District 53 Newsletter: April 13, 2023

State Rep. Dean Fisher (R-Montour)

After completing the second “funnel” where Senate bills have to be passed through a House committee to remain active, we are now entering a phase of the session where budget work is more intense in the Appropriations and Ways and Means Committees, and floor action is more sporadic. This Newsletter covers the past two weeks of session.

Last week we passed Senate File 496, the “Parent Empowerment” bill. This bill contains many education proposals, some of which had passed the House in previous weeks as standalone bills but are now integrated into one large bill. The House amended the legislation, sending it back to the Senate for their consideration. One of the policy pieces already passed by the House but included in this bill ensures all books in schools are “age appropriate.” It explicitly states that age appropriate books do not include books that contain graphic images or descriptions of a sex act. Yes, this does seem like it should be a “no brainer”, but many books of that nature have been found in Iowa schools.

The bill also prohibits curriculum on gender identity or sexual orientation in K-6th grade, and reforms the makeup of the Board of Educational Examiners to 5 parents, 5 licensed practitioners and 1 school board member, ensuring parents are represented. It also creates new pathways to license teachers to address the teacher shortage.

New policy not previously passed by the House includes language to ensure that schools can’t keep secrets from parents about their child’s gender identity. However, the House amended the bill sent to us by the Senate and passed our language on the matter. Our amendment states that if a student requests an accommodation at school for a gender identity that is different than their sex at birth, the teacher must report that information to the administration and the administration must tell the parents. We believe our language is a simpler approach to this. There isn’t room for discretion, bias, or an agenda. The trigger for when the parents must be informed is very clear. It also removes the teacher from the situation so they can stick to what they really signed up to do – teaching.

The bill also removes the requirement in code to teach about AIDS and the HPV vaccine. There is a lot of misconception around this piece of the bill so let me be clear – the bill does not prohibit instruction on either of these topics, it just eliminates the requirement. It made no sense to specify this issue in Iowa Code and not many other important health issues. The Code is not the place for it.

This week we passed Senate File 315, the “Raw Milk” bill. This bill legalizes the sale of raw milk on the farm to individuals for human consumption. The bill limits the herd size to 10 cows, and includes provisions for testing for safety. This bill is in response to many citizens asking for this right to be restored.

The Iowa House passed Senate File 494 to implement reasonable accountability measures to Iowa’s public assistance programs. This bill has taken many forms throughout the legislative process as we’ve sought feedback from Iowans. Here’s what is in the final bill, now headed to the Governor’s desk. It requires welfare applicants to complete a computerized identity authentication process to confirm their identity prior to receiving benefits. It requires applicants’ assets to be reviewed prior to enrollment in SNAP. Specifically, this bill sets those asset limits at $15,000 liquid assets for the household, and allows for one vehicle to have unlimited value, and a second vehicle to be up to $10,000 of value. Household items like clothes or TVs don’t count toward someone’s liquid assets. To be clear, this portion of the bill only applies to SNAP, not to Medicaid.

It also requires the state to check all income, employment, and financial institutions to ensure that applicants for welfare programs meet all eligibility criteria for those programs. It also requires a more efficient, user-friendly eligibility system to be in place by July 1, 2025. This very necessary IT upgrade will benefit all those who apply for assistance. And it makes cooperation with child support services a condition of eligibility for Medicaid. This is estimated to save the state $8 million and the federal government $42 million annually beginning in FY2027.

Opponents of this legislation say there is no fraud in the system, however, Iowa has been penalized $1.8 million by the federal government for having an error rate 3.2% higher than the national average. Additionally, in FY2022, the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals found 2,761 founded investigations of SNAP overpayment.Iowa still faces significant workforce challenges. Our goal is always to strike a balance by providing assistance to those truly in need without incentivizing able-bodied, working age Iowans to remain on government assistance rather than re-enter the workforce.

We also passed House File 654 through the Iowa House. This bill eliminates a number of overly burdensome regulations on law-abiding Iowans’ right to carry a firearm. This bill allows firearms in locked vehicles on most publicly-owned property, including regent universities and community colleges. It allows firearms to be in a vehicle on school property while dropping off or picking up a student if the person has a valid CCW permit. This change is still more strict than federal law. Iowans just passed a constitutional amendment to protect their right to bear arms by over 65%. Iowans have spoken loud and clear. With this bill, we are listening to Iowans and eliminating needless regulations on law-abiding citizens’ right to bear arms.

Rep. Fisher’s district covers all of Poweshiek County and most of Tama County excluding Traer, Dysart, and Buckingham.