Iowa Legislative Update—May 9, 2023


By Kate Hansen, former staff member

On May 4, the 2023 Iowa legislative session came to a close. In the last days of the session, lawmakers passed a series of budget bills and final priorities, including items we believe will have positive rural impacts. 

We were glad to see lawmakers approve House File (HF) 666, with provisions that will allow Water Quality Initiative funding in an urban account to be moved to an agriculture projects account at the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship's discretion, maximizing the impact of these dollars. 

Also encouraging was a $1 million appropriation for the Butchery Innovation and Revitalization Program included in the economic development budget, Senate File (SF) 559. The funding will see the program through its third year and will help meet high demand from small meat processors across the state. Lawmakers also took action to support producers and vendors who sell at farmers markets, by shifting licensing requirements from a county to statewide basis in HF 661. After passing both chambers, the legislation is on its way to the governor to sign. 

This year, our staff engaged on a number of bills relating to renewable energy. In particular, we opposed Senate Study Bill 1077, which would have set statewide siting standards to the detriment of local control. We provided legislators with details on an alternative approach—implementing a voluntary siting matrix. We were appreciative that the bill was unable to advance past the first funnel deadline. 

Our staff also engaged in efforts to promote Iowa’s Watershed Management Authorities (WMA) and soil health. We made meaningful progress this session and are committed to the next steps to get these priorities across the finish line. They include securing funding for WMA staff—which did appear in a draft budget earlier in the session, but did not advance to the final package—and legislation relating to soil health, HF 282

Finally, we extend our sincere appreciation to all of you for following along this session, engaging with your lawmakers, and for your care for the issues that impact rural Iowa. Thank you for making your rural voice heard.

Here is an overview of the bills we engaged with this session, and where they landed:

Water quality

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. On April 11, HF 666 was amended and passed the House by a vote of 98-0. On May 2, it was amended and passed in the Senate, 48-0. On May 3, it passed the House as amended, 93-0. It now heads to the governor to sign.

SF 558—Undecided: Introduced by the Senate Committee on Appropriations, this bill contains budget items relating to agriculture, natural resources, and environmental protection. A line item for Watershed Management Authority staff, which was included in the House appropriation subcommittee’s proposal, was not included in the final bill. We are disappointed that lawmakers chose not to make this investment to protect one of our state’s most precious resources. On April 25, the bill passed the Senate by a vote of 33-16. On May 2, it passed the House by a vote of 62-33, and now heads to the governor to sign. 

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. On March 30, the bill was placed on the Senate calendar under unfinished business, but did not progress further. 

SSB 1052/HF 448—For: These bills would designate certain county flood mitigation activities as essential county purposes. Specifically, the legislation names reconnection of floodplains, and wetland and oxbow lake restoration. SSB 1052 was introduced in mid-January, and in late February its companion in the House, HF 448 was also introduced.  In the Senate and House, subcommittees for the bills recommended their passage on Jan. 23 and Feb. 28, respectively. Unfortunately, neither of these bills cleared the first funnel deadline, making them no longer viable. 

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, but did not progress further.  

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. In the House, a number of amendments were filed in late April and early May, and the bill was referred to Local Government on May 4. It did not progress further.

Renewable energy

SSB 1077—Against: Introduced by Chair Dawn Driscoll in the Senate Agriculture Committee, this bill would have created statewide siting standards by not allowing solar development on agricultural land, unless the land is at least 150 feet from the nearest adjacent landowner and 1,200 feet from the nearest residence or livestock facility. The Center opposed the legislation because it would have set unworkable siting standards and removed local control. Our staff provided a verbal comment during the subcommittee meeting and a written comment to the full committee. Our comments were to advocate for an alternative approach of implementing a voluntary siting matrix. The bill was passed out of its subcommittee but did pass through the full committee before the first funnel deadline. 

HF 248—Against: This bill will 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. The affected utilities will now have the sole discretion in filing updates to this plan, which will reduce oversight from the IUB to control the cost to ratepayers. HF 248 passed the House by a vote of 75-24 on Feb. 15, and the Senate on March 22 by a vote of 41-9. On April 28, it was signed by the governor.

