Iowa governor's 2024 legislative agenda in limbo

State legislators escort Governor Kim Reynolds into the Iowa House chamber on January 9, 2024. Photo by Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Des Moines Register (pool).

Governor Kim Reynolds had every reason to be confident about her legislative plans this year. Republican lawmakers approved most of her priorities in 2023, including some that had previously stalled in the Iowa House, such as a “school choice” plan and damage caps for medical malpractice awards.

Ten weeks into the 2024 legislative session, only two policies the governor requested have made it through both chambers. Nearly a dozen other bills still have a chance to reach her desk with few changes.

But Reynolds’ top priority—downgrading the Area Education Agencies (AEAs) and centralizing power over special education in her administration—will be dramatically scaled back, if it passes at all.

Three bills the governor introduced and promoted in public remarks or on social media are almost certainly dead for the year. Those include her effort to enshrine “separate but equal” treatment of LGBTQ Iowans.

Leaders moved several of Reynolds’ bills to the “unfinished business” calendar in one or both chambers on March 14, keeping them eligible for floor debate despite missing an important legislative deadline. The rest of the governor’s proposals involve taxes or spending, and are therefore “funnel-proof.”


Reynolds’ first success during the 2024 legislative session was Senate File 2204, which lays out new regulations for foreign-owned agricultural land. She declared in her Condition of the State address that the bill would “enhance reporting and enforcement, increase penalties, and provide more transparency to Iowans on what land is currently under foreign ownership.”

Legislators made no significant changes from the draft bill the governor’s office introduced in January. Oddly, the farmland ownership bill has not yet been sent to Reynolds’ office for her signature, despite receiving unanimous approval in the Senate on February 19 and the House on February 26.

The governor’s proposal to scrap more than 100 state boards and commissions included provisions repealing Iowa’s gender-balance law, which has been in effect since 1987. Lawmakers moved those as a stand-alone bill, Senate File 2096. The Senate approved the bill on February 20, with Democrat Herman Quirmbach joining all Republicans present to vote yes. House members passed the bill on a party-line vote on February 26. For some reason, the legislature hasn’t sent this bill to Reynolds either, but she will surely sign it eventually.


How confident was Reynolds that GOP lawmakers would rubber-stamp her plan to strip funding from AEAs and limit services they could offer to school districts? Her office introduced the bill on January 10, the morning after Reynolds called for “transformational change” of AEAs in her annual speech to state lawmakers.

The same day, before the bill (spanning more than 100 pages) had even been assigned to a subcommittee, Iowa Department of Education Director McKenzie Snow emailed all superintendents of K-12 school districts. Snow described the expected changes and laid out a timeline that assumed the governor’s plan would soon be in effect. Special education funds would be directed to school districts, which could choose to contract with other providers rather than their AEA.

Also on January 10, the Department of Education posted more than two dozen job listings for the new Division of Special Education envisioned in the governor’s plan. Many of those positions were set to close by early February. (The department has since delayed those hirings, pending passage of an AEA bill.)

Reynolds agreed in mid-January to scale back her plan. But she continued to accuse the AEAs of “failing” special education students, citing a consultant’s report that involved no Iowa stakeholders, used faulty analysis, and misused statistics to make misleading claims. She even held a rare news conference to press those talking points.

Nevertheless, GOP lawmakers went their own way. A House subcommittee declined to advance the governor’s bill on January 31. At a Senate subcommittee the same day, GOP State Senator Lynn Evans made the dramatic gesture of dropping the governor’s original draft into a wastepaper basket. Republican senators moved the bill forward but indicated they planned a major rewrite.

House Republicans drafted a new bill rather than amending the governor’s proposal. House File 2612 would require school districts to continue to contract with AEAs for special education. It would also allow AEAs to continue to offer most other services, and would create a task force to study further reforms. The Department of Education’s new Special Education division would have fewer employees and less power.

Republican State Representative Skyler Wheeler, who floor-managed House File 2612, emphasized during the February 29 debate that House members “killed” the governor’s AEA bill and “started from scratch.” He also expressed his opinion that the rollout of the governor’s plan “sucked.”

Senate Republicans substantially amended the AEA bill before moving it through the Education Committee and drafted another strike-after amendment ahead of floor debate. The Senate bill, now numbered Senate File 2386, preserves more elements of the governor’s plan than did House Republicans. But it’s not clear whether the upper chamber can pass that bill. Leaders pulled it from the debate calendar on March 5 and have not held any floor debate since. Senate File 2386 now sits on the “unfinished business” calendar.

