Iowa Legislative Update—Feb. 21, 2023

Environment
Farm and Food
Small Towns

We’re in the seventh week of the 2023 Iowa legislative session. The first funnel deadline is quickly approaching on March 3. To remain viable, bills must pass through committees in their own chambers by this date (with some exceptions). 

In a House Agriculture Committee meeting last week, we were glad to see a number of our priorities advance—a bill relating to soil health, a bill updating farmers market vendor fees, and a bill with provisions on water quality funding. 

We are paying close attention to the water quality provisions in Senate File 311 and House File 277, which we believe present an opportunity to maximize the impact of the state’s Water Quality Initiative funds. Our staff has taken a number of actions to support the bills. 

Carbon pipelines have also been a contentious topic of discussion at the Capitol. Click here to read our recent blog outlining proposed legislation in Iowa and South Dakota, and stay tuned for future installations in the series.

If you have any questions or would like to share the rural issues that are important to you, please do not hesitate to reach out to me at kateh@cfra.org or 515.215.1294.

Thank you for making your rural voice heard.

Water quality

Senate File (SF) 311/House File (HF) 277—For: Proposed by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, this legislation relates to programs and regulations administered and enforced by the department. It encompasses multiple content areas, including water quality. Division IV of the bill would allow Water Quality Initiative funding in an urban account to be shifted to an agriculture projects account. It is our understanding that in past years, funding has been left over in the urban account, even after all eligible applications were funded. We see this proposal as an opportunity to maximize the impact and availability of state funds directed to water quality. Watershed Management Authorities often use these funds to implement key conservation and flood mitigation projects in their area.

In the House, the Agriculture Committee approved the bill on Feb. 13. In the Senate, the Agriculture Committee did the same on Feb. 15. Both bills were subsequently renumbered and referred to their respective Ways and Means Committees. Earlier versions of this legislation were numbered Senate Study Bill (SSB) 1115 and House Study Bill (HSB) 113.

Senate Study Bill (SSB) 1052—For: Introduced by Senate Local Government Chair Jesse Green, this bill would designate certain county flood mitigation activities as essential county purposes. Specifically, the legislation names reconnection of floodplains, and wetland and oxbow lake restoration. On Jan. 23, the bill’s subcommittee recommended its passage.

SF 34—Against: Introduced by Senate Local Government Chair Jesse Green, this bill would prohibit counties and cities from adopting, enforcing, or otherwise administering regulations on stormwater that exceed or conflict with federal or state regulations. We are concerned about this legislation’s potential implications for local control. It was assigned a subcommittee on Jan. 11, but a meeting has not yet been scheduled.

Renewable energy

SSB 1149 —Undecided: Introduced by Sen. Chair Waylon Brown, this bill would incentivize battery storage development by updating the Iowa public utility regulatory code. The bill was filed in the Senate Commerce Committee, and a subcommittee recommended its passage on Feb. 15.

SSB 1077—Against: Introduced by Chairperson Dawn Driscoll in the Senate Agriculture Committee, this bill would create statewide siting standards for solar development on agricultural land, unless the land is at least 150 feet from the nearest adjacent landowner and 1,200 feet from the nearest residence or livestock facility. The bill’s subcommittee met on Jan. 30 and recommended an amendment and passage. The Center opposes the legislation because it sets unworkable siting standards and removes local control. Our staff provided a verbal comment during the subcommittee meeting and advocated for an alternative approach of implementing a voluntary siting matrix.

SF 198/HF 248—Against: This bill would remove a requirement placed on public utilities that own electric generation facilities fueled by coal to file biannual updates to their plan and budget for managing regulated emissions. Instead, the legislation would allow the affected utilities to have the sole discretion in filing updates to this plan, which would reduce oversight from the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) to control the cost to ratepayers. On Feb. 15, the legislation passed the House by a vote of 75-24. It was subsequently sent to the Senate, and attached to SF 198, which passed out of its committee earlier this month.

SSB 1059—For: Introduced by Senate Commerce Committee Chair Waylon Brown, this bill addresses the same section and process as SF 198, however, it requires all public utilities that own electric generating facilities to be included in the process. It also features the addition of an integrated resource plan that would be filed biannually to the IUB. This would force the utility to report the projected resources used to meet demand, the source of that energy, lower-cost strategies, and alternate planning scenarios. Should SF 198 pass, it would make this bill moot. The bill was referred to the Senate Commerce Committee and assigned to a subcommittee. On Jan. 25, the bill was tabled until a future meeting.

SF 2—Against: Introduced by Sen. Brad Zaun, this bill would create a statewide siting standard for wind energy systems that includes a minimum setback distance of 5,000 feet from existing non-participating dwellings and property lines. The bill would remove local control from county governments and create an unworkable setback standard, limiting economic opportunities for rural communities. The legislation was filed in the Senate Commerce Committee and assigned to a subcommittee. A meeting has not been scheduled.

SSB 1085—Undecided: Introduced by Senate Commerce Committee Chairperson Waylon Brown, this bill states that a county or a city cannot adopt an ordinance, motion, resolution, or amendment that limits consumer access to an energy source or contributes to the prohibition of the sale or production and the infrastructure necessary to provide consumer access. An energy source is defined as any fuel or power source used to operate an engine including any type of fossil fuel, hydrogen, natural gas, and electricity used for charging vehicles. The bill’s subcommittee recommended its passage on Feb. 7.

Other bills of interest

HF 282—For: Introduced by Rep. Norlin Mommsen and referred to the House Agriculture Committee, this legislation would make updates to the Soil and Water Conservation chapter of Iowa State Code. The bill would allow soil and water conservation districts to broaden their purview by prioritizing soil health and carrying out water quality protection projects within their jurisdiction. It would also allow soil and water conservation districts to partner with a private entity to help fund these projects.

Center staff provided recommendations for the bill’s improvement, including additions to a list of conservation practices to include rotational grazing and extended crop rotation. This language was incorporated into the current version. Previously HF 69, the bill was renumbered after its approval by the House Agriculture Committee on Feb. 13. It now heads to the House floor.

SF 134/HF 278—For: Introduced in both the House and Senate, this legislation would shift farmers market licensing requirements from a county basis to a statewide basis. Presently, vendors are required to pay an annual $150 license fee to sell at farmers markets on a county basis. To sell in multiple counties, one must pay multiple county fees. This legislation would institute a single statewide annual fee of $150, reducing barriers for agricultural producers and small business owners to widely market their products. It also includes similar provisions to lessen the burden on temporary food establishments.

On Feb. 1, the bill’s Senate subcommittee recommended its amendment and passage. In the House, the legislation passed out of the Agriculture Committee on Feb. 13, was renumbered (formerly HF 80), and referred to Ways and Means.

SF 102/HF 307—Monitoring: Introduced in the Senate by Sen. Jeff Taylor, this bill would repeal the ability of a pipeline company to survey private land with a 10 days written notice. The bill was introduced in the commerce committee and assigned a subcommittee, but no meeting has been scheduled. A companion bill in the House was introduced on Feb. 15 and referred to the Judiciary Committee.