The legislature adjourned for the year on Sunday, June 14 and I’m just now getting caught up with my private sector career and family. While we did not get to all the legislation we wanted, we were able to accomplish a lot in the time we had.

Before we paused the session March 16, the Senate passed legislation to lower barriers to some professions and bring unemployed people back into our workforce and encourage them to build careers for themselves. We worked to expand the governor’s Empower Rural Iowa and Future Ready Iowa initiatives, and passed bills to improve access to and availability of affordable health care in our state, especially in rural areas.

We passed bills that would put victims first in Iowa, and make sure their rights were just as important and protected as those who have committed crimes against them. We funded an increase of almost $100 million in new funding for K-12 schools, including transportation equity and per pupil equity, while also working to protect teachers and giving them additional tools to work with students who become violent in the classroom.

At the beginning of the year, many of us had high hopes of continuing our work on tax reform for Iowans. The pandemic had a major effect on what type of tax reform was possible this year, but we were still able to make some reforms and changes to the tax code.

One of the most important parts of this bill is ensuring the stimulus payments many people received a few months ago would not be taxed at the state level. It also ensures any loans that are forgiven through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and payments universities and colleges received to help students with expenses would also not be taxed. Payments received under the governor’s Iowa Small Business Relief Program to provide financial assistance to small businesses economically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic will also be exempt from tax at the state level.

Additionally, the tax bill ensured companies doing business in Iowa would not be punished for stepping up to help their communities during the pandemic, and eliminated the additional tax liability for companies that switched their production outputs to make masks or gowns instead of their normal products.

Lastly, one of the main items we worked on upon coming back into the session was passing a budget for the next fiscal year. We wanted to pass a responsible budget we knew the state could afford. We did not want to be in a situation where we would cut funding appropriated this year when the legislature reconvenes in January 2021. Many of us believe the state should be tightening the budget just as Iowans across the state have had to tighten their budgets because of the pandemic.

The budget we passed appropriates $7.778 billion for the next year. This budget focuses state spending on the areas that matter most – health care, K-12 education, and public safety. This discussion is not complete if I do not mention our budget also includes almost the same amount from the federal government which brings the cost of operations to run the government of Iowa to around $15.5 billion.

Licensing Reform

Iowa is one of the most heavily licensed states in the country. Nearly one out of every three workers in Iowa is required to maintain a license to work in their profession, while the national average is one out of every four workers.

Licensing in many areas of the economy has a proper role. It ensures consumers can depend on reliable and professional service and it protects them from scammers and grifters. However, excessive licensing is a significant burden for low income Iowans trying to work their way out of poverty. It creates hurdles for job creators in their effort to expand their business and meet the demands of their customers.

HF 2627 starts to ease those burdens by waiving first-time licensing application fees for low income individuals. For many licenses, it credits work performed in other states without licensure to meet Iowa’s license requirements, establishes universal licensing path that recognizes licenses from other states, and improves the licensing process for felons who have completed their sentence. A uniform conviction standard, focused on offenses directly related to professions, will help some felons earn a living and reduce their likelihood of recidivism.

Licensing reform is one of several pro-growth bills passed in the short conclusion of the 2020 legislative session to rebuild the Iowa economy. The economy was the best in the history of the state prior to the arrival of the coronavirus in Iowa. Policies like HF 2627 will play a key role in rebuilding our economy.

Finally, I would like to mention one of budget items appropriated though the appropriations budget subcommittee I chair, known as Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund (RIIF). In light of the current times and challenges we are having as a society, I find it important to note funding I have supported for law enforcement. Through RIIF we have appropriated near $20 million to the remodel and repair of the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA), furnishings and classroom technology for ILEA, a new state patrol aircraft outfitted with technology to aid in tracking human trafficking activity, protective equipment for troopers and bomb disposal units, and finally an upgrade to communication technology across the state. Iowa is very fortunate to have the well trained, loyal, and dedicated public safety employees we have working for us.

Thank you for all your calls, emails, and messages throughout the legislative session. I am glad to be back home.

State Sen. Craig Johnson is an Independence Republican who represents Senate District 32, which includes all of Bremer County and portions of Black Hawk, Buchanan and Fayette counties. He can be reached at 319-334-2413 or craig.johnson@legis.iowa.gov.