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Newscast 4.3.24: Iowa religious freedom bill signed into law; Snow confirmed as director of Iowa Dept. of Education; Bill will make harder to sue agriculture chemical manfacturers

The Iowa Legislature
The Iowa Legislature

The Iowa Legislature has been busy this week, with several notable bills passed by the majority party Republicans and some signed into law by Governor Kim Reynolds.

Reynolds on Tuesday evening signed a measure that Republicans cite as a religious freedom bill, but which critics say could lead to discrimination, especially against LGBTQ Iowans.

Republicans who voted to pass the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act contend it will prevent state and local governments from infringing on Iowans’ religious freedom.

In a statement, Reynolds said religious rights have increasingly come under attack, so she was pleased that Iowa joined 26 other states in having such a religious freedom law.

Reynolds signed the bill at an event hosted by The Family Leader, a conservative Christian organization, and the law is now in effect.

Additionally, several Iowa Senate appointments of state department directors have been readily carried out this week, but one involving a new Education Department Director witnessed some controversy.

The Senate confirmed a former education advisor in the Trump administration to lead the state Department of Education. McKenzie Snow also once led a division of the New Hampshire Department of Education and was the deputy director in Virginia before Reynolds appointed her to the top job in Iowa.

Democratic Senator Herman Quirmbach of Ames pointed out that Snow does not have experience as a teacher or principal, as many past directors have. Quirmbach said Iowa educators would have more confidence in the department if the director was someone with direct experience in the field.

Republicans, such as State Senator Jeff Taylor, of Northwest Iowa, defended Snow, saying her job is to lead a department, not a classroom. She was confirmed on a party line vote of 34 to 15 on Tuesday.

Another highly-watched bill passed Tuesday in the Iowa Senate, in which Iowans who get pesticide-related diseases would have a harder time suing chemical manufacturers.

Bayer, the company that produces Roundup, proposed the bill to reduce lawsuits alleging the weedkiller has caused cancer.

The bill says companies can’t be held liable for failing to warn people of health risks as long as their pesticides have a federally-approved label.

Democrats say the bill is taking the side of corporations and against Iowans facing terminal illnesses such as cancer. They say it cuts off the main avenue Iowans have to get financial compensation for being sickened by pesticides.

Republican Senate President Amy Sinclair said the measure, if fully enacted, won’t prevent all lawsuits. Sinclair said it is needed to keep businesses from worrying about lawsuits, in order to keep modern agriculture technology available.

The bill passed 30 to 19 in the Senate, with four Republicans joining all Democrats in voting no.