Iowa Legislative Update—March 9, 2021

Small Towns
Farm and Food

By Cody Smith, former staff member

Bringing rural Iowa to Des Moines

A major legislative deadline, known as the “first funnel,” has come and gone at the Iowa Legislature. The first funnel deadline stipulates that bills must have made it out of their committee of origin by Friday, March 5. In short, House bills had to clear House committees and Senate bills had to clear Senate committees by then. Tax, budget, appropriations, and leadership bills are all exempt from the funnel deadline.

With this deadline behind us, we’re happy to say that our major priorities have remained viable at the Legislature, even as some bills didn’t clear the first funnel. Looking forward, we’re focused on the upcoming Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) meeting in March. This meeting will give legislators a clearer picture about what money is available to allocate to our priorities and many other items. Following the REC meeting, the second funnel deadline, where bills from one chamber must make it out of the committee of another to remain alive, is April 2.

Please reach out if you want to add your voice to our efforts.

Thank you for your commitment to rural Iowa.

Renewable energy

Iowa is a leader in renewable energy, and we advocate for sensible public policies to continue and expand this reality. This session, renewable energy bills are still on the table and we hope you’ll engage with us to help move them forward.

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 set 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: A few weeks ago, 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. Click here to send a customizable email to your state legislators, contact them directly, or write a letter to the editor to your local newspaper in support of this bill. We have also registered in support of similar bills HF 323 and SF 215. As a reminder, this bill is not subject to the funnel deadlines 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.

Senate Study Bill (SSB) 1088 / 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. SSB 1088 died in the Senate Commerce Committee last week as a result of the first funnel. 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

We remain committed to securing state support for watershed management authorities, watershed coordinators, and other locally directed watershed improvement efforts. Last update, I shared our efforts to enact the Watershed Advancements That Enhance Resources (WATER) Pilot Program. As a reminder, 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: This bill (formerly HSB 56) advanced out of the House State Government Committee on Feb. 11. 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. The bill has yet to receive a vote on the full House floor. A companion bill in the Senate—SSB 1169—passed the Senate Local Government Committee and was renumbered as SF 442. SF 442 now rests in the Senate Ways & Means Committee.

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. 

Update: This bill passed the full House Agriculture Committee on March 3 with a vote of 22-0.

Rural economic development

A number of bills were introduced this session related to agriculture, beginning farmers, small businesses, and other topics regarding rural economic development. Several bills we had registered on, SF 68, HF 242, and HF 112, did not survive the first funnel. However, there were also additions to our list. 

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. This bill passed the full House Agriculture Committee on March 3 with a vote of 22-0.

SF 390 / HF 796—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 Feb. 17, the Senate Commerce Committee advanced SF 390 (formerly SSB 1089) to the Senate Floor with a vote of 17-0. The house version of this bill, HSB 133, passed the House Information Technology Committee on March 4.

HSB 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 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. SF 360 (formerly SSB 1144) came through the Senate Agriculture Committee and now rests in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

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 events

March 23: Iowa Environmental Council’s Clean Water Advocacy Training

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
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