This year’s legislative session was characterized by changes to many key agenda issues for Iowa voters.
With a Republican majority in the House, Senate and Governorship, the last two Legislative sessions have had many ‘big picture’ changes in the state whether that be changes to healthcare, jobs, education or taxes.
This doesn’t mean, however, that everything on the Republican agenda got passed; this session went 18 days past the original legislative deadline as the chambers debated the details of many key issues, making it the longest session ever where all branches of government were controlled by a single party.
The final gavel, marking the end of session, fell with the passage of a tax reform bill that will cut $2.1 billion in taxes over the next six years.
Democrats called the overhaul irresponsible at a time when the state has had to cut funds from areas like education and public safety. Some Democrats are pinning their hopes on reversing changes by retaking the Legislature next session.
“The nightmare of the 2018 legislative session is adjourned,” said Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, in a post on social media. “Time for an election.”
Alternatively, Republicans and conservatives are happy with the session calling the laws passed “generational.”
In an interview with the Des Moines Register, House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow, R-Windsor Heights, said there has been “a long list of successful things that will really help the people of the state of Iowa.”
Here are the main changes passed by the legislature:
Governor Reynolds signed two mental health care bills on April 29 that aim to identify issues early and provide individuals with better access to mental care.
The first bill, SF 2113, which took effect immediately, requires members of a school district’s board of directors, faculty and anyone who has regular contact with K-12 students to take an annual course on suicide prevention by July 1, 2019. This bill is aimed to target and recognize mental health problems in kids as they go through schooling.
The second bill, HF 2456, gained unanimous support from the legislature and makes significant changes to the mental health care system in Iowa.
“The mental health system right now, when we deal with somebody with a mental health issue, that person ends up in our jail where they don’t get the treatment they need,” Marion County Sheriff Jason Sandholdt said in a statement at the capitol.
This bill aims to fix that by setting up six mental healthcare centers around the state that operate 24/7, create 22 community treatment teams and start intensive residential service homes that can treat up to 120 members at once.
HF 2377, which passed the Senate and House unanimously, would require doctors, dentists and nurse practitioners to undergo higher levels of scrutiny before prescribing opioids.
This scrutiny would require doctors and other health care providers to check the state's Prescription Monitoring Program before prescribing opioids to a patient. This registry shows doctors if a patient has been going to multiple clinics to receive multiple prescriptions of the same kind.
The bill was sent to the Governor’s desk on May 2; she is expected to sign it as she has publicly praised the bill. Most of the bill takes effect immediately but clinics that can’t meet new regulation will have until 2020 to make the switch.
Alternative Healthcare Plans
In an attempt to reduce healthcare costs in the state, the Legislature passed a bill that allowed some small businesses the ability to provide healthcare plans that did not meet all of the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.
Democrats said the bill, SF 2349, would decrease the amount of protections that Iowans would have in the healthcare market, and they disagreed with a later decision to allow the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation to work with Wellmark Blue Cross & Blue Shield to sell health insurance plans that did not fully comply with regulations in the Affordable Care Act.
The justification for this addition was that the plans they were providing weren’t technically healthcare plans and as such could not be regulated by the ACA.
The bill was signed by the Governor on April 2 and took effect immediately.
Fetal Heartbeat Bill
As one of the final acts of the session, the Legislature passed a bill that would ban abortions after a heartbeat is detected in a fetus— typically six weeks.
The bill, SF 359, also sets a waiting period after an original appointment before a doctor can legally provide an abortion.
Critics say it is unconstitutional and was passed purely to try and create a case against the landmark supreme court case Roe v. Wade that made restrictions on abortion illegal.
"I would love for the United States Supreme Court to look at this bill and have this as a vehicle to overturn Roe v. Wade," said Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, in a speech on the Senate floor.
Others have criticized the bill for one of its possible unforeseen consequences.
“If the bill passes, students at the University of Iowa may have to go out of state to finish their OB-GYN residency programs,” said Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames. “At a time when we have one of the lowest number of OB-GYN of any other state, we could be in trouble.”
The bill was signed by Governor Reynolds on May 4 and goes into effect on July 1, unless a court stops it. It allows exceptions in cases of incest and rape as long as the rape was reported to law enforcement before the six week deadline.
Gov. Kim Reynolds signed an immigration enforcement bill into law earlier this year that will make Iowa State unable to protect undocumented students.
The bill will bring the state more in line with national code by making it so local ordinances are overlooked when enforcing immigration laws. In other words, cities, counties and campuses would no longer be able to have policies that protect undocumented immigrants from ICE officials.
At the start of the year, the Legislature passed a one percent increase in funding over the previous year. This $32 million increase on the total $3.2 billion school fund was criticized by Democrats for being too low, but Republicans said it was necessary at a time when state revenues have been below the expected amount.
The governor signed this bill, HF 2230, on March 7.
The governor also signed into law SF 455 on March 8, which gave districts money totaling $14 million to help supplement and equalize transportation costs across school districts in the state.
School Safety Training
After the Parkland, Florida shooting that left 17 dead, the Legislature fast tracked a bill that requires schools to have scenario training for a school shooting incident
The bill, SF 2364, was signed by the Governor on March 11 and requires schools to set up protocols for school shooters, natural disasters and other emergencies before June 30, 2019. These plans can be given recommendations by the state and must be in compliance with local law enforcement.
80 percent of schools in the state have already done training and have such procedures in place, but ensuring every school is ready for a worst case scenario is the intention of the bill.
The bill, HF 2467, prevents schools from separating students who have outstanding lunch debt from students without debts. This would include preventing students from getting their hands stamped, making them sit at separate lunch tables, doing chores to pay off their debt or posting their name publicly.
Legislators say this will help students focus more on learning rather than worrying about their payments.
The bill, which is effective immediately, was signed by the governor on March 17.
Mid/Late-Year Budget Cuts
For the second year in a row, the state over-projected how much it would take in for revenues, and, as a result, the Legislature decided on mid-year cuts amounting to $35.5 million that would balance the budget.
This cut took $10.9 million away from two of the three regent universities, one being Iowa State, which lost more than $5.4 million in the deal.
The state later decided to restore most of that funding back to the Board of Regents for next year in one of the final appropriations decisions of the session.
Ignition Interlock Bill
In a step towards lowering incidents of drunk driving, the Legislature passed House File 2338, which requires “an ignition interlock device” on a motor vehicle operated by a person with a restricted or temporary license. This typically applies to people with multiple DUI’s.
An ignition interlock device is a device that requires the operator to blow into a breathalyzer before the car can be turned on. This is supposed to prevent people who have been drinking from getting behind the wheel of a car.
The bill was signed on March 11 and is effective immediately.