|In the last week of session we passed a number of bills. The first I would like to highlight is House File 718. This bill is the solution to skyrocketing assessments and fears of being able to afford the property tax bill. House File 718 automatically reduces tax rates when assessments rise, restores basic levy limitations to control government spending, and eliminates loopholes abused by local governments to exceed limits set by law.
This bill also provides over $100 million in relief to Iowa property taxpayers, including new exemptions for veterans and senior citizens, while also increasing transparency in property taxes and local government spending. Additionally, it moves all elections for bonding to the general election date in November.
HF 430 cracks down on teachers who move from district to district if they were found to have engaged in inappropriate contact with any of their pupils. As heinous as this sounds, these instances do happen. This bill eliminates an exception for certain child abuse reports to not be filed, does not allow a school to enter an agreement where the institution would be unable to accurately describe the behavior of the instructor in question, provides liability protection for the school from employment claims, and requires all school employees 18 and over must be mandatory reporters. This whole point of this bill is to protect our kids, and I believe this bill will aid in doing so. It will also aid in preventing employees with criminal conduct from being hired by other schools.
Another great bill that we passed this week was HF 716. This bill was passed by the Senate to safeguard Iowa’s status as the first in the nation during the presidential nomination process. However, earlier this year, the Democratic National Committee made changes to the nomination calendar that would remove Iowa’s status as the first state to hold a caucus for Democrats. Instead of fighting to keep Iowa as the first caucus state, Iowa Democrats proposed a mail-in caucus.
New Hampshire views a mail-in caucus as equivalent to a primary (which it is), and New Hampshire state law requires them to hold the first primary in the country. This would break the decades-long agreement between Iowa and New Hampshire to host the opening events in the presidential nomination calendar. As a result, HF 716 was passed to prevent mail-in voting and allow both parties to determine the rules for their caucuses. This would eliminate any conflicts with New Hampshire and protect Iowa’s first in the nation status. We have always known how Iowa’s caucuses have played monumental roles in raising the profile of the state and give Iowa an incredibly strong policy voice in both parties. However, since I have been elected to the Iowa Senate, I see how national politics ENVY Iowa’s position at a whole new level! Maintaining this first in the nation status has massive benefits for Republicans, Democrats, and in the end, ALL Iowans.
The piece of legislation that took up most of debate during our last week was in regard to the $8.517 billion budget. During this debate, Democrats claimed that funding for the Area Education Associations (AEA) was going to be cut. Unsurprisingly, this claim was false and just another piece of misinformation spread by Democrats. The budget of the AEA actually increased by $3.1 million from fiscal year 2023-2024.
The funding for AEA is compiled from state aid, property tax levies, and federal funding. The portion from state aid is increased each year at the same rate of growth as SSA. Iowa Code contains a statutory decrease of $7.5 million to the AEAs, yet they still received additional funding after this decrease was taken into account. I think it is important to note that AEAs have an interesting way of spending these funds. In 2020, 42.2% of AEA expenditures were for support services for administration and staff. The AEA chief administrator’s average yearly compensation was roughly $291,414 while the average salary for Iowa’s teachers was about $230,000 less.
This year was full of long debates, but a number of triumphs for Iowans. Senate Republicans allocated $8.517 billion for next year’s budget, which is only 88.25% of ongoing revenue. This is just another example of responsible budgeting, which allows us to fund priorities such as an additional $107 million to K-12 schools this year. Senate Republicans hold responsible budgets as a key principle and have demonstrated multiple times since taking the majority in 2017 why it is so vital.
This year saw a heavy focus on education. We passed legislation focusing on parent transparency, providing common sense guidance to ensure males use the male bathrooms and females use the female bathrooms, and giving flexibility to districts to meet their specific needs. We also passed school choice, which ensures all Iowa students have access to the educational institution that best fits them.
Addressing Iowa’s workforce was also a priority this session. It is for this reason that we passed SF 318 which established the Iowa Office of Apprenticeship. This will aid individuals in developing the necessary skills they need to find success in the multiple industries that are facing staffing challenges. Furthermore, we passed legislation to cut down on barriers that prevented teachers from coming to Iowa.
We put a cap on noneconomic damages in commercial motor vehicle accident lawsuits to help keep costs down in this important industry as well. Our lives are very reliant upon the trucking industry. Given my occupation, I feel very strongly about this particular bill and see it providing positive outcomes to both trucking industries and Iowans.