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Senator Craig Williams

Sen. Craig Williams (District 6)

 

Friday, November 5, 2021

The Williams Weekly by Senator Craig Williams

Senate District 6
Mark Twain once said, “If you know you have to swallow a frog, swallow it first thing in the morning.” So, let’s swallow the frog here. I do not plan to primary either Senator Schultz or Representative Best for their seats in the legislature. As such, unless something changes, 2022 will, unfortunately, be my last year in the Iowa Senate. I am very heartbroken about the situation. It’s not a decision I want to make. I am playing the hand I’ve been dealt at this time.

Redistricting
The first session officially ended back in May, but two special sessions have since been called for the purpose of working through the state’s redistricting map; a process that occurs every ten years. The 2021 redistricting should have been done before the end of session, but federal census data was not yet available.

Iowa has a redistricting process that is considered by many to be the fairest process in the country. The non-partisan Legislative Services Agency (LSA) takes census data and divides the state up by population, regardless of party affiliations, for the US Congressional districts and the Iowa House Districts. By law, an Iowa Senate district is made up of two Iowa House districts. The map is published, and input is requested from the public before the state legislature votes on them.

Districts are supposed to be compact, square, rectangular, or hexagonal to the extent possible, yet Iowa’s 4th Congressional district, already a whopping 39 counties, was increased to 44 and cut diagonally across the state in the first map. A state senate district was nearly a figure eight in shape, and there were variances in population between districts. The Senate rejected that map along party lines. Democrats accused Republicans of trying to ‘gerrymander’ the map, but anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the process knows that’s not possible.

The second map addressed the issues of the first map. The 4th Congressional district changed from 44 down to 36 counties and the figure eight was corrected along with the population variances. There were still a few issues with the second map, and the legislature could have requested a third map from LSA. Time, however, was not on our side. By law, the maps would have to be completed and voted on prior to December 1. While technically possible, there was sufficient concern that it might not get done in time. Much rides on the mapping including county precinct mapping and election timing for people running for office. The second map was approved in the Senate 44-1.

Neither the first nor second map did any favors to me personally. I knew going into the race a year ago that the district would get remapped, but I did not anticipate how drastic the changes might be. In the new map, Buena Vista and Sac counties are removed from Senate District 6, while Ida, the rest of Crawford, all of Shelby, and a portion of Pottawattamie counties are added to Carroll and Audubon. To retain my seat in the Senate, I would have to primary Senator Jason Schultz, an excellent senator, and then win another general election two years into my four-year term. As much as I would like to retain the seat and represent the people of the new district, the numbers are not in my favor. Representative Best has confirmed that he will seek re-election to his House seat, and I will not run against him for that seat either.

However, I’ll be in the wings waiting, and if something should change with Mr. Best or Mr. Schultz’s plans, I’m your first call. I still have another year in the Senate and will do my best to represent everyone.

Elections
This year was another record turnout for November’s elections for school boards and city races. In 2019, 358,000 Iowans voted in local elections. Last Tuesday, 425,000 cast their ballot (numbers for Humboldt and Shelby Counties are still pending). Additionally, high absentee ballot requests were received with some Iowa counties reporting nearly double 2019’s requests.

Only a short time ago, Democrats accused Republicans of attempting to “suppress the vote” in Iowa rather than what we were doing – ensuring election integrity. I received a number of unflattering emails and letters myself with wild accusations. That’s ok. I knew they were wrong (again) and voter turnout has (again) proven them wrong. It is easy to vote and hard to cheat in Iowa thanks to Republican leadership on election issues.

Vaccine Mandates in Iowa
Several weeks ago, President Biden announced by press conference a massive federal overreach, compelling employers across America to require their employees to be vaccinated or pay thousands in fines for each unvaccinated employee. Once the proposed rule is issued, employers will be faced with the lose-lose proposition of firing employees, at a time when workforce is Iowa’s biggest hurdle to economic growth, or paying excessive fines.

And then there’s the employee who is faced with a decision to comply with a vaccine mandate they have issues with or lose their livelihood; religious, medical or personal exemptions be damned.

Here’s something you are not likely to have read elsewhere: In Iowa, 20% of Blacks, 26% of American Indian/Alaskan, 37% of Latino and 47% of Asians are fully vaccinated. That compares to 51% of whites who are fully vaccinated in this state. Those statistics are similar across the US. We often hear about how one policy or another disproportionately and negatively impacts a certain race. There is no question the Biden mandates disproportionately and negatively impact virtually every minority group in Iowa. Locally, Crawford and Buena Vista Counties are roughly 30% Latino population.

In an effort to address this dramatic federal overreach, without making more problems for Iowa employers, the Iowa Senate passed HF 902. The bill requires businesses to grant health-related or religious exemptions to the COVID vaccine. These exemptions are consistent with other vaccine exemptions in Iowa law. It also provides for unemployment coverages for any employee terminated as a result of losing their job because of a vaccine mandate.

The best solution for the federal overreach remains a lawsuit through the judicial branch. It is the right path to reject the mandate fully. HF 902 is one solution to mitigate the federal overreach in Iowa until a lawsuit can be completed.

Personally, I am fully vaccinated as is my family. No one tackled me in the street and jabbed a needle in my arm or threatened me if I refused to get it. It was a decision made after conferring with medical professionals, as it should be. Had there been a mandate at that time, it is certainly possible I would have refused to comply. People should be convinced – not coerced by the federal government – on how best to manage their own health. It’s not provable, but I suspect a good percentage more US citizens would be vaccinated today if the federal government had not used the bullying tactics they have used. Discuss your situation with your doctor and make an informed, personal, health care choice. Your choice should be respected.

Record surplus in state budget
By now you should have heard that conservative fiscal policy, once described by Democrats in the legislature as a “bobsled to bankruptcy,” has resulted in a nearly $1.25 billion surplus in the state budget. No doubt, in 2022 as always, Democrats will find a multitude of ways to spend all of it and then some. One Democrat senator suggested earlier this year that her constituents needed the money to help clean their homes. I would like that as well, but we’re not going to support taxpayer-funded maid service.

As one of the states with the highest tax rates in the country, my first inclination is to give it back to whom it belongs: the taxpayers. However, if the federal government continues with inflationary policies, we’ll need to continue to be conservative in approach with state funding. Everything costs considerably more than it did a year ago. State expenses are not exempt.

I look forward to continuing to represent and help my constituents at the Capitol. As always, if you have any questions or concerns, I encourage you to reach out.

Monday, May 24, 2021

The Williams Weekly by Senator Craig Williams

The 2021 session finally ended in week nineteen with a flurry of legislative activity. Thirty-three bills were passed in the Senate (one of them twice).

With unanimous support
Twenty-one bills passed in the Senate this week with unanimous support including HF367 exempting burial trust fund earnings from state income tax; HF857 establishing a butchery innovation and revitalization fund; HF865 relating to the business property tax credit; HF895 appropriating federal moneys made available from federal block grants and other nonstate sources; HF837 relating to the use of fees collected by a county recorder for processing and recording instruments; HF861 relating to appropriations to the justice system, gambling regulatory fees, and creating a bureau of cyber-crime, and establishing a department of corrections survivor benefits fund; SF615 relating to appropriations for state and local finances; HF234 establishing a lifetime trout fishing license for older Iowans; HF302 establishing a graduated eligibility for state child care assistance; HF313 prohibiting counties or cities from imposing restrictions on certain businesses operated by persons under the age of eighteen; HF551 relating to authorized methods of take for a resident hunting deer using a license issued to a non-ambulatory person; HF644 relating to the registration of postsecondary schools with the college student aid commission, and to the postsecondary registration fund; HF711 relating to the calculation of certain court costs in probate matters; HF758 allowing affidavits accepted by county recorders for updating county records when a conveyance of real estate has not occurred; HF864 relating to appropriations to the judicial branch; SF243 relating to the crimes of failure to assist, abuse of a corpse, and interference with official acts; SF367 relating to certain financial obligations, modifying criminal and civil surcharges, fines, fees, costs, and court debt; SF584 relating to the use of moneys in the Iowa economic emergency fund; HF708 creating a public safety equipment fund; HF743 providing for representation of adoptive parents by local public defenders; and HF871 making appropriations to the department of cultural affairs, the economic development authority, the Iowa finance authority, the public employment relations board, the department of workforce development, and the state board of regents and certain regents institutions.

Shortcomings in our meat packing industry were exposed by Covid. Immediately, people turned to small-town processors for their beef and pork needs and found a backlog extending more than a year out. Was the sudden increase in demand sustainable? Should the processor expand operations? HF857 allows the Department of Ag and Land Stewardship to award financial assistance to processors wishing to expand in a number of ways. In addition, it creates a task force to study the feasibility of establishing an artisanal butchery program at a community college or state university with a report due back by the end of this year.

Can you imagine a city cracking down on a kid’s lemonade stand for lack of a permit? HF313 puts an end to that nonsense.

With bipartisan support
Seven bills passed with bipartisan support including HF891 relating to health and human services and veterans; HF862 relating to and making appropriations to state departments and agencies from various funds; HF522 allowing utilization of an anaerobic digester system to treat manure; HF838 relating to various insurance division matters; HF513 relating to pari-mutuel wagering on horse or dog races licensed in a foreign jurisdiction; SF619 relating to multiple tax and funding issues; and HF860 relating to and making appropriations and related statutory changes involving state government entities involved with agriculture, natural resources, and environmental protection.

An anaerobic digester is a covered storage system wherein animal manure is broken down by bacteria creating biogas. It’s been a few years since I researched these, but at that time, Germany had about ten thousand in use. HF522 allows their use by qualified confinement operations.

SF619 is a significant bill with twenty-eight divisions in 64 pages. It repeals Iowa’s inheritance tax over four years and provides one billion dollars in tax relief. It eliminates the triggers set in the 2018 tax bill reducing the number of tax brackets and bringing the top rate down from 8.53 percent to 6.5 percent. Small businesses will be able to utilize bonus depreciation. Mental health costs are moved off the backs of property taxpayers while also increasing funding. Beginning July 2022, state “backfills” to local governments are reduced 12.5% per year for some entities and 20% per year for others. A 30% child dependent and development tax credit, formerly limited to families with less than $45 thousand in net income, is extended to families with incomes up to $90 thousand. Volunteer firefighters and EMTs current $100 tax credit increases to $250. I will support increasing that credit further next year.

