Taylor Collins Capitol Connection Newsletter

To the People of House District 95

There are many indicators that tell us as legislators that the state is headed in the right direction, but over the past month that evidence has become overwhelming clear as rankings have come in naming Iowa not only the best place to retire, but the 2nd best state for healthcare. It wasn’t easy getting here – but there is always more work to be done. Over the last few weeks we have also seen mask mandates and other COVID restrictions returning in many east and west coast states. As I will share with you below, Iowa will not participate in this hysteria.
Governor Reynolds on Future COVID Restrictions: “Not on my Watch”

On Wednesday this week, Governor Reynolds released the following statement in response to many Iowans wondering if COVID restrictions will come to Iowa like what we are seeing in many east and west coast states:

“Since news broke of COVID-19 restrictions being re-instated at some colleges and businesses across the U.S., concerned Iowans have been calling my office asking whether the same could happen here. My answer—not on my watch. In Iowa, government respects the people it serves and fights to protect their rights. I rejected the mandates and lockdowns of 2020, and my position has not changed.”

Simply put, our position has not changed – Iowa will not participate in Biden’s perpetual biomedical security state.

Iowa is the BEST State to Retire

Recently, Bankrate rated Iowa the number one state for retirement after consideration of affordability, overall well-being, cost of quality healthcare, weather, and crime. Bankrate stated that affordability was weighted most heavily and given the massive tax cuts the Iowa GOP has passed recently—it is no surprise that Iowa scored well.

The other states in the top five after Iowa were Delaware, West Virginia, Missouri, and Mississippi. The worst? Alaska. It was number 50 largely because of weather and affordability. The others in the bottom five were just as equally not surprising—New York, California, Washington, and Massachusetts.

Iowa got big praise for being a cheap place to live with an average median home price of less than $240,000. This is well below the national average of $388,800. Bankrate also noted that Iowa does not tax retirement income or social security, and has good quality health care. The report noted that Iowa rates in the middle of the pack tax-wise, but that ranking is expected to improve in a big way once the 3.9 percent flat tax hits in tax year 2026.

Iowa Ranked 2nd Best State for Health Care

Wallet Hub recently released it’s 2023’s Best & Worst States for Health Care, and Iowa came away with 2nd place nationally. Broken down by category had Iowa ranked 2nd for cost, 6th for outcomes, and 25th for access.

Even with these rankings, the legislature continues to prioritize expanding access and affordability for health care. Below is a list of a few of the bills that the Governor signed this year to continue to improve health care in every corner of the state.

•    Rural Emergency Hospitals – SF75 establishes licensure in Iowa for Rural Emergency Hospitals. This bill also requires ambulatory surgical centers to be licensed in Iowa.
•    Family Medicine OB Fellowships – SF561 funds four annual family medicine obstetric fellowships. In order to participate, the family medicine doctor must commit to remaining in Iowa and serving rural and underserved areas for 5 years after completing their fellowship.
•    Medical Malpractice – HF161 limits the total amount of noneconomic damages for a medical malpractice claim at $1 million, or at $2 million when involving a hospital, when there has been a loss of bodily function, substantial disfigurement, loss of pregnancy, or death. Includes an inflationary factor.
•    Mental Health Rate Increase – The HHS budget (SF561) provides $13 million in increased state funding towards mental health and substance abuse Medicaid rates. In total with federal funding, this is over $35 million increase to ensure that the state can recruit and retain mental health providers to care for Iowans in need. These increases came based on a Medicaid rate review that compared Iowa’s mental health rates to surrounding states and to Medicare.
•    Psychologist Prescribing – House File 183 removes the requirement that a psychologist complete certain requirements within 5 years of being issued a conditional prescription certificate. This bill also changes that the physician supervising does not need to be board-certified in specific specialties.
•    Psychiatrist Public Fellowship – House File 274 revises the state-funded psychiatry residency program that was established last session, to include two fellowship positions. The program will annually graduate 9 psychiatry residents and 2 psychiatry fellows.
•    Professional Counselors Licensure Compact – HF671 is a licensure compact for professional counselors to practice in their home state or a member state of the compact.
•    Physician Assistants – House File 424 repeals requirements that physician assistants practice under the supervision of a physician, and instead requires collaboration, including psychiatric PAs.
•    PT Imaging – HF 174 allows physical therapists to order diagnostic imaging and requires results to be provided to the patient’s primary care provider.
•    Optometrists – HF347 allows licensed optometrists to administer local anesthetics to patients prior to performing certain authorized surgical procedures.
•    Podiatrists – HF635 allows someone who has completed 2 years of an approved residency to apply for a podiatrist license.
Mental Health Non-Competes – House File 93 prohibits noncompete agreements with mental health providers, allowing the provider to stay with their patient.

