator Tyler Olson, now president of SiteGen Solar in Cedar Rapids, says that move would harm the state’s growing solar industry.

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