February 20, 2020
~by Sen Jerry Behn
Subcommittee and committee work took up most, if not all, of our time during the sixth week because the end of the week is the first legislative deadline of the year, nicknamed ‘funnel week.’ This deadline requires most legislation be passed out of committee in its originating chamber – Senate bills need to be out of Senate committees, and House bills need to be out of House committees – in order to continue to be considered this session. This process ensures we can focus our time in Des Moines on priority issues.
Because of this deadline, there are a number of issues that come up throughout the week. While each of us are working on our own specific issues, our goal is always to work on legislation to strengthen Iowa’s workforce, encourage investment, and expand opportunities for all Iowans.
One important bill that moved through the Senate this week is SSB 3077, which expands Iowa’s workforce through the Future Ready Iowa program. The bill aims to expand apprenticeship opportunities in high-demand jobs, help people complete their high school education, and learn computer and technical skills.
Another bill, SSB 3023, prohibits an employer from requiring employees enter into a noncompete agreement if the employees are making $14.50 per hour or less. This bill ensures noncompete clauses are not creating extra barriers to the workforce. Noncompete clauses for workers in this pay range are unnecessarily harmful to them and needlessly inhibit economic growth.
SSB 3144 expands the definition of “owner-operator” to help protect companies who use independent contractors. This bill ensures companies using independent contractors for their businesses, like trucking companies, are not having burdens forced upon them that would raise their costs of business. It will help them continue to use independent contractors as they have been for years.
Senate File 2129 is a bill to clarify the language of the constitutional amendment that automatically restores voting rights for felons once they complete their sentence and pay victim restitution. A concern regularly raised regarding this issue is whether all felons should automatically have their voting rights restored, or are some crimes, like rape and murder, so serious those felons may not receive voting rights back without additional requirements. SF 2129 only goes into effect if the constitutional amendment is adopted, and it requires only those who have committed the worst crimes, to contact the governor’s office to have their voting rights restored. Most other felons will have their voting rights automatically restored once they have completed their sentence and paid applicable victim restitution.
Passing legislation like SF 2129 to address the details of this issue are important to eliminate confusion if this change is implemented. Nearly 18 months after Floridians voted to eliminate their constitutional prohibition on felon voting, lawsuits and confusion are still dominating the news as that state’s primary election quickly approaches.
While the discussion of removing the constitutional prohibition on felon voting continues, the Iowa Senate is also considering a constitutional amendment to protect the rights of victims of these felonies. Iowa is known to have one of the strongest victim’s rights laws in the country. The discussion of this bill, Senate Joint Resolution 8, focuses on strengthen those laws by putting some of this language into Iowa’s constitution. It will ensure the rights of the victim are protected if the rights of the felon are restored.
The Senate also moved forward a constitutional amendment to ensure only U.S. citizens are participating in all elections conducted in Iowa. Cities like Chicago and San Francisco are allowing non-citizens to vote in their local elections, and some in Iowa have openly considered it. Voting is a fundamental and critical right granted to US citizens, and foreign interference diminishes the voice of US citizens who work, pay taxes, and contribute to our communities.
Reducing barriers to work – Iowa is one of the most heavily licensed states in the country. In fact, nearly one-third of Iowans in the workforce are required to maintain a license to perform their jobs. Government licensing of many industries is appropriate, necessary, and in the interest of consumer safety. However, licensing in some professions is either unnecessary, too burdensome, or too expensive. Licensing can even be a method for some to reduce or eliminate potential competitors. It can also be a barrier to employment and with unemployment in Iowa below three percent for more than two years, reducing the hurdles for employers to find qualified workers has been a priority for legislators all session.
In order to address these problems, Senate File 2114 reforms occupational licensing in Iowa. First, it provides for universal recognition of licenses from other states for most licenses. With this change, someone may relocate to Iowa for family or career related reasons and not be required to go through redundant licensing requirements.
This bill also streamlines the process for some felons to obtain licenses after they have completed their sentences by applying a uniform standard for criminal convictions. A good job is one of the most important factors for felons in their efforts to avoid recidivism.
One final piece of the bill lowers the fees for low-income Iowans applying for a professional license for the first time. A trade is often an accessible path out of poverty. Lowering the barrier to obtaining a license eliminates one more obstacle low-income Iowans face in rising out of poverty.
As always, I want to hear from you. My senate number is 515-281-3371 and my home number is 515-432-7327 or write me at: State Capitol, Des Moines, IA 50319 or at my home address: 1313 Quill Avenue, Boone, IA 50036 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.