(Photo: Joseph Hopper/Iowa Soybean Association
Legislation in review
May 18, 2023 | Jeff Hutton
Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) engaged in a number of priority issues during the 2023 legislative session, which concluded recently. Overall, the legislature passed an agenda that sets Iowa agriculture and the soybean industry up for future growth and success. Several ISA priorities were passed of funded, including key investments in water quality and conservation programs, the Maximum Return to Nitrogen calculator, foreign animal disease preparedness and response and the Renewable Fuels Infrastructure Program.
ISA Public Affairs Director Michael Dolch says engagement from Advocate members helped the association play offense this session and provided valuable input to protect priorities.
“Not only was ISA’s offensive strategy successful, but ISA’s defense, powered by strong farmer Advocate support, prevented harmful legislation dismantling checkoff programs and Iowa’s pork industry from reaching the finish line,” Dolch says.
Dolch says a provision within a bill that would have funded a priority of the ISA – the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund (IWILL) – and provide long-term, dedicated funding for conservation and water quality across the state was negotiated out of the final bill. To trigger IWILL, the measure would have eliminated the local-option sales tax and increased the state sales tax by one cent, reserving 3/8th of a cent for the trust fund.
Water quality and conservation continues to be important to ISA and its farmer-members,” Dolch says.
“We would like the IWILL funding of the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund,” he adds. “The funding would scale up adoption of conservation practices across the state.”
If the funding stream for IWILL is activated, it would commit 23 percent to natural resources, 20 percent to soil conservation and water protection, 14 percent to watershed protection, 13 percent to the resource enhancement and protection program known as REAP, 13 percent for local conservation partnerships, 10 percent for outdoor recreational trails, and 7 percent for lake restoration.
After legislation was introduced in March that aimed to reallocate a percentage of the corn and soybean checkoffs to the state’s Grain Indemnity Fund (Fund), ISA directors and Advocate members got to work emphasizing the illegality of this diversion under the Soybean Production, Research and Consumer Information Act.
“Unlike the state corn checkoff, the soybean checkoff is a federal program established by the U.S. Congress in 1991 as part of the 1990 farm bill,” Dolch says. “The program was created and is administered under the authority of the Soybean Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act. The soy checkoff focuses investments in three key areas: education, promotion and research. The funds collected are prohibited from being used for lobbying activities.”
The bill to divert dollars to the fund cleared a Senate Ways & Means subcommittee mid-March on a 2-1 vote. Following subcommittee passage, ISA directors and Advocate members go to work.
“They worked tirelessly to educate members of the Senate Ways & Means Committee on the purpose of the soybean checkoff, its return on investment to Iowa farmers, and the illegality of the ‘scoop and divert’ action under the national act and order,” Dolch says.
The effort proved successful as all references to the soybean checkoff were removed from the legislation by amendment during full committee consideration. However, the bill passed on March 23 by an 11-7 vote. In the weeks to follow, nearly every Iowa farm organization and industry stakeholder lined up against the bill, which did not receive further consideration and died as soon as the legislative session adjourned May 4.
Renewable Fuels Infrastructure Program
The legislature approved $15 million for the Iowa Renewable Fuels Infrastructure Program (RFIP) for FY24, which will help retail operators of motor fuel dispensing sites or fueling stations convert and upgrade equipment to allow for the expanded use of higher blends of renewable fuels. Lawmakers appropriated $5 million more than Gov. Reynolds’ recommended through a second line-item in the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund (RIIF). The additional resources will both help advance the objectives of the Iowa Biofuels Access Bill that passed last year and clear a backlog of biofuel infrastructure projects, Dolch says.
Behind support from ISA, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and other agriculture stakeholders, the RIIF budget included a $1 million line item to continue modernizing the Maximum Return to Nitrogen (MRTN) calculator for the second consecutive year. The MRTN tool provides a method to calculate the return to N application and to find the maximum return to N at selected prices of N and corn directly from research data. The appropriation will support the inclusion of additional trial data for more accurate calculations.
Property tax reform
On the final day of session, Gov. Reynolds signed House Fil 718 into law, providing an estimated $100 million in tax relief to Iowa property owners. The new law sets maximum property tax levy rates for cities and counties, requires new transparency measures, and provides seniors and veterans with new property tax exemptions.
Carbon capture pipelines
House Republicans passed House File 565 with bipartisan support in March, but the bill failed to progress as the Senate Commerce Committee did not take up the legislation before the second “funnel” deadline. Dolch says the legislation would have restricted carbon capture pipeline companies’ use of eminent domain to obtain land, requiring the companies to obtain 90% voluntary easements along the route. Speaker Pat Grassley said he would discuss over the legislative interim whether there is reason to consider pipeline legislation next year.
Public funds cannot be invested in some companies owned or controlled by the Chinese government under Senate File 418. The measure, signed by Gov. Reynolds, requires firms to consult a list of scrutinized companies involved with the People’s Republic of China and places restrictions on investments in these companies. Supporters of the measure say Iowa’s trade with China in areas like agriculture and computer chips will not be hurt by this measure.
A bill requiring the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to prioritize maintenance of current public lands over acquisition of new lands died in the House committee process following significant public opposition from conservationists, cyclists and hunters who say the measure would limit the growth of Iowa’s parks and trails. Dolch says lawmakers, however, added a similar provision to the agriculture and natural resources spending bill, striking Iowa Code language directing the DNR to have 10% of Iowa’s land under public open-space protections by 2000. Republicans argue the DNR should focus on taking care of current lands instead of new.
Bethany Baratta contributed to this report.