House Speaker Pat Grassley told reporters on March 14 he’s been having “good conversations” about the issue with Reynolds and Senate leaders, adding, “We feel pretty strongly that whatever we do with the AEAs, we’ve been very clear in the House, we wanted to continue to provide certainty for special ed parents and students and school districts.” (Reynolds wanted the opposite.)

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver told reporters on March 14 he hoped to pass an AEA bill, since “it’s a top priority of the governor.” Anything resembling the Senate bill would face an uphill battle in the House. Democrats are united against changes to AEAs. Only 53 Republicans voted for House File 2612; nine GOP lawmakers opposed it. Two Republicans who supported the House bill last month (State Representatives Brent Siegrist and Chad Ingels) indicated during the debate they would not be comfortable going much further with changing the AEA structure or funding.

GOP leaders will likely work hard in the coming weeks to send the governor some version of an AEA bill, to help her save face. As Siegrist (a former executive director of the AEA system) told the Omaha-based tv station KMTV on March 1, “If we didn’t do anything the governor will go off on a rampage and it could get ugly.” But the final product will look quite different from what Reynolds planned to ram through the legislature in January.


The governor’s office has introduced five other education-related proposals this year. All remain eligible for consideration, but most have not yet gained approval in the full Iowa House or Senate.

Teacher pay

In her Condition of the State address, Reynolds proposed raising the minimum salary for new teachers from $33,500 to $50,000, and increasing the minimum salary for a teacher with twelve years of experience to $62,000. Her office included the teacher pay plan near the end of the AEA bill, and Senate Republicans have kept the two policies coupled.

House Republicans split up the topics. House File 2630 would set the minimum teacher starting salary to $47,500 for next year and $50,000 in subsequent years. Crucially, it would also raise pay for school support staff who are not salaried.

House members passed the teacher pay bill by 93 votes to 1 (Republican Mark Cisneros). The Senate hasn’t taken any further action on the bill. Whitver told reporters on March 14 he plans to keep the teacher pay proposal with the AEA legislation, because “that’s how it was in the governor’s original bill.” He said he hadn’t thought about separating the two issues—which could complicate getting legislation on teacher salaries through the lower chamber.

“Science of reading”

The governor also used her annual speech to lawmakers to push for “evidence-based instruction, grounded in what’s called the ‘science of reading.'” Her office introduced a literacy bill which would incorporate those changes, and also prohibit schools from promoting a student who can’t read proficiently from grade 3 to grade 4.

The House Education Committee approved the measure along party lines in February, after taking out a section that would have required all kindergarten through sixth grade teachers to pass a certain assessment. But leaders have not yet put the bill, now numbered House File 2618, to a vote in the full chamber. They moved it to the unfinished business calendar on March 14.

The companion bill on reading instruction, Senate Study Bill 3155, made it through a subcommittee. But the full Senate Education Committee never considered it, raising doubt about its support in the upper chamber.

Data collection, school enrollment counts

Another governor’s bill would require all public school districts, accredited private schools, and AEAs to use the same data reporting system. It would also change how school districts count their enrollment and change some rules related to data collection on students. Under current law, that number is based on actual enrollment as of October 1. The bill would average a count taken on October 1 with a count taken on March 1, reflecting mid-year moves due to open enrollment or the school voucher system.

The House and Senate Education Committees both advanced this bill in party-line votes in February. But it hasn’t come to the floor in either chamber, and now sits on the House and Senate unfinished business lists.

While leaders could put this bill to a vote at any time, critics have pointed out the proposal could be costly for schools. The lobbyist declarations show only the governor’s office and Infinite Campus (the presumed vendor for the data system) registered in favor. Groups representing school boards, urban schools, rural schools, school administrators, Catholic schools, and Christian schools all registered against the legislation.

Work-based learning, student teachers

The governor introduced a bill on work-based learning in the Senate (but for some reason not in the House). Under the bill, the state agency Iowa Workforce Development would create a Workforce Opportunity Fund, to be financed with up to $30 million from the state’s unemployment trust fund. The bill would also greatly reduce student-teaching requirements to four weeks.

The Senate Workforce Committee advanced the bill, renumbered Senate File 2260, along party lines in February. Democratic State Senator Molly Donahue argued against giving Iowa Workforce Development power to determine top job needs statewide, eliminating local input from community colleges. Democratic State Senator Bill Dotzler warned against using money from the unemployment trust fund to pay for a new program.

Senate File 2260 is now pending in the Senate Appropriations Committee, meaning the legislature’s “funnel” deadlines don’t apply to it.

