What's alive and what isn't in the Iowa Statehouse

Published: Apr. 7, 2019 at 3:13 PM CDT
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Legislation aimed to help stop animal cruelty, allow sports betting and provide easier access to birth control survived the cutoff during Friday’s “funnel” deadline at the Iowa Statehouse.

Here’s a look at which bills are closer to becoming law and which ones did not survive. (Note: The rule does not apply to certain bills regarding state spending and taxes.)

Animal cruelty

- The bill heightens the criminal penalties for animal abuse and neglect, animal torture and abandonment. It exempts farm livestock and some wild animals.

Failure to provide an animal with access to food, drinkable water, sanitary shelter, veterinary care and grooming could be considered animal abuse, punishable by two years in prison. A second offense would be a felony carrying up to five years in prison.

Animal torture, which is intentionally causing prolonged suffering or death, would be a felony punishable by up to five years. Abandoning an animal could carry a 30-day jail sentence, a year in jail if the animal is injured or two years if it suffers a serious injury.

Sports betting

- Iowa lawmakers are considering legalizing sports betting. The legislation offers opportunities for competing groups – including state-licensed casinos, a horse-racing group, the Iowa Lottery and professional sports organizations – to run sports gambling operations.

Lawmakers drafted the bills to give various gambling interests a chance to argue why they’d offer the best sports betting platform. Legislative leaders said they plan to support a single plan that allows one or more organizations to run sports gambling.

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission would regulate operations run by casinos, professional leagues or horse groups while the Iowa Lottery would oversee such betting if its plan is approved.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last May that states can legalize sports betting. Eight states accept bets and several others are considering laws that would enable sports betting.

Birth control

- Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ birth control bill would make it easier for women to access contraceptives without a doctor’s prescription. Under the measure, pharmacists would have the power to dispense birth control.

"It is responsible," said Republican Sen. Chris Cournoyer, of LeClaire. "It is under the supervision of a pharmacist, and it is an established, proven method of birth control that has worked for many women across this country for many, many years."

The bill has wide bipartisan support, but some GOP legislators voted against it.

Medical marijuana

- Legislators are trying to raise the amount of THC levels in medical marijuana and expand the list of state-approved conditions that can use it. THC is the active component in cannabis that makes recreational pot users get high.

“The dosage that we had for the cannabis oil was so low that it wasn’t useful for a lot of people with seizures and pain reduction,” said state Rep. Bruce Hunter, a Democrat from Des Moines.

Lawmakers originally made changes this year to remove the 3% cap on the amount of THC available in medical cannabis. The latest bill puts the cap at 25 grams per 90 days to a point. A patient can get more but would need a special waiver.

Property tax limit

- House Republicans want to stop cities and counties from raising property taxes by more than 2%. The bill would allow voters to seek a referendum to approve spending increases above 2%.

Republican state Rep. Lee Hein, of Monticello, said lawmakers have heard from voters concerned about rising property taxes. County officials oppose the bill, which would take effect July 1, 2020.

House representatives also introduced a bill that would allow cities to create ordinances so property taxes could not be raised on residents over 70 years old.

Public funds for private education

- The Republican-led Senate voted for a bill that would have allowed public funds – traditionally used for public schools – to be used for students to attend private schools. The measure would have given parents taxpayer-funded grants to send their child to a private school of their choice.

Lawmakers had amended the bill to limit grants to students with Individualized Education Programs or 504 Plans, which usually cater to students with special needs. Proponents of the measure argued that it spurs competition and saves Iowa money, as the payments would represent 87% of what the state already spends to send children to public schools.

Felon voting rights restoration

- One of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ top priorities for this year, a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights for felons, failed to make it through a Senate panel.

Reynolds said in a statement that she was disappointed but remains committed to changing the law. Senate Judiciary Chairman Brad Zaun pulled the measure from the Thursday afternoon committee agenda, saying he didn't have votes among his own Republican caucus.

People convicted of felonies now have voting rights revoked unless restored by the governor. Only Iowa and Kentucky have such strict requirements.

Fetal homicide

- A bill that would have sent a person to prison for life if they cause the death of a fetus failed to advance through the Statehouse. The measure would have applied even if the death was an accident or in cases in which someone didn’t know the mother was pregnant.

Republican Sen. Jake Chapman, of Adel, had amended the bill to make the death of a fetus a life-in-prison crime, the same as someone convicted of murder. Language equates such deaths to “killing an unborn person.”

Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen said the amendment made the bill a personhood bill and was unconstitutional. She said it could have prompted criminal investigations of women who lose babies through miscarriage or stillbirth.

Medicaid work requirements

- A bill would have required the state to apply for a waiver from the federal government allowing the Iowa Department of Human Services to impose a “community engagement activity” participation requirement on Medicaid recipients.

That means those seeking benefits under Iowa’s Medicaid program – which provides services for about 625,000 poor or disabled Iowans – would need to work 20 or more hours per week, averaged over a six-month period, to be eligible.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, a Republican from Ankeny, said “expecting able-bodied adults on Medicaid to work, volunteer or go to school is a commonsense policy.”

Statute of limitations

- The bill would have ended the statute of limitations for filing criminal charges against people accused of sex crimes against minors. Proponents of the measure said Iowa should not be a “sanctuary state” for predators.

Right now, sexual abuse charges must be filed within 10 years after the victim turns 18 or within three years of an alleged perpetrator being identified by DNA evidence.

‘Ag-gag’ law

- Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law a bill designed to prosecute people who get hired at a farm in order to work undercover to report on animal living conditions. It creates a trespass charge for undercover investigators.

An animal welfare group that successfully sued the state for a previous so-called ag-gag law said it will sue again to challenge the new law’s constitutionality. The measure came two months after a federal judge struck down an Iowa law passed in 2012 that the court concluded violated free-speech rights. That ruling is on appeal.

Free speech

- The Iowa governor signed a bill backed by conservative groups that requires public universities and community colleges to implement policies protecting free speech on campus.

The legislation mandates that schools consider what changes they need to make to maintain the “fullest degree of intellectual freedom and free expression.”

Conservative students and groups nationwide complain that their free speech rights have been restricted on liberal campuses in recent years, triggering a series of proposals from state legislators.