Session Drags On...But End May Be CloseWednesday, May 12, 2021
The Iowa Legislature was scheduled to be in session for 110 days this year. Today (May 14) is the 124th day and there is still no agreement that will allow the session to end. For baseball fans - the Iowa Legislature is in extra innings.
That may be changing. After weeks of disagreement between the Republican-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate, there are signs that agreements may be starting to take shape. It looks like legislators will be back in town next week (the week of May 17) to work on their tax bills, and the Appropriations Committee in the House will be meeting Monday morning to start the work of shutting the session down.
Here is a quick rundown of where things are at this point in time:
- Taxes: The House and Senate each have their own tax plan (HF 893 & SF 619). There are 22 areas where the two chambers are in complete disagreement and two where there are small differences. They agree on 14 things in the budget, including increasing funds for affordable housing and homeless programs from $3 million to $7 million, requiring private insurance (like Wellmark) to pay equally for services regardless of whether they are delivered via teleheath or in person (telehealth payment parity), increasing the number of families eligible for a child and dependent care tax credit to help pay for childcare from families earning $45,000 annually to $90,000, and making income tax cuts that were passed in 2018 go into effect in 2022 instead of waiting for state revenues to increase by 4%. One area of dispute is the state two-year phase out of property taxes paying for the state's regional Mental Health and Disability Services (MHDS) System. Last week, the Governor came out in favor of the Senate tax plan, putting the House into a difficult negotiating position.
- Budgets: Only two budget bills – Transportation and Administration/Regulation (with $100 million for statewide access to high speed Internet) are the ONLY budget bills that have been completed. The other nine budgets cannot be finished until agreement is made on the tax bill (because they can't spend money without first knowing how much less money will be collected from the decrease in taxes). The Senate-Governor compromise includes $400 million in tax relief, although about 25% of that reduction comes from property taxes. Despite that, the House passed five budget bills last week in order to keep things moving. Those bills were all just the House versions, not bills agreed to with the Senate. They were also all the bills the House was supposed to start this year (Agriculture/Natural Resources, Economic Development, Education, Infrastructure, Federal Block Grants). The Senate will start Health/Human Services, Judicial Branch, Justice Systems, and Standings. Read more about what is in each budget here.
Below is a comparison of House & Senate budgets with Governor's requests.
- Policy Bills: There are still some bills out there that do not involve taxes or budgets; they are called policy bills. These are bills that may be quickly thrown overboard if an agreement is made on taxes and spending, so if one of these is important to you, you may want to send your legislators a quick email (of course, if you don't like the bill, you might be happy that time will run out on it).
- Landlord/Tenant Bill: (HF 866): Allows a landlord to move a person who requests a support/assistance animal to another unit if needed to accomodate other resident requests. This is in the Senate Ways & Means Committee.
- Guardianship/Conservatorship Bills (SF 348): Another round of changes to guardianships and conservatorships, to fix some of the problems that arose from the last two years' changes. This is on the House Unfinished Business Calendar, so can be brought up for debate at anytime.
- MH/DS Regional Boards (SF 461): If the tax bill passes with the buyout of the MH/DS regional system, this may be unnecessary. The bill only allows county supervisors to vote on spending of tax dollars for regional MH/DS services; the rest of the regional governing board still votes on the plans and other items. This too is on the House Unfinished Business Calendar ready for debate.
- Occupational Therapist (OT) Licensure (SF 463): This bill establishes a licensure compact between other states and Iowa, so that if an occupational therapist is licensed in one of the states, they can practice in any of the states. This helps those communities on the border of Iowa, who may have more professionals working on the other side of the river or border. It too is on the House Unfinished Business Calendar ready for debate.
- Professional Licensure Review (SF 487): Every job that is regulated and licensed by the state will get a review over the next five years if this bill passes; the Legislature would need to look at each license and decide if it needs to be licensed and if licensing standards should be lowered. The Senate wants the licenses to end automatically after the review (called a "sunset"), unless the Legislature votes to keep it. The House doesn't like that part, and does not think some of the more time-consuming parts of the bill should be applied to health care professionals like doctors, nurses, therapists, etc. This bill is on the House Unfinished Business Calender, but its future is uncertain. There is still a lot of concern about this and it could be done without legislation through an interim review panel.
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