SF 532—For: Introduced by Sen. Annette Sweeney in different committees, the bill requires 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, however it did not clear the second funnel.

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 April 6, the bill was placed under unfinished business, a procedural move to keep it eligible for consideration. On May 4, it was referred to the House Commerce Committee but did not progress any further. 

SF 332—For: Introduced by Sen. Mike Klemisch, this bill would have created a shared solar net metering cooperative. It would allow for virtual net-metering of community solar for behind-the-meter facilities of one megawatt or less and allows for up to 10 investors. It also would have allowed Iowa farmers, school districts, businesses, cities, and counties with solar arrays in multiple locations to consolidate their multiple meters onto one virtual meter. This bill would have saved Iowans on their electricity bills by crediting the customer for excess energy produced proportional to the size of the investors solar subscription and open up investment in a local and renewable source of energy to more Iowans. The legislation was introduced in the Senate Commerce Committee and assigned a subcommittee, but did not clear the first funnel.

SSB 1149 —Undecided: Introduced by Senate Commerce Committee Chair Waylon Brown, this bill would have incentivized battery storage development by updating the Iowa public utility regulatory code. The bill was introduced in the Senate Commerce Committee, and a subcommittee recommended its passage on Feb. 15. It died in the first funnel. 

SSB 1059—For: Introduced by Senate Commerce Committee Chair Waylon Brown, this bill addresses the same section and process as SF 198, however, it requires all public utilities that own electric generating facilities to be included in the process. It also features the addition of an integrated resource plan that would be filed biannually to the IUB. This would have forced the utility to report the projected resources used to meet demand, the source of that energy, lower-cost strategies, and alternate planning scenarios. The bill was referred to the Senate Commerce Committee and assigned a subcommittee. On Jan. 25, the bill was tabled until a future meeting. After failing to pass the first funnel deadline, it was no longer viable. 

SF 2—Against: Introduced by Sen. Brad Zaun, this bill would have created a statewide siting standard for wind energy systems that includes a minimum setback distance of 5,000 feet from existing non-participating dwellings and property lines. The bill would remove local control from county governments and create an unworkable setback standard, limiting economic opportunities for rural communities. This legislation was introduced in the Senate Commerce Committee and assigned a subcommittee, but it did not progress or pass the first funnel deadline.

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 was assigned a subcommittee in the Senate on Feb. 23, but did not pass the second funnel deadline, and therefore was unable to advance.

HF 661—For: Introduced in both the House and Senate, this legislation would make changes relating to licensing for local foods producers and vendors. The Center is supportive of elements of the bill that 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. On March 15, HF 661 was amended and passed the House by a vote of 77-20. On May 3, it passed the Senate by a vote of 33-15. The legislation now heads to the governor. 

SF 559—Monitoring: Introduced by the Senate Committee on Appropriations, this bill contains budget items relating to the economic development of the state. It includes appropriations totaling $1,000,000 for the Butchery Innovation and Revitalization Program. On May 2, the bill passed the Senate 48-0, and on May 4 it passed the House 88-2. It now heads to the governor for approval. 

SF 102—Monitoring: Introduced in the Senate by Sen. Jeff Taylor, this legislation would have repealed the ability of a pipeline company to survey private land with a 10 days written notice. The legislation was referred to the Senate Commerce Committee and assigned a subcommittee, however it was never heard in subcommittee and died in the first funnel.

HF 68—Against: This legislation will create an Education Savings Account Program for every student in the state, amounting to $7,600 per year, which is equal to the state’s program cost per pupil per school budget year. These scholarships will be funded by taxpayers for the use of tuition and educational expenses at non-public schools. If a student chooses to attend a private school, that school receives the state funding and the public school loses out on the $7,600 for that student. The program is estimated to cost the state $345 million annually. On Jan.  23, the bill passed the House 55-45, and the Senate 31-18. It was signed by the governor the following day.