Update on Operation Lone Star

As I shared in my last newsletter, last month Iowa deployed 109 Iowa National Guard Soldiers to assist in a multi-state effort to secure the border called Operation Lone Star. This month 30 Iowa Department of Public Safety personnel will be sent to the border to continue these efforts while President Biden continues to ignore the crisis. As of last week, 14 other states are assisting in the operation—including Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

In a press briefing last week with Governor Reynolds, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw outlined the success of Operation Lone Star’s border security efforts, noting that just Texas DPS alone has seized over 426 MILLION lethal doses of deadly fentanyl—enough to kill every man, woman, and child in the United States.

As I shared last month, I’ll be getting a look at the situation first hand at the end this month as I head to McAllen Texas – the epicenter of the crisis.

New School Year…More Student Privacy

During the 2023 legislative session, parents across Iowa contacted members of the legislature concerned about the privacy of their children in school. There were reports of biological male students using female changing rooms, bathrooms, and at least one instance of female students forced to share a hotel room with a biological male student on a school trip. House Republicans know that violating the privacy of these minor boys and girls not only places unneeded mental stress upon them but places them in a position that no child should have to navigate. Senate File 482 was created to address this issue and ensure that students, nearly all of them minors, are not forced to share a space with students of the opposite biological sex while they are using the restroom or changing clothes. The bill passed both the House and Senate and took effect March 22nd.

Senate File 482 is simple and straightforward, it requires schools to designate bathrooms and changing rooms for either boys or girls. Girls are required to use a girl’s bathroom or changing room and boys are required to use a boy’s bathroom or changing room. If there is any conflict or confusion, the sex listed on the child’s original birth certificate clarifies what facility the child shall use. These requirements also apply when there are extracurricular activities outside of the school building. This ensures girls and boys each have the privacy they should expect in a school.

If a child wants greater privacy than provided by law, their parents can send a letter to the school requesting a reasonable accommodation. A reasonable accommodation does not allow a biological boy to use a biological girl’s bathroom or vice versa but does allow the child access to a single occupancy restroom or changing area, or controlled use of faculty restrooms or changing areas.

There are exceptions to the bill for parents assisting a child who cannot use the restroom or changing room by themselves, janitorial and maintenance staff if the room is empty, allowing access to anyone providing emergency medical care, and in a disaster or emergency where it is necessary to protect students from a threat.

The new law also gives a clear course of action if a person believes the law has been violated. Potential violations should be addressed to the school first and after that a person can file a complaint with the Attorney General. That complaint must include a copy of the written notice provided to the school and a signed statement describing the violation. The Attorney General must investigate the claim and can pursue legal action if it is warranted.

Protecting the privacy of children should be a priority for all of us. Children shouldn’t be subjected to destructive and anti-common sense gender ideology and should have their privacy protected wherever they go – especially at school.

House GOP Prioritized Taxpayers Over Tax Spenders 

Recently, there have been several articles written that give the impression that the property tax reform bill of the 2023 session was done in haste with little consideration for the cities and counties. The articles only interests so far have been how much smaller their increase in tax revenue will be because of the House File 718. In 2023 House Republicans deliberately changed the focus on property tax reform / relief from ensuring local government budgets were to protected to making sure the local property taxpayers’ budget were protected. It is worth pointing out that the legislation passed both chambers with only one “no” vote and minimal controversy.

The following breaks down the 14 divisions of the bill and provides a brief explanation of what each division does. The most important takeaway from the legislation is that the property taxpayer is the focus and priority in this bill. House File 718 was the response to skyrocketing assessments that many local officials were all too glad to accept the windfall from—all while telling Iowans the levy didn’t change. The vast majority of the time, when assessments go up, Iowans’ property tax bills go up.  Assurances from local officials that levies didn’t go up mean little when Iowans are forced to shell out more of their dollars for property that likely hasn’t changed in the last year.

