Dear Senate District 48
– Week 15 –
This Week in the Senate
This, the 15th Week of the Legislative Session, was filled with debate. The Senate was successful in bringing several pieces of legislation to the floor during some long hours of debate and addressing some important priorities for Iowans.
Adding Flexibility for Education
On Monday, the Senate passed SF 391. The goal of this bill is to create some flexibility to help districts best meet the needs of their specific schools. This includes making the required courses for students more flexible, allowing for students to opt out of physical education if they are involved in a work-based learning program or other physical activities. It will also make school district agreements with community colleges more flexible by no longer requiring a district to have at least 600 students in order to allow a community college instructor to teach any unit of coursework, and will allow schools to hire former public librarians as school librarians.
Addressing the Fentanyl Crisis
Most of us have heard about the fentanyl problem in our country and in our state. Since 2019, opioid-related deaths have increased by 45% in Iowa. Fentanyl is deadly, even in very small doses. Because of these rising numbers, Governor Reynolds called for increasing the sentences for fentanyl-related crimes at her Condition of the State address this year. To answer this call, we passed HF 595. This legislation will increase the penalties for the sale, distribution, or possession of fentanyl. Penalties would be further increased if the violation involved sale to a minor or the death of another person. With the opioid crisis running rampant, and fentanyl flowing across the southern border, we are proud to take these steps to protect Iowans.
Allowing Iowa Students to Work
Also this week, the Senate passed SF 542, giving more opportunities to Iowa teenagers to learn responsibility and the dignity of work. First, the bill makes changes to the hours 14- and 15-year-olds can work. Currently, they are permitted to work up to 8 hours/day and up to 40 hours/week when school is not in session and up to 4 hours/day and up to 28 hours/week when school is in session. The bill would change this to include up to 6 hours/day during the school year, but would still cap the total weekly hours at 28 for any given week. This change will be especially helpful because it would give this age group the ability to work more on weekends rather than school nights.
An additional part of this bill gives 14- and 15-year-olds more flexibility of when their shifts can occur. Currently, this group’s shifts can begin as early as 7 AM year-round. The bill did not change that part of the law. However, the bill would allow shifts during the school year to go as late as 9 PM versus the current 7 PM. During the summer, shifts could go as late as 11 PM versus the current 9 PM. This provides teenagers with more flexibility in their schedule so they could theoretically work and participate in an extracurricular activity if they wanted.
A third part of the bill would allow 16–17-year-olds to serve alcohol with parental consent in restaurants. 16- and 17-year-olds cannot do so in bars. In fact, under the bill, they are prohibited from working in a bar.
The last major piece of the bill allows waivers to be issued to students participating in approved work-based learning programs. The students need parental consent to participate in these programs and to be approved, the programs must meet certain criteria and requirements regarding safety and education. The waivers allow the participating students more flexibility in both hours and the specific work activities so they can receive hands on experience and training as they prepare for their career after high school.
Let’s Talk Taxes – Real, Permanent Property Tax Relief Passes Iowa Senate
There is much confusion for most Iowans around how property taxes are figured. In Iowa, property taxes are levied by more than 2,000 local taxing districts. Counties, cities, townships, school districts, and special districts, like community college districts, hospital districts, and sanitation districts, all have taxing authority. While Iowa places limits on property tax rates per $1,000 of assessed value, counties and cities can have supplemental levy rates for certain services.
In 2021, the Legislature passed property tax relief for Iowans, eliminating a property tax levy, which should have saved taxpayers $100 million. However, most counties in the state did not pass those savings onto the property taxpayer. As I mentioned in a previous newsletter, now, amid rapidly increasing assessments, fears on the tax burden to come, and confusion about where to turn, Iowans are reaching out to their legislators.
SF 569 provides over $100 million in relief to Iowa property taxpayers and is aimed at controlling the growth of property taxes and increasing transparency in property taxes and local government spending. It pushes local governments to follow the legislature’s example to budget responsibly, invest in important priorities, and provide tax relief to the taxpayers.
The bill provides $57 million in new property tax exemptions, $4.5 million in tax levy elimination and an estimated $45.4 million in city and county levy reform. To help control the growth of property taxes and rampant spending by local governments, Senate File 569 automatically reduces rates when assessments rise, restores basic levy limitations taxpayers rely on to control spending, eliminates loopholes abused by local governments to exceed limits set by law, and simplifies and consolidates 17 levies.
Senate File 569 also brings more transparency to the property tax process and gives property taxpayers more information on what exactly they are getting for their tax dollars. The bill requires cities, counties, and schools to contact property owners and notify them of upcoming changes to their property tax bill and requires those same entities to deliver to property owners a standardized statement with consistent and clear information related to the local budget.
Iowans all across the state have been looking for property tax relief, especially with the arrival of new assessments over the last few weeks. This bill gets at the core of rising property taxes and offers property taxpayers real, permanent relief.
Welfare Reform Advances
Late last week, the Iowa House passed SF 494. This is the welfare reform bill that the Senate approved last month. This policy has been a priority for Senate Republicans for several years. This bill directs the executive branch to use technology and private sector tools to verify the people receiving benefits are citizens, residents of Iowa, and meet other federal and state requirements to receive benefits.
The bill also implements an asset test in coordination with federal guidelines with exceptions for up to two vehicles. These are changes that will help ensure the program is protected for the Iowans who legitimately need these public assistance programs.
Fraud in various public assistance programs has existed since the inception of those programs. That fraud aggravates taxpayers and rightly so. Working Iowans, who sacrifice to provide for their families and pay their taxes, should not have to pay for the benefits for those who do not need it. Senate Republicans look forward to the enhanced protections around Iowa’s public assistance programs to ensure they are available to people truly in need, and are not being taken advantage of by those without a true need.