House Happenings, From Terry Baxter, District 8 State Representative
CONTACT: • District 8 Rep. Terry Baxter, R-Garner, was re-appointed the chair of the International Relations Committee, a position he held for the previous two years. He is also on the Agriculture, Environmental Protection and the Natural Resources committees, and on the Iowa Commission on Interstate Cooperation. You can reach him at Terry.Baxter@legis.iowa.gov, 515-281-3221 in Des Moines, or at 641-210-9656.
February 25, 2021
We continue to make progress on numerous fronts. Let me take a moment and revisit a few issues from the last newsletter. As a result of the Government Oversight committee confronting the Iowa Universities on suspension of Christian groups and suppression of conservative voices, the Board of Regents recommended changes to protect free speech on campus. We hope it will be a positive direction. It is tragic it took such extreme measures to get their attention.
Unfortunately, the Ames School District abruptly backed away from meeting with the Oversight Committee a mere 24 hours before the meeting to explain their use of the BLM Week of Action curriculum. Values held by Black Lives Matters include the disruption of the Western prescribed nuclear family, defunding local police departments and overturning voter ID laws. Parents expressed alarm about why a public school is so directly involved in punching a left-wing agenda.
It is unclear why the Ames Community School District felt it was necessary to use their attorney to contact Rep. Brink to back out of the Committee meeting. It is also unclear why the district needs an attorney to defend curriculum endorsed by the school board and superintendent. Another meeting is scheduled for March 9.
Last Thursday, House Republicans passed House File 532, which provides school districts with additional money to assist in covering costs related to COVID-19. This extra $27.2 million goes to schools that provided in-person instruction, whether that was fully in-person or hybrid, starting July 1, 2020 and ending January 29, 2021 with the enactment of SF 160. Legislators saw there was a need and wanted to help these schools during this unprecedented time. The bill makes sure to include all schools on all calendars whether it’s year-round or even if school districts started early to make up some time lost. All of those schools districts are eligible for these funds.
During floor debate, Democrats erroneously claimed the bill was punishment instead of assistance. Which may have been the first time sending school districts extra funding was described as punishment. Regardless, the charge is false. There is no money being taken away from schools. No money is being withheld. This is extra money that school districts weren’t planning on ever receiving. Many schools received a significant amount of money from the federal government while others did not. Recognizing that there are different needs in different schools, this supplemental aid will assist in areas that the federal money possibly could not reach. House Republicans also recognized that schools impacted by the Derecho had added costs, but some were unable to have in-person instruction, or instruction of any kind due to infrastructure damage. Again, further proving this is not about punishment, districts affected by the derecho still received the aid because the bill is about helping with unforeseen costs. This money goes to any general fund purpose and it arrives immediately. If schools do not use it all this year, it carries forward to next school year. This bill had the support of Republicans and some Democrats because they recognized that schools need help, and they need it right away.
One big bill this week related to election integrity. During the debate we heard repeatedly how great the election process is in Iowa. Absent from the debate was the fact that Republicans have led election integrity revision over the past six years that resulted in our great system. So why a new bill?
With the Covid19 emergency proclamation, the Iowa Secretary of State on his own accord broke Iowa election law and mailed absentee ballot request forms to all Iowans. That opened the door to ballot harvesting in Iowa. Prior to the last general election an Iowa judge threw out nearly 100,000 suspiciously filed ballot request forms from two regions in Iowa. We simply moved the ballot request process back to the law code set by the legislature prior to Covid19. The Secretary of State had no authority to change election law in Iowa. This bill ensures that there is uniformity in election procedures across the state and that all Iowans can trust our election process.
We also saw that the long advance voting dates in numerous states led to many people asking how they could change their votes after listening to the last presidential debate. The bottom line is they voted before they knew the facts. This bill protects early voting in Iowa at 20 days early plus Election Day to vote. That moves Iowa to the middle of the nation for early voting.
Looking ahead, the Republican House has filed a Firearms Omnibus bill that will begin to capture public debate over the weekend. Let me copy and paste the clarification points on the bill for your study.
Law Enforcement and EMT- Carry
- Law enforcement and reserve officers can carry firearms on school grounds whether or not they are acting in performance of their official duties.
- Professional permit to carry for EMT’s who train and serve with a tactical team
Handgun Safety Training
- DPS database of approved organizations so it is easier to find state approved programs
- Training still required if a person wants a permit to carry, as current law requires.
Firearm Regulation-Political Subdivision
- Current law- political subdivisions cannot regulate firearms outside of state law.
- Bill clarifies political subdivisions cannot regulate the carrying of firearms.
