Iowa Legislative Update—March 21, 2023

Small Towns
Farm and Food

It’s the 11th week of the Iowa state session. The first funnel deadline passed earlier this month, and we are looking ahead to another deadline on March 31. By then, most bills must pass out of committees in the opposite chamber from where they originated to remain viable.

At this stage, lawmakers are putting together the state budget, and you have an opportunity to support water quality and flood mitigation efforts. The Center is urging legislators to include funds for Watershed Management Authorities (WMA).

Together, the WMAs have installed more than 2,600 conservation practices and brought more than $50 million to Iowa. But, their future is uncertain due to lack of funding for staff. To learn more, read our recent report.

Will you reach out to your lawmakers and encourage them to include WMAs in the budget? Click here to learn more about how to get involved.

We are also supportive of components of Senate File (SF) 550, which would modify tax mechanisms and ultimately fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, or IWILL. The legislation is complex in a number of ways. If you have feedback on how these changes would impact rural communities, please let us know.

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

Thank you for making your rural voice heard.

Water quality

Senate File (SF) 550—For: with note: Introduced by Senate Ways and Means Chair, Sen. Dan Dawson, this legislation would modify sales and use, water service, property, and local option taxes, and other tax mechanisms. Notably, the legislation would fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, or IWILL. The Center is registered in support of this legislation specifically as it relates to Watershed Management Authorities and the Local Conservation Partnership Program detailed in sections 135 and 136. SF 550 passed out of the Senate Ways and Means Committee on March 9.

SF 311/House File (HF) 666—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 moved to an agriculture projects account at the department’s discretion. 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 Ways and Means Committee approved this legislation on March 13. Previously HF 277, it was renumbered to HF 666. In the Senate, the bill passed the Agriculture Committee on Feb. 15.

HF 376—For: Introduced by Rep. Charles Isenhart, this legislation would fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, also known as IWILL, by increasing the state sales tax incrementally from 6% to 6.375% by 2026. Such action would create robust new funding for conservation efforts across the state, including Iowa’s Watershed Management Authorities. The bill was introduced on Feb. 21 and referred to Ways and Means.

SF 455—Monitoring: In its first iteration as SF 34, this bill would have prohibited counties and cities from adopting, enforcing, or otherwise administering regulations on stormwater that exceed or conflict with federal regulations. In the amendment process, the bill evolved, and now relates to regulation of top soil and storm water at construction sites. On March 15, the bill was amended and passed by the Senate by a vote of 33-15. It has been referred to the Local Government Committee in the House.

Renewable energy

SF 532—For: This legislation was introduced by Sen. Annette Sweeney. It would require that an application to build electric transmission lines submitted to the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) must include an agricultural land restoration plan for the construction of the line. A unique plan would be made with each landowner and property to fully restore the land of any damage caused during construction. The legislation would set a standard for land restoration for all future transmission infrastructure buildout. This bill passed out of the Senate Commerce Committee on March 2 with an amendment.

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 IUB to control the cost to ratepayers. On Feb. 15, HF 248 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 in early February.

SF 411 —Undecided: Introduced by Senate Commerce Committee Chair, Sen. 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. This bill passed the Senate on March 6 by a vote of 41-6. On March 15, its subcommittee in the House Commerce Committee recommended passage.

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. This bill passed the House by a vote of 95-0 on Feb. 22. It has been assigned a subcommittee in the Senate.

HF 661/SF 134—For: Introduced in both the House and Senate, this legislation would make changes relating to licensing for local foods producers and vendors. On March 15, HF 661 (formerly HF 278) was amended and passed by the House by a vote of 77-20. It has been referred to the Agriculture Committee in the Senate, and was assigned a subcommittee on March 20. As amended, the bill would shift farmers market licensing requirements from a county basis to a statewide basis. It would also make changes to licensing requirements for food processing plants, temporary food establishments, and the definition of homemade food items.