Division I—County Property Taxes and Budgets
See Division II (same thing happens here for counties as does for cities in Division II).
•    General Basic County Levy ($3.50)/Rural Basic County Levy ($3.95).
•    Levies not impacted: pioneer cemetery, debt service, EMS, LE, flood and erosion, natural disaster.
For FY 2029 and after, the maximum county general services rate for all counties is limited to $3.50. Rural county services tax rates are limited in the same manner as discussed above, but the limit is based on the rate of growth in a county’s rural tax base and the current year’s rural county services tax rate, with references to the $3.50 tax rate changed to $3.95.

Division II—City Property Taxes and Budgets
Creates a new general maximum levy by combining levies with current general levy.
•    Takes whatever you are currently levying for your $8.10. (counties $3.50/3.95)
•    Adds whatever you are currently levying in most voted-in levies—15 in total (memorial building, civic center, emergency, etc.)
•    This is your new combined maximum general levy.
•    Levies not impacted: municipal transit, aviation authority, insurance premiums, local emergency management, EMS, liability, debt service, IPERS, LE, police/fire retirement, and ag land.
Then the bill then sets taxable value growth triggers to adjust the property tax rate down.
•    If taxable valuation grows 6% or more -> growth rate is reduced by 3% and the levy is recalculated
•    If taxable valuation grows 3 to 5.99% -> growth rate is reduced by 2% and the levy is recalculated
•    If taxable valuation grows less than 3% -> no recalculation
The levy growth recalculation will occur for the FY 25-28 budgets then Divisions I and II sunset after the 2028 budget. For FY 2029 and after, the maximum city general levy rate for all cities will be limited to $8.10.

Division III—Public Education and Recreation Tax Levy (PERL)
PERL restriction – No new levies.
Current levies are grandfathered in.

Division IV—County Sheriff Fee Report
County Sheriff Fee Report eliminated.

Division V—Homestead Property Tax Credit
New 65 and over Exemption (not income restricted and in addition to regular homestead credit)
•    2024 – $3,250
•    2025 – $6,500

Division VI—Military Service Property Tax Exemption and Credit
Military service credit is currently an exemption that gets paid for in part by the state through a credit.
This division increases the exemption amount for veterans and eliminates the state funding for the credit.  $1,852 (credit) becomes a $4,000 (exemption).

Division VII—Property Tax Benefits and Incentives
•    Requires minimum assessment agreements on commercial abatements.
•    Prospectively eliminates residential abatement just on the school levy (404-Urban Revitalization Areas)
•    Does not affect TIF, RIZ, etc.

Division VIII—Transit Funding
DART – allows for funding using increased franchise fees.

Division IX—County Auditor Valuation Reports
Requires an annual report to DOM that distinguishes valuations within a tax jurisdiction.
Identify new growth vs. organic growth due to assessment increases.

Division X—Local Government Budgets and Taxpayer Statements
•    For cities, counties, and school districts it sets up a new hearing within the budget process for information mailed to the taxpayer. These entities will have to deliver to property owners a standardized statement and show percentages of the budget each represents.
•    Budget deadlines are extended to April 30.

Division XI—Driver’s Licenses and Non Operators’ Identification Cards
$10 optional county convenience fee for DLs or IDs for non-county residents.

Division XII—Writing Fees
$2 mandatory fee for title or transferring title of snowmobiles, ATVs, boats.

Division XIII—Bond Elections 
Moves all elections for bonding to the general election date (every November).
Notice is to be sent to taxpayers.

Division XIV—County and City Financing 
Debt Thresholds: Increases bonding threshold by 30%. (Can do more expensive projects without a vote).
In addition, for general obligation bonds, it will index values.

Michigan Election Questions Highlight Need for Iowa’s Strong Election Integrity Laws

Recent reports on how the 2020 election in Michigan was handled continue to not only raise questions about election integrity in general but also highlight the strides the Iowa Legislature has taken to strengthen and increase Iowa’s election security and Iowans’ trust in the results.

One of those actions taken was Senate File 413 which was a robust election bill addressing voter registration maintenance for county auditors, increasing and strengthening election misconduct penalties, better oversight for county election officials, more protection of voters’ personal information, and additional reporting on absentee ballot requests and mailings.

