Legislation headed to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk would provide liability limitations on potential COVID-19 lawsuits for a broad range of businesses and organizations — among them restaurants, retail establishments, meatpacking plants, churches, medical providers and senior care facilities — provided they followed public health guidance.

Senate File 2338, the COVID-19 Response and Back-to-Business Limited Liability Act, would prohibit individuals from filing a civil lawsuit against a business or health care organization unless it relates to a minimum medical condition (a diagnosis of COVID-19 that requires inpatient hospitalization or results in death), or involves an act that was intended to cause harm or that constitutes actual malice.

The legislation would protect tenants, lessees and occupants of any premises — including any commercial, residential, educational, religious, governmental, cultural, charitable or health care facility — in which a person is invited in and is exposed to COVID-19.  However, liability would extend to anyone who “recklessly disregards a substantial and unnecessary risk that the individual would be exposed to COVID-19,” or exposes the individual to COVID-19 through an act that constitutes actual malice or intentionally exposes the individual to COVID-19.

The provisions, which would be retroactive to Jan. 1, also shield health care providers from liability for civil damages “for causing or contributing, directly or indirectly, to the death or injury of an individual as a result of the health care provider’s acts or omissions while providing or arranging health care in support of the state’s response to COVID-19.” Among the other care scenarios covered under the liability limitations are elective surgeries that had been deferred during the pandemic.

Under an amendment passed by the House, total civil damages, regardless of how many parties were involved, would be capped at $750,000.

Iowa lawmakers passed several other bills important to the state’s business community. Here is a wrap-up of some of the significant legislation — each of which is now also awaiting Reynolds’ signature — from the session that ended Sunday:   

Pre-K-12 education: The budget includes more than $3.4 billion for fiscal 2021, with nearly $100 million in new funding:
  • SF 2142 provides $85.5 million in new state funding for regular program budgets in the 2020-21 school year.
  • SF 2164 provides schools with $7.7 million for transportation equity and $5.9 million for per-pupil equity.

Future Ready Iowa:HF 2629 continues and expands on Future Ready Iowa, which has a goal of raising the percentage of the adult workforce with education or training beyond high school — currently at 60.2% — to 70% by 2025. The legislation also:
  • Expands the Apprenticeship Opportunities Program.
  • Creates the Iowa Child Care Challenge Fund to encourage businesses and others to build and increase the availability of child care.
  • Establishes requirements for K-12 computer science education over the next several years.

Empower Rural Iowa:SF 2400 aims to create greater broadband connectivity across the state, in part by increasing a state match to broadband providers to 35% of the project cost if certain speed requirements are met. The legislation also expands eligibility to receive grant funds by allowing the adoption of geographic units of measure smaller than U.S. census blocks to better target state funds to underserved areas. It also allows the state’s chief information officer flexibility to distribute federal COVID-19 aid to rapidly expand broadband service.

Professional licensure:HF 2627 creates additional pathways and removes barriers to professional licensure in the state of Iowa. Among its provisions, it:
  • Allows new Iowa residents with an out-of-state license to use their skills and training in the same licensed profession here in Iowa without additional red tape.
  • Recognizes three years of work experience as a substitute for any education, training and work experience requirements.
  • Waives initial licensing fees for first-time applicants of families earning less than 200% of the federal poverty level.

“In my Condition of the State Address, I said ‘let’s make this next decade Iowa’s best,’ and today I am more confident than ever in our state and its people,” Reynolds said in a statement on Sunday.

“In the closing days of the legislative session, Future Ready Iowa, Empower Rural Iowa, and historic police reform passed with unanimous support. Paired with comprehensive changes to our licensure laws, these significant steps will ensure every Iowan, regardless of their background or circumstance, has an opportunity to find success.”