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Iowa lawmakers address immigration, religious freedom and taxes in 2024 session

News

Iowa lawmakers address immigration, religious freedom and taxes in 2024 session
News

News

Iowa lawmakers address immigration, religious freedom and taxes in 2024 session

2024-04-23 02:26 Last Updated At:02:30

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — After a marathon day that stretched into Saturday's early hours, Iowa lawmakers wrapped up a four-month legislative session that focused on reforming the way special education is managed and speeding up tax cuts. The Republican-led General Assembly also waded into issues like immigration and religious freedom, which have proven core to the party's 2024 campaign message.

Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, pushed many priorities through the Legislature after submitting 18 requests for bill drafts, more than any other year of her tenure and any other governor since 2006, publicly available data shows.

Here's a look at the issues that made headlines:

Education was a key issue for Reynolds this session, including one proposal to revise the state’s education system for students with disabilities that consumed lawmakers' attention.

Reynolds wanted school districts to be able to choose how to use their special education dollars. For decades, those funds have gone directly to cooperatives known as area education agencies, or AEAs, that provide special education services.

A compromise lets schools choose, starting in 2025, how to spend 10% of their special education funding. But that approach, along with other changes in the final bill, still leaves many disability advocates and AEA staff concerned that the agencies and special education will suffer.

Lawmakers also approved an increased minimum salary for Iowa teachers. In the upcoming school year, teachers with less than 12 years of experience will earn at least $47,500, up from $33,500. The minimum salary for more experienced teachers rises to $60,000. Both figures will increase again in the following school year.

The law also addressed non-salaried teachers and staff, allocating $14 million to help schools raise supplemental teacher pay.

In the final days of the session, lawmakers passed provisions to restrict programs related to diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, at the state's public universities, joining a wave of Republican-led states weighing in on the initiatives. The bill prohibits staff positions and offices dedicated to creating or promoting DEI policies, programming or training, except as otherwise required by federal regulations.

Iowa Republicans followed Texas’ footsteps by passing a bill making it a state crime for a person to be in Iowa if previously denied admission to or removed from the United States. Reynolds signed it into law on April 10.

In Iowa and across the country, Republican leaders have accused President Joe Biden of neglecting his responsibilities to enforce federal immigration law.

The Iowa law, which takes effect July 1, has elevated anxiety in Iowa’s immigrant communities and has prompted questions among legal experts and law enforcement on how it will be enforced. It mirrors part of a Texas law that is currently blocked in court. The Justice Department has argued that such state laws are a clear violation of federal authority.

A bill passed this year updated an existing program that funds nonprofits known as crisis pregnancy centers, typically nonmedical facilities that counsel clients against having an abortion, charging the state's health agency with implementation after it had difficulty finding a third-party administrator.

A separate budget bill provides an additional $1 million in funding for the program.

Lawmakers, with Reynolds’ recommendation, also expanded maternity leave from 60 days to 12 months for the state’s lowest-income moms on Medicaid.

Iowa Democrats, who have proposed expanded Medicaid maternity leave in the past, said the bill would remove benefits for certain mothers who did not meet the lower income threshold.

Iowa joined about two dozen other states by enacting an echo of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 federal law that said government would not be able to “substantially burden” someone’s constitutional right to freedom of religion.

Republicans argued that religious freedom is under attack, so the state's code needed to further enshrine those rights, while Democrats said it would allow some people's religious beliefs to justify discrimination.

Republican lawmakers voted to speed up the state's 2022 income tax cuts, instituting a 3.8% flat income tax rate beginning next year.

Republicans also took the first steps toward two tax-related constitutional amendments to put before Iowa voters. One would enshrine the state's use of a single rate for income taxes, and the other would require a two-thirds majority of lawmakers to change the tax code. To put a constitutional amendment on the ballot, Iowa lawmakers have to approve it in two consecutive sessions, so both resolutions would have to pass again in 2025 or 2026 to make the ballot.

