The 2022 Iowa legislative session ended early this Wednesday morning, with final decisions over the past two days on a nearly $8.3 billion state budget plan.
Senate Republican Leader Jack Whitver of Ankeny said the year’s top accomplishment, though, happened nearly three months ago.
“The tax reforms that we passed back in February and the governor signed March 1st is the biggest bill that we passed this year,” Whitver told Radio Iowa. “It’s probably the biggest bill, the most impactful bill we’ve passed in the six years of our trifecta.”
Republicans hold a majority of seats in the Iowa House and Senate and, along with Republican Governor Kim Reynolds, they agreed to shrink the state’s income tax down to one rate of just under four percent by 2026.
.Republican House Speaker Pat Grassley said that tax plan is “the crown jewel” of the 2022 session.
“We worked with the Senate and the governor to accomplish that early in the session,” Grassley told reporters early this morning. “…We continued to pass budgets that are sustainable for the future of Iowa.”
Governor Kim Reynolds had asked lawmakers to approve $55 million worth of state scholarships to cover private school expenses for 10,000 students, but her plan did not have enough support among House Republicans. House Democratic Leader Jennifer Konfrst of Windsor Heights said the governor’s extended lobbying unnecessarily delayed the end of the session.
“It’s ridiculous that we had to wait so long for a bill that we knew wasn’t going to pass because Iowans don’t support school vouchers,” Konfrst said.
Some Republican lawmakers had discussed parents’ objections to certain school materials and proposed new criminal penalties for teachers and school librarians, but those proposals were scrapped.
“One by one they all died,” Konfrst told reporters earlier this evening, “because they’re not good for kids and they’re not what Iowans want.”
In the final bill introduced tonight in the House and Senate, GOP lawmakers decided to allow open enrollment transfers from one public school to any other public school, at any time during the school year if there’s room at the new school for that student.
“This is doing things for people: parents and students,” Representative Gary Mohr, a Republican from Bettendorf, said during debate, “…giving them a choice year-round, whether they feel a need to stay in that school or feel a need to open enroll out.”
Under current law, open enrollment transfer requests must be made by March 1 and are restricted to adjacent school districts. Representative Mary Mascher, a Democrat from Iowa City, suggested the change will lead to school closures and district mergers.
“You could see exodus from some of our public schools in rural areas and small towns,” Mascher said, “to the point where they would no longer be able to exist.”
Legislators this week voted to erase income taxes on the $1000 bonuses Governor Reynolds distributed to teachers and police out of federal pandemic funds. The bill also erases sales taxes on period products as well as diapers for babies and adults. Senator Janet Petersen, a Democrat from Des Moines, said these are costly items and getting rid of the sales tax on these purchases makes sense.
“Iowans should be grateful to see at least one promising thing in the tax package that really will impact people’s pocketbook,” Petersen said.
A ban on private donations to state and county election offices was included in the final bill to pass the legislature. The move came after Republicans raised objections to private grants from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife that helped buy voting equipment and pay staff for the 2020 election.
On Monday, legislators approved changes in Iowa’s popular Bottle Bill. The House and Senate also voted to establish a moratorium on new casinos in Iowa. If the governor signs the bill into law, it will effectively end the latest attempt to secure a casino license for the city of Cedar Rapids.
Whitver said due to the pandemic, legislators have had to navigate difficult issues over the past two years.
“Ultimately, this General Assembly, the two-year General Assembly, is going to go down as one of the most unique we’ve ever had,” Whitver said.
The final bill to clear the 2022 legislature gives the state insurance commission more authority to collect information about the conduct of pharmacy benefit managers. PBMs are companies that manage prescription drug benefits provided by insurance companies, large private employers and Medicare Part D. It cleared the Senate 44-0 before midnight, then the House passed it.
The Senate adjourned at 12:10 a.m., with the House following at 12:16 a.m.