Iowa Legislative Update—April 20, 2021

Environment
Farm and Food
Small Towns

By Cody Smith, former staff member

Bringing rural Iowa to Des Moines

We are nearing the end of the 2021 legislative session as lawmakers concluded their 14th week last Friday. 

We have been continually grateful for the support that countless rural Iowans have demonstrated for the priorities we are pursuing this year. Owners of main street meat lockers have written letters to their senators, watershed leaders have connected with lawmakers about the importance of planning and staffing, and countless emails and calls have been sent from rural Iowans in support of policies that will position our state  for success in the years to come. While a definite date is hard to pick, lawmakers will likely aim to adjourn for the year by April 30, when their annual stipends are set to expire.

In the remaining weeks of session, lawmakers are striking deals and setting final targets for their portion of the state’s budget for the fiscal year. As the clock runs down , your voice is more important than ever. If you’ve contemplated when your efforts might make the most difference for our shared objectives, please know that we’re ready and able to help add your voice at this critical time.

Thank you for your commitment to rural Iowa.

Rural economic development

This session, we have worked to organize support for several bills which promote economic opportunity in rural Iowa. Thanks mostly to the work of all of you, we have seen some significant progress here.

HF 857—For: An act establishing a Butchery Innovation and Revitalization Fund and Program to be administered by the Iowa Economic Development Authority and creating a task force to explore the feasibility of establishing a community college artisanal butchery program.

This bill, introduced by Rep. Chad Ingels, would give assistance to new and existing small meat lockers in the form of grants, low-interest loans, and forgivable loans to help them grow. The bill is designed to complement the Meat Processing Expansion and Development Program that ended in 2020. 

UPDATE: This bill passed the full House on March 13 with a vote of 91-0. It includes our suggested amendment language that prohibits any facility employing more than 50 individuals from accessing this program.

The bill now rests in the Senate where your efforts could be the deciding factor in achieving these crucial resources for small meat processors across the state. Will you send an email to your state senator in support of HF 857? You can also call them by finding their phone number here. We are more than happy to help you craft your message to your senator, so please reach out if we can be of assistance.

SF 390 / HF 848—For: An act relating to broadband service, including matters under the purview of the Office of the Chief Information Officer, the Empower Rural Iowa Broadband Grant Fund, and including effective date and applicability provisions.

This is Gov. Kim Reynolds’ broadband bill, which she announced in her Condition of the State Address in January. In all, the governor proposed to allocate $150 million for broadband expansion this fiscal year and up to a total of $450 million by 2025. The final expenditure amount is currently being debated by House and Senate leadership, but it appears that $100 million is the target set by the House.

UPDATE: On March 29, HF 898 passed the House with a vote of 94-0. On April 6, this bill also passed the Senate with a vote of 47-0. Gov. Reynolds' signature is the final step in this bill’s path to becoming law.

SF 360 / HF 694—Undecided: An act relating to the beginning farmer tax credit program, modifying participation and lease agreement requirements and tax credit amounts, and including effective date provisions.

UPDATE: HF 694 passed the House on March 24 and was referred to the Senate Ways & Means Committee. SF 360 came through the Senate Agriculture Committee and now rests in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Since March 1, when the Legislative Services Agency published a fiscal note demonstrating the bill’s impact on the state budget, the bill has not moved.

Renewable energy

We will be frank with you about our remaining renewable energy objectives—things are looking tough. But, thankfully, there’s still time to act. If you are an Iowan who values solar energy, reaching out to your elected officials could be the final push needed to advance Iowa’s solar future. The bill below, House File 221, remains stuck in the House Ways & Means Committee and if it doesn’t pass this year, come January, countless farmers, small business owners, and homeowners will not receive the solar tax credit they were promised when they invested in their solar system.

Will you act now by tweeting your state lawmakers, giving them a call, or sending them an email? We also stand ready to help you write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper in support of this bill. For the folks on the multi-year waiting list to receive their solar tax credit, it’s now or never. 

This isn’t hyperbole, if the session passes without action to pay down the waitlist, these folks will not receive their state solar tax credit come January.

HF 221For: An act relating to the solar energy system tax credit available against the individual and corporate income tax, the franchise tax, the moneys and credits tax, and including effective date and retroactive applicability provisions. Introduced by Rep. Jarad Klein, this bill would help farmers, small businesses, and homeowners across rural Iowa generate a long-lasting return on investment when they purchase solar energy. The bill would: 

Double the state-imposed cap on the Iowa Solar Tax Credit from $5 million to $10 million beginning in 2021 to promote the long-term growth of our state’s solar industry.

  • Allocate an additional $7 million in 2021 to pay down the years-long backlog of farmers, small businesses, and homeowners who have already purchased solar energy systems and have been waiting to receive their credit.
  • Bolster Iowa’s clean-energy leadership by decoupling the Iowa Solar Tax Credit from the federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and setting the state credit at 15% of total project costs. Currently, the credit is written to be 50% of the federal ITC, leaving Iowa’s clean energy future at the mercy of an unpredictable federal government.
  • Set a Dec. 30, 2030, expiration date for the Iowa Solar Tax Credit.

Learn more: 

Legislation Could Illuminate Iowa's Clean Energy Future

Check out this resource from our partners at the Iowa Environmental Council.

Read our official comments here.

Water quality

We had high hopes for our Watershed Advancements That Enhance Resources (WATER) Pilot Program this year. The program, which would have authorized the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship to competitively grant three, three-year grants to eligible watershed management authorities to cover the cost of staffing a full time watershed coordinator, remains a top priority of ours. However, after pushback from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the prospects are looking much more grim since our last update. However, if you would like to share your support with your state lawmaker, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me and I’m happy to connect you with them.

We still believe that Iowa’s quickest path to clean water and flood resilient communities rests with leveraging the leadership of our locally-directed watershed efforts.

HF 523 / SF 442—For: This bill modifies state code to define county flood-mitigation activities as an "essential county purpose," which would allow county boards of supervisors to contract debt and approve bonds, as allowed for other essential county purposes. 

UPDATE: After passing the House with a vote of 93-0, HF 523 passed the Senate Local Government Committee and was referred to the Senate Ways & Means Committee where it still sits. We continue to believe that this bill would empower counties to leverage every available tool to protect rural communities from the devastating impacts of flooding.