Iowa Legislative Update—May 21, 2021

Environment
Farm and Food

By Cody Smith, former staff member

Bringing rural Iowa to Des Moines

Four months and seven days. That’s how long the 2021 Iowa legislative session lasted. Lawmakers completed their business and adjourned Wednesday night just before midnight. While this session was unlike any other and many challenges faced by rural Iowans remain unaddressed, we are proud of the work we have done together to achieve more investments in the rural communities where we work, live, and call home. From all of us at the Center for Rural Affairs—thank you for your commitment to rural Iowa.

This session you all delivered a combined 165 emails to state lawmakers in support of solar energy, small meat processors, and water quality. In addition, you helped bring forth more than 20 messages of support from small meat lockers, farmers, and landowners in favor of House File (HF) 857. Meanwhile, more than a dozen solar customers and advocates met with their legislators or called them directly to advocate for HF 221 to fix the Iowa Solar Tax Credit. 

At the same time, with your help, we hosted a virtual Rural Resiliency Forum with three dozen attendees and organized a press conference that featured seven state lawmakers, two small meat processors, and two farmers in support of our priorities. In all, the Center has connected you all with 38 lawmakers over the last two years to advocate for changes that improve our quality of life in rural Iowa.

While this work continues and we remain committed to achieving progress next year, we’re proud to celebrate some significant wins.. 

This year the Center registered on 44 bills —we supported 23, opposed three, and monitored 18 others. Of the bills we supported, we’re proud to say that all but three passed in one form or another. Of the bills we opposed, not one gained final approval. Among the wins you helped secure were an investment of $100 million in rural broadband expansion, $750,000 in support for small meat processors, granting more tools to county officials to address flooding concerns, and expanding options for livestock producers to reduce their environmental footprint. Perhaps most exciting of all is that with your help we were able to draft, introduce, and pass an original Center amendment to target new state resources to small meat processors that employ less than 50 employees. 

Again, we thank you for your commitment to rural Iowa.

Rural economic development

Rural economies play a crucial role in Iowa’s economic growth and expansion. Thanks to your support and partnership, we have worked with lawmakers to help secure historic investments in the future of rural Iowa.

House File (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. We helped achieve an amendment that targeted eligibility to meat lockers that employ less than 50 employees.

UPDATE: This bill first passed the Iowa House on April 13 with a vote of 91-0 and again on May 19 with a vote of 88-0. The bill cleared the Senate 48-0 on May 19. Of the 2 subcommittee votes, three committee votes, and three floor votes, there was not a single vote against this bill, indicating its strong bipartisan support. The final budget for this program is $750,000 in total funding. We will continue our efforts to secure more funding from all available sources, including federal COVID relief dollars.

Renewable energy

Unfortunately, the changes we sought to the Iowa Solar Tax Credit in House File 221 never made it out of the House Ways & Means Committee. For the more than 1,900 customers who are on the tax credit waitlist, the clock has run out and they will not get the credit they were promised. However, the last minute passage of HF 522 has given Iowa’s livestock producers another option to comply with air and water regulations and reduce their environmental footprint.

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.

Learn more: 
Cedar Rapids Gazette: Iowa’s Rural Future is Brighter with Solar
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 522—For: An act providing that a qualified confinement feeding operation may utilize an anaerobic digester system to treat manure, and making penalties applicable.

This bill empowers Iowa’s livestock producers to utilize anaerobic digesters to treat manure and comply with air and water regulations. “Anaerobic digester system” means a manure storage structure that is covered, if the primary function of the manure storage structure is to process manure by employing environmental conditions including bacteria to break down organic matter in the absence of oxygen, and is used for producing, collecting, and utilizing a biogas.

UPDATE: This bill passed the Iowa House on Feb. 23 with a vote of 75-18 and passed the Iowa Senate on May 17 with a vote of 38-7.

Water quality

Iowa’s water quality continues to be a key challenge for the Legislature. Unfortunately, not much has moved in regard to this issue during the 2021 legislative session. With the exception of the bill below and the funding provided through the agriculture and natural resources appropriations bill, lawmakers chose not to address this issue during the legislative session. We remain committed to working to advance evidence-based, bipartisan solutions to water resources management in the interim.

HF 523—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 House with a vote of 93-0, HF 523 passed the Iowa Senate unanimously on April 28. Gov. Reynolds signed this bill into law on May 10.