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SF 2370 Passes with Surprising Support of Iowa House Democrats

Updated: May 29

We Asked 32 House Democrats Why

SF 2370 codifies Executive Order No. 10
Photo: Stephen Matthew Milligan

by Diane Rosenberg | Executive Director

With the passage of SF 2370, Executive Order No. 10 (EO10) is now Iowa law. It will have a substantial impact on the state's ability to protect waterways and communities from factory farms.


State agencies across Iowa will be prevented from strengthening rules and regulations, but will have the ability to weaken them. It’s now a race to the bottom that will adversely affect factory farming’s impact on water quality and public health.


SF 2370 passed with a 32 to 14 vote in the Senate with all Democrats opposing it.


In the House it passed 91 to 3. It was expected that the GOP caucus would fully support this bill, as they have with most of the Reynolds administration’s priorities.


But nearly all House Democrats supported SF 2370, too.


Executive Order No. 10, which overhauls the entire Iowa Administrative Code, was initially to be a one-time, four-year effort that began in 2023. All state agencies, boards, and commissions will now be required to go through this process every five years.


It will entail a comprehensive review of each chapter’s rules and regulations to determine if the costs of each rule justify its benefits, if there are less restrictive avenues to accomplish its goals and eliminate undue regulatory burden, and to eliminate the rule if deemed unnecessary.


Livestock Industry Benefits from Executive Order No. 10


In its first year, EO10 already demonstrated how it can harm Iowans. Chapter 65, the section of the Iowa Code that governs CAFO rules and regulations, was among the first chapters to be restructured under EO10.


Nearly all of the recommendations that would have strengthened water quality and public health that JFAN and a coalition of other environmental organizations provided during the Chapter 65 public comment period were cast by the wayside. Over half of the livestock industry’s recommendations that weaken protections were adopted.

Probably the most blatant failure of EO10 was illustrated when the governor’s office wouldn’t approve a draft of Chapter 65 that contained a modest improvement for siting new CAFOs in karst terrain. This provision would have better protected vulnerable groundwater, a source of drinking water for many rural residents. The livestock industry opposed the change, and the governor’s office said the revised rule didn’t comply with EO10. Once the improvement was removed, the governor’s office released the draft for public comment.

Karst terrain in Iowa
Dunning Spring Waterfall, Decorah, IA Photo:

Iowa has the nation’s second highest cancer rate and the fastest growing rate of new cancers. Numerous studies link high nitrate consumption to a range of cancers and birth defects.


Yet the financial opportunities of the industry were protected by EO10 rather than vulnerable Iowans at risk of drinking groundwater laden with unhealthy pollutants. 


Why House Democrats Voted Yes on SF 2370


In the Iowa House, 32 out of 36 Democrats voted yes on SF 2370. General support for CAFOs can be found on both sides of the aisle – many legislators are connected in some way to the agricultural industry or influenced by campaign donations.


However, given the Senate Democrats’ opposition to the bill, we were perplexed to see the nearly unanimous level of support among House Democrats. This included many who previously introduced or cosponsored several bills that protect water quality and communities, such as the factory farm moratorium and Clean Water bills.


We wrote to every House Democrat who voted yes and asked why. You can read JFAN's letter here.


Of the 32 representatives we contacted, four responded. The following are three written replies we received:


“Thank you for all the information. Toward the end of session, we definitely pass too many bills too quickly. Hindsight is 20/20. My vote should have been "No." I apologize.”


“I’m sorry that I don’t have a strong memory of the details of that particular bill, but I do recall that my colleague Rep. Amy Nielsen had an amendment added to the bill that I know she felt improved the legislation. I cannot speak for anyone else in my caucus about their votes.”


“Contact Rep. Nielsen and ask her. She was the lead Democrat on the bill. It passed the House on the 101st day when individual members had little time to examine and make independent judgements on amendments being made. The House made amendments. Rep. Nielsen recommended their approval.”


Rep. Nielsen did not respond to our email.


One representative called to say the session was rushed at the end with a lot coming at legislators. He said he would have voted no if he had more time to review the bill and apologized for his vote.


Rep. Amy Nielson recommended passage of SF 2370
Iowa Rep. Amy Nielsen D-77

We learned that Rep. Nielsen, the House Manager for SF 2370, recommended its passage because amendments somewhat improved the original bill. They lengthened the public comment period for changing or rescinding rules, and they also removed the requirement that all rule changes be precleared by the Governor’s Office before being released for formal public comments. Removing some of Governor Reynolds’ power was considered a win.