- Prohibits landlords of government assisted housing from banning firearms.
- Does NOT impact landlords who do not have government assistance housin
Changes with Bill
Permit to Carry or Permit to Acquire issued by Sheriff after background check
Either Permit to Acquire or Carry may be used to purchase
Optional: Permit to Carry if citizen chooses
Handgun purchase- either permit can be used
Long gun purchase-no permit, but NICS check is required
National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) used
Background Checks through NICS for each firearms purchase (long guns and handguns)
Permit to carry needed to carry
Permit NOT required to carry
Private sales- can’t sell to a prohibited party
Private sales- can’t sell to a prohibited party
February 18, 2021 - Week Six
This has been another very busy week. This session is moving very fast. We have already voted nearly 100 bills off the floor and sent them to either the Senate or the Governor. The subject matter of these bills has been very broad.
This week I was able to floor manage the Governors Tax Credit Bill for Affordable Work Force Housing in our Economic Growth Committee. Affordable housing is needed across the state. It is now on its way to Ways and Means.
The House and Senate will also be working on improving elections laws in Iowa. I’m sure the charges of voter disenfranchise will be leveled against us, but what’s so wrong with ensuring the identity of a voter?
We have also worked this week on coming up with additional funds for Schools that have offered in-Person learning. These funds will be above and beyond SSA. We simply recognize that schools offering in-person learning have more expenses built in. The House wants these funds available this year from our ending balance. This will be one time money.
Let me switch gears to another subject. I have recently been criticized for stating in an email that public schools need to take a middle of the road approach in curriculum and extracurricular activities and not lean to the left. I received numerous emails asking for examples. Let me take some time in this Newsletter and share examples from across the state. Keep in mind, in the legislature we hear it all.
Let me state clearly, the schools in my district do a great job and are not like Ames Public School District which spent a week using curriculum titled, “The Black Lives Matter National Week of Action,” raising the concerns of many parents. The material was so offensive, next Tuesday the Government Oversight Committee will be meeting with representatives of the school board with some very strong questions.
Let me sight a few examples of problems within the curriculum. The curriculum was based around 13 “Guiding Principles.” One of which reads, “We are committed to disrupting the Western prescribed nuclear family structure.” It also contained curriculum devoted to teaching K-12 students about “trans-affirming” and “queer affirming” behaviors. Among many other questions, the committee will ask what these have to do with black history.
I could also sight the 1619 Project that teaches that the United States actually started in 1619 and then rewrites our national history around slavery. Some schools in Iowa are using this curriculum and are defending their choice. Please explain to me how this is middle of the road curriculum?
This year Indianola High School choose a play called “Putnam County Spelling Bee.” The play is filled with vulgarity, does a political rant against the right and a scathing parity about Jesus Christ. Even with multiple vocal complaints by both students and parents against the play, it proceeded as planned with only minor attempts to clean up some language. Many students opted out of the play because it violated their values. My question is why push this stuff?
This year, our Government Oversight Committee also had to hold our Public Universities accountable for sanctioning conservative voices, trying to close down Christian organizations on campus and openly penalizing students from a conservative persuasion. This is nonsense. In the end, they simply apologized.
These are a few examples of trends happening in some school districts that come to our attention in the legislature. This paints public education in a negative light. Keep in mind, these things are funded by tax payer money.
I come back to my original point that I mentioned in an email a week ago; local control over these issues is absolutely essential and as these trends persist in progressive schools parents are pushing for choice in education. Public education as a whole needs to adopt a middle of the road stance on religious, morals and political issues. Doing this would take much of the fuel out of the school choice debate.
The Judiciary committee also passed bills strengthening sex offender laws in Iowa. Here are some examples:
HF 201-Sexual Extortion and Sex Offender Registry Requirements
HF 201 requires a person who is convicted of extortion to register as a sex offender if it is determined that the crime was sexually motivated. The bill also prevents state shopping by requiring a sex offender who is registered in another state, but who lives in Iowa, must serve their time on their registry either under the convicting state or Iowa’s laws, whichever is longer. This prevents a sex offender from coming to Iowa for a shorter sentence on the registry
HF 231- Burglary and Sexual Abuse
HF 231 A person who is convicted of sexual abuse committed during a robbery shall also be sentenced to a special sentence, the sex offender registry.
HF 233- Disclosure of Private Sexually Explicit Images
HF 233 is the Uniform Civil Remedies for Unauthorized Disclosure of Intimate Images Act. A person whose private intimate images are disclosed by another, without permission, may bring a civil lawsuit against the person who disclosed the image. This helps protect victims of revenge pornography.
