The following is a legislative update from Republican Representative Henry Stone of Forest City, representing portions of Emmet, Kossuth and Winnebago counties in Iowa House District 7:
On Tuesday, I was able to serve on my first subcommittee for this session where we discussed and passed HSB 2. This was the first among many subcommittees I will be taking part in this legislative session.
I have also been involved with teaching and helping the “freshman” Representatives learn the ropes and adjust to their new roles. This is a role I cherish as it’s a way to set up my fellow legislators for success. There is so much to learn and some things are very nuanced and if I can help in that process, I want to provide every piece of information I can.
A lot of important legislation is being discussed right now. I would like to specifically highlight what is going on in the Education Reform and Judiciary Committees.
School Choice: Myths and Facts on Affordability and Other Topics
Regardless of what side you find yourself in regards to the debate over school choice, it is important to know actual facts. I have received quite a few emails from those in support and those opposed to the Student’s First Act. I will point out a few things in this newsletter but I plan on sending out another newsletter at the beginning of next week detailing a list of myths and facts I’ve read in these emails as well as outlining what the bill actually does. Stay tuned!
Iowans frequently hear that nonpublic schools can deny students admission for any reason including outright discrimination. However, Iowa Code 216.9 states that “It is unfair or discriminatory practice for any educational institution to discriminate on the basis of race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, or disability in any program or activity.” It goes on to say that for a bona fide religious institution, they can impose “qualifications based on religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity when such qualifications are related to a bona fide religious purpose or any institution from admitting students of only one sex.” In Administrative Rule 281—IAC 12.1(1) it says that “equal opportunity shall be provided to all students regardless of race, color, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, disability, religion, or creed.” All that to say, yes, a religious school can have religious qualifications, however, an accredited nonpublic school still has to adhere to anti-discriminatory laws. On top of that, schools and districts must collect and review data on the basis of race, national origin, gender, and disability.
Some try to say that teachers don’t have to be licensed in accredited nonpublic schools. That is incorrect. Administrative Rules 281—IAC12.4 states that “a teacher shall be defined as a member of the instructional professional staff who holds a license/certificate endorsed for the type of position in which employed.” This is not just a requirement for public schools, but accredited nonpublic schools as well. Keep in mind, this program is only for accredited nonpublic schools. This does not include nonaccredited schools.
Iowans have heard the cost is going to be too much for the state of Iowa. Democrats and allied special interest groups are telling Iowans to fear the cost of the current school choice proposal because the state is estimated to spend about $900 million on it over the next four years. To put that number into context, the state is estimated to spend $15.2 billion on public education over the same time period. It is also important to note that using the same logic and calculations, the state will have taken in $39.2 billion in revenue over that time period as well.
Today the state’s ending balance is $1.6 billion which provides a cushion for any downturn in state revenues. That doesn’t even take into account the $2.7 billion that is in the Taxpayer Relief Fund which protects things like public education, public safety and Medicaid from any downturn in revenues in regards to recent income tax cuts. The Governor’s school choice proposal fits within long-term budget parameters and does not impact the ability to fund other state programs like public safety, Medicaid, mental health, and future increases in the school funding formula.
These are just a few issues that have been brought up that need clarification.
House Judiciary Committee Prepares for a Busy Year
The House Judiciary Committee has held their first two meetings of the session and Representatives are ready to work on complex legislation. Rep. Steve Holt is returning as the Chairman of the committee. Of the 21 members, nine members have served on the committee before, and five are brand new to the legislature. The Judiciary committee typically has a high volume of bills focused on criminal, civil, and family law.
Recommendations for bills come from various groups and individuals. Chairman Holt and other members of the committee have taken the time to meet with the Iowa Bar Association, the Judicial Branch, The County Attorneys Association, various law enforcement groups, the Office of the Public Defender, and other groups and individuals who have concerns about judicial issues in Iowa. These groups can bring a bill proposal forward, and if the Representative agrees with the idea they can request it as a bill that will then go to committee.
As of today, 16 bills have been assigned to subcommittees. A subcommittee is comprised of three members (two Republicans and one Democrat). The subcommittee holds a hearing where members of the public and lobby provide their input. If at least two members support the bill it advances to committee for consideration. In order for a bill to pass out of committee it must have the support of at least 11 members. When a bill passes committee it is then eligible for floor debate at the discretion of the majority leader.
Anyone wishing to watch a subcommittee or committee meeting can attend in person or watch online. The link for all meetings can be found on the legislative website https://www.legis.iowa.gov/