The big news at the Capitol this week—as you've probably heard—was the change in Senate Republican Leadership. Sen. Bill Dix resigned on Monday afternoon, and by Wednesday the caucus had picked Jack Whitver (Ankeny) as its new Senate Majority Leader. Sen. Whitver had previously served as Senate President. It also picked Charles Schneider (West Des Moines) to replace Sen. Whitver as president.

Gov. Kim Reynolds set April 10 for a special election to fill the seat vacated by former Sen. Dix.

This week was a rush of last-minute subcommittee meetings, followed by committee meetings and long nights of debate as legislators concentrated on moving the priority bills for their caucus. This brings the second funnel to a close. As we mentioned last time, that's the deadline for bills to pass at least one chamber and the other chamber's subcommittee and committee process.

That means most committee work is now finished, although Senate committees will still meet to complete appointments by the Governor. Ways & Means, Appropriations and Government Oversight bills are exempt from the funnel, so these committees will continue to meet. Read more about tax and budget work still facing those committees below. 

Rumor is legislative leaders want to adjourn before Easter, but that leaves a lot of work to do in the next couple of weeks!

Below are three issues worthy of special note this week. 

Taxes and the budget

Lots still unknown on taxes and the budget. We have yet to see any budget bills from the House or Senate for FY 19, and the two chambers haven’t reconciled their differences on the deappropriations bill (SF 2117), which would make cuts in the current fiscal year (FY 18) ending June 30.

Good news is that the March 9 report from the Revenue Estimating Conference projects revenues for this fiscal year to be about $33 million higher than previously predicted, which lessens the need for those mid-year cuts that would restrict critical services immediately.

Unfortunately, the main reason for relief for this isn’t a growing state economy—it’s the federal tax bill, which included significant tax cuts for higher-income taxpayers. As a result, those taxpayers will have less to deduct from their Iowa taxable income, and will pay more in state taxes. 

How state lawmakers proceed with their tax legislation will affect the outlook for the next fiscal year. General fund revenue is now projected to grow 6.4 percent in FY 19, again largely because of federal tax changes (previously, 4 percent growth was expected). But new tax cuts would hinder our ability to fund essential services, as that new revenue would be held down by tax cuts.

We do hope to see budget targets for the various budget subcommittees next week. Stay tuned. 

Food banks & SNAP 

We are watching two bills at the state Capitol that would exempt from sales tax good and services purchased by nonprofit food banks and food pantries. HF 2459 and SF 2385, assigned to their respective Ways and Means committees and thus exempt from the funnel deadline, would allow these organizations to redirect some of their limited resources so they can do more for the communities they serve. 

United Way of Central Iowa has led the charge advocating for this smart bill. Another key supporter is the Iowa Hunger Coalition, an association of organizations and individuals committed to ending hunger in Iowa. Its members come from food banks, food pantries, food rescue organizations and community partnerships.

These organizations and individuals play a critical role in alleviating hunger in Iowa, but they can’t do it alone. SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is the front line against hunger. SNAP—often called Food Assistance in Iowa—helps struggling families and workers put healthy food on their tables. 

Federal legislation on SNAP is part of the Farm Bill, which must be “reauthorized” or renewed by Congress about every five years. Its next deadline is September 30, 2018. We are anticipating that the House Agriculture Committee, of which Iowa's Rep. Steve King is a member, will release its Farm Bill legislation within the next month. We are hoping not to see significant cuts in the program, which served over 360,000 Iowans, or 12 percent of the state’s population, in 2017. 

More than 71 percent of SNAP recipients in Iowa are in families with children. Over half are in working families. SNAP kept 31,000 Iowa children out of poverty annually between 2009 and 2012. 

Cuts and harmful changes to SNAP that take away people's food have no place in the Farm Bill. We urge Congress to focus on policies that help create jobs and boost wages, rather than punishing people who are already facing economic hardship.

To learn more about SNAP in Iowa, check out this fact sheet from the Iowa Fiscal Partnership, the joint effort of the Center and the Iowa Policy Project.

The Center's Mary Nelle Trefz talks with Iowa Food Bank Association executive director Regenea Hurte at the organization's Day on the Hill last week. 


Quick update on some legislation we told you about last time that would have opened the door to fundamental changes at the state training school at Eldora. Instead of directing the facility to develop programs focusing on “appropriate skill development, treatment, and rehabilitation”—a juvenile-justice approach—HF 2399 directed it to instead help youth “recognize accountability for delinquent behavior by confronting and eliminating delinquent norms, criminal thinking, and anti-social behavior”—an approach much more line with the adult prison system.

That bill passed the House, but failed to advance out of a Senate subcommittee by funnel, meaning the legislation is likely dead for this session. 


Find your legislator

Not sure who represents you? With 50 senators and 100 representatives, it can be hard to keep tabs. Visit our Legislator Lookup tool to find out who represents you in the state house and senate, biographical information about each one and a link to their legislative websites, which list contact information and committee membership. All you need to do is enter your home address and zip code. 

Bill tracker

After the busy funnel week, we will see lots of language updates to legislation. Check out the status of important bills we are watching here

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