Along party lines
Five bills passed along party lines including HJR5 proposing a Constitutional amendment regarding abortion; HF847 modifying provisions relating to city and county powers and educational programs, requirements, funding, tax credits and deductions, open enrollment, supplementary weighting; SF568 relating to the conduct of elections, including nominations, procedures for proposed amendments to the Iowa Constitution, and absentee voting; HF868 relating to the appropriation of moneys to the college student aid commission, the department for the blind, the department of education, and the state board of regents; and SF342 relating to officer disciplinary actions.

HJR5, if passed again in the next General Assembly, will place on the ballot, for Iowa voters to decide, an amendment to the Iowa Constitution that reads: “Life. To defend the dignity of all human life and protect unborn children from efforts to expand abortion even to the point of birth, we the people of the State of Iowa declare that this Constitution does not recognize, grant, or secure a right to abortion or require the public funding of abortion.”

The Pledge of Allegiance is back in Iowa schools thanks to HF847. In addition, counties, cities and schools may not mandate face coverings. HF847 also deals with charter schools, open enrollment and increases the tuition and textbook credit from 25% of the first $1,000 to 25% of the first $2,000.

It is an honor to serve you at the Capitol. I look forward to talking with you throughout the summer and fall, hear more about the issues affecting you, and any feedback on bills and legislation that was discussed throughout the session.

Friday, May 7, 2021

The Williams Weekly by Senator Craig Williams

When the Iowa Senate set priorities at the beginning of the year, they included helping Iowa recover from the pandemic, passing tax relief for hard-working Iowans, and implementing responsible, conservative budgets for the state. This week WalletHub reported Iowa ranked second in the country for fastest recovery following the pandemic. Iowa also has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, and April general fund receipts were the highest in Iowa’s history for that month. Additionally, Iowa has more job openings than people looking for work, making it even more important to pass legislation that will grow our state, expand the workforce, and help businesses find the qualified workers they need.

Iowa is in a great position to cut taxes and help taxpayers keep more of the money they earned. The Senate has passed several bills this year aimed at this goal. We have passed bills to remove the triggers put into place by the 2018 tax bill and give Iowans the tax relief they deserve. The Senate has also passed legislation to provide over $100 million in property tax relief to Iowa taxpayers while also providing increased funding for mental health services.

Ideally, the legislature will conclude this session having accomplished these priorities for Iowans this year, but we are still working out the details of a compromise with the House of Representatives. We are not sure what the coming weeks will look like at the Capitol, but we will keep you informed as to the progress.

The Senate took advantage of the session overtime to pass nine additional bills.

With unanimous support
Six bills passed in the Senate this week with unanimous support including SF541 relating to electronic transactions by permitting the use of distributed ledger technology and smart contracts; HF524 relating to motor vehicle accidents resulting in injury or death; HF753 relating to unintentionally causing the death of a person by operating a motor vehicle at an excessive speed; HF722 relating to appropriation of moneys to the teach Iowa scholar fund from the teacher shortage forgivable loan repayment and loan forgiveness repayment funds; HF844 amending and creating provisions under the Iowa Business Corporation Act; and HF744 providing for training, prohibitions, and requirements relating to first amendment rights at school districts and public institutions of higher education.

The Senate has debated HF744, protecting free speech and other First Amendment rights at state universities and K-12 schools, before. It does several things, like prohibiting retaliation against a member of the campus community or school district who files a complaint, requiring First Amendment training for members of the campus community, and requiring a disciplinary hearing if a faculty member knowingly and intentionally restricts free speech.

With bipartisan support
Two bills passed with bipartisan support including HF384 relating to alcohol beverage control and the delivery of certain alcoholic beverages (45-3) and HF889 prohibiting the mandatory disclosure of whether a person has received a vaccination for COVID-19 (32-16).

I anticipated significant floor debate on HF889 (aka SF610) regarding “vaccine passports,” but you could hear crickets chirping. Senator Chapman presented the bill, the floor was opened for debate and… nothing. The bill quickly passed 32-16 with two Democrat votes in favor.

HF889 is a significant step toward life returning to normal in Iowa. Requiring a “vaccine passport” is not the “normal” Iowans are looking for. HF889 is a short, straightforward bill that prohibits local governments, businesses, and non-profits from requiring proof of vaccination to go to a ball game, do business at the courthouse, or enjoy dinner at a restaurant. Violation of this prohibition would make any covered entity ineligible for state contracts. Florida recently passed a similar bill. HF889 is on its way to Governor Reynolds.

Along party lines
One bill passed through the Senate this week along party lines, SF356 limiting civil liability for persons involved in agricultural tourism.

SF356 provides limited liability protections for agritourism businesses from injuries occurring due to the inherent risks of farming, such as the behavior of farm animals or the operation of equipment used on a farm. The liability protections do not apply if the injury was caused by an action or inaction performed by the farmer that was illegal, intentional, reckless or grossly negligent. This bill helps promote agritourism in Iowa and cut down on costs incurred by potentially frivolous lawsuits.

We’ll be back in session next week. Hopefully, we’ll be debating a budget.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

The Williams Weekly by Senator Craig Williams

April 30th marked the 110th and presumably final day of the legislative session. But, we’re not done. Additional debate is tentatively scheduled for this coming week which may or may not bring the session to a close. Legislators do not receive “per diem” payments for days of session after the 110 days, so there will be additional incentive to get things done.

OSHA
In last week’s newsletter, I neglected to mention the OSHA investigation at the state Capitol. Labor unions filed a complaint with OSHA over what they considered unsafe working conditions regarding Covid policies. OSHA’s investigation found no code violations involving Covid. I’m not certain how many people work at the Capitol, but between legislators, clerks, staff, maintenance and others, it’s probably in the neighborhood of 500. Plus, there are lobbyists, news reporters and other visitors daily. To date, I’m aware of about ten Covid cases involving Capitol employees.

The OSHA report did include a fine for over $10,000 for a “serious” safety violation involving a missing outlet cover, and other-than-serious violations including missing MSDS sheets for chemicals used at the Capitol. Since OSHA is a department within the state of Iowa, the fine seems to take money from one pocket to put into a different pocket.

Rural Broadband
On Wednesday Governor Kim Reynolds signed the broadband legislation. The legislature has agreed to dedicate $100 million to broadband and expanding access in the state.

Rule 23
During a Senate confirmation, voting suddenly stopped as legislators waited to see how others might vote before casting their own. After a few minutes, Senator Bisignano yelled out, “Rule 23!” (The first thing that popped into my head was “23-19” from Monsters, Inc which I may have watched 3-400 times with my grandson, but no white socks were involved here). Rule 23 is a Senate rule that requires the Secretary to roll call the senators present and force a vote from them. Finally, I have a reason to be at the end of the alphabet.

With unanimous support
Sixteen bills passed in the Senate with unanimous support including HF201 relating to the sex offender registry; HF365 relating to garnishments; HF452 relating to the practice of massage therapy and cosmetology, and human trafficking; HF453 prohibiting the imposition of certain requirements on nonprofits; HF523 designating flood mitigation as an essential county purpose; HF602 relating to school district general funds transferred to the student activity fund; HF682 relating to Iowa appraisal standards and certification; HF757 relating to ignition interlock device requirements for a first operating-while-intoxicated offense; HF828 relating to commercial driver’s license tests; HF846 relating to title fees for snowmobiles, ATV’s, and vessels of surviving spouses; HF867 making appropriations for state departments, agencies, funds, and other entities; SF296 relating to pharmacist administration of vaccines; SF562 relating to sexual exploitation by an adult providing training; SF578 relating to the department of ag and land stewardship; SF592 relating to appropriations for the department of transportation; and SF608 relating to the administration of tax laws by the department of revenue.

With bipartisan support
Five bills passed with bipartisan support including HF768 concerning licensing of and sales by native distilleries, beer manufacturers, native breweries, and native wine manufacturers (passed 47-1); HF869 creating a permit allowing vehicles of excessive weight transporting fluid milk products (47-1); HF285 relating to music therapists (44-4); HF847 relating to educational programs, funding, tax credits and deductions, open enrollment, etc. (42-6); and SF546 relating to private instruction and driver education (33-15).

I’m among the four no votes on the music therapist bill. HF285 would make using the term “music therapist” without certification by up to 30 days in jail and/or a fine of $65-$625. The Certification Board of Music Therapists attempted to obtain a Medicaid waiver in Texas so taxpayers could foot the bill for music therapy.

All Iowa parents will be allowed to teach their own children how to drive under SF546. You don’t have to, and arguably, many parents should not attempt to teach their own kids how to drive. The idea was originally presented by a Senate Democrat.

The ‘Education Omnibus’ bill, HF847, gives schools more flexibility when it comes to funding, parents more choice and say in their children’s education, and more accountability measures for local school boards. It also increases the annual amount of classroom expenditures Iowa elementary and secondary school teachers may deduct from gross income for income tax purposes from $250 to $500. Additionally, it expands the Tuition and Textbook Tax Credit by doubling the allowed expense amount to $2,000 per qualified student and also extending the credit to families utilizing private instruction.

Along party lines
Two bills passed through the Senate this week along party lines including HF802 providing for requirements related to racism or sexism training at, and diversity and inclusion efforts by, governmental agencies and entities, school districts, and public postsecondary educational institutions; and HF813 modifying and establishing charter school programs.

Both of these bills were passed in one form or another previously this session.

Out of Committee
There are 3.2 million Iowans with about 3.2 million differing opinions on Covid. The same is true for the idea of a Covid “passport”; a document from the government that would certify you have been vaccinated and are, therefore, allowed entry into some functions like a baseball game. SF610 would prohibit mandatory disclosure of whether a person has received a vaccination for COVID-19. This bill would not apply to employees of these entities and would not apply to health care facilities. It also still allows the use of COVID-19 screenings in these entities. This bill has passed through committee but has not been debated in the full Senate.

I am the vice-chair of the Government Oversight Committee, and also serve on the Appropriations, Commerce, and Local Government Committees. Additionally, I serve on the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.
Mailing address:

Craig Williams

1007 E Grand Ave

Des Moines, IA 50319-1001

Monday, April 26, 2021

The Williams Weekly by Senator Craig Williams

Last week marks number fifteen in the typical sixteen-week legislative session. Whether or not the session ends this week is dependent upon the budget progress made by the House and Senate leadership.

Continued progress was made on appointments to boards and commissions from the governor. On Wednesday, the Senate confirmed more than sixty appointments “en bloc” (at the same time). Included in that list were Carroll County Auditor, Kourtney Irlbeck, appointed to the County Finance Committee, and Angela Lensch of Glidden, who is the Academic Manager at the Denison Job Corps Center, appointed to the Early Childhood Iowa State Board.