Lawmakers rejected one bill that would have removed gender identity from the state’s civil right law and another that would have narrowly defined male and female. The latter, requested by Reynolds, would have required a transgender person’s assigned sex at birth to be listed alongside their gender identity on their birth certificate.

House Republicans failed to advance a Senate-approved bill proposed by chemical giant Bayer that would have given the company legal protections against claims it failed to warn that its popular pesticide Roundup causes cancer, if the company is otherwise in compliance with federal regulations. One House Republican, a farmer, said he’ll put his name on it next year to try to see it through.

Iowa lawmakers also did not put forth a ballot initiative declaring there is no constitutional right to abortion in the state — after initially advancing the measure in 2021. Reynolds has said she’ll let the issue move through the courts rather than push for a vote. Iowa's current law banning most abortions after roughly six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant, was enacted in July but paused by a judge soon after. The state Supreme Court will weigh in on the case in June.

A bill that would have made changes to Iowa’s fetal homicide law was shelved after a Senate Republican joined Democrats in voicing concerns about the potential impact on in vitro fertilization following an Alabama court ruling that frozen embryos can be considered children. Iowa’s law currently outlines penalties for terminating or seriously injuring a “human pregnancy.” The House-approved bill would have changed that language to apply to the death of, or serious injury to, an “unborn person” from fertilization to live birth.

FILE - The Iowa Capitol is visible before sunrise, Jan. 12, 2024, in Des Moines, Iowa. After a marathon day that stretched into the early hours of Saturday, April 20, Iowa lawmakers wrapped up a four-month legislative session that was focused on reforming the way special education is managed and speeding up tax cuts. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

FILE - The Iowa Capitol is visible before sunrise, Jan. 12, 2024, in Des Moines, Iowa. After a marathon day that stretched into the early hours of Saturday, April 20, Iowa lawmakers wrapped up a four-month legislative session that was focused on reforming the way special education is managed and speeding up tax cuts. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — If truth has the power to set one free, then Rapsody’s new album, “Please Don’t Cry,” has removed her from emotional imprisonment and gifted her immeasurable liberation.

“People put up a mirror for me. I sat in the mirror myself…it was the beginning of healing. Heart-broke: Why do you feel like you can’t fill the void of whatever that was? Internally, why do you feel underappreciated?” questioned the three-time Grammy nominee. "And really allow myself, again, to just sit in a fire and burn. To forgive myself for some things. To accept some things. To learn to love myself."

Rapsody's not only frequently lauded by critics as the best female lyricist, but also as one of the best in the genre. After 2019’s critically-acclaimed “Eve” album, discussions by hip-hop purists erupted on social media and in barbershops near and far debating her potentially rivaling Kendrick Lamar for the lyrical throne. But the recognition hasn’t translated into the commercial success of some female peers — veterans like Nicki Minaj and Cardi B, or recent newcomers like Megan Thee Stallion, Latto or Ice Spice. But her plight isn’t unusual for rappers labeled as “continuous” or extremely lyrical, regardless of gender.

“I was looking at what everybody else was doing instead of worrying about myself,” she said, soft-spoken throughout the interview. “I’d see comments (saying), ‘She makes great music, but she’ll never make it because she’s not half-naked or she don’t have a No. 1 hit.’ And I had to realize that those are really false measurements.”

“Please Don’t Cry,” released in May, is by far the most personal of her four studio albums. Dwindling more than 350 potential songs down to the final 22 tracks, the bulk of the production comes from HIT-BOY, BLK ODYSSY and S1, and boasts star-powered features including Erykah Badu and Lil Wayne. The regal voice of Phylicia Rashad is also sprinkled throughout.

The North Carolina native began constructing the album several years ago after a painful breakup and toward the beginning of the global coronavirus pandemic. Personal tales have always lived within her music, but the foundation of her catalogue is anchored by expert lyricism and musicality.

“I’ve always thought that I was authentic. But at the same time, I realized there was a level of fear there — a fear of allowing myself to be seen completely. But at that time, I don’t even think I completely even knew who I was,” said the 41-year-old Marlanna Evans who kept Lauryn Hill’s “MTV Unplugged No. 2.0” project in heavy rotation while creating, along with an evolving Pinterest board filled with pictures and words for inspiration.

