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The Iowa House went two different directions Monday as it extended more local control to cities to deal with public nuisances, but took away local control from public and private schools, day care centers and colleges.
NO IMMUNIZATION REQUIRED: The House voted 57-36, mostly along party lines, to approve a bill prohibiting public and private schools, colleges and licensed day care centers from requiring a COVID-19 immunization as a condition of enrollment.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Henry Stone, R-Forest City, offered no reason for imposing the mandate on those businesses and institutions.
Currently, only Grinnell College requires a COVID-19 vaccination. None of Iowa’s of Iowa’s K-12 private schools, community colleges, regents’ institutions or private colleges require a COVID-19 vaccine.
Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, said she thought majority Republicans wanted government to stay out of running private businesses.
“For that reason and for the safety of our kids,” she encouraged a no vote on the bill that was supported by groups opposing vaccination and mask mandates, VALOR Iowa, Informed Choice Iowa. Associations representing nurses, pediatricians, and public health opposed the bill.
House File 2298 would prevent a requirement for a COVID-19 immunization for enrollment before July 1, 2029, regardless of whether a student attended in-person or remotely.
Democrats argued the bill will take away local control from school districts, licensed day cares and colleges to require immunizations against COVID-19 vaccines as safe and effective in combating the spread of the disease. They also said the bill would discourage the use of COVID-19 vaccinations. For community health, they said, Iowa needs as many people as possible vaccinated.
As of last month, nearly 61 percent of Iowans have received the vaccination, making Iowa 26th among the states and Washington.
PUBLIC NUISANCES: The House then voted to give cities more local control in addressing public safety concerns stemming from businesses that serve alcohol, rather than relying on the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division.
Sponsor Rep. Ross Paustian, R-Walcott, called it “unconscionable” to allow a business with more than 2,000 public safety calls to stay open. House File 2340 would allow city and county attorneys to sue alcohol establishments for creating a serious threat to public safety and seek a temporary injunction before trial. Licensed food establishments that sell alcohol, such as restaurants, would be exempt.
The problem has become more pronounced in communities bordering Illinois, Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport, said. Illinois cities can suspend liquor licenses indefinitely if there is a public safety issue, she said, adding that in some cases, “bad actors” have simply moved across the river to Iowa.
Rep. Rick Olson, D-Des Moines, an attorney who said he has represented bars, called the bill a “boomerang that won’t come back … (with) less teeth than a hockey player.”
“It’s classic code clutter,” he said.
The House voted 74-19 to approve the bill and send it to the Senate.
PIZZA ROLLERS: A House Labor subcommittee Monday greenlighted a bill to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to operate dough rollers. That’s prohibited by Iowa law, but permitted in federal regulations.
The change was sought by Casey’s General Stores, which has about 535 stores in Iowa. It also has stores in 15 other states. Iowa and Wisconsin are the only places where 16- and 17-year-old are not permitted to operate the machines that roll balls of dough into pizza rounds, according to Tom Cope, a lobbyist for the convenience store operator.
Cope said Casey’s has had no employees injured while operating pizza rollers. The bill allows 16- and 17-year-olds to operate the rollers, but continues to prohibit them from adjusting repairing or cleaning the machines.
The only concern expressed by subcommittee members was that Senate File 2190 is another relaxation of Iowa’s child labor laws.
“We can’t solve labor shortage with child labor,” Rep. Charlie McConkey, D-Council Bluffs, said. He didn’t sign the bill, “but I don’t believe I have a problem with this one.”
“I grew up on a farm and was running way more dangerous equipment. I still got all 10,” Rep. Dennis Bush, R-Cherokee, said, as he wiggled his fingers.
“I was running a sawmill at 14,” McConkey said.
The bill, which was unanimously approved by the Senate, now goes to the full House Labor Committee.
TEACHER SHORTAGE: Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Hiawatha, and 16 other Senate Democrats have introduced legislation they say will help address a teacher shortage in Iowa.
Senate File 2368 would eliminate preprofessional testing for students in a college teacher preparation program, create a teacher recruitment and retention task force, appropriate $7 million to pay student teachers, increase the minimum salary for teachers from $33,500 to $40,000, and appropriate general fund dollars to ensure that the annual average compensation for Iowa teachers is no more than $3,000 less than the national average teacher salary as calculated by the National Education Association, the teachers’ union.
SEPTIC TANKS: Counties would be prohibited from enacting fees or penalties for noncompliance of local policies on septic tank maintenance under legislation approved by Senate Republicans.
The legislation was inspired by a Story County requirement that septic tanks must be pumped every five years in order to prevent them from failing. The policy carries a fine for noncompliance, although Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said the county has thus far issued no fines.
Both political parties cried overreach during debate on the bill: Republicans said the Story County supervisors were overreaching by creating the policy, while Democrats said Republican legislators are overreaching by drafting a state-level rebuke of a local policy.
House File 728 has now passed both the House and Senate.
PRIVATE SCHOOL TUITION: Republicans on the Senate’s budget committee advanced Gov. Kim Reynolds’ sweeping K-12 education legislation, which includes taxpayer funding for private school tuition, requirements for transparency in school library books and classroom curriculum, and other measures.
Senate File 2349 has also passed out of the Senate’s education committee. It is also moving through the budget committee because it contains a funding proposal for the private school tuition assistance.
— Compiled by the Des Moines Bureau