With unanimous support
Eighteen bills passed in the Senate last week with unanimous support including HF282 relating to abuse of a human corpse; HF304 relating to personal delivery devices; HF314 relating to government leases and real property acquisitions; HF391 relating to controlled substances; HF429 relating to the Iowa lottery authority; HF527 relating to the authority of county boards of supervisors to implement the county land record information system; HF588 creating a Hoover presidential library tax credit; HF654 relating to lighting devices and other equipment on snow plows and emergency vehicles; HF675 relating to establishing standards for substitute teacher authorizations; HF709 relating to pretrial contact between a minor and a defendant; HF765 relating to providing certain local government notices to persons by electronic means; HF770 relating to licensure renewal by the board of educational examiners; HF793 relating to credit for physical education; HF821 creating a civil action relating to reporting of false information to law enforcement; HF835 relating to trusts for persons with disabilities; HF839 relating to the financial exploitation of designated eligible adults; HF855 relating to access to a copy of an original birth certificate by an adoptee; and SF532 providing for statements of professional recognition for licensed behavior analysts and mental health professionals.

It’s already illegal to abuse a human corpse for the purposes of concealing a crime. HF282 moves the penalty up from a class “D” felony to a class “C” felony punishable by up to ten years in prison in addition to financial penalties.

If you are a techno-geek, HF304 might interest you. This bill sets up rules of the road for future robotic deliveries from FedEx, Amazon and others.

HF391 adds 14 new drugs into the schedule I, opiates category and twenty-three substances were added to the schedule I, hallucinogenic substances category.

It is hard to imagine an abused child having to sit in the same room with his or her abuser while being interrogated regarding the crime(s). HF709 would allow the minor to be interviewed while the defendant remains in a separate room watching under closed circuit.

If you are an adult born in Iowa who was adopted, HF855 may allow access to a non-certified copy of your original birth certificate. Your biological parent information will likely be redacted, but there may be some biological, medical history available to you that was not previously available.

With bipartisan support
Two bills passed this week with bipartisan support including HF785 relating to amusement concessions and HF766 relating to the delivery of alcoholic beverages by retailers.

Many restaurants are delivering these days. But what happens when the food order is accompanied with alcoholic beverages? HF766 clarifies who’s responsible and allows subcontracted third party delivery with a written contract between the parties.

Along party lines
Just one bill passed through the Senate this week along party lines; SF581 relating to deer population management.

I’m not a hunter. I have nothing against it other than I don’t like sitting in a tree in the cold for hours on end. Each season, an Iowa commission determines how many deer tags they will offer to hunters to keep the population under control in an area. When tags don’t get sold, the deer population can increase. SF581 would allow an additional January antlerless deer hunting season for the otherwise unsold tags. In addition, a study is ordered from the DNR with input from ISU, the Division of Insurance, the DOT and the Department of Commerce, every three years regarding size and the environmental impact of the deer population by county. The bill also makes changes to fines for out-of-season possession of antlerless deer.

Appropriations
SSB1267 is the Health and Human Services budget passed through Appropriations. It appropriates $2.03 billion from the general fund, providing an increase of over $36 million for healthcare funding. When including Senate File 587, which provides a sustainable and predictable source of funding for mental health, that increase in healthcare funding jumps up to over $96 million.

This same bill includes another important policy, crucial to ensuring public assistance programs are there for those who need them most. In 2019, Iowa was fined nearly $2 million by the federal government for providing SNAP (food stamps) benefits to persons who were not eligible to receive them. Whether it’s SNAP or some other program, giving benefits to people who are ineligible reduces the amount available for those truly in need and is an inappropriate use of tax-payer money.

Using data and modern technology is a common-sense solution to improving the allocation of public assistance. A third-party entity can verify the income, assets, residency, citizenship, and other information currently required of people requesting welfare. These organizations perform this real-time function accurately millions of times a day for financial transactions across the country. If a red flag arises through this process, staff at the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) will investigate and make a final determination if the person applying or receiving welfare is doing so legitimately.

Applicants meeting eligibility requirements for welfare will have no issues receiving public assistance. No private company is removing anyone in Iowa from public assistance.

Monday, April 19, 2021

The Williams Weekly by Senator Craig Williams

Last week was the fourteenth week of the session, leaving, perhaps, two weeks to go. At this point, I expect session to end on time, but that’s not guaranteed.

Please add Senator Lofgren and his family to your prayers. He lost his two-year-old grandson last week.

Much of our time this week was spent on appointments to boards and commissions from the governor, and advancing budget bills out of the Appropriations Committee.

With unanimous support
Ten bills passed the Senate this week with unanimous support: SF424 relating to the licensure of persons completing an apprenticeship; SF561 relating to the establishment of a cold case investigation unit within the department of public safety; SF586 Division of Banking Omnibus bill; SF574 relating to confidentiality of veteran and military property tax credits and exemptions; SF577 relating to a certificate of nonviable birth; HF693 relating to matters under the purview of the utilities division of the department of commerce; HF707 relating to interpreters and translators for limited-English-proficient, deaf, and hard-of-hearing persons in certain legal proceedings; HF493 relating to low-speed electric bicycles; HF710 relating to child endangerment committed by a sex offender; and HF561 relating to the perfection of mechanics’ liens.

SF586 was a bill that I managed through several subcommittees and finally on the Senate floor. It’s a culmination of a two-year effort by the Division of Banking to update code that hasn’t been updated in a quarter of a century. I didn’t write it, but I did thoroughly review it, ran subcommittees for stakeholder input, explained the bill on the floor and ran a few amendments. It’s off to the House now for their review and approval.

Much to the dismay of my better half, I’m an avid viewer of shows dealing in cold case investigations. SF561 would allow for the investigation of previously unsolved murders, missing children and missing adults in Iowa. As new technology appears, the chances for solving some of these cold cases greatly increases.

With bipartisan support
HF309 was the only bill that passed the Senate without unanimous support. A lone Republican-held out against this act restricting public agency disclosure of and access to certain personal information related to tax-exempt organizations.

Appropriations
I’m very privileged to be on the Appropriations Committee in the Senate. The objective of the committee isn’t necessarily to rehash the merits of a bill that has already been through another committee, but, rather, to appropriate or not appropriate funds for it and for other departments and state projects.
Passed in Senate Appropriations with unanimous support
SSB1262 relating to appropriations to the judicial branch.

Passed in Senate Appropriations on party lines
SSB1261 relating to agriculture, natural resources, and environment; SSB1263 relating to the college student aid commission, the department for the blind, the department of education, school districts, and the state board of regents; SSB1265 relating to appropriations to the justice system; SSB1264 relating to the rebuild Iowa infrastructure fund, the technology reinvestment fund, the sports wagering receipts fund, and the autism support fund.

I’m on the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee and ran SSB1261 with about twenty minutes notice due to the unfortunate absence of my more experienced colleagues. I made a motion to dissolve to the subcommittee of the whole for debate and public comment on the bill. No one was there to speak for the public and no Democrats made any comments, so I thought I was home free until we vote on the bill and it passes on party lines. (Uh-oh). So we adjourn the subcommittee of the whole to take up the bill in the full committee and that’s when the Democrats start picking it apart. Why are we giving more money to Loess Hills? Why did we create a new Southern Iowa Development and Conservation Fund? When are we going to start taking water quality issues seriously?

Good questions. We didn’t give more to Loess Hills. We shifted money between budgets so the net increase is zero. We did create a new fund in Southern Iowa. They have similar issues as Loess soils they are battling. We removed $1.9M from a well capping fund in northern Iowa because no wells are planned to be capped in 2022. That money was shifted around to pay for the Southern Iowa fund and a few others. The shifting of budgets actually freed up $490K in the EFF fund for water quality issues.

The Iowa budget
The Senate budget calls for spending just shy of $8 billion in 2022, which increases spending $193 million above the previous year. It includes an increase of $55 million for K-12 education, close to $100 million for health care, and an increase of over $17 million for public safety.

Eight billion one-dollar bills placed end to end would encircle the planet more than thirty times. Stacked, they would reach over 540 miles high.

“A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.” – Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen

Friday, April 9, 2021

The Williams Weekly by Senator Craig Williams

The thirteenth week of the 89th legislative session saw considerable floor debate on bills including expanding broadband service in the state, protecting constitutional rights, cutting property taxes, and giving parents more control over their children’s education. In total, 36 bills and 2 resolutions passed through the Senate, most of which have already passed through the House and are, therefore, on their way to the Governor for signing.

With unanimous support
31 bills and one resolution passed through the Senate this week with the unanimous support of both parties. All of these bills have a “House File” number denoting they had already passed through the House.

Bills included HF196-expanding the health care professional recruitment program; HF233-regarding disclosure of sexually explicit images; HF236-relating to life insurance company reinvestments; HF284-relating to licensure as a professional engineer; HF315-relating to programs for at-risk children; HF317-relating to education funding for children living in certain facilities; HF361-relating to the appointment of a guardian ad litem; HF380-requiring distracted driving education in driver’s education; HF388-relating to the child development coordinating council; HF390-relating to fluoridation in a public water supply; HF424-relating to the forfeiture of bail; HF426-relating to an automated tracking system involving sexual abuse evidence; HF428-relating to national armory board leases, military justice, criminal justice reporting, and scholarship and loan repayment programs; HF433-relating to court reporters; HF435-relating to emergency contact information for use by the DOT and law enforcement; HF452-relating to human trafficking; HF491-relating to the sale or lease of real estate by regulatory agency officials; HF514-relating to pharmacy; HF546-relating to architectural licensure; HF556-providing for termination of ag equipment dealerships; HF583-relating to private flood insurance; HF603-establishing the sexual assault forensic examiner program; HF605-relating to supplementary weighting for limited-English-proficient students; HF699-relating to non-substantive Code corrections; HF719-relating to standards for insurance data security; HF739-relating to statutory Code corrections; HF744-providing for first amendment rights at schools; HF746-relating to the statute of limitations for recovery from a licensed veterinarian; HF747-relating to hunting game birds on a preserve; HF805-relating to the services provided by the Iowa telecommunications and technology commission; HF848-relating to broadband service; and HJR10-authorizing the sale of merchandise at a toy benefit for Iowa children.
If you’re considering posting explicit images of your ex on the internet, the passage of HF233 might cost you ten grand, attorney’s fees, court costs and other relief as well.

Interstates 80 and 35 bring great value to Iowa. Believe it or not, they also bring human trafficking. HF452 attempts to punish those caught facilitating human trafficking in Iowa.