HF 281- Definition of Sex Act
HF 281 expands the definition of sex act to close loopholes in the law. The definition of body parts is amended in criminal code to ensure offenders don’t avoid prosecution on a technicality. The bill also expands the definition of criminal sex act to include the touching of one’s self at the direction of another person.
HF 489-Adam Walsh Sex Offender Registry Compliance
HF 489 should bring Iowa into compliance with federal sex offender registry laws. The bill amends how long an offender must be on the registry before petitioning the court for modification. The changes will ensure the sex offenders serve their time on the sex offender registry after being released from prison.
SF 253- Sexual Abuse and Definition of Child
SF 253 changes the definition of “child” in sexual abuse 2nd and 3rd degree. Under current law a “child” in these crimes is considered someone under the age of 12, SF 253 changes the definition to someone under the age of 14. Under current law, a person who sexually abuses an 11 year old faces a 25 year sentence with a 70% mandatory minimum, whereas the exact same abuse done to a 12 year old is only subject to a 10 year punishment with no minimum sentence.
February 11, 2021 - House Happenings
The push is intensifying at the Capital. Last night alone we debated over twenty bills on the floor. We are way ahead of pace from any year I have served as a Representative. Usually this pace of debating takes place in March.
A significant number of the bills related to child care in Iowa. This is a crucial issue across the state. Let me give you a brief overview of some of these bills.
HF 230—Increases the income threshold for the Child /Care Tax Credit from $45,000 to $90,000.
HF 370—Creates an incentive for employers to provide child care for their employees by providing a tax credit up to $150,000.
HF 260—Allows individuals providing child care in their homes to take care of 6 or fewer children, an increase from 5 or fewer.
HF 292—Raises Iowa’s child care rates to the 50th percentile according to the Market Rate Survey.
HF 302—Creates an “off ramp” from Child Care Assistance program so parents can continue to grow in their career without losing their child care assistance entirely, all at once.
HF 301—Creates a fund to provide child care workforce grants on a dollar-for-dollar matching basis from communities. These programs will help move child care providers up the pay scale and the education pathway.
I was also handed the Governors Affordable Housing Bill to manage on the Economic Growth Committee. This initiative brings many programs together under one bill. It is a very proactive approach to meeting the growing demand for workforce housing across Iowa.
It increases the Workforce Housing Tax Credit from $30 million to $50 million for FY 21-24 and increases the allocation reserve for small cities from $10 million to $20 million. The bill also has a Downtown Loan Guarantee Program and a Disaster Recovery Housing Assistant Program and Fund. It also removes the $3 million cap on transfers of Real Estate Transfer Tax Funds to increase funding for the State Housing Trust Fund administered by IFA. (Iowa Finance Authority.)
We passed the bill out of sub-committee with no amendments and hope to pass it out of the full Economic Growth Committee next week. If that happens, the next stop for the bill will be Ways and Means.
This week we also started working on supplemental school aid. I am hesitant to share any hard numbers because the House and the Senate are at different places. We are also looking at an additional significant appropriation for schools offering in-person learning.
Keep in mind, on top of what the state does this year, there was also Federal CARES act money sent out that was distributed very differently from School District to School District across the state. For some schools like Des Moines that money was huge. For other Districts it was modest.
Our package will also include additional money for the Per Pupil Equity Equalization process we started a few years ago and some more money set aside for transportation costs for Districts with huge costs. The Covid 19 shadow still hangs over the state and we are going to do what we are confident we can deliver.
January 28, 2021
This was an unusual week. We faced a family emergency and almost lost my 92 year old father. He fell last week in his independent living apartment and broke a vertebra in his back and was immediately hospitalized. The hospital had strict covid rules that only allowed one family visitor every 24 hours. After five days in the hospital with only an IV and no food or liquids, he could not talk or swallow. He was in critical condition on Sunday.
It was at that point we discovered I could get in as clergy. Two other family members who work in the medical field were also admitted. We appraised the situation and recognized he would not make it through the night. My sister offered her house for home hospice care which would allow family and friends one last visit. We made all the arrangements, checked him out of the hospital and had him transported by ambulance to my sister’s house. We fully understood that he might not survive the 40 minute ambulance ride.
As soon as he arrived and was surrounded by family and friends, he began to perk up. He had hope again. Within two days he was drinking liquids, eating soft food and making good progress. It can still go either way, but the contrast was dramatic.
By Wednesday morning we were back in Des Moines and in full swing in the legislature. I share this story because it highlights what so many have been saying about the inhumane treatment being forced on the sick and elderly by our covid rules and regulations. I favor common sense measures that puts the family first.
Wednesday evening we debated and passed The Life Amendment. In 2017 the Iowa Supreme Court went far beyond its purview and declared abortion a constitutional right in Iowa.
The Court’s ruling threatens any reasonable restrictions on abortion, such as restrictions on late-term abortions and taxpayer-funded abortions. Many who are pro-choice even support these restrictions. We cannot allow un-elected, activist judges to re-write our Constitution. We have a process for amending the Constitution, and that process allows the people of Iowa to have a say. If it is passed again in the next session of the legislature it will be on the ballot for the 2024 election.
Today we are debating The Freedom Amendment. Iowa is one of only 6 states that currently has no language in its Constitution that protects the fundamental right to keep and bear arms.
This would explicitly protect the foundational right that Iowans deserve and prevent a future Legislature or overzealous judiciary that is hostile to the second amendment. Because this passed the last session of the legislature, with its passage today and then in the Iowa Senate, it will be on the ballot for the 2022 election. It lets the People Decide.
Our New legislative session has begun and the Covid-19 shadow is defiantly hanging over the first year of this session. Masks are encouraged for legislators but at this point are not mandatory. Social distancing and hand sanitation will be a way of life at the Capital, and committee meeting size will also be restricted.
Again this year I am serving as Chair of the International Relations Committee. I suspect it will be a slow year with international travel having restrictions. I also serve on the Agriculture Committee, the Natural Resource Committee, the Economic Growth Committee and the Environmental Protection Committee. This promises to be another busy year.
The work we started last year on drainage issues for North Iowa will be moving forward this year, but I did not draft a specific bill. It is generally recognized that something has to be done to this section of the Law Code and I keep putting pressure on legislators who promise to work on this issue.
I have worked extensively in the off season with a dedicated committee from the general public on a bill that will give some non-juvenile lifers in the Iowa penal system a second look toward commutation. Under the bill, it will not be easy to qualify for commutation, but it does define a process.
I am also working on a bill that places the same guidelines for housing, transporting and placing rescue animals that breeders must follow. The current absence of health records, transportation guidelines and housing rules opens a door for infectious animal diseases to be brought into Iowa. The best solution seems to be placing them under the same regulations that breeders currently must adhere to in Iowa.
Bills are also being assigned for floor management in committees. I was just handed a bill to floor manage in our Agriculture Committee related to changes in DALS regulations. (Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship) This is a House Study Bill and looks very practical and positive. (HSB 95)
Republican colleagues worked very hard with the Governor during the interim on relief for restaurants and bars devastated by Covid -19 restrictions. This week the Governor announced the Iowa Restaurant and Bar Relief Program that will be available beginning February 1st.
Hot topics in the Iowa House this week also included Parental Choice in Education. The bill states that if a public school or an accredited nonpublic school offers both in-person and online learning instruction, the parents or guardians will determine which instruction method best fits them.
The Judiciary Committee also advanced new language for a constitutional amendment to re-establish that no rights to an abortion exists in the Iowa Constitution. The Amendment reads, “To defend and protect unborn children, 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.” This Amendment would have to pass during this General Assembly and again in either 2023 or 2024 before it could appear on the ballot in 2024.
This week the Public Safety Committee also advanced a constitutional amendment to ensure Iowan’s right to keep and bear arms is constitutionally protected. The Amendment was passed in 2019 and needs to be passed during this general assembly in order to be on the ballot for public vote in 2022.
The Amendment reads, “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The sovereign state of Iowa affirms and recognizes this right to be a fundamental individual right. Any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.”
This language requires a court reviewing Iowa’s firearms laws to use strict scrutiny. This is the highest standard of judicial review and requires the government to prove the law was passed to further a “compelling governmental interest” and the law is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. This language does not and will not invalidate Iowa’s current or future laws unless the laws don’t serve a compelling governmental interest. In other states, with a strict scrutiny standard, laws banning felons from possessing firearms and requiring permits have all been upheld as constitutional.
A few personal notes; I am excited to have my wife Debby serving as my clerk for the first time. It’s going to take her a few weeks to absorb everything, but so far it’s going well. It is a huge learning curve.
I am also recovering from total knee replacement surgery the end of November. I had my surgery at Iowa Specialty Hospital in Clarion, Iowa. It was an awesome experience with very friendly and professional care. I received Physical Therapy at Athletico in Garner, Iowa. Again, I give five thumbs up for exceptional care. Recovery was going well until missed a step on a landing and took a fall last week. I am now back on a cane and moving slowly as I recover from pulled muscles in my surgical leg.