A couple weeks beyond the scheduled end, the legislature has officially finished the 2021 legislative session. At the beginning of the year, Republicans in the legislature set out this session with ambitious goals. After months of a pandemic wreaking havoc on their lives and normal life looking more and more different, Iowans were eager to get back to the lives they knew and move Iowa forward from the pandemic.
Throughout the summer and fall, we heard from Iowans looking for a little more cash in their pocket, business owners looking for workers to help keep the doors open, and parents knowing their kids needed to get back in the classroom. Rather than pass out one time checks for a moment’s impact, we focused on permanent tax relief to help rebuild the economy on stable ground. We wanted to start Iowa’s road to recovery, getting Iowans back to work, students back in school, and families back on solid footing.
One of the very first things we did this legislative session was give Iowa students the option to be back in the classroom full time. We know most students learn better in the classroom, in person, with their friends and classmates, developing important skills they need in school and in the future.
In the following weeks we passed more election integrity measures aimed at further securing Iowa’s elections, making it easy to vote but hard to cheat. A constitutional amendment to protect life and put power back in the hands of the people took its first step to be added to the Iowa Constitution.
We passed legislation helping Iowans get back to normal and ensure their own health care decisions remain private. We prohibited school districts and nonpublic schools from implementing a policy that requires its employees, students, or members of the public to wear a facial covering for any purpose while on their property unless the facial covering is necessary for a specific extracurricular or instructional purpose. Additionally, we prohibited cities and counties from adopting a mandate relating to facial coverings that is more stringent than a policy imposed by the state. Iowa’s Second Amendment rights received further protection by allowing Iowans the freedom to carry without a government permission slip. We passed another increase in funding for K-12 education, providing sustainable funding and also funded the other areas of the budget that are important to Iowans, like $100 million for broadband.
Responsible, conservative budgets have been a priority since 2017 and they have put the state in the strong fiscal position it is in today. Iowa was recently rated as one of the best states recovering from COVID-19. The unemployment rate is approaching pre-pandemic levels and the state budget is sound, being recognized as one of the most resilient in the country to the fiscal effects of COVID-19.
A big priority for Iowans this year was passing bold, meaningful tax relief. This year alone we passed legislation to repeal Iowa’s inheritance tax, eliminate the income tax triggers to provide certain tax relief for Iowa families, and provide one billion dollars in tax relief. Accelerating tax relief measures passed in 2018 reduces the number of tax brackets and brings the top rate down from 8.53 percent to 6.5 percent. After a lifetime of paying taxes, the inheritance Iowans leave to their heirs should not be taxed yet again, so we eliminated the remainder of the state inheritance tax over a four-year period. Small businesses receive more tax relief by being able to utilize bonus depreciation to deduct more business-related expenses from their taxes and invest more in the Iowa economy. By moving mental health costs off of property taxes, funding for mental health services in Iowa increases and Iowa property taxpayers get tax relief.
The tax bill, SF 619, also eliminated the backfill to local governments. The backfill was originally created in 2013 to help bridge a revenue gap for cities and counties created by a previous tax relief package. Since that change, revenue growth for cities and counties has averaged 131 percent. In fact, over the last 20 years, local governments have grown 2.5 to 3 times faster than median household income’s growth. The backfill was never meant to be a long-term solution. A promise was made in 2013 to these cities and counties, and that promise has been over-kept at the expense of Iowa taxpayers, and it is time it come to an end.
In addition to these important policies, we passed legislation to support law enforcement in the difficult jobs they do to protect our communities each and every day. We added legal protections for law enforcement officers on the job, making difficult decisions in dangerous situations on a moment’s notice. Rioters will face harsher penalties for the destruction they cause to Iowans, law enforcement officers, and property. Lastly, we passed legislation defunding cities if they fail to enforce state and local laws and allow rioting and destruction in their communities.
This legislative session was not without its difficulties, but I am proud of the legislation we passed and the bills signed into law. It is an honor to serve you at the Capitol. Thank you for reaching out throughout the session. I look forward to talking with constituents throughout the summer and fall, hear more about the issues affecting you, and any feedback on bills and legislation that was discussed throughout the session.