HF719 is the second bill I have run to the finish line. It establishes data security standards for insurance companies based on language from the National Associations of Insurance Commissioners.

We are a step closer to high-speed, broadband access across all of Iowa with the passage of HF848.

With bipartisan support
Three bills made it out of the Senate with bipartisan support including HF311-relating to game nights, HF775-concerning unauthorized entry or access and gathering of samples from animal operations, and HF558-establishing a minimum age for amusement ride attendants.

Iowa grows food for people around the world and food safety and security is paramount. If you have been in a hog confinement lately, you were probably required to “shower in” and “shower out” to protect the animals from the spread of disease. In their quest to prove that animals are mistreated, sometimes activists break into farms to gather evidence or set up surveillance. It’s unlikely they’ll shower in or take appropriate precautions to protect the animals. In addition to possible charges for breaking and entering, HF775 makes unauthorized sampling in agriculture an aggravated misdemeanor. A second offense would become a class D felony.

Along party lines
Two bills and a joint resolution passed through the Senate along party lines this week, including HJR5-proposing an amendment to the Iowa Constitution, HF228-relating to voluntary diversity plans under the state’s open enrollment law, and SF587-relating to mental health funding, school district funding, and commercial and industrial property tax replacement payments.

A few years ago, five unelected judges found something in Iowa’s Constitution that no other court or legislative body has found in the Constitution’s 160 plus year history: that abortion is a fundamental right. You can read the Iowa Constitution back and forth and upside down and you won’t find it. A Constitutional Amendment has been proposed which, if passed, will be put on the ballot for voters to decide. HJR5 says, “To defend the dignity of all human life, and to protect mothers and unborn children from efforts to expand abortion even to the day of birth, we the people of the State of Iowa declare that this Constitution shall not be construed to recognize, grant, or secure a right to abortion or to require the public funding of abortion.” Note that this language neither outlaws nor provides for abortion. All it does is clarify that what the judges said was there, is not.

In addition to removing mental health from property taxes that I wrote about last week, SF587 also removes the income tax triggers in the 2018 tax bill and adds to the Iowa Elderly and Disabled Tax credit. The expanded elderly and disabled program will allow a 70 plus-year-old homeowner having a household income of less than 250% of the federal poverty level (currently about $32K for a single person or about $43.5K for two persons) to essentially have their property taxes frozen.

PERL, the Public Education and Recreation Tax Levy, is eliminated in SF587. PERL is used by schools for things such as new playground equipment, before and after school programs, and summer school programs. The Secure an Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE) program can be used for the same thing making PERL duplicative and unnecessary.

SF587 heads to the House for their review.

I am the vice-chair of the Government Oversight Committee, and also serve on the Appropriations, Commerce, and Local Government Committees. Additionally, I serve on the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.
Mailing address:

Craig Williams

1007 E Grand Ave

Des Moines, IA 50319-1001

Friday, April 2, 2021

The Williams Weekly by Senator Craig Williams

This week was the twelfth week of the legislative session. In order to be considered this year, policy bills needed to be out of their original chamber and through committee in the second chamber. As such, the Senate spent time this week looking at policy bills sent to us from the House.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported Iowa’s economy grew faster in the last few months of 2020 than many of our neighboring states at 6.3 percent. This, along with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, is great news for Iowa. It also demonstrates why pro-growth policies are important – they help grow our economy, open up jobs so people can work, and ensure we are prepared when difficult times hit. We will continue advocating for pro-growth policies at the Capitol and make this state the best for living, working and raising a family.

Iowa ranks 8th in the country for per capita Covid vaccination administration, as of April 2nd. As for our border states, South Dakota ranks 2nd, Nebraska 14th, Minnesota 16th, Illinois 32nd and Missouri 42nd.

With unanimous support
A joint resolution and nine bills passed in the Senate this week with the unanimous support of both parties: SJR9 A joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the State of Iowa relating to the qualifications of electors; SF55 relating to carbon monoxide protection; SF496 prohibiting non-compete agreements with low-wage employees; SF547 relating to applicant priority under the teach Iowa scholar program; HF685 relating to orthodontia services; HF561 relating to the perfection of mechanics’ liens; HF382 authorizing DOT special permits for transportation of relief supplies that exceed statutory weight limits during a national emergency; HF552 relating to using a dog to track a wounded deer; HF280 authorizing renewal of certain valid CDL licenses without additional examination; HF654 relating to lighting devices on snow plows and authorized emergency vehicles.

I’ve had non-compete agreements before, but not when I worked at a grocery store making $3 an hour. The story floating around was that a major burger joint wanted to prevent their staff from going across the street to their competitor for an increase in wages, bringing with them, perhaps, the ingredients of the secret sauce. It doesn’t matter if that story is accurate or not. People making under $14.50/hour should not be precluded from getting a better job. SF496 protects those employees from noncompete agreement restrictions.

With bipartisan support
Three bills passed this week with bipartisan support. It was close to unanimous with only one Democrat, Senator Bisignano, voting against. The passage of SF517 would provide Senate pages, like Aleah Casebeer of Carroll, .5 credits towards high school graduation.

SF333 relating to lights used on authorized emergency vehicles and liability issues was the opposite with Senator Bisignano the lone Democrat voting in favor. This bill allows emergency vehicles to display lights in local parades (who knew that was illegal?), as well as allowing trained operators of emergency vehicles to exceed speed limits reasonably and grants immunity from liability to the driver so long as that driver was not acting recklessly. Senator Boulton from Polk spoke passionately against this bill, but Senator Koelker of Dubuque noted that the exact same bill, with the minor inclusion of “emergency management vehicle” passed in 2019 with unanimous support.

HF260 relating to the number of children receiving child care at any one time in a child care home also passed with one lone Democrat, Senator Bisignano, voting in favor. HF260 would allow a home daycare which is currently limited to fifth children, a sixth child as long as at least one of those children are school-aged.

Along party lines
Only two bills passed through the Senate this week along party lines: HF555 prohibiting counties and cities from regulating the sale of natural gas and propane; and SF81 relating to a pilot program to allow Medicaid members to participate in direct primary care agreements.

HF555 caught the attention of municipalities across the state and definitely in this district. The intent is quite simple: to disallow cities from outlawing natural gas and propane. While no city I’m aware of had actually done this yet, it’s an issue that has been brewing. As well-intentioned as it was, in its original form HF555 had a number of unintended consequences regarding franchise fees and local control issues. Hats off to the House side which worked very hard on correcting the issues. I believe this version is, while not perfect, substantially better than the original.

Mental health and property taxes
Iowa is one of only six states that place the burden of mental health costs on property taxpayers and the costs just keep going up. In spite of the pandemic, Iowa has a robust economy and, thanks to good financial practices, a healthy state budget. It’s time to remove the burden of mental health from property.

Property tax increases are especially difficult for seniors on fixed incomes. High property taxes are an added hurdle for those working toward the American Dream of homeownership. While they don’t directly receive or pay a property tax bill, property taxes are built into the monthly rent for those who rent a home or apartment. Permanent, reliable tax relief is a positive, pro-growth solution for Iowa.

SF587 eliminates the property tax levy on mental health and shifts funding to the state. Over $100 million in reduced property taxes will be realized by Iowans. This bill does not change how local mental health care is managed. It simply changes how it is being paid. This bill is 37 pages long with a number of moving parts related to tax exemptions on forestry, commercial and industrial property tax replacement payments, increasing school foundation percentage, and making changes to the PERL levy.

Friday, March 26, 2021

The Williams Weekly by Senator Craig Williams

March 26th marks the end the eleventh week of the 89th General Assembly of Iowa.

Budget
The Revenue Estimating Conference met on March 19th noting continued fiscal health for the state of Iowa. Senate Republicans released their Fiscal Year 2022 targets with a total budget of $7.999 billion which represents 94 percent of available revenue. Included in the $195 million budget increase over 2021 are an additional $80 million for education, $98 million in health care and $13 million for public safety.

If property tax relief or mental health are important topics to you, you’ll want to keep your eyes on SF587. SF587 provides more state funding for mental health, simplifies the tax code and cuts property taxes for Iowans by over $100 million. In the first year, the bill provides $60 million in state funding for mental health and $125 million in the second year, while ensuring additional funding moving forward.

Bills Passed Unanimously This week:
Nine of the eleven bills passed this week in the Iowa Senate passed with unanimous support including SF578 relating to the powers and duties of the department of agriculture and land stewardship; SF336 relating to the blood, bone marrow, and living organ donation incentive program; SF567 relating to loans originated by mortgage bankers; HF761 relating to the local fire protection and emergency medical service providers grant program; HF655 prohibiting interference with the transportation of an agricultural animal; HF559 relating to financial assistance provided by the economic development authority; HF368 relating to the administration of the reimbursement for rent constituting property taxes paid; HF389 relating to exempting certain persons from the requirement to be licensed as a chauffeur; HF495 relating to certain reporting dates for cities which receive road use tax fund moneys.

My first bill
SF567 won’t make much difference in the lives of Iowans, but it was the first bill that I ran all the way through as a state senator. Several years ago, the legislature passed a law allowing mortgage lenders to avoid some disclosure requirements on mortgages below a certain threshold. Left out of the law were non-depository mortgage originators such as Quicken Loans and Rocket Mortgage. This bill simply corrects that oversight in Iowa law. It’s not exciting, but it allowed me to gain more experience in the process. It passed 48-0 in the Senate. In all likelihood, I’ll run SF566, the Banking Division Omnibus Bill, in the Senate soon.

