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‘Parental rights,’ auditor limit bills move forward as carbon pipeline proposal misses deadline


‘Parental rights,’ auditor limit bills move forward as carbon pipeline proposal misses deadline

Mar 30, 2023 | 9:01 pm ET
By Robin Opsahl
‘Parental rights,’ auditor limit bills move forward as carbon pipeline proposal misses deadline
Iowa lawmakers reached their second "funnel" deadline of the 2023 legislative session with many prioritized bills like private school scholarships and medical malpractice liability limits already signed into law. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Several controversial bills squeaked through the Iowa Legislature’s second committee deadline Thursday but a few high-profile measures — including limits on liquid carbon pipelines — failed to make the cut.

Most policy bills needed approval from either the House or Senate and a committee in the opposite chamber to remain eligible for debate after this week.

House and Senate Committees discussed 59 bills in the week before the second deadline.

There are many ways bills that don’t meet this cut-off can still become law. Bills with a spending or tax component are not subject to the funnel, and lawmakers can mark bills as “unfinished business” to keep them in the running.

The House and Senate and placed more than 100 bills on the “unfinished business” calendar Thursday that did not meet the deadline, but both chambers have to take that action to keep a bill eligible for debate.

Bills not surviving this week can also come back as a leadership-sponsored bill, or the language can be added by amendment to another piece of legislation.

Pipeline bill stalls

Notably absent from the Senate’s list of legislation to consider at a later time was House File 565: the carbon pipeline proposal passed by the House with bipartisan support earlier in March.

The bill would have restricted pipeline projects’ ability to use eminent domain to force easements on unwilling landowners. It was assigned to a Senate Commerce subcommittee, which did not meet ahead of the funnel.

Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley said Iowans should continue to contact their legislators about the issue.

“I don’t know what the future of that is,” Grassley told reporters Thursday. “That bill is, obviously right now, it’s not looking like it’s a very healthy future for it. However, in the House, the members that I’ve talked to, we still feel very strongly about what we passed and we really believe it was the right thing for us to do.”

Iowa Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls criticized Senate Republicans’ lack of action on carbon pipelines and for not releasing updated budget targets. What Republicans are taking action on are “divisive” topics that hurt Iowans, he said.

“The second funnel just continues what we’ve seen all session,” Wahls said. “Republicans in the Legislature are much more interested in scoring political points — trying to make Iowa more like states, Florida, South Dakota, Alabama — rather than doing what’s right for Iowans.”

In the final day before the funnel, committees considered bills on controversial issues that have drawn debate for weeks in the legislative session, including limits on public land acquisition and new school library book standards. Here’s what lawmakers took up Thursday:

Governor’s education proposal

Reynolds’ “parental rights” bill, Senate File 496, passed the Senate floor and has advanced through the House committee process. The bill was amended with several changes in committee Thursday, to include many of the provisions discussed in other bills on LGBTQ+ topics in classroom materials, book challenges and parental notification if a child decides to socially transition at school.

Democrats said they supported some changes made Thursday, but still oppose other aspects of the bill. The bill prohibits books available in school libraries if they contain “graphic” depictions of sex acts, instead of banning all written and visual depictions of sex acts as the Senate’s version proposed.

The earlier version of the bill also required parental notification if a child is believed to be transgender, but required the school to contact the Department of Health and Human Services if they believe telling the parent about their child’s gender identity would put them in danger. The new version strips that provision back, stipulating that school staff cannot “knowingly give false or misleading information” on student’s gender identity, and that parents must be informed if a child requests for the school to use a different name or pronouns than what they were given at birth. The bill removed the HHS contact requirement.

“The new system, in the simplest form, would be (if) an individual asked for an accommodation that is different from their biological sex, the teacher has to give that information to the administration — then they are done, they’re out of the equation — then the administration is to alert the parents,” Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Hull said. The process outlined is similar to the process outlined in legislation passed by the House Education Committee in January.

The bill also:

  • Bans material and instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation from K-6 classrooms
  • Strikes the requirement of discussing AIDS and the availability of the human papillomavirus vaccine in health and human growth and development classes
  • Requires parental consent for children to participate in any surveys and health assessments including questions on subjects like mental health, gender identity or illegal practices.
  • Adds more parents to the Board of Educational Examiners membership requirements.

These measures are all provisions included in other bills discussed this session.

Chinese investments

The House Commerce Committee approved legislation limiting investments of public funds in companies owned or controlled by the Chinese government. Senate File 418 would consult lists of scrutinized companies for their involvement with the People’s Republic of China, similar to the lists compiled for use in ESG measures also being considered by lawmakers this session.

Lawmakers voiced concerns about how the measure could impact Iowa’s agricultural or computer chip trade with China, which Rep. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta, said would not be impacted by the measure.

Former U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad, former Iowa governor, said the Iowa Legislature must walk a “fine line” in limiting Chinese investments.

State auditor

The House State Government Committee also approved restrictions Thursday on what information the State Auditor’s Office can obtain during its investigations. However, the committee amended Senate File 478 to make exceptions for investigations that involve embezzlement and theft.

Iowa Auditor Rob Sand and members of the state auditor’s office said the bill as approved by the Senate could severely limit the office’s ability to do its job. Before the amendment, the bill could prevent Iowa from receiving federal funds contingent on audits using generally accepted government auditing standards. Rep. Mike Bergan, R-Dorchester, said the amendment allows the auditor to meet these standards while still limiting access to confidential information like a person’s medical records or grades.

Democrats questioned whether the language would still prevent access to information in fraud cases, which committee members said they may further amend the bill to include.

“If they’re if they’re finding irregularities, potential fraud or theft, then we’d want further investigation,” Bergen said.

Public land acquisition

A bill that would have prioritized the maintenance of public parks and recreational trails over the creation of new ones did not get a needed committee vote to survive the deadline. Senate File 516 passed the Senate but stalled in the House after getting support from two subcommittees. Detractors feared it would limit public land acquisitions.

Reporter Jared Strong contributed to this report.