Iowa Legislative update - Jan. 28, 2020

Bringing rural Iowa to Des Moines

The Iowa General Assembly has entered week three of the 2020 legislative session, this is the second year of the two-year assembly. Last Friday, Jan. 24, the deadline for individual representatives and senators to submit requests for bill and joint resolution drafts to the Legislative Services Agency passed. This means most bills this session have already been submitted. 

In our last update, we gave an overview of our priorities and expectations for the session. Fortunately, we’ve been able to achieve movement on a few top priorities. You will find updates on our key issues detailed below.

As bills are introduced in the next few weeks, I will keep you informed on our lead initiatives and other key legislation we are following. For more updates and questions, or to get involved, please reply to this email or contact me at codys@cfra.org.

Water quality

Funding for Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy (IWILL) 

During her Condition of the State Address, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced her plan for a one-cent sales tax increase as part of her Invest in Iowa proposal to the Legislature. This one-cent increase includes the necessary 3/8ths of one cent increase to fund the Natural Resources & Outdoor Recreation Trust, or IWILL.

Operating on the assumption that IWILL would generate $171.3 million dollars per year, Gov. Reynolds also suggested changes to the original IWILL formula that was passed by voters in 2010 and exists in Chapter 461 of the Iowa Code. We have completed an in-depth analysis of Gov. Kim Reynold’s IWILL proposal to the Legislature. The piece includes proposed changes to existing state agency funding, which includes replacing more than $51 million in existing state agency funding with IWILL dollars. The proposal also replaces more than $19 million in programs currently funded by the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund (RIIF). Notably, by our calculations, this IWILL proposal would generate more than $100 million dollars in new funding for natural resources and outdoor recreation programs in Iowa. As an equation, it looks like this:

$171,300,000 (annual IWILL funding)
- $51,353,738 (proposed agency funding replacements)
- $19,800,000 (proposed RIIF funding replacements)
$100,146,262 (new money from IWILL)

We continue to believe investments in Watershed management authorities (WMAs), which are cooperative partnerships between cities, counties, and soil and water conservation districts, are key to long-term water quality improvement. Though serious questions remain on how this three-eighths of one cent sales tax increase would be coupled with other tax reforms, we are actively working with Governor’s office and the Legislature to make investments in WMAs and sustainable watershed-level staffing.

Senate File (SF) 2047 (For): An Act relating to the property tax exemption for property designated to be a native prairie or wetland and including effective date and retroactive applicability provisions.Current Code section 427.1(23) provides a property tax exemption for land designated as native prairie or land designated as a protected wetland by the Department of Natural Resources if the property is not used for economic gain. This bill specifies that the receipt of payments under the federal wetlands reserve program or the federal agricultural conservation easement program shall not be considered a use for economic gain.

Senate Study Bill (SSB) 3057 (For): An Act concerning federal financial assistance funding for hazard mitigation.

This bill would allow the state to help provide funds to supplement federal hazard mitigation dollars Up to 10 percent would be eligible if granted under the federal Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act or the federal National Flood Insurance Reform Act of 1994. Under this bill, the state cannot exceed 50 percent of the total project cost. The local community must have state-approved comprehensive emergency plan.

House File (HF) 2111 (Undecided): An Act providing for the powers of commissioners of soil and water conservation districts.

The bill amends provisions authorizing commissioners to exercise a number of powers, subject to certain limitations, including to conduct surveys, investigations, research activities, and demonstration projects. The bill provides that commissioners must also act to conserve or enhance soil health and water resources, and reduce the effects of flooding. This bill also makes changes into required partnerships Soil and Water Conservation Districts must make with Iowa State University.

Clean energy

HF 476 (For): An Act relating to solar energy system tax credits, and including applicability provisions.

This bill increases the maximum cumulative value of solar energy system tax credits eligible to be claimed annually by applicants from $5 million to $10 million. We will continue to work with our partners to advance this bill and expand the credit even further, while also pushing for language decoupling this state-level solar production tax credit from the federal tax credit, which began a gradual phase out in 2020.

HF 669 (Against): An Act relating to electric utility rates and infrastructure support options for private generation customers.

This bill would add a large annual fee to consumer-generators who own their own solar panels, disincentivizing net metering. Net metering allows farmers to “store” the excess energy they produce on the grid, which helps reduce electricity costs during peak demand hours for their neighbors and provides a cost-cutting strategy for farmers.

House Study Bill (HSB) 540 (For): An Act relating to the construction, ownership, and maintenance of electric transmission lines.

This bill helps advance the development of transmission lines and grid infrastructure by granting “right of first refusal” to developers who lead the planning process of energy infrastructure projects. Transmission infrastructure development is crucial for expanding renewable energy development.

Economic development

HF 2023 (For): An Act exempting from the computation of the individual and corporate state income taxes broadband grants received by communications service providers, and including effective date and retroactive applicability provisions. 

This bill allows a communications service provider who receives a federal, state, or local broadband grant to exclude the total of that grant from the computation of their individual or corporate state income tax if the grant is used to install broadband infrastructure in targeted areas where no provider offers internet service that meets broadband speed thresholds. Broadband speeds are defined as 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) for download and 3 Mbps upload by the Federal Communications Commission.

SF 2048 (For): An Act relating to the connecting Iowa farms, schools, and communities broadband grant program, making appropriations, and including effective date provisions.

Under current state law, the Office of the Chief Information Officer, which administers the Connecting Iowa Farms, Schools, and Communities Broadband Grant Program, is prohibited from awarding a grant if it exceeds more than 15 percent of the communications service provider’s total project cost. This bill would raise that cap to 25 percent, thus allowing for more state investment in broadband infrastructure.

SF 601 (Undecided): An Act establishing a pesticide administration and enforcement fund and making appropriations.

This legislation would create a Pesticide Administration and Enforcement Fund under Section 206.5A of the Pesticide Act of Iowa which would be for the sole purpose of administering certification courses and enforcing the rules of the act. This fund would collect the $75 fee for a three year commercial pesticide applicator certification and the $15 fee for a three year private/personal pesticide applicators license.

Upcoming events
Jan. 29 - Iowa Solar Energy Trade Association Day at the Capitol
Feb. 21 - First Funnel deadline. This is the final day for Senate legislation to exit Senate committees and House legislation to exit House committees.

Important links
Find your lawmakers' contact information
View the Iowa Legislative Calendar
Support and learn about the Center for Rural Affairs

Related content
2020 Iowa Legislative Priorities
Fact Sheet: Soil Health in Iowa
Iowa Watershed Resource Library
Fact Sheet: Watershed Management Authorities in Iowa
Fact Sheet: Watershed Planning 101
Fact Sheet: Leveraging Local Funds for Watershed Improvement​