Interference with animal transportation
Iowa is number one in pork production, number one in egg production, number one in chicken production and second in red meat production in the United States. Iowa is an ag state. Occasionally, opposers of animal agriculture will take it upon themselves to impede the transport of animals to market or between farms. Ironically, this can put the lives of the animals at significant risk. HF655 would make interference with transportation an aggravated misdemeanor and a second offense a felony. It passed with unanimous support.Chauffeurs license changes
HF389 removes ambulance and rescue drivers from the list of motor vehicle operators required to obtain a chauffeur’s license. Also removed, if signed by the governor, would-be operators of motor vehicles with a GVWR greater than 16,000 lbs. These operators are already required to have a CDL.
Along party lines
Two additional bills passed through the Senate this week with votes along party lines: HF621 establishes which actions may be brought against distributors, manufacturers and others involved in the firearms trade and HF756 relates to the acquisition and possession of weapons.Used inappropriately, a baseball bat, a motor vehicle, a brick and many other items can be dangerous weapons capable of inflicting immense harm on people. But you probably wouldn’t consider suing Louisville Slugger, Chevrolet or the foundry where the brick was made for the harm caused by the misuse of their product. HF621 codifies that those involved in gun and ammunition manufacturing and distribution are likewise not responsible for the misuse of their products. This bill does not protect a manufacturer of a defective product from product liability.HF756 aligns Iowa law with federal law regarding the acquisition and carrying of a firearm. Like many bills, this one has an incredible amount of misinformation circulating. I highly recommend reading the actual bill which is readily available on the www.legis.iowa.gov website. Just click the “Legislation” tab, then type “HF756” on the right in the bills, click the magnifying glass and read.As a gun owner myself, this change in Iowa law would actually give me even more pause, not less, on a private sale to another person. Transferring a firearm to someone I know, or should know, is not entitled to acquire (a felon, an intoxicated person, domestic violent offender, etc.), will become a class D felony which, among other things, forever forfeits my rights to own or acquire a firearm. This is not a trivial matter to law-abiding firearms owners.Ultimately, the purpose of this bill was to reduce barriers for law-abiding Iowans to exercise their Constitutional rights. HF756 eliminated the requirement for lawful gun owners to seek a permission slip from the government to carry a firearm. As was demonstrated in Colorado this week, a state with some of the strictest gun laws in the country, criminals do not care about gun laws and they will not follow them. Consequently, excessive gun laws only inhibit the law-abiding from exercising their Constitutional rights.Both HF621 and HF756 passed in both chambers and are now before the Governor for her signature or veto.

Monday, March 22, 2021

The Williams Weekly by Senator Craig Williams

Week ten of this legislative session is now behind us. Twenty-two bills were considered and passed in the Senate mostly with bipartisan support. The Senate debated several bills to remove barriers to work, reward work and investment, and create a tax and regulatory environment conducive to creating new career opportunities in Iowa. And then there’s the one bill that I can’t get out of my head. I’m still shaking my head in disgust.

With unanimous support
14 bills passed with unanimous support including: SF260 relating to Medicaid for special education students attending a new school; SF296 relating to pharmacy administered vaccines; SF576 regarding future tax contingencies and providing for the future repeal of the state inheritance tax; SF243 relating to failure to assist, abuse of a corpse, and interference with official acts; SF443 relating city funding assistance for abandoned buildings; SF234 relating to the classification of certain secondary roads; SF551 relating to firefighters and emergency medical services members responding to emergency situations in certain vehicles; SF450 relating to the death of a dependent adult; SF444 relating to the surrender or transfer of registration plates; SF448 relating to a weigh station pre-clearance program; SF463 establishing the occupational therapy licensure compact; SF467 relating to online learning for up to five school days during a temporary school closure (goodbye snow days); SF529 relating to assisted reproduction fraud; and SF532 providing for statements of professional recognition for licensed behavior analysts and mental health counselors by the board of educational examiners.

Four teens and an adult went to a Coralville, IA lake last April. One of the teens drowned. Rather than help or call 911, the others steal cash from his wallet and leave. When police inquire, they provide false information about his whereabouts. His parents endure four days in anguish before their son’s body is found. SF243 requires, at a minimum, the attempt to call 911 when someone needs assistance or dies. I shook my head in disbelief through the entire debate. Why do we have to pass a law requiring someone to act with human decency?

A gentleman in his early 50’s sent me a letter last week explaining that he was the result of his mother and father going to a fertility clinic. Recently, using a DNA evaluation process, he discovered his father was not his biological father. As it turns out, the fertility clinic doctor had inseminated his mother with his own sperm and was, therefore, the biological father. SF529 would make this sexual abuse in the third degree. Again I was in disbelief that a law like this is necessary.

Bipartisan support
Two bills were passed with bipartisan support including: SF468 removing a preference for purchasing of Iowa coal by state and local government entities (45-2); and SF562 relating to sexual exploitation (37-10).

No coal has been mined in Iowa for decades so SF468 just cleans up obsolete law.

Sexual exploitation of a student by a counselor, therapist or school employee is already illegal. But what about an adult providing training or instruction who is not a school employee like a private music teacher, athletic trainer, etc? SF562 adds these trainers and instructors to the list of persons for whom sexual exploitation of their student has special consequences due to the nature of their position of authority. This bill apparently caused some consternation for the Democrats who requested it be delayed and then went into caucus again. Ten Democrats still voted against protecting children from the monsters we entrust them to.

Along party lines
Six bills passed on party lines including: SF252 relating to the authority of counties and cities to require landlords to accept federal housing choice vouchers; SF361 concerning private sector employee drug testing; SF425 relating to public notice requirements under the open meetings law; SF580 prohibiting government contracts with, or providing tax incentives to, certain companies that censor online content; SF487 relating to the review of state boards and the regulation of professions and occupations; SF568 relating to the conduct of elections, including nominations and procedures for proposed amendments to the Iowa Constitution.

SF580 is better known as the ‘Big Tech Censorship’ bill. This bill requires social networking websites like Twitter or Facebook to respect constitutionally protected free speech rights. If they don’t, they will lose their tax incentives, paid for by the very people they are censoring.

Technology and social media dominate much of our lives these days, and big tech companies not only determine what kind of content users see, but they also determine the priority of the information users see. The censorship of certain viewpoints has been a growing concern in America, but it has dramatically increased in frequency and scope over the last year. Big Tech has been emboldened by the unique protections they received from the federal government under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. They have twisted section 230 into a license to censor with impunity.

Social media is the public square of the 21st century, and social media users have the right to voice their thoughts and opinions, even if the CEOs of Silicon Valley disagree with those thoughts and opinions.

Additionally, Senate File 580 prevents taxpayer money from going to companies that remove an Iowan’s ability to download other social networking sites, purchase protected publications and material on a massive online marketplace, or allow Iowans to opt-out of post-promoting or shadow-banning algorithms. This bill does not prohibit these companies from operating in Iowa, it simply says, if they choose to censor Iowans, they will not receive the generous subsidies and tax credits currently offered to them.

“Our Liberties We Prize And Our Rights We Will Maintain” aren’t just words printed on the Iowa flag.

Keeping the promise to cut taxes
Senate Republicans have consistently set the goal of removing barriers to work, helping Iowans keep more of what they earn, and improving career opportunities for the last five years. SF576 continues that effort by phasing out the inheritance tax and eliminating revenue triggers holding back the implementation of the next round of tax cuts passed in 2018.

Iowa has some of the highest top tax rates in the country and is effective at a much lower income level than most states. SF576 eliminates language in the largest tax cut in Iowa history, passed in 2018, to reduce and simplify Iowa income taxes contingent on a certain level of revenue received by the state and replaces it with a set date of January 1, 2023. Most small businesses pay the individual tax rate and are responsible for the creation of most new jobs in Iowa. Lower rates and the certainty of the effective date of those rates provide job creators an incentive to grow and create more opportunities for Iowans.

SF576 also phases out the inheritance tax over a three-year period. The inheritance tax was eliminated years ago in Iowa on estates being passed lineally, for example from parent to child. However, the tax remained for other inheritance such as uncle to niece. Iowa is only one of six states to still have an inheritance tax. Some discussion in the Senate centered around a portion of the recently passed American Recovery Plan prohibiting states from cutting taxes between 2021 and 2024. This language appears to be unconstitutional on its face and is offensive to taxpayers. SF576 passed with unanimous support.

Monday, March 15, 2021

The Williams Weekly by Senator Craig Williams

We’ve just completed week nine in the Iowa Senate, and much of that time was focused on floor debate. Last week, a national magazine ranked Iowa number one in the nation for opportunity based on affordability, economic opportunity and equality. Iowa will take a center stage again this week, not for its opportunity, but for a political power grab by House Democrats in DC to overturn an Iowa election. It’s happened twice before in the last 100 years, both times by the Democratic Party.

Unanimous Support
Nineteen of twenty-nine bills and one resolution passed through the Senate this week with unanimous support.

SCR5 is a resolution seeking flexibility from the US government to allow states to determine visitation practices in nursing homes. Most of us have a story about not being able to share birthdays, holidays or any other day with a family member in a nursing home. Some of those in nursing homes have lost the ability to understand why no one has come to visit. It can be extremely impactful on their health and simply heartbreaking. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), is the governing body that requires these homes to follow all the rules, regulations and guidance given or risk losing their certification.

Resolutions have no ability to govern or change the way we are governed, and so it was a rather symbolic gesture to pass it. However, only one day later, CMS updated guidance on nursing home visitation. It is being reviewed by the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals and the Department of Human Services. While we are waiting to receive more updates, we are hopeful this updated guidance includes lifting a number of the restrictions on nursing homes, and we’ll be able to see parents and grandparents in these facilities again soon.

Also passed unanimously were: SF322 concerning a report on the effectiveness of the accountable government Act; SF342 relating to officer disciplinary actions; SF348 relating to guardianships and conservatorships; SF384 allowing counties to jointly share a county assessor;SF424 relating to the licensure of persons completing an apprenticeship; SF548 relating to the regulation of advertising devices near certain highways; SF482 regulating the application of pesticides; SF461 relating to the voting members of a governing board of a mental health and disability services region; SF 462 relating to a study regarding reimbursement for hospital administrative days; SF521 providing for a human trafficking task force; SF522 relating to elder abuse; SF554 relating to the acquisition of title to abandoned property in the unincorporated area of a county; SF541 relating to use of distributed ledger technology and smart contracts; SF 466 relating to concussion and brain injury policies for extracurricular interscholastic activities; SF524 establishing an inpatient psychiatric bed tracking system study committee; SF 540 relating to barbering and cosmetology; SF 321 relating to the investment and use of funds in the veterans’ trust fund; SF357 relating to the placement of a child in detention; and HF560 related to waste tires.

Passed with bipartisan support
Four additional bills passed through the Senate with bipartisan support including SF494 relating to barbering apprenticeship (43-5); SF479 denying state funds to local entities defunding the police (41-7);
SF476 relating to qualified immunity of peace officers (36-12); and SF478 relating to students’ first amendment rights (33-14).

Surprising to no one is the fact that Minneapolis crime rates have soared since defunding their police. Iowans want no part of that. SF479 says that if a city or other local entity defunds their police, the state will defund the entity. Multiple cities in SD6 voiced concerns to me over the bill’s impact on our small communities. There are, after all, valid reasons why a city might decrease police funding including one-time capital expenditures, retiring experienced personnel replaced with entry-level persons, merging jurisdictions and cost-sharing, or even population shifts. Each of these are enumerated in the bill as valid reasons. A jurisdiction decreasing funding will need to include a written letter explaining the change. The bill passed 41-7.