Charter schools

Another proposal from the governor’s office would change state regulations related to charter schools. School districts would be required to publish information online about “underutilized” or “vacant” property, and charter schools in the area would have a right of first refusal to purchase or lease such property. The bill would also strike a code requirement for charter school board members to be Iowa residents.

When the House Education Committee considered this bill in February, Democratic State Senator Sharon Steckman pointed out that the Iowa residency requirement for board members was a compromise provision in a 2021 bill that cleared a path for more charter schools.

An unrelated provision of this bill would change state law on K-12 school calendars. Current law says “the school calendar shall begin no sooner than August 23.” The legislation would change the earliest possible start date to “the first Tuesday following the final day of the Iowa state fair.”

The House and Senate Education Committees advanced this bill on party-line votes in February, but it hasn’t come to the floor in either chamber. House File 2543 and Senate File 2368 are now on the unfinished business calendar.


Reynolds made the case for more aggressive income tax cuts in her Condition of the State:

Our most recent income-tax bill established a flat rate of 3.9%, set to phase in gradually until finally taking effect in 2026. […] Two years later, it’s clear that we are well positioned to go further, faster. […]

I’m proposing a bill that reduces the income-tax rate to a flat 3.65%, while allowing it to take effect this year, retroactive to January 1st. The following year, in 2025, the rate would fall again to flat 3.5%

The governor’s latest tax bill is estimated to cost about $3.5 billion over two years, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. It would shift more of the tax burden onto lower-income Iowans, who already pay a higher share of their income in taxes. The nonprofit Common Good Iowa showed in a policy brief that “People in the top 20% of incomes would take two-thirds of the benefit” from the governor’s plan, and those making more than $1 million a year would save the most money.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee approved a version of the governor’s bill last month, now numbered Senate File 2398. Ways and Means chair Dan Dawson took two of the governor’s proposals out of that bill and put them in stand-alone legislation. One of those bills would reclassify child care facilities as residential property (lowering property tax costs), and the other would reduce the rate employers pay for unemployment taxes.

Dawson and House Ways and Means Committee chair Bobby Kaufmann have introduced their own income tax cut proposal. House Speaker Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Whitver told reporters on March 14 that GOP lawmakers continue to discuss tax policy with the governor. So while Reynolds will probably sign some additional tax cuts into law, it’s not clear how closely the final legislation will match her plan.


Three of the governor’s 2024 bills relating to health care could become law. A fourth appears to be dead, again.

Behavioral Health Service System

Reynolds’ plan to restructure the state’s mental health, disability services, and substance abuse treatment systems spans 80 pages. Marissa Payne and Erin Murphy summarized its key points for the Cedar Rapids Gazette, and Michaela Ramm and Galen Bacharier wrote an explainer for the Des Moines Register.

Each chamber’s Health and Human Services Committee unanimously advanced the bill in February. House File 2509 and Senate File 2354 are pending in the respective chamber’s Appropriations Committee.

Postpartum Medicaid coverage

Iowa is among a handful of states that have not extended postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to twelve months. In her annual address to lawmakers, Reynolds called for extending postpartum coverage: “Let’s do more to help moms, babies, and their families get off to a good start.”

She didn’t mention the fine print: to keep the proposal cost-neutral, her plan would lower the income threshold so that “only Iowans earning up to 215 percent of the federal poverty level would be covered.”

The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency has projected that on average, 1,300 women who currently qualify for Medicaid coverage during pregnancy would lose that coverage each month under the governor’s plan. About 400 babies each month would not qualify for Medicaid coverage.

When the governor’s bill was debated in the Iowa Senate last month, Democrats proposed an amendment to extend postpartum coverage without changing eligibility criteria. State Senator Janet Petersen pointed out that many uninsured women who become pregnant won’t be able to purchase private health insurance—even if they could afford it—because they will miss the enrollment window for policies under the Affordable Care Act.

Republicans rejected that amendment, and approved the governor’s plan (Senate File 2251) unchanged. Most Senate Democrats voted against the bill on final passage, but Senators Eric Giddens, Sarah Trone Garriott, and Zach Wahls voted for it.

The House took no action on the postpartum Medicaid plan. Grassley explained on March 14 that the budget impact was larger than House Republicans were expecting. The fiscal note projects $1.145 million in additional state costs for fiscal year 2025, and $3.322 million for fiscal year 2026. Grassley did not rule out adding proposal to the health and human services budget, depending on how that fits within spending targets.

