Legislators returned to the Capitol Wednesday, June 3, to resume the 2020 session after being paused due to COVID-19 for 11 weeks. The session is expected to adjourn sine die for 2020 on Friday, June 12. Before the legislature resumed, the REC reduced the estimates for the current fiscal year, which will reduce the ending balance, and for the next fiscal year:
Reduction of March REC estimate by $150 million for FY20—$7.941.2 billion
Difference between FY19 and FY20—$82.4 million (1%) increase
Reduction of March REC estimate by $64.6 million for FY21—$7.876.6 billion
Difference between FY20 and FY21— $64.6 million (-0.8%) decrease
Big Ticket Items—Week 6/3
Immediately on Wednesday, the Senate amended their Medical Cannabidiol bill (SF2363) to conform with the House File (HF2589) and send it down to the committee. For the majority of session, the chambers had taken different approaches, with the Senate moving a broader bill. Senator Zaun, the floor manager, said that although he preferred the Senate version, HF2589 will improve conditions for patients by giving additional health care providers the authority to write prescriptions and by increasing the cap to 4.5 grams for a 90-day period. (Governor Reynolds vetoed HF732 last session because it struck the cap on THC levels and allowed patients to have 25 grams for a 90-day period.)
Discharge of a Sentence/HJR Felony Voting Amendment
Also on Wednesday, the House sent SF2348 down to the Governor. SF2348 in conjunction with HJR14 (if signed by the Governor and ratified by the electors) would authorize the automatic restoration of a felon’s voting rights, only after:
- completion of confinement/parole/probation/special sentence
- receipt of a pardon
- payment of all pecuniary damages
Senate Republicans have been holding action on HJR14 until the passage of SF2348 by the House.
Governor Reynolds signed the bill on Thursday, June 4, stating, “This legislation allows us to implement our proposed constitutional amendment restoring the voting rights of Iowans who have completed serving their sentence. The right to vote is the cornerstone of being a part of any society, and I am proud of the broad coalition supporting this amendment.” In 2019, Governor Reynolds called for the state to adopt a constitutional amendment to end its complete ban on felons regaining the right to vote and the House approved HJR 14. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed HJR14 on Friday, June 5.
Wednesday, June 3, was a busy day for floor work, HF2502 was also approved by the Senate on a 32-17 vote and sent to the Governor. HF2502 essentially prohibits cities and counties from enacting ordinances, resolutions, or other motions or policies regulating the storage of weapons and ammunition and makes any such ordinances void. Cities and counties may prohibit weapons in their facilities, but only if the facility has screening and armed guards. It also makes any court order prohibiting weapons in a courthouse or joint facility unenforceable unless it applies only to a courtroom or court office.
SAVE Athletic Purposes
This bill (SF2410) is significant in that it was introduced on Thursday, June 4, placed on the Ways and Means calendar, approved by the committee, and passed the Senate (47-2) all on the same day. This bill was brought in response to a new stadium project proposed by the Des Moines School Board using SAVE funds and has caused quite a stir at the Capitol—this new issue has drawn a lot of attention from legislators on both sides of the aisle and captured enough attention that it received a floor vote on the same day it was introduced.
Non-Economic Damages and Expenses (Now COVID-19 Immunity)
This has been the main card of 2020 2.0. Both the House and the Senate have worked together to craft bills relating to COVID-19 immunity for employers. SF2338 was initially a medical malpractice bill that provided a cap on non-economic damages ($750,000). The House Commerce Committee used this bill as a vehicle, stripped the bill of the caps regarding medical malpractice, and amended on provisions related to immunity for COVID-19 responses for health care workers and facilities. The House Commerce chair indicated that many Iowa businesses are concerned about lawsuits going forward and that the best way to help businesses recover from the pandemic is to give them some certainty and protection against needless lawsuits. Democrats have raised concerns that the bill is loosely drafted and could give some businesses and persons immunity despite bad actions. The bill was amended on the House floor and approved just before midnight Friday, June 5 (52-44). The bill:
- adds a COVID-19 liability limitation
- includes protections for employers who comply substantially with public health rules or statutes (Safe Harbor provisions)
- defines minimum medical condition as a COVID-19 diagnosis and hospitalization
- establishes limited liability for persons in control of premises, except for reckless or intentional or malicious acts, and for manufacturers of PPE, except for reckless or malicious acts done with actual knowledge of defects
- requires a COVID-19 civil action to show death or hospitalization, intentional harm, or malice
- includes liability protections for health care providers treating persons with COVID-19 and for other health care matters related to the pandemic
On Friday, June 5, the Senate Government Committee approved HF2486 after amending the bill to include a number of election law changes. The Chair of the State Government Committee indicates that these new provisions are necessary to make voting more secure. Democrats believe the amendment will result in voter suppression. The state had record turnout from both parties for the 2020 primary due to the actions of Secretary of State Paul Pate mailing out absentee requests to registered voters. Leadership has indicated that they will review elections procedures to provide clarity for the November election.
In response to the death of George Floyd, Democrats held a press conference on Thursday, June 4, to announce a three-point plan to deal with public safety and policing issues. Similar plans have been introduced into other states and been successful. Governor Reynolds has called for the Legislature to take up racial profiling legislation in the next session, but Democrats said that the Legislature should address such issues now.
- Ban police chokeholds
Make it illegal for law enforcement in Iowa to use a chokehold or any other neck restraint unless a person poses an imminent threat of death or bodily injury.
- Make it illegal to rehire officers fired for misconduct
Iowa communities deserve to be protected and served by our nation’s finest. This legislation would make it illegal for Iowa police departments to hire officers who were previously fired or who resigned while being investigated for serious misconduct or excessive force.
- Allow the Attorney General to investigate police misconduct
To ensure justice for all Iowans involved in police incidents, this legislation empowers both the state Attorney General and County Attorneys to bring charges against law enforcement for police misconduct.
At this time, the Policing Legislation has not been brought up by the majority. Black Lives Matter protests continue daily at the Capitol.
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