Under the new law, county auditors and the Secretary of State are required to conduct routine voter list maintenance. County auditors are now required to make reasonable efforts to remove from the list of registered voters the names of voters who have changed residence from their registered address. County auditors are required to use the USPS national change of address program to keep correctly maintained voter registration lists. In the first quarter of each year, county auditors are required to send notices to voters who did not participate in the last general election.

Auditors also must send a notice to voters that if they do not respond or update their registration they’re status will be inactive. This has led to over 230,000 registrations cancelled since January 1, 2021.

Another issue seen in Michigan and other states is large discrepancies in number of absentee ballots turned in and when they were processed. SF 413 established a deadline of 8 p.m. on election night in order to be counted. If an absentee ballot is not in possession of the county auditor by then, it cannot be counted. Additionally, once the mailing period for absentee ballots has begun, daily reports on absentee ballot requests sent, received, completed and then received by all county auditors and the Secretary of State will be published. This has increased transparency to provide an concrete expectation of a maximum number of ballots there should be at 8 p.m. on election night.

There were also many claims of lopsided partisan canvassing in Michigan. In Iowa, all election board canvasses are comprised of bipartisan members at each polling location. After the polls close the bipartisan election board canvasses the votes at each polling place. This canvass is done publicly to credit each candidate with the number of votes for the candidates and a member from each party keeps a separate tally of the count to be compared. The election board then prepares a written report of the election results and the results are delivered to the county auditor in person by a precinct election official. Before adjourning, the election board encloses the paper ballots in a container with a tamper evident seal and returned to the county auditor to be kept securely for a minimum of 6 months for non federal elections and 22 months for federal elections. Following the election, the Secretary of State randomly audits one precinct in each county (in 2022 the Secretary’s office audited two precincts in each county) to ensure that the results match the ballots and the paper receipt from the tabulators. In addition to the county audits, candidates within a certain percentage of votes of winning are entitled to request and receive an official recount of votes. Iowa’s elections are conducted off-line and with transparency. At precinct, county, and state levels boards publicly canvass and certify the results of the elections. Audits, and if necessary, recounts are conducted to ensure the official election results are accurate.

One of the biggest issues casting doubt upon the Michigan election results is ballot harvesting. There have been reports of massive drop-offs of absentee ballots arriving at one time. In 2021, Senate File 568 was enacted to address ballot harvesting. House Republicans have worked to strengthen the integrity of our absentee ballot system by limiting ballot drop boxes and who can and cannot return a ballot on behalf of a voter. Following the enactment of Senate File 568, Iowa Code clearly defines who is allowed to return a voters’ absentee ballot. The only individuals allowed to return someone else’s ballot are an individual who lives in the same household of the voter, an immediate family member related to the voter, a person authorized in accordance to law for a confined person, and a designated delivery agent. A delivery agent can be a registered voter who is not the voter’s employer, agent of the employer, an officer or agent of the voter’s union, or a person acting as an agent of a political party. Delivery agents are not allowed to return more than 2 absentee ballots in a general election. Delivery agents are able to deliver absentee ballots for voters who are unable to deliver their ballot due to blindness or another physical disability.

Additionally, county auditors in Iowa are allowed to establish only one ballot drop box that is secured and monitored on county property. These drop boxes are required to be emptied and recorded at least four times a day during the absentee voting period to ensure that ballots are counted and not left unattended for a long period.

In a 2022 Bloomberg study on every state’s election susceptibility, Iowa received high scores for its ballot security. Of the major benchmarks for ballot security, Iowa has had many of them for years. The election policies Iowa has in place that earned its high ranking in the Bloomberg study include simple and widely supported measures such as voter ID requirements. Others that have recently been enacted have strengthen Iowa’s score were voter roll maintenance, like removing deceased voters and voters who have moved out of state and / or districts.  Additionally, having a mail ballot deadline and regular election audits earned Iowa additional marks in the study.

It is clear that Iowans have faith in our elections and trust the outcomes. While the work to ensure election integrity is never over, House Republicans have led the way in enacting legislation to protect the election process while enabling Iowans the fundamental right to vote.

Watch Your Mouth In Michigan as Left-Coast Insanity Takes Hold

Imagine living in a place where saying something that offends the government lands you in prison and brands you a felon. We’re not talking about places like Soviet Russia, Communist China or even Trudeau’s Canada, but a midwest state. Michigan. Yes, Michigan.

