The Cloakroom | ‘Students First Act’ blazes through Senate Appropriations Committee

Here’s our recap of another week in the Iowa Legislature: a House subcommittee unanimously moved to ban the ‘gay panic defense’ in Iowa, lawmakers also moved to strike gender balance requirements on appointed commissions, and Democrats introduce a family and medical leave bill.


Jerod Ringwald

The Iowa House convenes during the first day of the 90th Iowa General Assembly at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023.

Liam Halawith, Politics Editor

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ school choice program known as the ‘Students First Act’ passed a vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday morning, only one day after it was referred to the committee.

The bill would establish educational savings accounts for private school students and those who transfer to private schools. It would give parents of these students $7,600, roughly the same amount of aid given to public school districts by the state per student, for expenses relating to private education such as tuition, books, uniforms, and food costs.

The bill was moved out of the House and Senate committees investigating the bill on Wednesday after votes in the committees recommended passing the legislation. The bill currently has not received fiscal analysis by the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency. However, House Speaker Pat Grassley said in the Education Reform Committee meeting on Wednesday that a fiscal note on the bill is currently in the works.

The bill will be eligible for debate early next week in both the House and Senate.

Lawmakers gain unanimous support to ban ‘gay panic defense’

A bill to ban the ‘gay panic defense’ received bipartisan support in an Iowa House Judiciary subcommittee vote on a bill prohibiting the use of the controversial defense.

The “gay panic defense” is a controversial defense used by defendants to claim they had limited mental capacity to understand the consequences of their actions at the moment. Using such a defense claims that due to a nonviolent sexual advance by an LGBTQ+ person, the defendant lost self-control and the mental capacity to understand their actions, according to the LGBTQ+ Bar association.

The bill clarifies that a victim’s sex, sexual identity, and gender identity cannot be used as a defense against violent crimes.

The House passed a similar bill in 2020 and 2021, however, in 2020 the legislature suspended its session due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in 2021 the Senate never took up the bill.

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, a Republican from Wilton and the chair of the subcommittee, is confident the Senate will take up the bill this session.

Iowa Senate Subcommittee moves to remove gender balance requirements for government committees

A Senate subcommittee advanced legislation that would repeal gender balance requirements for government-appointed boards and committees despite public opposition and opposition from Democrats.

The law establishing these requirements has been in effect since 1986 when Republican Gov. Terry Branstad signed them into law.

Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, said the law is being used by Democrats to enforce a liberal agenda.

“I don’t know. It seems like the left is driving a culture war to try to separate people, and I’d like to move us away from that,” Schultz said in the subcommittee meeting, “so I’m going to go ahead and sign this, and we will move it to committee.”

Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, said the legislation was a step backward in progress toward gender equality.

“Quite frankly, I think we’re turning the clock back when we do legislation like this,” she said. “I can’t believe this is the solution to whatever problem it is that we’re trying to solve.”

Iowa Senate Democrats propose paid family and medical leave bill, employment protections for family and medical leave

Iowa Senate Democrats introduced legislation to fund a paid family and medical leave program administered by the Iowa Workforce Development. The program would require companies who employ 10 or more people to pay premiums to a state family medical leave program administered by the Iowa Workforce Development agency.

The program would allow employees who have worked at a given company, full-time, for 12 months consecutively to take paid medical and family leave for up to 12 weeks for family leave — taking care of sick family members — and 16 weeks for medical leave. The bill also gives employment security for the employee who is taking said leave.

The bill requires employers to pay 55 percent of the insurance premiums for the family and medical leave program set by Workforce Development and allows employers to deduct up to 45 percent of the premium from an employee’s salary. The leave amount is based on an employee’s average earnings.