Iowa GOP’s agenda at the forefront as legislative funnel passes


The Republican-lead Iowa Legislature continues to push for anti-abortion legislation for the state.

Michael Craighton

The first major deadline in Iowa’s legislative session has passed, marking the end of the road for some policy proposals and a milestone achievement for a number of Republican legislative priorities. The deadline, known as the “funnel” week, is the first of two major cutoffs for bills that have not, as of the funnel date, already been passed into law.

“For a bill to be considered on the floor, it has to go through the funnel,” said Kelly Shaw, associate teaching professor of political science. “Meaning, it has to come out of committee and subcommittee and be calendared prior to the funnel date.”

The Iowa Legislature has two funnel deadlines. The first occurs in early March and just recently passed, and the second occurs at the beginning of April. All bills pass through the funnel as part of the regular legislative process, but the deadlines, established by bipartisan consensus in 1979, are intended to avoid the legislative session from stretching beyond its scheduled end in the spring. Its effects have not always been bipartisan, however.

“The majority party controls calendaring,” Shaw said. “If the party wants to get something to the floor for debate, it has to pass through the funnel first. It’s an absolute drop-dead date.”

Republicans have already achieved several marquee legislative victories that have dominated headlines both in Iowa and around the country. These include a pro-gun amendment to the state constitution, a full return to in-person instruction and a major voting bill that restricts early, absentee and in-person voting.

Despite holding a majority in both chambers of the statehouse, a particularly rancorous legislative session has revealed divisions both amongst Iowa’s Republican lawmakers and between the GOP lawmakers and Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds. This wrangling resulted in some of Reynolds’ policy proposals, namely for providing publicly funded scholarships for charter schools and for a ban on racial profiling by law enforcement. 

Among the most significant bills that survived the funnel include policies relating to abortion rights, criminal justice and higher education.

The Senate is poised to take up the proposed constitutional amendment after it passed the Iowa House in February, clarifying that Iowa’s constitution does not guarantee the right to an abortion. The bill’s passage in the House was celebrated by anti-abortion groups and decried by proponents of abortion rights.

Despite the failure of the governor’s proposed ban on racial profiling, Republican lawmakers are still moving forward with sweeping changes regarding law enforcement in Iowa, including a so-called “Back the Blue” law, which would provide officers accused of wrongdoing information about the accusation, including the name and personal information of the accuser. It would also provide law enforcement officers with greater protection in such cases and provide a definition for “qualified immunity,” detailing specific protections officers have against civil lawsuits.

Another bill would ban “defunding” police departments by withholding state funding for any city that reduces the budget of its police department by a greater percentage than the city reduces its overall budget. 

A third bill increases penalties for and expands the definition of assaulting a police officer, as well as expanding penalties for those participating in protests and other related action. That bill also explicitly exempts from civil liability any driver who causes injury to a protester if the protestor is blocking a street, so long as the driver was exercising “caution.”

A constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to convicted felons who have completed their sentences remains alive after the funnel as well. Reynolds signed an executive order in August to that effect and proposed the amendment to make the change to Iowa law permanent. Another proposed constitutional amendment, this one reinstating the death penalty, suffered its own proposed fate before passing fully out of committee.

A bill seeking to prohibit teaching subject matter inspired by the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which explored the inextricable role that slavery played in American history, failed to pass the funnel, as did another requiring a survey of faculty’s political affiliation, but other legislation targeting higher education remains viable.

The tenure system at Iowa’s Board of Regents universities remains at risk, as a proposal seeking to ban the practice advanced through the funnel. Republicans cite concerns that conservative students’ viewpoints are unwelcome on college campuses as a reason for the legislation, while Democrats and the Board of Regents have expressed concern that eliminating tenure would make Iowa’s universities undesirable for talented faculty and diminish the state’s educational reputation. 

Diversity training pushing “divisive concepts,” such as that the United States is “fundamentally racist,” would be prohibited at Iowa’s public universities and schools. The bill would also require that teachers and faculty be given First Amendment training and be disciplined for actions that restrict protected speech.

Reynolds’ school choice proposal also remains alive, although public funding of scholarships for private schools failed to pass the House. The legislature may yet pass the portions allowing for easier transfers between districts for students, as well as public funding of scholarships for charter schools.

Iowa may also join Florida as only the second state to allow college athletes to receive pay for playing a sport in another bill that passed through the funnel.

Having already passed a constitutional amendment enshrining Second Amendment rights in the Iowa Constitution, a Republican proposal allowing the carrying of firearms without a permit remains alive after the funnel deadline. The bill would still require permits and background checks for purchasing firearms from licensed dealers but not for transactions between private citizens. It would also allow Iowans to carry firearms without needing to obtain a concealed carry permit.

Other notable legislation that passed the funnel includes a ban on cities passing ordinances requiring landlords to accept affordable housing vouchers, legislation to ban the so-called “gay panic defense” for violent crime, requirements allowing only fully hands-free use of electronic devices while driving, the establishment of daylight saving time as the official time in the state and a proposal to dramatically limit unemployment benefits.

Notable legislation that failed to pass the funnel include a bill that would require transgender students to use the bathroom corresponding to the sex listed on their birth certificate, restrictions on school districts teaching gender identity-inclusive curriculum in health classes, restrictions on universities enforcing off-campus mask mandates and the inclusion of political identity as a protected class under Iowa law.