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Session Ends: 2021 Highlights

Monday, May 24, 2021
The 2021 Iowa legislative session ended just before midnight on May 19; it was the 129th day of the scheduled 110-day session.  People always think that if one party controls both House and Senate and Governor's office (like Iowa), agreement is easy.  That was not true when the Democrats controlled all three when Chet Culver was Governor (2007-2011), and it was definitely not true this year, when Republicans are in full control.  You might think about it like a family feud; after months of not talking to each other they found a way to move on.  Moving on did mean some things got thrown into the mix at the end (like more election law changes and kids waking up the next morning to find out schools could not longer require masks in school) and other things were thrown overboard (like ethanol changes the Farm Bureau wanted and the Govenror's call for banning transgender girls from competing in girls' sports). 
 
30 Days:  Governor Kim Reynolds has 30 days from the end of session to review and take action on the bills that have been sent to her. She has three options: sign the bill into law, veto the bill (stopping it from becoming law), or doing nothing (which also stops it from becoming law - this is what is called a "pocket veto").  On budget bills, the Governor has the added option of using her line item veto authority to take out sections of a bill while still signing the rest of the bill. Given the exhaustive deal making that happened this year, we don’t think there will be many (or any) vetoes this year.
 
Masks in Schools: On some bills, Governor Reynolds won’t need the 30 days. One of those bills was HF 847, an education policy bill that was amended on Wednesday night to prohibit Iowa schools from having mask mandates. As  been widely reported, the bill was signed into law less than four hours later, shortly after midnight on Thursday morning, in time to be in force for the Thursday school day.  Earlier in the session, lawmakers passed and the Governor signed HF 889, which bans state or local government "vaccine passports" (documents that prove your vaccination status).
 
Last Minute Election Changes: Early in session, the Legislature passed and the Governor signed a bill (SF 413) that made major changes to Iowa's election laws that moved up the deadline for registering to vote before an election by five days (15 days before instead of 10 - but you can still go through the process of same day registration at the polls); shortened the early voting period from 29 days to 20 days; prohibiting non-family and non-household members from delivering or mailing your voted ballot (friends or neighbors would be guilty of a felony for taking your ballot to the post office for you); closing polls an hour early (so voting will be 7 am to 8 pm); moving voters who do not regularly vote to the "inactive" list that may end up requiring them to re-register to vote (basically you'll have to vote in each general election - held every two years - to stay "active"); gives the Secretary of State more control over county auditors; changes the earliest date a person can request an absentee (vote by mail) ballot to 70 days before the election (from 120 days); limits the local use of ballot drop boxes; and requires mail-in ballots be received in the county auditor's office by the time the polls close on Election Day.  Currently ballots will be counted if the postmark or bar code shows they were mailed before Election Day. County auditors are also not allowed to mail an absentee ballot request to a voter unless they have asked for it to be mailed (so no blanket mailing of requests to all voters). 
 
On the last night of the legislative session, legislators amended an elections bill (SF 568) that had been stalled for over a month, adding in a number of additional changes, including allowing outside groups to challenge Iowa elections in court.  One change made allows voters with disabilities and voters who are blind ("blind" is used in the legislation) to designate someone other than a family member, household member, or caregiver to take back their voted mail-in ballot.  The voter would have to fill out a form designating the other person as their ballot handler, and the designated person is only allowed to deliver the ballot in person to the county election office, where they will have to present the form, the ballot, and an ID. They will not be allowed to drop the ballot in the mail or in a dropbox.  These changes are pretty big - but rest assured; we'll spend more time before the next election helping you understand your rights and the new law.  If this concerns you or you have questions, join us at one of our Capitol Chats and we'll try to answer your questions or connect you with someone who can!
 
Legislative Highlights:  Groups opposing vaccines and mask mandates were active throughout the session this year; their advocacy led to dozens of bills being introduced and debated.  They all died, but they didn't give up until legislators did something.  That something was ending mask mandates in schools. This session also saw a lot of action on other Republican priorities, including tax cuts, state takeover of mental health funding, affordable housing, broadband (high-speed) Internet, childcare access, permitless carry for gun owners, manufacturing changes, police protections ( "Back the Blue" legislation), two constitutional amendments (guns & abortion), more funding for corrections after prison workers were killed in the line of duty, and landlord protections.   In addition: 
  • Health insurers will have to pay equally for telehealth-delivered mental health care, regardless of where the patient or the provider is located (telehealth payment parity). This was added to the tax plan that passed at the end of session (SF 619).  This has not yet been signed into law.
  • Iowa's regional mental health and disability services (MHDS) system will be entirely financed by the state, with a two-year phase out of the property taxes that have paid for the majority of services since the mid 1990s.  Also a part of the tax bill (SF 619), the plan will provide regions with an incentive fund to address shortfalls but make no changes to the service expectations in place now.  Legislators believe this will help address the inequities in funds availble thorughout the state and free counties up to join regions that may make more sense after removing  financial barriers. 
  • Additional layers of “public assistance oversight” that could have kicked people off food assistance, Medicaid, and family support did not pass!
  • Iowans will be able to convert their special needs or supplemental needs trusts into an ABLE Account without risking their eligibility for Medicaid or Social Security under HF 835, which was signed into law on May 20.  ABLE Accounts are more flexible, have higher investment limits, and are protected against most Medicaid estate recovery.  You can learn more about them at iable.gov.
  • Beginning November 1, courts will have to make sure a sign language interpreter is available at any legal proceeding involving a person who is deaf or hard of hearing. (HF 707which has been signed)
  • The Department of Human Services (DHS) is directed to make policy changes to ensure pediatric health services are covered by Medicaid when delivered by telehealth (including physical therapy, occupational therapy, applied behavior analysis, speech-language pathology). (HF 891which has not yet been signed)
  • Families receiving childcare assistance (including special needs childcare assistance) will have a ladder to step down as they earn more money, rather than a cliff they fall off (graduated eligibility), if HF 302 is signed into law. Also, more families will be able to receive the childcare tax credit if SF 619 is signed - the income threshold will double from $45,000 to $90,000.  Both are expected to be signed, as the Governor had recommended these and several other childcare changes in her Condition of the State speech in January. 
  • Massive changes that could have ended professional licensing and oversight boards for many state-regulated professions (including health care professions) did not pass.
  • Major election law changes as noted above that combined shorten and complicate early voting, especially for those that rely on the assistance of others to exercise this constitutional right. (SF 413SF 568)
  • The Governor did sign a bill that stops cities and counties from passing local laws that prevent landlords from discriminating against a tenant who uses federal housing choice vouchers to pay their rent.  Three communities - Marion, Iowa City, Des Moines - have passed these ordinances. They will stay in effect for two years (until January 1, 2023), but no new communities will be able to pass enforce similar laws.  Two out of every three people using these vouchers are either a person with a disabiity or an older person. (SF 252)

Bills that would have rolled back (or fixed) some of the changes made last year in the guardianship laws did not pass, but there are a few of these bills that will become "live rounds" in 2022.  Many other bills failed to make it through the entire legislative process this year and will also be eligible again for debate in 2022 , including bills that would have created a public portal to a direct caregiver database (HF 692), controlled the rising cost of prescription medication (HF 263HF 526), required adult changing stations in almost all public places (HF 306), set up a program to help offset home modification costs (HF 506), developed milestones and school plans for deaf and hard of hearing children (HF 604), required AEA services to be provided to a child in school regardless of whether they attend a private or public school (SF 168), and required insurers to pay for treatment of PANS/PANDAs (SSB1200). You can see more about these and other bills in our Bill Tracker

 



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