Opioid settlement fund

The state has been sitting on millions of dollars from a opioid lawsuit settlement agreement for years. House and Senate Republicans enacted a law in 2022 to prevent the Iowa Attorney General’s office from distributing those funds. The idea was that the legislature would approve plans for spending the money, but nothing happened on that front during the 2023 session.

The governor’s bill would allocate $20.2 million to the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services, the Iowa Finance Authority, and Iowa Workforce Development “for specified opioid prevention, treatment, recovery, and infrastructure activities.” The agencies would have to report to the legislature annually on how they were using the funds.

Reynolds introduced her bill only in the House, where it’s pending before the Appropriations Committee.

Senate Republicans opted to move their own opioid settlement bill in February. Senate File 2395 has no specific line items. Rather, it stipulates that each year, the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services will be able to allocate 75 percent of the available money, and the Iowa Attorney General’s office the remaining 25 percent. The agencies would not be required to report annually to the legislature on how they were using the opioid settlement funds. Most Democrats voted against the bill, but Senators Nate Boulton, Izaah Knox, and Giddens joined Republicans to pass it. The House Appropriations Committee has taken no action on the Senate bill.

Self-administered birth control

For years, Reynolds has advocated legislation to allow Iowans to obtain hormonal birth control without a prescription. The policy is often called over-the-counter birth control, but more accurately described as behind-the-counter, since a pharmacist would need to dispense the pills. The Senate has approved versions of this idea several times, but the bill has always stalled in the House.

Notably, Reynolds has never put political muscle behind this idea, the way she turned the screws on lawmakers to pass her school voucher plan and is now pressuring them to overhaul the AEAs.

Since the Senate passed a bill on self-administered birth control in 2023, Reynolds introduced the latest version of this legislation only in the House. The House Health and Human Services Committee approved governor bill, now numbered House File 2584. But yet again, leaders haven’t brought the bill to the floor. GOP opponents have offered numerous amendments designed to derail the proposal.

Grassley acknowledged on March 14 the bill will not advance. While he personally supports the policy, he said members of his caucus have “philosophical disagreements” on the issue.

House Democrats have introduced expansive bills on contraceptive access and would overwhelmingly support a behind-the-counter birth control bill. So clearly this bill could pass, if leaders brought it to the floor. However, Grassley’s typical approach is not to put bills on the debate calendar unless 51 Republicans are willing to vote yes.


Four of the governor’s 2024 legislative proposals relate to state government operations. At this writing, three have a chance to reach her desk, but one is off the table.

State government reorganization code changes

One of Reynolds’ most important victories last year was getting House and Senate Republicans to approve Senate File 514, her massive state government “realignment” plan. State lawmakers passed that 1,500-page bill with almost no meaningful changes. Her office followed up this year with an 88-page bill “making statutory corrections, resolving inconsistencies, [and] removing ambiguities.”

When the Senate State Government Committee considered the bill last month, Democratic State Senator Cindy Winckler noted that it contains several provisions that go well beyond code corrections. Some provisions make policy contradicting parts of Senate File 514, rather than implementing the realignment. For example, Winckler explained, Division IV expands the role of the Iowa Department of Education director. “A power grab is not appropriate in this bill,” she said.

Despite concerns about the accuracy of the bill’s title, State Government Committees in both chambers approved the governor’s bill, and Senate File 2377 and House File 2550 are pending in their respective Ways and Means Committees.

On a related note, I was amused to see that Division XIII of the bill would strike language requiring Iowa’s Office for State-Federal Relations to be “located in Washington, D.C.” The governor’s office never did answer my questions about compliance with that code section after her last staffer in DC stopped working for the state in late 2022.

Cutting state boards and commissions

Senate File 514 called for creating a review committee (mostly appointed by the governor) to evaluate Iowa’s state boards and commissions. That committee’s final report and recommendations, issued last September, formed the basis for the governor’s proposal to eliminate or consolidate more than 100 state bodies. She introduced that bill only in the Senate, where Republicans advanced it from the State Government Committee in February.

Senate leaders didn’t bring Senate File 2385 to the floor before the second funnel; the bill is now on the unfinished business calendar.

Republican State Representative Jane Bloomingdale, who chairs the House State Government Committee, took a different approach. House File 2574 would spare dozens of boards and commissions that would be axed under the Senate bill. It received bipartisan support when advancing from committee in February. House leaders put the bill on the unfinished business list.

Asked about prospects for coming to an agreement on this front, Whitver told reporters he hoped to have “good conversations” about it in the coming weeks. “Frankly, AEAs have taken a lot of time,” he added. “And so, haven’t even really had a lot of conversations about some of these other issues.”

