Week three was packed with committee and subcommittee meetings. The first funnel week is coming up soon which leads to a big push of bills to committees. There were seventy House subcommittee meetings this week alone! Floor debate has not yet started, but all these meetings will get bills set for floor debate.
In Complicated Court Decision, Mask Mandates in School Are Out…But May Return in Some Situations
Tuesday, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision on the continuing lawsuit language in HF 847 which prohibited schools from implementing mask mandates on students, staff or visitors. The ruling adds more confusing elements to an already complicated legal process.
What does HF 847 do?
HF 847 contained language which prohibits a school from requiring masks be worn by students, employees, or visitors, with extremely limited exceptions. When the bill was passed, school districts were required to allow parents to decide if a mask was appropriate for their child or not.
What prompted the lawsuit?
Parents of children who have various medical conditions filed the lawsuit claiming HF 847 violated the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act (RA), and other federal laws. These parents argued that their children were placed in grave danger because of their medical conditions and could not safely attend school if a school did not require masks.
How has the court ruled on this lawsuit?
The lawsuit was filed in September of 2021 and in October the 8th Circuit issued a preliminary injunction, preventing the bill from being enforced. This allowed schools to impose their own mask mandates to students, staff and visitors. A very small percentage of school districts chose to require masks. Only 24 out of 357 districts require masks to be worn at this time.
What happened after the first injunction?
The case was appealed by the State of Iowa and hearings were held in December by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. During the appeal process the injunction has remained in place allowing schools to enforce mask mandates.
What was the Court of Appeals ruling?
On Tuesday, the court issued a complicated 24-page ruling. In a 2-1 decision, the judges determined that the original injunction was too broad since it applied to all schools in all situations and was not tailored to protect children who were medically fragile and at risk from COVID. Therefore, the injunction was lifted making any current mask mandates unenforceable. However, masks were also deemed to be a reasonable accommodation and school boards will be permitted to draft mask policies focused on protecting students who face significant health risks from COVID-19. Throughout the ruling, the judges continually reinforced that masks are no different than any other accommodation required under the ADA and compared the requirement that they are worn to having a wheelchair ramp in public places.
Will kids be required to wear masks again?
The lower court has been directed to reissue the injunction in line with the standards set by the appellate court. This means the mask mandate cannot be universal but must be tailored to meet the needs of students. The Attorney General’s office has said they intend to appeal the ruling but will also not enforce HF 847 at this time. This leaves schools in a gray area as they determine if they will tailor a mask mandate focused on the specific needs of certain students or to simply not require any masking.
What can parents do?
Parents are now back in control of deciding if their child wears a mask or not. At least for now. If the school chooses to enact a new mask mandate until the parameters of this decision, parents have the right to fill out an exemption form to excuse their child from any mandate.
I along with House Republicans are carefully watching this lawsuit to determine what steps should be taken to ensure parents remain in charge of their children’s health care decisions
This week the Information Technology Committee heard a presentation from Dave Nelson, an expert in the cybersecurity field on the current landscape of cybersecurity threats. The committee learned about risk and how it is a combination of an asset, vulnerability, and a threat factor.
The committee also learned about the three core aspects of cybersecurity which are confidentiality, integrity, and availability. These three aspects do not neatly overlap with each other and can change by situation and even the time of the situation. In addition, there is a significant and notable difference between an incident and a breach. An incident is an activity which compromises the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of system or data, while a breach is an unauthorized disclosure, access, or use of system or data.
The biggest vulnerability for cyber-attacks are people. Some sectors are doing a better job than others at educating their employees and holding them accountable, but ultimately behavioral changes are needed to resist hostile intrusions that can cost in excess of one million dollars to mitigate the situation.
In addition, the committee learned what steps are important to mitigate cybersecurity threats through proactive planning and the types of plans that should be in place to activate when an incident or breach occurs. The information learned this week will be valuable as the committee continues to draft and consider many pieces of legislation relating to cybersecurity.
Governor’s Biofuels Access Bill Advances
This week the House Ways and Means Committee passed House Study Bill 594. The bill is the governor’s renewable fuel access bill. The bill requires dealers with compatible infrastructure to offer E-15. It also provides for waivers from the access standard in certain situations. The bill makes changes to retailer fuel tax credits as well as fuel production tax credits. Finally, the bill makes changes to the renewable fuel infrastructure program.
House Study Bill 594 establishes that a new retail dealer must offer E-15 for sale from one qualified pump, if there is only one qualified pump, or at least 50 percent of all qualified pumps, if there is more than one. This requirement applies to new retailers as of January 1, 2023. For existing retailers, the legislation requires retailers to offer E-15 for sale from one qualified pump by January 1, 2026. However, if a retailer would ever install new tanks, they would be required to comply with the 50 percent of all qualified pumps rule.
The legislation also made changes to various fuel related tax credits. The bill would repeal the E-15 tax credit at the end of 2025 (right before the access standard is implemented (one-year extension) and increases it from 3 cents to 9 cents. The bill also extends the E-85 production tax credit by four years. The biodiesel tax credits are tweaked and extended by three years.
Lastly, the bill sets forth new requirements for the renewable fuel infrastructure program (RFIP). This program requires that all funded ethanol infrastructure be E-85 compatible. Additionally, all funded biodiesel infrastructure must be B-20 compatible.
The bill prioritizes funding infrastructure to upgrade existing locations and non-exempt retail locations and requires an awardee offer E-15 for five years. Additionally, it limits RFIP monies that can be spent on biodiesel retail infrastructure to $1.25 million annually and then requires those retailers to sell B-11 or higher during April 1 through October 31 in funded infrastructure.
The bill passed the House Ways and Means Committee and will now move to the House Floor for further consideration.
House Transportation Committee Passes Hands Free Bill
This week, the House Transportation Committee passed a bill that prohibits drivers from using a cell phone while driving unless the use is hands free or voice activated. House File 372 passed the committee 19-1 and revises Iowa’s current texting-and-driving law to prohibit the use of an electronic device while driving. There is a 6-month grace period and then starting in January 2023, law enforcement will issue a $100 fine for those operating a phone while driving.
Hands free and voice-activated use of your phone are allowed under the bill, and certain professions like public safety and health care are exempted in certain situations. This bill is hoping to combat distracted driving in Iowa. Although there are a wide variety of issues related to driver focus, the most common concern is the potential distraction caused by cell phones and other technology in the car. In 2021, there were 373 crashes related to distracted driving, and six fatalities.
Alternatively, legislation only prohibiting use of a cell phone in a school or work zone (House Study Bill 561) has also passed out of subcommittee and will be considered by the full House Transportation Committee next week.
I chaired a subcommittee on HF 2038 which will allow more access to financial aid to students at Waldorf University. President Bob Alsop came to speak in support of the bill.
I helped pass HSB 598 through the subcommittee. It will now go to the Veterans Affairs committee.
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