DES MOINES, Iowa — It’s make it or break time for some controversial bills at the statehouse. Iowa lawmakers are working to prioritize what will make it through funnel week. Here’s a look at what legislation is and isn’t expected to survive.
‘School choice’ bill
One of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ priorities is the “school choice” bill. It will likely pass because Republican leaders have expressed overall support for it. The legislation would create a scholarship fund for a few hundred K-12 students to go to private schools. It advanced out of a House subcommittee on Tuesday. The legislation has been controversial among Iowa parents.
“We can’t always ensure equal outcomes but I do believe we can ensure equity of opportunity by allowing all children to go to the school their family decides is best for them,” said Iowa parent Grant Goldsberry.
But others are opposed to using public tax dollars to fund scholarships to private schools.
“We simply oppose public dollars toward private schools without the same oversight, transparency, expectations and accountability that should accompany those public funds,” said Margaret Buckton, executive director of the Urban Education Network.
A bill that would no longer require Iowans to have a permit to buy or carry a firearm also advanced this week.
Under this bill, Iowans would still need to pass a federal background check or present a permit if they buy a gun from a federally-licensed dealer. However, private citizens could sell guns to one another without needing to get a permit. It’s a measure that was heavily questioned by Democrats on Tuesday.
“This is a threat to safety. Iowans support the permit to carry and background checks,” Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, said.
But some Republicans said this legislation will not prevent bad actors from committing crimes, but allow law-abiding citizens to appropriately exercise their rights.
“When you talk about permits and little pieces of paper, these won’t stop evil people from killing innocent people,” said Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison.
Even though Iowans will not have to show a permit when purchasing a gun from private citizens, it would be a class D felony to sell, rent or loan a firearm to a person the seller “knows or reasonably should know” is not allowed to own a gun. That person could face up to five years in prison.
“As a private citizen if I don’t know the person really, really well that I’m contemplating selling a firearm to, I’m going to go to a federally licensed firearms dealer and I’m going to say: ‘handle this for me.’ So I believe and continue to believe that we’re going to increase background checks with this legislation,” Holt said.
That argument did not hold water with Wessel-Kroeschell, who said Iowans support the permit to carry and background check requirements for purchase. She argued this will make Iowa a less appealing state to live in.
“We have a lot of controversial bills affecting Iowa’s image and hurting business and workforce recruitment,” she said. “I believe this is one of them.”
The measure passed in the House Public Safety Committee on Tuesday. It will be brought up in the Senate committee Wednesday and is expected to pass and survive.
Another contentious bill was one that would require transgender Iowans to use the bathroom according to the sex on their birth certificate. The measure, along with several other bills advocates say are “anti-LGBTQ“, historically have not made it far in the legislative process.
Rep. Dustin Hite, R-New Sharon, chairs the House Education Committee and said he does not have plans to give that bill a hearing in the final meeting Wednesday.
“The reason I haven’t assigned them a subcommittee is not because I don’t understand the issues of the proponents of those bills but I also understand the issues on the other sides of those bills,” Hite said on Iowa Press. “We have to be extremely careful that we don’t come across as hateful.”
Additionally, Rep. Holt, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, told WHO 13 News that he does have any intention of bringing a bill that would strip gender identity from the Iowa Civil Rights Act to his committee for a vote.
The 1619 Project bill
WHO 13 previously reported on a bill that would ban the New York Times’ The 1619 Project from being taught in Iowa schools. The 1619 Project aims to reevaluate how slavery contributed to the founding of the United States. The bill got a lot of attention, but it is likely dead.
“There’s concern that us dictating what schools shouldn’t teach maybe starts to get out of line,” Hite said on Iowa Press.
Criminal justice bill
A bill that got mixed reaction from lobbyists and the public is the governor’s sweeping criminal justice bill. It would increase penalties for some offenses, deny state funding for cities that cut police budgets, and ban racial profiling. The Senate has one 64-page bill for it, but the House has several separate ones.
Speaker of the House Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, told reporters on Friday not to read into the fact that there has not been significant action on that legislation yet.
“In the House, we wanted to make sure we are vetting it and dividing it into a couple different pieces of legislation. Just because the entirety of one bill doesn’t move doesn’t mean there aren’t things we don’t support,” Grassley said.
The Governor’s bill has several provisions, but here are five key aspects:
- It would ban racial profiling
- Create a data system to track and analyze police stop data by race and ethnicity
- Allow officers to sue over injuries and false reports
- Create harsher penalties for unlawful assembly, rioting, disorderly conduct, harassment or assault of a police officer
- Deny state funds to cities or counties that cut police budgets
Democrats and opponents have criticized the bill, saying it is misleading to call it a criminal justice bill when it “does more harm than good.”
“We’ve certainly been advocating for a meaningful racial profiling bill here in Iowa that would prevent, frankly, ban it,” Mark Stringer of the ACLU of Iowa said. “This bill doesn’t really do that, and it does a lot of really bad things too.”
Republicans have expressed support for the legislation overall, so it will likely survive funnel week.
Sen. Braud Zaun, R-Urbandale, chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and said the legislation is necessary after the “attacks” he saw on law enforcement during Black Lives Matter protests this summer.
“The most important thing is I want to make sure that people who are being disrespectful to police officers are prosecuted,” he said.
The Friday funnel week deadline excludes the following bills: appropriations, ways and means, government oversight, legalizing acts, administrative rules review, and committee bills related to delayed or suspended administrative rules. Even if bills don’t pass out of committee, leadership can always add certain aspects into an amendment later on.