Notably, the regulation that would have improved where CAFOs could be sited in karst terrain was removed this year during the Governor’s Office preclearance period.


When pressed why Rep. Nielson still recommended passage given the clear harm of EO10 even with the amendments, the legislator had no answer.

While SF 2370 affects the entire administrative code, it has a significant influence on how the factory farming industry is – or isn’t - regulated. During the Chapter 65 revision, we learned through a Freedom of Information Act request that the livestock industry made numerous comments during the public comment period, and many were adopted.

The Chapter 65 revision also drew some media attention. In his December 24 column Tofurkey of the Year, Dr. Chris Jones wrote, “[Rep. Amy Nielsen’s] campaign contributors include the Agribusiness Association of Iowa, Golden Grain Energy, Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, Lincolnway Energy, Western Dubuque Biodiesel, Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy, Western Iowa Energy, Siouxland Energy and Livestock Cooperative and Little Sioux Corn Processors.”

Given the livestock industry’s influence on the Chapter 65 revision, it does raise a question if that may have impacted Rep. Nielsen’s estimation of the bill.

Nonetheless, it’s a real problem when legislators don’t have enough time to fully consider and debate consequential bills.

A Systemic Problem: A Short Legislative Session Shortchanges Iowans

Over 2000 bills are introduced, deliberated, passed, or simply ignored over a short, four-month legislative session. It’s impossible to thoughtfully deliberate, or even be aware of, a good percentage of these bills.

We’ve attended legislative forums and asked about bills that our local elected officials weren’t very familiar with because those bills weren’t assigned to their subcommittees or committees. Yet these were bills that were important to their constituents. It’s not the fault of these legislators – it’s simply not possible to know the ins and outs of 2000+ bills in such a short period of time.

Many bills are pushed through quickly before the session concludes as legislators are reluctant to stay in Des Moines when their per diem allowance for housing and food ends, and they need to pick up their own expenses. Many need to get back to their full-time jobs. Farmers are especially pressed to return home while there’s still time to plant crops.

When 2024 session concluded on April 20, the legislators wrapped up a 38-hour marathon finishing up bills over two-plus days.

As a result, terrible bills like SF 2370 get passed without enough thoughtful consideration.

Iowans Deserve a Full-Time, More Diverse Legislature

Iowa would benefit from a full-time legislature that would pay elected officials accordingly. Iowa legislators are currently paid $25,000 a year for their part-time work along with the per-diem allowance, mileage, and other benefits.

Calls for a more representative Iowa State Legislature
Iowa State Representative Phil Thompson R-48

Representative Phil Thompson (R-48), a contractor and expectant father, isn’t  seeking re-election this year. In a April 29 Cedar Rapids Gazette, he said he couldn’t afford to continue to serve as legislator.

“As rewarding as this work is, it really just isn’t cut out for working-age families. You guys should fix that if you really want a representative government.”

Representative Sami Scheetz (D-78) echoed Thompson in the same Gazette article,  “Unfortunately, it does make it prohibitive for some excellent candidates and potential legislators… to consider doing this work, which is unfortunate.”

There aren’t many people with the flexibility to juggle a full-time job and a demanding part-time legislative seat.

State House diversity also is lagging behind the state’s population. The majority of this year’s state legislators are farmers, business professionals, business owners, and educators according to a Cedar Rapids Gazette analysis. At least 16% are retired. Women only comprise 30% of the 150-member legislature, and the average age of all state lawmakers is 55. Minority legislators represent 8% of the legislators, while 16% of Iowans identify as minorities.

Most legislatures in the US are part-time, but 10 currently meet year-round. Alaska and Hawaii, have full-time legislatures with a fraction of Iowa’s population, and three full-time legislatures are in Midwest agricultural states: Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan.

Given how much is at stake for Iowans, lengthening the legislative session would provide a wider range of representation and diversity that would benefit the broad range of Iowa’s citizens. A full-time legislature could provide more opportunity for introducing, educating, advocating, and debating legislation over the course of a year that could better protect water quality, communities, and public health along with addressing other important issues and needs in Iowa.

It’s time to end this business of last-minute votes on poorly understood bills. Iowans deserve to have a full-time, truly representative, State Legislature. Echoing Rep. Thompson, we encourage lawmakers to take steps to make that a reality.


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