Along party lines
Five bills passed along party lines including SF469 relating to nonconforming uses of manufactured and other homes (29-18); SF531 relating to the conduct of elections during emergencies (30-17); SF419 relating to the display of front license plates on motor vehicles (29-17); SF546 relating to private instruction and driver education (28-17); and SF534 relating to law enforcement and certain criminal offenses (31-17).

During debate, while the author was verbalizing an amendment to SF546, I read it. Then I reread the bill. Then I read the amendment again. I went back to the law and read it, too. I was totally confused. So, I read them all again. One of the few advantages of long-winded legislators is they provide ample time to actually read what has just been put in front of you for the first time. I concluded that this amendment didn’t do what the author said it does. It wasn’t even close. I might have voted for what he said, but what was in writing is what mattered. Lesson learned. Believe nothing. Read everything.

Debate will continue this week with over 150 bills on the current Senate calendar.

Monday, March 8, 2021

The Williams Weekly by Senator Craig Williams

Funnel Week
The eighth week of this year’s session was “funnel week;” the first legislative deadline of the year. All Senate policy bills must have passed through committee in order to be considered for the rest of the year.

Because it was funnel week, subcommittees and committees worked to move bills through the process, and no bills were debated before the full Senate.

Big tech censorship
One of the bills that passed out of committee was Senate File 402 regarding special tax breaks for big tech. Social media has become a place for billions of users globally to voice their opinions and thoughts and has become the modern-day public square. Recently, many people have become concerned about those big tech companies censoring diverse points of view. This bill stops tax breaks or other financial incentives from Iowa taxpayers to large social media companies if they censor protected speech of Iowans.

Back the Blue
Law enforcement officers are critical to ensuring the safety of all Iowans, and they deserve our protection, too. SF497 raises the penalty for those who assault a law enforcement officer, increases penalties or adds levels for certain disorderly conduct, unlawful assembly, and riot crimes, and also defines the act of damaging any publicly owned property, including a monument or statue, to be criminal mischief in the 2nd degree. The bill ensures a person arrested for criminal mischief in the 2nd degree, rioting, unlawful assembly, or disorderly conduct shall be held for at least 24 hours. This bill does not punish protesters and does not infringe on the First Amendment. It only punishes those who have committed a crime and protects those dedicating their lives to serving their community.

The United States Supreme Court has determined a standard for “qualified immunity” for law enforcement officers. Qualified immunity is not blanket protection for illegal activity. Rather it ensures our law enforcement professionals are not being harassed or distracted, or second-guessed in their actions and concerned about being sued. Senate File 476 aligns Iowa with that qualified immunity standard. It amends the Peace Officer, Public Safety, and Emergency Personnel Bill of Rights to allow an officer who suffered from a person knowingly filing a false complaint to bring a private cause of action and pursue civil remedies. Additionally, it gives law enforcement officers the ability to have their name redacted from documents available for public access online.

Constitutional Carry for Iowans
SSB1232 makes a number of changes to Iowa’s gun laws, the most important of which is removing the requirement for Iowans to obtain a permit to carry firearms. 18 other states currently have similar laws including the bordering states of South Dakota and Missouri. Felons will still not be able to acquire or possess weapons in Iowa nor will those with certain court orders prohibiting their possession of a firearm.

The bill requires a buyer of a firearm to have either a permit to acquire or a permit to carry or complete a satisfactory national instant criminal background check. It creates the crime of carrying firearms on school grounds, making it a class “D” felony. Additionally, the bill allows EMS personnel to acquire a professional permit to carry if they are attached to a law enforcement tactical team, requiring law enforcement-level training and certification.

I’ve spoken to a number of law enforcement officials whose opinions I greatly respect and they are in favor of this legislation.

Taxes
Not subject to funnel week are bills concerning taxes including tax reductions. More work remains on taxes and as the end of the legislative session nears, the pace of those discussions will quicken.

This week
Unlike week eight, week nine should consist of multiple days of debate on a considerable number of bills. At the time of this writing, Monday afternoon, Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning are scheduled for Senate floor debate.

Monday, March 1, 2021

The Williams Weekly by Senator Craig Williams

I want to express my appreciation to East Sac County Elementary School personnel for taking time out of their busy schedules to update me on some of the great things they are doing to ensure a positive educational experience for their students. I hear great things about their principal and we are all rooting for their continued success.

The seventh week of session was busier as many bills moved out of committee. This week is the first funnel week of this legislative session, meaning all Senate policy bills need to be out of Senate committees in order to be considered for the rest of the year. This deadline ensures we are focusing on the bills with enough support to advance through the process.

Unanimous support
Seven of twelve bills passed through the Senate without opposition. SF261 allowing college student aid to establish a non-profit organization, SF367 relating to financial transactions under consumer credit and criminal and juvenile justice, SF314 approving executive branch employee travel, SF289 relates to the powers and duties of boards of directors for area education agencies, school districts and others, SF307 relates to transportation of deceased individuals, SF387 deals with courses of study at Iowa law enforcement academies and veterans educational assistance benefits, and HF418 relates to property tax levies, exemptions, classifications, assessment limitations, and administration.

Two bills were not unanimous, but close. SF353, relating to drainage and levy districts, passed 46-2, while SF265, relating to parental discretion in retention of a student at grade level, passed 43-5.

Limiting Liability in Ag Tourism
Iowa is clearly an agriculture state and ag tourism is important to promote our economy. But farming carries with it some inherent dangers. SF356 seeks to limit liability of persons involved in ag tourism for incidents on the farm such as, for example, someone jumping into a bull pen or violating restricted areas. The bill passed on party lines 30-18.

Protecting taxpayers from fraud
Persons receiving public assistance should qualify for that assistance. Taxpayer dollars dedicated to benefits should go to those who truly need it. To most, that should seem reasonable and logical.

The current verification process is manually intensive, causing a significant and proven error rate. Modern technology can immediately verify the residency, income, assets, and citizenship of applicants required by federal and state law. SF389 allows Iowa’s DHS to takes advantage of that technology helping validate eligibility.

I was taken aback during debate, when some Democrats advocated for defrauding the federal government as if it were an economic development strategy. SF389 passed along party lines 30-18 and now moves to the House of Representatives for their consideration.

Securing election integrity
Over the past several years, Senate Republicans have secured Iowa election integrity by requiring, for example, a voter ID to vote and request an absentee ballot. With each improvement comes accusations of voter suppression, yet, in every election since these reforms began, Iowa has had record voter turnout.

In spite of the success of Iowa’s 2020 elections, vulnerabilities were found. SF413 seeks to resolve some of those vulnerabilities and standardize election law across the state and across every county. It changes the signature requirements of candidates seeking state and federal office to a uniform benchmark, brings our state more in line with the national average for early voting days and return deadlines, and standardizes the times polls close in Iowa instead of varying for different elections. Iowans will have three weeks to vote in an election, which provides time for informed voting and reduces voter remorse. The establishment of a dropbox for ballots is now codified.

One section of the bill adds new penalties for auditors who refuse to follow the law, but will not punish auditors who simply make mistakes. Auditors found to be intentionally violating state law are subject to a fine of up to $10,000 from the Secretary of State and the county attorney will be notified to investigate possible election misconduct.

This legislation does not inhibit any voter from requesting and voting by absentee ballot. Iowans will still have all avenues to request an absentee ballot as they did in previous elections. Request forms can be found on the Secretary of State’s website, at the county auditor’s office, or even by mail if a campaign, organization, or political party decides to send them out or if a voter requests one from their auditor.

SF413 continues the legislature’s work in bringing more integrity to elections in Iowa, ensuring it will always be easy for Iowans to vote, but hard to cheat. It passed along party lines 30-18.

This bill passed both the House and Senate and is, at the time of this writing, awaiting signature or veto from the Governor.

This Week
It is funnel week so no bills will be debated by the full Senate. Much work will be done in the subcommittees and committees.

Monday, February 22, 2021

The Williams Weekly by Senator Craig Williams

Last week was the sixth week of the 2021 legislative session.

Unanimous support
Ten bills passed through the Senate without opposition: SF 285 deals with suspension of student participation in the all Iowa opportunity scholarship program; SF 315 removes some reporting requirements for Iowa Department of Administrative Services; SF 343 provides access to confidential records by the parole board and department of corrections; SF 354 addresses continuing education requirements; SF 363 regulates certain tobacco-related products; SF 364 deals with deductions related to the Paycheck Protection Program for fiscal year filers; SF 366 deals with state taxes and collections; HF 386 strikes reporting requirements for school organizations that are non-profit; HF 231 provides special sentencing for sexual abuse committed during a burglary; and HF 308 addresses eligibility requirements for students under the senior year plus program.

SF 363 attracted my attention. Across Iowa, truck stops, stores and gas stations, some of which are located across from schools, sell glass pipes. While the evidence suggests these pipes are predominantly used for drug abuse, resellers claim they are used for tobacco. Like tobacco, then, SF 363 requires permits and establishes access requirements and significant penalties for violation.

Defrauding a drug test
Apparently, you can buy synthetic urine at truck stops and stores across Iowa. It is often used to pass a drug test a person would otherwise fail. Employers test employees for drug use especially when the safety of the public or other employees might be in jeopardy from an employee who is under the influence. Imagine the pilot of your plane being high on meth at takeoff, but passed the drug test through this fraud. Imagine the driver of the semi in front of you pulling gasoline passed his drug test with synthetic urine. HF 283 makes defrauding a drug test a criminal act with penalties. It passed 32-16 with Senator Kinney the lone Democrat to vote in favor. I listened to the debate and still can’t comprehend why this would not pass unanimously. No one grabs the bottle of fake urine by mistake.

Regulating rental housing
The US Housing and Urban Development provide some citizens with vouchers for rent payments with strings attached for the landlord. There is not a federal mandate requiring landlords to accept the vouchers or rent to tenants who utilize the vouchers. However, 3 cities in Iowa have enacted ordinances forcing landlords to accept them. SF 252 negates such ordinances across the state. It passed on party lines 31-18.

School Supplemental State Aid
The Senate passes their legislation and the House passes theirs. But nothing reaches the governor’s desk until both House and Senate agree. SF 269 is that consensus. It establishes “allowable growth” at 2.4% for fiscal year beginning July 1, 2021. The original Senate bill called for an additional $170 per pupil over and above the 2020 funding. With the amendment, this bill adds another $9 to that for a total of $179 per child over and above prior-year funding. This amounts to an additional $49.4 million in K-12 funding for 2021. There is an additional bill coming to address issues with preschool dollars and budget guarantees. SF 269 passed along party lines 31-18.

