Iowa Legislative Update—May 4, 2021

Farm and Food
Small Towns

By Cody Smith, former staff member

Bringing rural Iowa to Des Moines

Nearly five months after the start of the 2021 legislative session, state lawmakers are approaching the finish line. As lawmakers finalize their budgets and wrap up the session, 47 bills have already been signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds. For rural Iowans, some major initiatives have moved forward, including an historic investment in rural broadband. Unfortunately, our work to improve water quality and promote renewable energy has not received the same support in the current legislative environment. While we remain committed to working on these issues in the interim and during the next legislative session, these areas remain largely unaddressed by the Legislature this year

But, on the bright side, thanks in part to our efforts to elevate the voices of small meat processors, farmers, and legislators, House File 857, a bill to support Iowa’s main street meat lockers, is one vote away from reaching the governor’s desk. No fewer than a dozen small meat processors have reached out to their state senators after we connected with them, putting pressure on the Iowa Senate to move the bill forward. In addition, we hosted a press conference on April 21 which featured seven state lawmakers, two small meat processors, and two farmers in support of the bill.

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. 

UPDATE: After passing the Iowa House on March 13 with a vote of 91-0, this bill passed a subcommittee consisting of Sens. Jeff Reichman, Ken Rozenboom, and William A. Dotzler and the Senate Appropriations Committee on April 27. This leaves only a full Senate floor vote on the bill, which includes our suggested amendment language that prohibits any facility employing more than 50 individuals from accessing this program.

Will you send an email to your state senator in support of HF 857? You can also call them by finding their phone number here. We are more than happy to help you craft your message to your senator, so please reach out if we can be of assistance.

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. Reynolds’ broadband bill, which she announced in her Condition of the State Address in January. In all, the governor proposed to allocate $150 million for broadband expansion this fiscal year and up to a total of $450 million by 2025. The final expenditure amount is currently being debated by House and Senate leadership, but the funding is expected to be $100 million when the final budget is adopted. This investment in rural broadband is historic and a model for other states to follow. We are proud to have supported this bill.

UPDATE: On March 29, HF 898 passed the House with a vote of 94-0. On April 6, this bill also passed the Senate with a vote of 47-0. Gov. Reynolds' signed the bill on April 28.

Renewable energy

As we said in our last update, HF 221, remains stuck in the House Ways & Means Committee. The prospects for this bill and the solar customers on the waitlist are not looking promising. 

At this point, we are down to the wire. If you haven’t already, we encourage you to tweet your state lawmakers, give them a call, or send them an email, especially if you are one of the more than 1900 customers who are on the waitlist. We also stand ready to help you write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper in support of this bill. For the folks on the multi-year waiting list to receive their solar tax credit, it’s now or never. 

This isn’t hyperbole, if the session passes without action to pay down the waitlist, these folks will not receive their state solar tax credit come January.

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: 

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.

Water quality

The Watershed Advancements That Enhance Resources (WATER) Pilot Program we proposed this year was a strong, evidence-based proposal with solid bipartisan support. The program, which would have authorized the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship to competitively grant three, three-year grants to eligible watershed management authorities to cover the cost of staffing a full time watershed coordinator, would have helped accelerate progress toward the goals of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy while also reducing flood risks. By investing in watershed coordinators, the state could have empowered locally-directed watershed efforts to be proactive in their efforts to identify farmers and landowners who are willing to implement water quality improvement and flood mitigation practices. 

Unfortunately, not even common-sense, bipartisan proposals to improve water quality and reduce flooding impacts could survive in this political environment, especially after the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship pushed back on our proposal to lawmakers. We still believe that Iowa’s quickest path to clean water and flood resilient communities rests with leveraging the leadership of our locally-directed watershed efforts. The success of recent projects led by watershed management authorities to rapidly expand water quality practices in Iowa is further evidence in support of our proposed path forward. 

We will continue our efforts to promote locally-directed efforts to clean up Iowa’s water.

HF 523 / SF 442For: 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. We continue to believe that this bill would empower counties to leverage every available tool to protect rural communities from the devastating impacts of flooding. The final step in this process is a signature from Gov. Reynolds.