Sunday Talk: Guth on the Week’s Legislative Session

by Iowa State Senator Dennis Guth

We worked very hard to accomplish as much as we can during the third week of the legislative session. Since education is such an important part of our work each year, we began debate with half of our bills relating to K-12 education.

We passed SF 160 which requires schools to offer a full-time, in-person option if parents select it.  While some students do just fine with online education, many do not.  It is important to serve all students as well as we can.

We also advanced SF 130 which would allow temporarily for a school board member to receive compensation in excess of $6,000 for employment as a substitute teacher, food service worker, or a bus driver. Many districts have been faced with staffing problems due to quarantining and school board members have been stepping in to help.  Current law prohibits them from receiving more than $6,000 in any given year. We are striving to provide flexibility in these difficult times.

We also passed SF 159 which is the governor’s effort to increase student achievement and prepare Iowa students to compete in the global economy.  Our schools have a history of comparing well among the 50 states.  This bill seeks to offer help to parents whose children are enrolled in the 34 schools who are determined to be failing by a standard of either the state or federal government.  In some of those districts, students are not even allowed to open enroll.  This bill will remove barriers to open enrollment and provide state dollars to follow the student to any accredited school the parent chooses.  This will not reduce the amount of money allocated to public schools; a small portion of that money going to failing schools may follow the students opting out.  It is limited to students entering Kindergarten in the current year, not all 13 grades.  This bill will likely change as it bounces between the House and Senate.

Thursday, we had very lively debate over adding the right to keep and bear arms to the Iowa Constitution.  Iowa is one of only a few states that do not have these rights ensured in their state constitution.  The state of Iowa recognizes this is a fundamental right of individuals and any restriction of this right must be subject to “strict scrutiny.” Strict scrutiny is the highest standard we have, insuring government must show a “compelling government interest” before interfering, and they must do so in the least restrictive way.  We passed this bill last year also, so once it is approved by both chambers it is eligible to be placed on the ballot at the next general election.  At that time the people of Iowa will have their say as to whether or not this is added to the state constitution.

On Monday Feb. 1 another amendment to the Iowa constitution will be in subcommittee in the Iowa Senate.  SJR 2 states there is no right to abortion in Iowa’s constitution.  If it passes, and I expect it will, this will be the first year of its journey to being added to Iowa’s constitution.  It must be passed again in the next general assembly in 2023-24, then be placed on the ballot at the next general election in 2024.  This amendment does not prohibit abortion, but it does tell the courts no right to abortion is in our state constitution.  This will allow legislation on this subject to stand without being struck down by an activist court.

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