Administrative rulemaking

Reynolds is seeking to codify changes to the administrative rulemaking process, some of which she established in her Executive Order Ten in January 2023. State agencies would have to review all administrative rules on a rolling five-year basis. They would also have to submit all proposed rules to the governor’s administrative rules coordinator “for preclearance.” The current staffer in that position has already blocked the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ attempt to protect Iowa waters in karst terrain, citing the “regulatory burden” on livestock producers.

When the Senate debated Senate File 2370 in early March, Winckler objected to a provision that “lacks transparency” by allowing agencies to publish new versions of rules without highlighting proposed changes. She also argued the bill would waste the time of agency staff by forcing them to resubmit rules every five years even if they were not changing any of the text.

The floor manager, Republican State Senator Mike Bousselot applauded Reynolds for trying to “rein in a bureaucracy” by forcing the government to look at rules every five years to see whether they are “red tape on our businesses.” Several business lobby groups and conservative advocacy organizations are registered in support of the bill. The Iowa Environmental Council and Sierra Club Iowa chapter lobbied against the bill. (Another section of Senate File 2370 would allow the DNR’s Air Quality Bureau to avoid using a certain type of modeling.)

The House State Government Committee advanced this bill in time for the second funnel.

Parental leave

Reynolds introduced a bill in the House to provide state employees with paid family leave for the birth or adoption of a child: four weeks for birthing parents, one week for a parent who did not give birth, and four weeks for adoptive parents. The House State Government Committee advanced this bill by 19 votes to three, over opposition from Republican State Representatives John Wills, Cindy Golding, and Shannon Lundgren.

House leaders didn’t put House File 2557 on the debate calendar or move it to unfinished business, rendering it dead for this session. A diverse group of organizations was registered in favor of the bill, and no entity publicly lobbied against it.

Asked about this issue during the March 14 gaggle, Grassley indicated that when his caucus discussed the proposal, some members raised concerns about “offering these benefits and what that does in competition with the private sector.” Not every private employer can offer the same benefits.

Reynolds didn’t mention her paid leave plan in her Condition of the State. But as the second funnel deadline approached, she posted some testimonials by state employees on her official Facebook and X/Twitter feeds.

As with the birth control bill, this legislation would easily win a majority in the full House, if leaders put it to a vote. And as with the birth control bill, the governor did not wage a pressure campaign behind the scenes to get the policy across the line.


One more proposal from the governor’s office made it through the first funnel (committee approval) but never came up for a full chamber vote. Informally dubbed the “LGBTQ erasure act,” this bill would have defined “man,” “woman,” and other terms in ways that exclude transgender or nonbinary Iowans.

Bleeding Heartland previously discussed its discriminatory provisions in more detail. The bill would have created a legal framework for segregation: “Separate accommodations are not inherently unequal.” It could have undermined any program designed to remedy sex discrimination against women and would have denied accommodations to trans people in many contexts.

Republicans on the House Education Committee advanced the bill in early February after amending it to remove a requirement that transgender Iowans display both their sex assigned at birth and their current sex designation on driver’s licenses. However, they left most of the bill intact, including language mandating special birth certificates for trans people.

House leaders never brought House File 2389 to the floor and did not move it to unfinished business before the second funnel. Grassley told reporters there was no consensus in his caucus on the proposal.

About the Author(s)

Laura Belin

  • thanks for the breakdown

    some related conversation @

  • Brent Siegrist is a coward

    Apparently, Brent Siegrist is a coward. I guess he doesn’t realize that the state legislature is independent of the governor’s office. Real legislators would welcome conflict with the governor. That’s how you get publicity.

  • The "red tape on our businesses" comment is grimly amusing to some Iowans who care about water...

    Several days ago, the outrageous story of the northeast Iowa ginormous cattle feedlot and the trout stream was a top story in the national journal CIVIL EATS. Iowa looked very bad in that piece. A few days ago, a jaw-dropping amount of fertilizer was allowed to drain into an Iowa river and killed what appears to be most if not all of the aquatic life — fish, snakes, mussels, frogs, probably turtles — for fifty miles. That’s on top of the recent stories about an Iowa dairy farm that seriously polluted a creek, the large percentage of Iowa surface waters that are officially impaired, etc. etc.etc.

    Just how pathetic do you want Iowa’s environmental rules to become, rulers of the Statehouse?

  • I 2nd CIVIL EATS as vital reading to get the actual news

    our current leaders are part of (well useful idiots for) a broad coalition that would like to do away with the various environmental oversight bodies like the EPA, see for example: