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Iowa Legislature sends flurry of bills to Gov. Reynolds’ desk

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DES MOINES, Iowa (KWWL) -- With the legislative session nearing its end, lawmakers approved multiple bills on Wednesday, sending them to Governor Reynolds' desk for her signature. Several bills also passed out of the House or Senate, sending them to the opposite chamber for approval.

Expanding Charter Schools

The Iowa Senate voted 30-18 along party lines Wednesday to send a bill to Gov. Reynolds that would allow for the expansion of charter schools. House File 813 was a priority for Gov. Reynolds during the 2021 legislative session.

The bill would allow a founding group to apply directly to the state Department of Education to form a charter school. It also retains the current method of applying to the local school board to create a charter school.

Charter schools would receive taxpayer money for students who switch from public school districts.

Many Republicans in support of the bill believe it will let parents choose what’s best for their kids. Democrats expressed concern over the lack of accountability for charter schools versus public schools when taxpayer money is involved.

Currently, there are only two charter schools in the state. House File 813 previously passed the House in March on a 55-40 vote.

Driver's Education Training

The Senate also voted 33-15 to send a bill to the governor that would allow parents to teach their kids how to drive, eliminating the requirement for a driver's education instructor, something already allowed for those whose children are homeschooled. Senate File 546 also increases the hours for driving with a parent to 30, the current requirement is 20 hours with a parent.

Parents must have a clear driving record for the past 2 years to officially educate their kids on the rules of the road. The majority of students taught by a private instructor, public school, or community college receive a waiver for a driver's test by a state examiner, according to the Iowa DOT. Those in the parent taught program aren't able to waive such a test.

Senate File 546 passed through the House earlier this month on a 59-34 vote.

Failure to Report

The Iowa House unanimously approved a bill would make it a crime to fail to disclose the location of a dead body with the intent to conceal a crime. Senate File 243 was introduced in response to the death of Noah Herring at the Coralville Reservoir last summer.

Herring drowned at the lake on April 7, 2020. Three teens and an adult were present when he died, but the Johnson County Sheriff's Office said none of them called 911, and they withheld information about Herring's whereabouts. His body was eventually recovered four days later.

Those present when Herring drowned weren't charged with failing to alert authorities because such charges don't exist. Under the bill, anyone who witnesses someone else "suffering from imminent danger of death or risk of serious injury" and fails to contact authorities would be committing an aggravated misdemeanor. Someone who doesn't disclose the location of a body in order to hide a crime would be committing a Class D felony.

The bill previously passed out of the Senate unanimously last month.

Several other bills passed out of the House or Senate on Wednesday, sending them to the opposing chamber for approval.

Banning Vaccine Passports

The House voted 58-35 to approve a bill that would ban government entities, private businesses and venues open to the public from requiring Iowans to present "vaccine passports" as proof they've received the COVID-19 vaccine.

House File 889, and its companion bill in the Senate, would also bar any government entity or business that requires such proof from receiving any grants and contracts funded by state revenue. The bill makes exceptions for health and long-term care facilities.

"No Iowan should be forced to have a chemical injected into their body against their will to be able to resume their everyday lives," Rep. Steve Holt (R-Denison) said. "I believe vaccine passports are un-American and unconstitutional and I was proud to lead this legislation to protect Iowans' freedom to make the health care decision that is best for them."

The proposals have advanced quickly through the legislature, having only been introduced within the last week. Both bills passed out of subcommittees and then full committees earlier this week.

Earlier this month, Gov. Reynolds said she strongly opposes any mandatory vaccination disclosure system and would take steps to restrict their use either through legislation or executive order. The governor said vaccine passports pose constitutional, civil rights and privacy issues and potentially set up a "two-tiered society."

The bill would take effect upon Gov. Reynolds' signature and would prohibit state and local governmental entities from producing identification cards that include information regarding whether the card holder has received the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Iowans have been loud and clear. They want their medical freedoms protected and their health care information to remain private. We heard from our constituents and we took action," House Speaker Pat Grassley (R-New Hartford) said.

Democrats questioned why Republicans were proposing a bill to ban a passport that doesn’t exist. Biden administration officials have said they will not create a federal vaccine passport or credential system or require travelers or businesses to be inoculated. Iowa Republicans say federal officials may change their position or policies so they believe state action is necessary. So far, the push to develop digital COVID-19 vaccine proof has come from businesses including airlines and sports venues that have been experimenting with such systems.

House File 889 now heads to the Senate for approval.

Divisive Concepts

The Senate amended a bill along party lines that would ban diversity trainings which imply certain people are inherently racist or sexist from birth, sending it back to the House for approval.

House File 802 would apply to all state agencies and local governments. The bill says agencies cannot do trainings that force people to apologize for their race or sex, or cause people to feel guilty because of their race or sex.

The bill also states that the United States of America and the State of Iowa are not "fundamentally or systemically racist or sexist". It does say it should not be misconstrued to prohibit the teaching of slavery, racial oppression or sexism in public schools.

Trevor Oates

Executive Producer

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