If Democrats in Michigan get their way, American citizens could soon face criminal charges for exercising their free speech rights. The proposed legislation, House Bill 4474, allows hate crime charges to be brought against an individual for using words another disagrees with. The bill passed the Michigan House in June 59-50, it currently sits in committee in the Senate where Democrats hold a two-seat majority.

College professors, the New York Times, and other leftists have been proclaiming words are actual violence for years. Not to be outdone by the left-wing zealots in Minnesota, Michigan took the next step of criminalizing words their liberal legislature doesn’t like. House Bill 4474 expands the current Ethnic Intimidation Act from protecting race, ethnicity, and religion to include sex, sexual orientation, age, gender identity or expression, and physical or mental disability. The bill doesn’t just ban discrimination, it regulates the language citizens can use and allows criminal hate crime charges to be brought if the language used makes a person “feel terrorized, frightened, or threatened” this includes if a person intentionally uses the wrong pronoun to address another. According to the bill, offenders would be guilty of a felony and could face a fine of up to $10,000 or up to five years in prison.

Thankfully for the people of Michigan, and all Americans, there’s hope in the form of the United States Constitution. The First Amendment protects our speech, even if the Government or others don’t like it. In fact, a recent Supreme Court Case highlights this, according to an article written by Sarah Parshall Perry for the Heritage Foundation, in the case of 303 Creative v. Elenis, Justice Neil Gorsuch recited a long line of precedents establishing that the First Amendment not only protects an individual’s right to speak her mind, but prohibits the government from compelling her to “speak its own preferred messages”” This ruling, coupled with recent appellate and Federal Supreme Court rulings, make it clear, House Bill 4474 will not stand if it is challenged in the courts. You cannot compel a person to use specific phrases, including another’s “preferred” pronouns.  But the simple fact that 59 elected individuals in Michigan either don’t understand free speech or have outright contempt for it, does not bode well for the future.

Thankfully, Iowans don’t have to fear their speech being criminalized like those in Michigan. At least for as long as House Republicans lead the Iowa House. Not only would House Republicans never criminalize speech, the caucus has worked hard to protect free speech. House File 744 (2022) protects the free speech of teachers and students. The law requires school districts to “protect the intellectual freedom of the school district’s students and practitioners and … establish and publicize policies that protect students and faculty from discrimination based on speech.”  To educate future leaders on free speech, the Iowa Legislature mandated that Iowa’s universities conduct free speech training for faculty, staff and students on an annual basis.

Compelling speech and criminalizing those who disagree is the antithesis of the First Amendment. Residents of Michigan might want to remind their elected officials that free speech applies to all speech, not just speech approved by the government.

Tax Revenue Off to a Good Start for Fiscal Year 2024

The State of Iowa started the new fiscal year with solid revenue growth, according the first month of tax returns. The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency reported that state revenue for the first month of Fiscal Year 2024 was $882.9 million in July. The figure is 39.9% higher ($218.5 million increase) than what the state collected in July of 2022.  A portion of this growth is due to the end of month sales tax payments for June that were remitted to the state in the new fiscal year, due to June 30 falling on a weekend. These funds will be transferred back to Fiscal Year 2023.

Personal income tax payments were up 1.2% when compared to last July. This increase, while just $3.6 million, is notable as it occurred even with the reduction of personal income tax rates and the exemption of retirement income going into effect last January.

Sales and use tax payments were the big mover in July, with collections increasing $164 million when compared to July 2024. A significant portion of this is likely due to June 30th falling on a weekend, as sales and use tax payments are made to the state on the last day of the month. The monthly amount is a 73.1% increase over last July, putting the FY 2024 figure a bit ahead of the 0.3% decrease projected by the Revenue Estimating Conference.

Corporate tax revenue was also higher than last year’s amount for July. The state collected $71.1 million for the month. This is $27.8 million higher than July of 2022, which amounts to a 37.1% increase. Once again, this is ahead of the REC’s current estimate for this revenue class in FY 2024.

With revenue being up, income tax refunds were also higher. The state paid out $66.5 million in tax refunds in July, with some of those also being credited back to FY 2023 when the state’s books close in September.