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Iowa Capitol Digest

Iowa Capitol Digest

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HJ - Standard Iowa Capitol Digest

A roundup of legislative and Capitol news items of interest for Tuesday:

OTC BIRTH CONTROL: A proposal from Gov. Kim Reynolds to make birth control available at pharmacies for adult women was advanced by a Senate Human Resources subcommittee Tuesday despite opposition from anti-abortion groups. SSB 1157 would make self-administered hormonal birth control available at pharmacies without a prescription.

“This is just common sense legislation with the goal of lowering unintended pregnancies,” said Logan Shine, the governor’s legislative liaison.

Lobbyists for anti-abortion groups told the panel that over-the-counter birth control is unsafe and unreliable, and can induce abortion. Joan Thompson, a lobbyist for the Iowa Catholic Conference, expressed concern the legislation would “undercut” the physician-patient relationship and lacked an enforcement provision to keep contraceptives from minors. Advocates for pharmacists said they are trained and prepared to administer a program that would increase access to safe birth control.

“I think it’s a responsible bill,” said Sen. Chris Cournoyer, R-LeClaire, before the panel sent the bill to full committee with expectations the current language would be amended.

SENATE CONFIRMATIONS: The list of state board members and commissioners named by the governor or appointing authorities and subject to Senate confirmation would be pared back under legislation that cleared a Senate State Government subcommittee Tuesday.

SSB 1148 would remove nearly two dozen entities from the requirement that they receive approval from a two-thirds majority of the 50-member Iowa Senate before assuming their duties. Included on the list were members of the state Board of Corrections, the Council on Human Services, the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Finance Disclosure Board, the state Civil Rights Commission, and the Iowa Public Information Board. Committee chairman Sen. Roby Smith, R-Davenport, who led the subcommittee, said SSB 1148 has a “backstop” provision that allows at least 26 senators to request a confirmation vote if necessary. The request would be presented to the Senate president, governor or appointing authority with an explanation why the request was made. The bill now goes to the full committee for consideration.

HOUSING HELP: The Iowa Finance Authority and Department of Revenue will be “harmonized” by passage of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ housing plan, Rep. Terry Baxter, R-Garner, told the House Economic Growth Committee, which approved it 19-0.

Housing is among the top issues in rural and urban communities, Baxter said, and the Reynolds administration estimates Iowa will need about 47,000 additional homes by 2030.

HF 178 would expand affordable housing options, in part, by creating up to $15 million annually in tax credits for developers of low-income housing as well as remove the $3 million cap on revenue for local housing trust funds.

The bill also would double workforce housing tax incentives from $25 million to $50 million for four years, with an increase from $10 million to $20 million set aside for small cities. It also would include a loan guarantee program to help “jump-start” downtown rejuvenation efforts that include a housing component, Baxter said.

Another measure in the bill, which is like SSB 1142 that has been approved by the Senate Local Government Committee, is an eviction prevention program to help homeowners and renters after disasters. It also would double the brownfield/grayfield tax credit to $20 million for redevelopment of properties with environmental hazards.

Baxter expects the bill will be amended in Ways and Means before going to the full House.

CAMPUS DIVERSITY: A bill to require Iowa’s three regents universities to appoint a director of public policy events to be responsible for assuring “multiple, divergent, and opposing perspectives” on public policy issues cleared a House Education subcommittee.

HF 153 is intended to increase the presentation of conservative political perspectives, which are vastly outnumbered by what Rep. Sandy Salmon, R-Janesville, called liberal-progressive viewpoints.

“It’s no secret that liberal-progressive viewpoints prevail,” she said. “This would be a means to get students exposed to other viewpoints.”

Mary Braun, a lobbyist for the Board of Regents, which is undecided on the bill, said passage of the bill could prove costly and duplicative for the universities. It could inhibit the diversity of programming, she added.

Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Orange City, liked the transparency but questioned whether a new position was needed.

Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, did not sign on to the bill.

AG BUDGET: Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig submitted a $100 million budget request to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee, a $10.4 million increase over the current budget.

Just less than 51 percent of that — $50.8 million — would be state funds. The remainder would be from the federal government and other sources.

Among his budget requests were $500,000 to provide grants that incentivize, reduce financial risk and create networks to empower producers to explore new product offerings, expand production and test alternative marketing strategies.

Naig also requested an additional $500,000 to foreign animal disease prevention and an additional $2 million for the Renewable Fuels Infrastructure Program to help fuel retailers and dispensers convert their equipment to offer more and/or higher blends of renewable fuels.

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