Iowa Legislative Update—April 6, 2021

Farm and Food

By Cody Smith, former staff member

Bringing rural Iowa to Des Moines

Last week marked the 12th week of the 2021 Iowa legislative session. On Friday, the second funnel deadline came and went. This deadline means that bills from one chamber must have made it out of the committee of another to remain alive. There are several bills which are exempt from the second funnel deadline, including those that deal with the state budget and those that are within the Ways and Means, Appropriations, or Government Oversight committees.

Following the funnel deadline, several of our key priorities remain viable at the Capitol. If you are interested in adding your voice to advancing rural priorities, such as solar energy, water quality, meat processing, and more, let us know.

Thank you for your commitment to rural Iowa.

Renewable energy

Clean energy offers a significant opportunity to diversify the rural economy while generating cheap, renewable power for homes and businesses. Wind, solar, and other renewable energy projects help revitalize rural communities by taking advantage of their rich energy resources. New tax revenue from these projects helps shore up local infrastructure, like schools and emergency services, while reducing the local tax burden on rural people. Meanwhile, farmers and landowners receive land-lease payments from project developers in an unpredictable farm economy. In addition, new jobs are created by the increased demand for local manufacturing and project operators. 

We work directly with legislators to ensure sensible public policy that helps rural communities embrace a 21st century clean-energy economy.

House File (HF) 221—For: 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.

UPDATE: This bill has yet to advance out of the House Ways & Means Committee. However, this was expected as lawmakers awaited the budget estimates from the Revenue Estimating Conference last month. Now is the time when your voice could be the one to help move this bill forward. As a reminder, we’ve developed this tool you can use to send a customizable email to your state legislators. You can also contact them directly or write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper in support of this bill. We stand ready to assist you with your advocacy efforts at every turn. 

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

HF 460—Against: An act relating to vegetation management by certain electric suppliers. As written, these bills give municipal utilities, rural electric cooperatives, and investor-owned utilities widespread authority to remove any vegetation within an electric distribution line corridor. We believe there should be changes to protect private property rights and conduct a clear assessment of the risks that may or may not be posed by existing vegetation. In addition, we are advocating for a clear remedial process for affected property owners.

UPDATE: This bill did not clear the second funnel deadline last week and will not be passed during the 2021 legislative session.

Learn more:
Read our official comments here

Water quality

Clean water remains a key priority in our work at the Legislature, as each of us rely on it to produce our food, sustain our lives, and so much more. 

We remain committed to implementing the Watershed Advancements That Enhance Resources (WATER) Pilot Program. This program would authorize the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to award three, three-year grants of $300,000 to eligible watershed management authorities to cover the expenses of staffing a full-time watershed coordinator. We were recently featured in a media story about this effort.

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 Senate Local Government Committee on March 30, this bill was referred to the Senate Ways & Means Committee. The bill passed the House on March 9 with a vote of 93-0, leaving the Senate as the bill’s final legislative hurdle. We support this bill because we believe counties should be able to use every available tool to protect rural communities from the devastating impacts of flooding.

HF 801—For: An Act relating to the management of soil and water resources, by providing for certain practices and projects, including projects described in the Iowa nutrient reduction strategy.

This bill, introduced by Rep. Norlin Mommsen, would modernize language in the state code by including water quality and soil health in the authorizing language for Soil and Water Conservation Districts. Among the bill’s results are these: 

  • Integrate soil and water conservation practices into agricultural systems across the state;
  • Help Soil and Water Conservation Districts develop conservation plans that improve soil health and water quality; 
  • Provide machinery, equipment, and other support to assist farmers in their efforts to restore healthy soils;
  • Encourage school districts to teach students about soil conservation and healthy soil practices; and
  • Help guide the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and Soil and Water C
  • Conservation Districts as they work together to develop long-term plans for conserving soil and water resources.

UPDATE: This bill did not clear the second funnel deadline.

Rural economic development

We have been working with lawmakers to secure investments in rural economies. From small meat processors, rural broadband access, to beginning farmers, our efforts have continued to inform bills aimed at creating opportunities in rural communities. 

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 Agriculture Committee on March 3 with a vote of 22-0 as well as the full House Ways & Means Committee on March 31. We worked with Rep. Ingels and members of the House Ways & Means Committee to include an amendment that caps the program eligibility to apply for local lockers who employ a total of 50 employees. This amendment was adopted and we believe with this change, the bill can more effectively meet the unique needs of Iowa’s local lockers. The bill is now eligible for a House vote.

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 bill would allocate $150 million for broadband expansion this fiscal year and up to a total of $450 million by 2025. We are excited for this groundbreaking investment in rural broadband. In addition to our support, we are encouraging lawmakers to adopt a clear definition of what “rural” means in the bill. We have suggested using the “Nonmetro” county classification as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

UPDATE: On March 29, HF 898 passed the House with a vote of 94-0. Upon passage, HF 898 was delivered to the Senate and attached to similar bill, SF 390, and added to the Senate calendar as unfinished business. This means the bill is eligible for debate and survived the funnel.

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. On March 1, the Legislative Services Agency published a fiscal note demonstrating the bill’s impact on the state budget.

House Study Bill 1—For: This bill, sponsored by Rep. Lee Hein, relates to tax credits awarded by the economic development authority for specific capital contributions made to certified rural business growth funds for investment in qualified businesses. The bill would allow private investors to raise capital for funds dedicated to aiding rural small businesses. Contributions to those funds are then eligible for a tax credit. The amount of tax credit is contingent upon the number of jobs created by those businesses the fund is used to support.  

SF 267—Undecided: An act relating to determinations of actual value of certain agricultural property based on productivity and net earning capacity. This bill makes adjustments to how the actual value of agricultural property is determined.

Upcoming event

April 8 - Rural Resiliency Forum with State Rep. Chad Ingels from noon to 1 p.m. Click here to register for this online event.