The Iowa Legislature convened for its 2019 session on Jan. 14 with new issues to address, such as education and abortion.
2018 was a significant year for the state due to the passing of several major pieces of legislation.
Both the House and the Senate passed Senate File 512, which allocated more than $280 million to water quality efforts in the upcoming years. A controversial abortion bill was passed, which bans abortions after the detection of a heartbeat. Other pieces of legislation, including bills about healthcare and education, received strong opposition, but passed.
As 2019 begins, the Legislature must decide on what bills to pass and what will be prioritized. Because Republicans control both chambers of the Legislature as well as the governor’s position, they will have an easier path to advance their goals. Although there is no guaranteed outcome, several categories of interest are likely to take center stage:
Last year, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the largest tax cut in the state’s history. The bill cuts the state’s revenue by $2.1 billion through reducing taxes on individuals and businesses. Democrats opposed the bill and said that it gave more benefits to corporations and wealthier families. The bill was heavily contested and could see some amendments in the upcoming year.
The fetal heartbeat bill was narrowly passed through the Legislature in May. The House approved it 51-46 and the Senate decided 29-17 in favor. Iowa is now one of only a few states with bans on abortions after a heartbeat can be detected. The ACLU and Planned Parenthood sued to block the bill. A court is still deciding on what actions to take.
Legislators have promised to make an investment in K-12 and higher education a priority. Last year, House File 2230 was signed, increasing the budget for aid to public schools by 1 percent. Senate File 455 also passed, helping schools with costs of students and transportation.
Universities may also be seeing a slight budget increase. In the fall, the Regents requested an additional $18 million in funding of which Reynolds recommended to be funded in full in her recently released budget report.
Healthcare and Mental Health
Republicans and Democrats have critiqued Iowa’s healthcare system and mental health facilities. Former Gov. Terry Branstad changed the system from publicly run to privately run. Both parties now agree that changes need to be made.
Reynolds has said that one of her goals is to improve mental health services in Iowa. House File 2456 was signed into law last March and devoted more resources to mental health services, including six additional facilities statewide where patients can receive treatment. In addition, Senate File 2113 was approved, ordering school districts to adopt suicide prevention protocols and practices.
Another of Reynolds’ goals is to institute her workforce development plan, “Future Ready Iowa.” The aim of the initiative is to have 70 percent of all workers in the state receive training and education beyond a high school level. House File 2458, which outlined the plan, was signed into law with the support of some members of both parties.