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Sunday Talk: Stone on the Legislative Session This Week

This week was the first funnel week of the session. This means that all individual bills have to be passed through the proper committee to make it to the floor for debate. If a bill doesn’t make it through a committee before the end of the week it is considered “dead” and has no possibility of being debated later this session.  There are a few exceptions, but this applies to the vast majority of bills.

House Republicans Pass 4% Flat Tax and Elimination of Retirement Taxes

On Wednesday House Republicans approved HF 2317 which implements a 4% flat tax for all Iowans.  The current tax rates are responsibly ratcheted down over the next four years until everyone is at the 4% income tax rate.

Additionally, Iowans aged 55 and over, beginning in 2023, will no longer be taxed on retirement income earned from Individual Retirement Account (IRA) distributions, pensions or annunities.

Tax cuts have one thing in common.  They reward work and they reward saving.

House Republicans Release Budget Plans for Fiscal Year 2023
House Republicans released their spending plan for the Fiscal Year 2023 state budget, once again proposing a responsible, conservative funding plan for the state.  House Republicans are moving forward with a state budget of $8.2738 billion for the next fiscal year beginning July 1, 2022.  The proposed budget is an increase of $148.9 million over the current year spending level of $8.1249 billion.  This amount is an increase of 1.83 percent over Fiscal Year 2022.

The largest increase goes to the state’s local school districts, who receive an additional $159 million through the 2.5 percent increase in the state foundation formula, $5 per pupil increase for student funding equity, and funding school transportation assistance at the state-wide average.  These increases, contained in HF 2316, has been passed by both chambers and has been signed by the Governor.

Additional funding is provided to the various budget subcommittees to address a number of critical issues facing Iowa.  The budget includes new funds that will be used to provide increases to the Department of Corrections and state public safety programs.  Responding to the federal government’s investigation of the Glenwood Resource Center and Iowa’s service system for those with intellectual disabilities is the main focus of the funding increase for the Health and Human Services budget subcommittee.  And additional funds will be used to address workforce shortage issues through training and childcare programs.

The House Republican budget plan maintains the commitment made last session to complete the move of mental health service financing from the backs of property taxpayers to the state ‘s General Fund.  The proposed budget also accounts for the tax relief plan passed by the House on Wednesday.  The House Republican tax plan not only provides substantial tax relief to Iowans but does so in a responsible way allowing the state maintain funding commitments to education, health care and public safety.

Budget subcommittees will finalize work on their individual budgets shortly.  It is expected these bills will begin to start moving through the legislative process within the next few weeks.

Economic Growth Committee Passes Butchery Task Force Recommendations
This week the House Economic Growth Committee unanimously passed the recommendations of the artisanal butchery task force, as issued in its final report to the general assembly on January 6, 2022. Last session, House Republicans created the Artisanal Butchery Program and Fund to support the meat industry in Iowa.

HSB 675 requires the department of education to collaborate with the state board of education and establish a framework for a one-year community college certificate program for artisanal butchery. A college that elects to establish a certificate program shall use the framework provided by the department as the minimum requirements and may modify the curriculum based on the unique circumstances of the specific college. The college shall obtain approval of its certificate program prior to implementation of the program.

The bill also requires IWD to collaborate with IEDA to develop and maintain a library of resources that serves as a single resource point at which any Iowa-based business involved in meat processing may obtain education and financial assistance information. It further requires IWD to add butchery, artisanal butchery, and meat processing to the list of high-demand jobs by July 31, 2022.

Curriculum Transparency—Why Do We Need It?
Do parents have a fundamental right to know what is being taught to their kids?  Parents all across Iowa and the U.S. have been talking about the need for more transparency in education and the obvious answer from everyone has been a resounding “YES!”

If the pandemic brought us nothing else, it brought us more awareness into what is being taught to kids in schools. Being able to view the courses online brought a whole new realization of where Iowans are at with education and curriculum. Parents are anxious about what is being taught inside classrooms. The tone across the nation, including here in Iowa, from the Democratic leaders is that parents should keep their nose out of school curriculum.  Instead, parents are told to blindly trust the “experts” in academia without question. Legislators have heard from numerous parents from all across the state, regardless of whether it is a rural or urban area, that being able to access and review what their kids are taught can be difficult and confusing.  Stories about how a parent or guardian requested to see the instructional materials only to find that the school or teacher wasn’t forthcoming or had no obligation to disclose it. And, if the parent or guardian was allowed to see the materials, their input and concerns were unimportant and oftentimes dismissed. Which raises a very basic question – why? Collaboration between parents and teachers, between parents and administrators and between parents and school board members should be natural instead of adversarial.

Here is some background of what current practice in the state of Iowa is. Keep in mind the Department of Education does not set curriculum. The Department sets standards and local school boards set curriculum. Yet another example of why school board elections are so important. There are only a few points in law addressing what is required of districts in regard to working with parents.

