Iowa Legislative Update—March 23, 2021

Farm and Food

By Cody Smith, former staff member

Bringing rural Iowa to Des Moines

Last week marked the 10th week of the 2021 Iowa legislative session. On Friday, the Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) met and projected a revenue increase of $109 million, reaching a total of $8.079 billion for fiscal year (FY) 2021, which ends on June 30, 2021. For FY 2022, which ends on June 30, 2022, the REC increased the revenue estimate to $8.385 billion, an increase of $120 million compared to the December estimate. 

Importantly, these numbers mean the state did not meet the income tax triggers passed in 2018 by the Legislature. Because the growth estimates came in below these triggers, the elimination of deductibility of federal income taxes and the lowering of income tax rates will not happen in 2023. So, unless the Legislature advances a bill to remove the triggers they put in place in 2018, these numbers will be used to help craft the budget.

As we move toward the second funnel deadline where bills from one chamber must make it out of the committee of another to remain alive on April 2, we remain committed to advancing our priorities.

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.

This bill has yet to advance as lawmakers awaited the REC estimates. Last month, this bill passed out of its House subcommittee with unanimous support. The bill remains in the House Ways & Means Committee and we need your voice to make sure it moves forward. Please, click here to send a customizable email to your state legislators, contact them directly, or write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper in support of this bill. We have also registered in support of similar bills HF 323 and Senate File (SF) 215. As a reminder, this bill is not subject to the second funnel deadline because it includes an appropriation of funds.

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: On Feb. 8, the House Commerce Committee approved a slightly amended version of HF 460 (formerly HSB 149) and it is now on the House floor. This bill was set to be on the House calendar for Monday, March 22, meaning it is eligible for a full House vote. As a reminder, the Center provided suggested amendments to lawmakers in both chambers that would do two things: 

  • Establish a clear adjudication process at the Iowa Utilities Board for affected property owners so they can dispute scheduled vegetation management actions if they choose; 
  • Require electric suppliers to publicly disclose their vegetation management plan, which outlines remedial options for affected property owners and a clear process for notifying property owners of scheduled vegetation management actions.

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: On March 9, this bill passed the full House with a vote of 93-0. The bill now rests with the Senate Local Government Committee. 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 Conservation Districts as they work together to develop long-term plans for conserving soil and water resources. 

This bill passed the full House Agriculture Committee on March 3 with a vote of 22-0. HF 801 remains on the debate calendar in the House.

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 787—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. HF 787 passed the full House Agriculture Committee on March 3 with a vote of 22-0. We are working with Rep. Ingels and members of the committee to ensure the bill can more effectively meet the unique needs of Iowa’s local lockers. 

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 18, HF 796 passed the House Appropriations Committee and was renumbered to HF 848. On Feb. 17, the Senate Commerce Committee advanced SF 390 to the Senate Floor with a vote of 17-0. Both bills await a floor vote in their respective chambers.

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 (formerly HF 484) was passed by the House Agriculture Committee on Feb. 17 and is currently in the House Ways and Means Committee. SF 360 (formerly SSB 1144) 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

Advocacy resources

We encourage you to be involved in the legislative process by communicating with your representatives about issues that are important to you. Here are some tips for engaging with your legislators and a quick tutorial on how to navigate the state’s legislative website. 

How to be a rural advocate
Engaging with the Iowa Legislature
Find your legislators