“Please Don't Cry” has a weightier R&B influence than past projects. Standout tracks include the Badu-assisted “3:AM,” the lead single “Asteroids,” “Stand Tall,” “Faith” and “God’s Light.” While her razor-sharp bars still slice on songs like “Raw” with Lil Wayne and Niko Brim, the album makes its mark by entering a new territory of unapologetic vulnerability. Rapsody touches on insecurities, not having a stronger female fanbase, family members battling dementia and speculation surrounding her sexuality.

On the surprisingly transparent “That One Time,” the past Stevie Wonder, Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole collaborator provides a rare glimpse into her love life and past transgressions.

“One time, I had an experience with a woman. But I also bring up that I was with somebody that wasn’t available,” said the Jehovah’s Witness-raised artist of her relationship with a married person, while suggesting her partner wasn't fully honest. “I make mistakes, too — things I say I would never do, and then I find myself in a situation that I’m not proud of. But in my life and the conversations I have, I know I’m not the only one.”

Bianca Edwards, vice president of marketing for Roc Nation, says the vulnerability displayed showcases Rapsody’s security in her music and herself.

“You have to be extremely confident to bare your soul and not care what people think,” said Edwards. “And on this project, I think that she bared a lot.”

Always advocating for female rappers, Rapsody has consistently rejected praise meant to criticize her peers. But while there are songs like “Look What You’ve Done” in which she rhymes, “Don’t lift me up throwin’ shade/At my sisters that made it out wit’ a-- and bass,” she also raps, “Everything look cookie cutter/We seen enough a—, that sh-- ain’t special no more” on “Diary of a Mad Bitch.”

“I see my name brought up a lot of times used to put other women down for how they choose to show up in this art and in their life, and I’m not here for that. I’m not trying to make myself the standard. I’m just trying to make myself another example of what women in hip-hop look like to bring harmony,” said Rapsody. “With ‘Diary,’ it was me making an observation of everybody looks the same…I know we’re not clones.”

But despite a profession where cosmetic enhancements are common among female rappers – along with sexually-charged lyrics that contribute to their pop stardom – the “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” artist says she's never considered altering her body.

“My question is why isn’t there space for me or others who are different from what we see on a mainstream level…why don’t we get those same opportunities?” asked the self-described tomboy who also suffers from Graves’ disease which can change physical appearance. “I never wanted to be anything other than who I was.”

Rapsody says while every artist dreams of creating a hit record, she’s not willing to compromise her musical integrity or chase songs that don’t feel natural to attract more fans.

“I think she already found her place,” said Edwards. “I work with a lot of artists, and I’ve met artists that are still trying to find themselves. That’s not Rap.”

A tour will launch in September with five European dates and a North American leg that will run through October.

“Please Don’t Cry” has fortified Rapsody's healing journey, and she’s better for it.

“Everybody asks me about this album, like ‘How you feeling?’ I say I feel really happy and I’m at peace. And this is the most free I’ve ever felt,” she said. “I’m not putting pressure on myself to be defined as success through other people’s measurements of what that looks like.”

Follow Associated Press entertainment journalist Gary Gerard Hamilton at: @GaryGHamilton on all his social media platforms.

Rapsody poses for a portrait on Tuesday, May 7, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Gary Gerard Hamilton)

Rapsody poses for a portrait on Tuesday, May 7, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Gary Gerard Hamilton)

Rapsody poses for a portrait on Tuesday, May 7, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Gary Gerard Hamilton)

Rapsody poses for a portrait on Tuesday, May 7, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Gary Gerard Hamilton)

Rapsody poses for a portrait on Tuesday, May 7, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Gary Gerard Hamilton)

Rapsody poses for a portrait on Tuesday, May 7, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Gary Gerard Hamilton)

Rapsody poses for a portrait on Tuesday, May 7, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Gary Gerard Hamilton)

Rapsody poses for a portrait on Tuesday, May 7, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Gary Gerard Hamilton)

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