Here is what the state of Iowa has in Code:

Under the Senior Year Plus Program:
261E.3(2)(a)(3):  The district, in collaboration with the teacher or instructor, shall provide ongoing communication about course expectations, including a syllabus that describes the content, teaching strategies, performance measures, and resource materials used in the course, and academic progress to the student and in the case of students of minor age, to the parent or legal guardian of the student.

Under Human Growth and Development Instruction:
279.50(3):  Each school board shall annually provide to a parent or guardian of any pupil enrolled in the school district, information about the human growth and development curriculum used in the pupil’s grade level and the procedure for inspecting the instructional materials prior to their use in the classroom.

279.50(4) Each school district shall, upon request by any agency or organization, provide information about the human growth and development curriculum used in each grade level and the procedure for inspecting and updating the instructional materials.

There is no opt-out of particular curriculum outside of the statutory requirements under human growth and development instruction.  Any opt-out for curriculum is locally determined.

As you can see, local schools have a great deal of control over what is taught in schools, but also are able shield what controversial ideas are taught as fact from parents or guardians. For example, if districts are teaching our children that their racial or ethnic identity is the most important aspect of their lives instead of their hopes, dreams, achievements and values, then parents need to know if that is the type of curriculum, they want their children exposed to.  Or if curriculum skews America’s founding principles towards a certain political ideology or if American history is taught through a politically biased lens, then parents have a right to know this kind of information.

Some schools are more than happy to provide the materials, curriculum, as well as options for parents to choose alternate materials. However, that isn’t the case everywhere.

Last night, our Education Committee passed the Governor’s plan on curriculum transparency, HSB 706. The plan includes new transparency and state standards which includes:
•    Publishing course syllabi
•    Written summaries of the material being taught in each class
•    How each class meets or exceeds the educational standards
•    Titles of all textbooks, books, articles, videos, and other educational materials used
•    A comprehensive list of all books available to students in libraries operated by the district
•    The procedures for the review and approval of all textbooks, books, articles, outlines, handouts, presentations, videos, and other educational materials used for instruction
•    A flowchart developed by the Department of Education that lays out the policies for requesting removal of a school library book must be published online.
•    The schools are required to update the information by August 23 and January 15th of each school year. Parents and guardians must be notified if there has been an update to the information.

The protocols for the selection, review, reconsideration, and removal of materials from libraries include:
•    A process for the selection, reconsideration, and removal of materials in libraries operated by the school district
•    The lawful and ethical use of information resources
•    A process that allows the parent or guardian to request removal of materials that includes all of the following:
•    The school district must review the materials and respond with the disposition of the request within 10 days.
•    The parent or guardian may request the school board review the disposition of the request. The board must act on the request at the next regularly scheduled meeting but no later than 20 business days after the request. The board will affirm or reverse the district’s decision.
•    The parent or guardian may appeal the decision of the board to the State Board of Education.

If the district fails to do the above, the parent or guardian may bring that to the State Board of Education as well. If a district does not comply with any of the new transparency standards, state aid for the school will be reduced for each day which the school district is found to have intentionally been in noncompliance.

With all that was said in the bill, changes to these ideas from the Governor are being discussed and House Republicans will work with Democrats and welcome additional feedback as this bill moves along.  This is only the first iteration of the bill, and it will look different as it goes through the process. Regardless, we’re fighting for more transparency in schools and for parents to have control in their child’s education.

Judiciary Committee Finishes a Busy Funnel Week
The House Judiciary Committee held their last meeting of funnel week on Wednesday. The committee moved over 40 bills in the first six weeks of the session. Topics range from trusts and estates to increasing criminal penalties for sex offenders. Below are a few of the bills that have survived the first funnel and will be ready for floor debate in the coming weeks:

HSB 677– Freedom of Religion
This bill protects places of worship from unconstitutional and unnecessary government intrusion. During the COVID-19 Pandemic many states shutdown places of worship while allow casinos and other venues to remain open. HSB 677 prohibits this type of action and ensures places of worship are not singled out in their treatment.

HSB 636– Judicial Nomination Reform
The bill, as amended will expand the pool for judicial applicants to counties next to a judicial district. It also increases the number of nominees that go to the Governor in an appointment for a court of appeals seat from 3 to 5. Finally, the bill treats district associate judges like other judges for the purpose of judicial selection.

HF 2074– Adoption Home Study
This bill allows DHS to waive a home study on an adoption case if the child is being placed with close family. This saves time and money when a child is being adopted by close family and ensures the process happens faster to give the child a safe and stable home.

HSB 711– Victims
First time victims of domestic violence have not previously been included in the victims’ rights code section. HSB 711 changes that to ensure these victims can have the same treatment and assistance as other victims.


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