Government

Sports betting, extended sales tax for schools among new Iowa laws

Dozens of newly passed state laws will take effect today

College basketball is broadcast March 20 on a large video screen in the show lounge at Riverside Casino & Golf Resort in Riverside. The casino recently underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation to help attract younger patrons. The state-licensed casino is one of those preparing for the start of legalized sports betting this year in Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
College basketball is broadcast March 20 on a large video screen in the show lounge at Riverside Casino & Golf Resort in Riverside. The casino recently underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation to help attract younger patrons. The state-licensed casino is one of those preparing for the start of legalized sports betting this year in Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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DES MOINES — Dozens of new state laws go on Iowa’s books today.

Some could make a quick splash, like legalized sports betting that casinos already are gearing up for that could be available to Iowans later this summer. Other new laws will not be noticeable for months yet.

BETTING ON COLLEGE AND PRO SPORTS BEGINS

Soon Iowans will be able to cast legal bets on professional and college sporting events.

The new law goes into effect now, but the state still is writing and rules and regulations for legalized sports betting, which will be available to any of the state-licensed casinos or online.

Regulators say they expect the framework to be in place by this fall’s professional and college football seasons.

A 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling gave all states the option to legalize sports betting. Iowa joined the rush — 18 states now have legal sports betting.

Casinos will be charged a 7.5 percent tax on sports betting revenue, and the activity will be regulated by the state agency that oversees casino gaming and horse and dog racing.

CHILDREN’S MENTAL HEALTH SYSTEM FORMS

The state continues to transform its mental health care delivery system. Having previously reformed the way mental health care services for adults are delivered — and expanding those services — the state this year created the framework for a system specifically for children.

The new children’s system has been described as a foundation for future development, and a positive and necessary first step in a state that before lacked a statewide approach.

“It’s a good first step in developing a children’s mental health care plan,” said Jack Whitver, the Republican Senate Majority Leader from Ankeny. “We wanted to put that framework in place. But that’s just the beginning of the work. ... But it’s a really good first step.”

LONGER TAX FOR SCHOOL INFRASTRUCTURE

School districts will have more confidence using bond financing for infrastructure projects, and taxpayers should get more property tax relief with the extension of an existing 1-cent sales tax.

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The sales tax was due to expire in 2029. That’s not exactly right around the corner, but put a crimp on districts issuing long-term bonds.

School districts asked for the sales tax extension so they could have confidence financing their projects.

The extension also contains some new requirements, including that 30 percent of the sales tax revenue be put toward local property tax relief. That provision was debated between mostly Republican legislators who sought more property tax relief and Democrats who wanted to keep the entirety of the funding for school infrastructure projects.

The extension is expected to provide nearly $716 million to the Cedar Rapids Community School District by 2051, according to the district.

That estimate — which accounts for 30 percent of the sales tax’s revenue going to property tax relief — is expected to be enough to cover the Cedar Rapids facilities master plan.

The district plans to close eight of its 21 elementary schools and reconstruct or significantly remodel the other 13.

MORE NOTICE OF HIGHER TAX BILLS

Republicans also led the effort on a new law that adds an extra procedural step for local governments when property tax revenues are poised to increase.

The law requires city councils and county boards to document and hold a public hearing for residents when they plan to increase property tax revenues through higher tax rates or property value assessments.

Because budget work is completed for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, the law will not have a tangible impact until next spring, when governments work on their next budgets.

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Whitver called it “one of the most important bills” passed during this year’s session, and said similar laws in other states have been effective at slowing increases.

“We think it will have a good, long-term effect on keeping property taxes at a reasonable level,” Whitver said.

Legislators rejected a proposal that would have allowed taxpayers to call for a vote undoing tax increases over a certain threshold.

INITIATIVES TO BOOST RURAL IOWA ECONOMY

The governor’s “Empower Rural Iowa” program received a boost in the form of grants to expand broadband internet access in rural Iowa and tweaks to a tax incentive program designed to spur the development of affordable housing in rural areas.

“As the economy changes in the 21st century, one of the ways to continue to keep rural Iowa strong is to have good broadband service,” Whitver said. “If you don’t have good broadband and good cellphone service today, you can’t work from home and you can’t run a business.”

The law includes a $10 million one-time appropriation for workforce housing as part of a recovery package for communities affected by widespread flooding.

SAFEGUARDS ADDED FOR ABSENTEE BALLOTS

A new requirement for absentee mail-in ballots can be traced to a Statehouse race in Northeast Iowa that was decided by just nine votes — after lawmakers opted to never open and count a cache of ballots that arrived in the mail after the Election Day.

Now all absentee ballots are required to have an intelligent bar code that enables local elections officials to determine whether an absentee ballot was mailed by the deadline.

Previously, inclusion of the intelligent bar codes was optional and only a handful of Iowa counties used them.

HELP FOR PATIENTS AND CAREGIVERS

Iowa hospital patients can designate a family caregiver who will be notified when the patient is released and given information from the hospital about the patient’s ongoing needs.

The “Iowa Care Act” was a primary goal of the state chapter of AARP. Advocates say the new law will provide significant help for family members and other caregivers as they help seniors transition from hospital care to their homes.

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Hospitals are now required to discuss with designated caregivers an outgoing patient’s abilities, limitations and needs at home, and must explain any medical tasks to be performed.

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