Updating Iowa’s Bottle Bill
The bottle bill hasn’t changed a semi-colon since the Carter administration. Redemption centers received $.01/container in 1979 and still receive that same $.01, but inflation makes that $.01 from 1979 equate to about ¼ of a cent today. At one time, there were well over 200 independent redemption centers in addition to grocery stores where we could bring cans and bottles to get our nickel back. That 200 redemption centers has dropped to about 50 today and gas stations and grocery stores refuse to take them in violation of state law. Consumers have the same economics. That five-cent deposit in 1979 is worth a little more than a penny today. Tack on the inconvenience brought about by fewer redemption locations and it’s no wonder redemption is somewhere under 65% today. Left unchanged, Iowa is on a path of continuing to charge a deposit for something consumers have no place to redeem. There are 3 bills in the Senate and more than that in the House under consideration. Everyone seems to have an opinion on what changes should take place and none agree. Perhaps that’s why it hasn’t been updated in 42 years.

Reducing Waste, Fraud, and Abuse in Iowa Welfare Administration
The Commerce Committee, which I am a member of, this week advanced SF 389 to address fraud in Iowa’s public assistance programs. In 2019 Iowa was fined approximately $2 million by the USDA for a nearly 10% error rate in the administration of SNAP benefits. Iowa’s error rate was nearly double the national average. In 2018 alone, Iowa DHS errors cost US taxpayers $40 million and siphoned resources from those who actually need it.

The current process used for identifying welfare program eligibility is outdated and demonstrably error-prone. SF 389 provides Iowa DHS access to the abundance of consumer data readily available from federally regulated companies to confirm in real-time if someone applying for public assistance in doing so properly. These organizations can check the assets, employment, residency, and citizenship in a matter of moments ensuring eligibility for public assistance.

Rooting out waste, fraud and abuse in order to protect taxpayer dollars is a key role of the Legislature.  More accurate administration of welfare benefits in Iowa will save taxpayers from being cheated by fraudsters and also protects against future penalties from the federal government for not administering the program as carefully as necessary.

Election Reform Bill
It should be easy to vote, but hard to cheat in elections. Over the last four years, changes have been made to improve the reliability and security of our elections like requiring voter identification at the polls, and a similar requirement for requesting an absentee ballot. Each time, accusations of voter suppression arise, but each time, the result has been an increase in voter turnout. If the goal is voter suppression, Iowa’s Legislature is particularly bad at it.

In 2020 a few county auditors (none in this district) attempted to violate Iowa law and circumvent the security measures implemented on Iowa absentee ballot request forms. In response, the Iowa Senate advanced SSB1199 this week to improve the administration of elections and ensure one set of consistent and fair election laws are in place across the state regardless of if the county is urban or rural, Republican or Democrat.

This bill also prohibits the practice of ballot harvesting. Ballot harvesting typically involves third parties collecting absentee ballots from voters for delivery to the auditor. Some of these harvested ballots never make it to their destination. Postage is paid on all absentee ballots and caregivers and members of the same household are still able to help deliver a ballot on behalf of those who cannot do it for themselves.

Iowans deserve to have confidence in the results of our elections. SSB 1199 continues to improve Iowa’s election law in an effort to bolster the confidence of Iowans in the electoral process. It should be easy to vote but hard to cheat.

This Week
I’m looking forward to debating the election law changes, advancing rural broadband access, and understanding the implications of HSB 194 on urban renewal and TIF.

Friday, February 12, 2021

The Williams Weekly by Senator Craig Williams

Time is flying by as we end the fifth week of the 89th General Assembly of Iowa.

Bills Passed Unanimously This Week:

SF253, a bill for an act relating to sexual abuse, SF240 relating to custodial trusts, SF239 related to causes of actions following the death of a person, SF235 related to denial and contest of probate claims, HF235 related to charges on consumer credit transactions, and HF232 related to disorderly conduct all passed through the Senate without opposition.

Software Appropriation

SF284, appropriating $21M to the Office of the Chief Information Officer for the purposes of implementing a new, state, central, personnel, accounting and budget system passed 32-17 with Senator Bisignano, the lone Democrat, crossing party lines to vote with Republicans on this bill.

When the federal government set up CARES Act funding for COVID relief, Governor Reynolds inquired about utilizing a portion to update a system that has its origins reaching back to 1959. It’s written in COBOL and, reportedly, costs some $4.5M/year to maintain. The federal government approved and the governor moved forward utilizing $21M in CARES funding as agreed.

State Auditor Rob Sands objected to this use of CARES funding. As a result, the federal government then decided to pull the plug leaving Iowans holding the bag for the entire cost. Governor Reynolds would not have utilized CARES money without prior approval.

Regardless, the system was necessary and we should see a payback within 5 years on this $21M funding. Iowa State University is the guinea pig in using the system. Letters to the governor from ISU are, thus far, praising its efficiency over the old system.

Education Funding

Public education (PreK-12, universities plus community colleges) accounts for some 54% of the state’s budget. 25 years ago, education plus Medicaid together consumed less than 43%. Education is always a hot topic in Des Moines and locally.

SF269 related to school funding passed in the Senate 32-17 with Sen. Bisignano again being the lone Democrat to vote in favor of its passage, according to the official record. This bill provides $45.2M in additional education funding. The funding formula has been complicated by the reality that nearly 6,000 students exited Iowa’s school system this year likely due to Covid.

Education funding has been increased, not cut.

In the bill, an additional $65/student is provided to every public school district in Iowa that followed the law. 31,000 kids attend Des Moines Independent Schools, the only school district out of 327 that did not comply. A proposed amendment attempting to restore this funding to that school district failed.

The fact is, according to the Iowa Department of Education, Des Moines Independent saved $6.6M in expenditures while violating the law. What appears to be a $2M punishment is, in reality, a $4.6M gain for Des Moines Independent.

Life Amendment Passes Committee

I am a co-sponsor of SJR 2 and look forward to passing it through the Senate. Four unelected members of the Iowa Supreme Court created a constitutional right to an abortion with no foundation other than their opinion. That opinion is not in line with the majority of Iowa.

The exact same language must pass both chambers of the Iowa Legislature in consecutive General Assemblies, and then the people of Iowa must ratify that proposed language in a statewide election. Ultimately, every Iowa voter has a say over changes to the constitution, instead of only four unelected people in a courtroom in Des Moines.

Bottle Bill

There were 2 bottle bills of sorts passed out of subcommittee this week and will face the full committees of Commerce and Natural Resources next week. There are several more on the House side.

I do not see the old bottle bill being killed off. But I am intent on seeing it fixed this session one way or another.

PANS-PANDAS

I sat through a difficult subcommittee meeting this week featuring parents of children suffering a terrible disease that I had previously not heard of. It was gut-wrenching. We passed a bill through subcommittee which would require insurance companies to treat this disease and will look at it in more depth at the full committee next week. The real question is whether the treatments involved are “experimental” which insurance companies are typically not responsible for, or are the treatments an accepted practice.

Next Week

Next week, among other things, we get to tackle the tough issue of synthetic urine used to defraud drug tests. Apparently, I need to get out more.

We’ll try to move the bottle bill(s) through committee to the full Senate.

More work remains on a major expansion of broadband access across Iowa.

Friday, February 5, 2021

The Williams Weekly by Senator Craig Williams

The fourth week of the 89th legislative session has come to an end. Fortunately, the Iowa Senate debated bills on Wednesday as Thursday’s weather was not very cooperative.

With bipartisan support

All ten bills debated this week passed with bipartisan support, and eight of those were passed unanimously.

The only bill to face any resistance was SF185 – Repeal of the Missouri River Preservation and Land Use Authority. This is an authority that was created over 20 years ago but has never been funded or exercised. Its original purpose is already covered by other authorities making its existence superfluous. SF185 passed 35-11.

Minors driving for farm work

One of the bills that passed with unanimous support was SF231 allowing a person holding a special minor’s driver’s license who resides on a farm or is working on a farm in Iowa to operate a two-axle motor vehicle between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. to help with farm work. Currently, these teenagers can drive a tractor between farms, but they can’t drive a pickup. SF231 makes a common-sense update to the law.

Farming operations are vital to our state’s economy, and, hopefully, this legislation will help rural Iowa farmers and their families.

Broadband across Iowa

33 Iowa counties are considered “internet deserts,” contributing to Iowa’s underwhelming rank as the 48th worst state for internet speed and access. 2020 put a spotlight on this when work, school, and even doctor’s appointments were moved online.

SSB 1089 would amend the broadband facility expansion grant program. Governor Reynolds has set a goal to ensure every Iowan has access to 100MB upload and 100MB download speeds by 2025 and has requested significant dollars to make it happen. This is extremely important, particularly to rural Iowa.

I’ve been assigned a front-row seat on the Commerce subcommittee studying this bill and am enjoying my part in making this a reality for all Iowans.

K-12 school funding

SSB 1159 was just introduced on Wednesday and assigned to subcommittee on Thursday. I know this because, although I’m not on the Education Committee, my email has again lit up with opinions about this bill. I have read it, but I am still studying the implications.

2020 saw a reduction in K-12 enrollment, likely due to Covid. Some families chose to keep their children home, perhaps due to health concerns or the inconsistency and uncertainty of the district school schedule. Regardless of reason, Iowa public schools lost about 6,000 students.

This is important because school funding for education is largely connected to the number of students enrolled in each school district the prior year. A traditional increase in state aid could leave some districts with a decrease in funding for next year and possibly create a disastrous impact on their budgets.

To address this, SSB 1159 provides a one-time increase of $65 per pupil, totaling $29.4 million, to those school districts that followed state law as passed last year and this year regarding in-person instruction. My understanding is that all schools in Senate District 6, including Audubon, Carroll, Sac, Buena Vista and eastern Crawford counties, qualify for this funding.

SSB 1159 also allocates nearly $10 million to address per pupil and transportation inequities. The school funding formula is very complex and some school districts are given more money per pupil than other districts. In addition, many rural districts incur higher per-pupil transportation costs. This bill continues to close these gaps.

Next week

I will be spending more time on the bottle bill and do my part to ensure that can isn’t kicked down the road again. Senate District 6 is fortunate to have redemption centers available for our empty bottles and cans. Many redemption centers have gone out of business due to the abysmal economics of a 42-year-old law.

Additionally, I’ll continue working on broadband access and a number of other important but less exciting bills.

Monday, February 1, 2021

The Williams Weekly by Senator Craig Williams

The third week of the legislative session included the first-floor debate of the year. I’m not on the Education Committee, but I took an extensive interest in the 2 education bills debated Thursday.

Back to School

There are over 300 school districts in Iowa. All but 15 already offer students 100% in-classroom education.  The CDC recommends we get kids back to school as quickly as possible which, clearly, most districts have already done. Many students suffer when they’re not in the classroom. With the passage of SF160, parents now have an option to send kids to school or continue education from home which is particularly valuable for kids with families who are susceptible to COVID-19. A push back from those opposed to this legislation is “local control.” It doesn’t get more local than mom and dad.

Improving Education Options for Iowa Students

Over the last four years, the Iowa Senate has allocated over $300 million in new funding for K-12 schools. Current plans, subject to legislation, are to again increase public funding for K-12 education. The only time money has been taken away from K-12 schools over the last 15 years is when Democrats overpromised on education funding and failed to keep that promise to the tune of nearly $400 million over the span of four years.

Iowa schools have a strong history of success. We are both constitutionally and morally obligated to educate our kids. However, some schools are failing to live up to that obligation. One measure of a failing school is when 1 out of 3 students does not graduate. SF159 addresses failing schools and generated right at 1,000 emails to my inbox both for and against.

Iowa has open enrollment that allows most students to choose another school if their local school does not meet their needs. However, some school districts have blocked open enrollment requests. One egregious example is a Des Moines high school girl who was, allegedly, raped by a classmate who continues to follow her in the hallways. She requested and was denied open enrollment. Nothing can fix the damage done to this young lady, but this bill does open a path for her to get away from her attacker.

The vast majority of Iowa schools are performing well above the criteria established to define a failing school. However, thirty-four schools in nineteen school districts are determined to be failing by a standard of either the state or federal government. All 34 were listed as failing in 2018 and again in 2019. All 34 schools were provided additional federal assistance dollars and programs to correct their situation. 10,700 Iowa kids attend these schools.

In addition to correcting open enrollment issues, this bill provides an optional scholarship program for those students in a failing school to attend a private school of their choice. That private school cannot be a home school or other unaccredited program. There is no additional cost to Iowa taxpayers.

Private schools save Iowa taxpayers $235 million in state funds annually by my calculations. The families receive a $250 textbook credit on their taxes. This bill increases that credit to $1,000 which is less than 20% of what the state would pay for them in a public school.

When I ran for the Senate, I made no qualms about being in this for kids and the taxpayers. We owe our kids the best education possible and we owe the taxpayers the best return on investment possible.

The 34 schools can be found here: https://www.iaschoolperformance.gov/ECP/StateDistrictSchool/Comprehensive?y=2019#ESSASupportlist

Protecting Our Second Amendment Rights

SJR7 is a bill for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to bear arms in our state. Iowa is one of only a handful of states without guaranteed firearm rights in its constitution. This bill seeks to add the language, “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The sovereign state of Iowa affirms and recognizes this to be a fundamental individual right. Any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.”

“Strict scrutiny,” may not sound like much, but to a court, it has great meaning.  This ensures any proposed infringements to this right would be reviewed under the highest standard of judicial review. Without “strict scrutiny” the addition to the Constitution is rather meaningless.

Constitutional amendments need to be passed by two General Assemblies before going to vote by the people of Iowa. This amendment was passed in the last General Assembly and this General Assembly and will be on the ballot in 2022 for Iowans to vote on its addition to the Constitution.

School Board Members Stepping Up

State law does not allow a school board member to receive compensation in excess of $6K for employment as a substitute teacher, a food service worker, or a school bus driver for the school corporation. That law obviously did not contemplate the impacts of a pandemic which saw a number of board members fill those roles when needed. SF130 corrects that for the 2020-21 school year. We are all thankful for these people stepping up when their schools needed them.

Primary Care Loan Repayment Changes

SF129 made several changes to the Iowa Primary Care Loan Repayment Program, including allowing OB/GYNs to participate, ensuring flexibility for part-time physician practice, allowing for practice site flexibility to expand psychiatric access, and establishing true geographic standards. This bill has a number of benefits for our state.

Friday, January 22, 2021

The Williams Weekly by Senator Craig Williams

Welcome to the end of week two of Iowa’s legislative session.

This week saw the start of subcommittee meetings which are the first step in the legislative process and are one of the ways Iowans can be involved in the lawmaking process. Due to the pandemic, all Senate subcommittees are virtual for this legislative session via Zoom. In a normal year, large groups of people would gather in rooms throughout the Capitol, but not this year. The Senate pages, who are usually busy with work around the chamber, are now helping manage and run our meetings online. This has some advantages, not the least of which is allowing you to voice an opinion on a bill from the comfort of your own home rather than driving to the Capitol.

If you are interested in a bill, please visit the legislative website, www.legis.iowa.gov, to find information on how to join these subcommittees. They are a great way to utilize technology during this time, maintain public transparency, and still move forward with this legislative session in a responsible manner.

Righting a Wrong

This week, I was proud to cosponsor SJR2, a Joint Resolution adding a Constitutional Amendment regarding the right to an abortion. The Amendment is neither pro-life, nor pro-abortion. Rather, it seeks to correct a court decision that read something into our Constitution that simply is not there. The bill will need to pass the House and Senate this session and next before it can be placed on the ballot for voters to vote up or down. It is a fundamental obligation of the legislature to check and balance our other two branches of government and that is what this bill seeks to do.

Getting Back in the Classroom

In 2019, Iowa was number one in average ACT scores, number one in dual enrollment and number one in high school graduation rate. But the results of the pandemic threaten the education our kids deserve. News reports say that 37% of students in Iowa City schools had at least one failing grade this fall. That number is nearly double the number of students with at least one failing grade in previous years. If students fall too far behind academically, they will struggle to regain the skills and knowledge they lost, and their future education and career opportunities may suffer. Where possible, we need our kids back in school.

But what about Covid? The Center for Disease Control just released a study, consistent with other studies in the US and abroad, that states that schools do not transmit the virus more rapidly than the larger population and transmission rates were significantly lower among elementary-age students. This report states, “CDC recommends that K-12 schools be the last settings to close after all other mitigation measures have been employed and the first to reopen when they can do so safely.”

SSB1065 – Education

By my count there are some 118 bills and an additional 81 Senate Study Bills before us with more added daily. SSB1065 only caught my attention today from the piles of emails I’ve received on the subject, although I have not yet had a chance to read it. Like every other bill, this one has been assigned to a committee and the committee has assigned it to a sub-committee for review and revision. By the time this gets to the rest of the Senate, it may not look like it does today.

The bill addresses a number of issues including charter schools, scholarships, open enrollment, tuition and textbook tax credits and other education-related issues.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Williams Weekly by Senator Craig Williams

The 2021 legislative session has officially begun. The first week was busy organizing a new Senate and a new session. Eight new Senators were sworn in Monday, including me.
Governor Reynolds delivered the Condition of the State address on Tuesday evening to a joint session. On Wednesday, Chief Justice Susan Christensen from Harlan, IA delivered the State of the Judiciary address, and on Thursday, Major General Benjamin Corell delivered the Condition of the Guard address.
The governor spoke of the ability of Iowans to meet every challenge the state faced this past year and our determination to come out stronger. Prior to the pandemic, our unemployment rate was one of the lowest in the country and our economy was strong. In spite of the pandemic, the derecho and everything else 2020 threw at us, Iowa’s economy remains strong, thanks to conservative budgeting, and our unemployment numbers are currently 3.6% – among the best in the country. Iowa’s GDP grew 36% in the third quarter of 2020.
I am encouraged by the initiatives Governor Reynolds has laid out for this legislative session and I look forward to working with Brian Best, Gary Worthan, and the House of Representatives to send strong legislation to her desk. We will work together to improve our state’s access to high-speed broadband and to get Iowa back to work. We will also work to support programs to provide the education or training needed to fill job openings in Iowa.
Mental health, telehealth, and supporting our health care systems are vital to support the well-being of Iowans. We must also focus on the future of Iowa children. We will work diligently to make sure students have the option to be back in the classroom full time. School funding remains a priority, as is ensuring all students receive a quality education regardless of income and no matter their zip code. We will work to be good stewards of taxpayers’ money.
2021 Senate Agenda

The first day of the legislative session featured opening remarks from the President of the Senate, the Majority Leader and Minority Leader, laying out the vision and broad themes of the agenda for the upcoming session. Majority Leader, Jack Whitver, focused on rebuilding the economy:

“This year we are focused on putting our state back on a path of success and prosperity after all these challenges. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan: the best recovery plan is a job. This recovery plan means sticking to those same principles guiding us for the last several years. It means freedom to work. It means continuing our work on tax reform and putting more money back into the pockets of Iowans. It means ensuring the best education for Iowa students, in the classroom, where they learn best.”
Senator Chapman, the new President of the Iowa Senate, advocated for a better Iowa:

“Back to normal’ has been the finish line frequently proclaimed in the midst of our universal disruption. But today we have a choice; today we can choose to go back to life as normal, or we can choose to work, sacrifice, and endure for a better life, a better tomorrow, a better Iowa. My hope is that this chamber does not wish for life to return to normal, but that we set our sights on the brighter tomorrow.”

Iowa will successfully recover from this pandemic. With pro-growth policies to encourage work and investment, this state will recover and be stronger than ever. I am grateful to the people of Senate District 6 for letting me be part of it.

   *********

The devil is in the details on bills like this so we’ll wait and see what they come up with on the education committee before passing judgment. Senator Amy Sinclair, who I find impressive and highly knowledgeable on education issues, is leading the subcommittee with Senators Zaun and Quirmbach.

Originally from Rockford, Illinois, Senator Craig Williams has been a resident of Manning, Iowa, since 1991. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in operations management and information systems from Bradley University in 1984 and is currently a self-employed consultant in international agriculture business.

Senator Williams has been active in politics since 1982, working on the re-election campaign for U.S. House Minority Leader Bob Michel in Peoria, Illinois. After moving to Iowa, he got involved in state and local politics, helping out candidates to the legislature and becoming an active member in party politics. Senator Williams has helped host conventions, served as a delegate at the Republican National Convention, served on the state central committee, and was the treasurer for the Republican Party of Iowa. He and his wife of over 30 years, Cindy, have two children and four grandchildren.

 

Email: craig.williams@legis.iowa.gov

Committees: Government Oversight (Vice-Chair), Appropriations, Commerce, Local Government

Subcommittee: Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations

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