Reynolds signs history curriculum, behavioral health system measures into law

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed multiple measures into law Wednesday. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed multiple bills into law Wednesday — including a measure requiring social studies and civics classes at Iowa schools have a greater focus on U.S. and Western history.

The governor signed House File 2545 into law at the Beit Shalom Jewish Community in Davenport Wednesday. The measure directs the Iowa Board of Education to conduct a review and revision of the state’s social studies standards to include subjects like “exemplary figures and important events” from Iowa, U.S. and Western civilization, as well as covering the model of the U.S. state and federal government compared to other forms of government, including “the crimes against humanity that have occurred under communist regimes since 1917.” The social studies standards created by the board for grades 1 through 12 are to be adopted by Dec. 31, 2025.

In a news release on the bill signing, Reynolds said the bill — which requires the teaching of subjects such as both world wars, 9/11, and American historical documents including the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution and Emancipation Proclamation — will help Iowa students learn to be more engaged citizens.

The governor highlighted the fact that bill specifically requires instruction on the Holocaust, World War II and “the significance of ancient Israel.” The bill signing comes as protests and encampments opposing Israel military action in Gaza have ramped up across the country, especially at college campuses like Columbia University. In Iowa the University of Iowa Action for Palestine set up an encampment as part of a pro-Palestinian action that was dismantled shortly after by police earlier in May.

“At a time when so many young people today fail to learn the lessons of history, this legislation will help to keep Iowa on a different and better path,” Reynolds said in a statement. “It will also ensure we provide our students with the foundation necessary to be active participants in our democracy – the best form of government in the world.”

The law also directs the Iowa Department of Education director to conduct a review of Iowa school curriculum, education standards and high school graduation rates, and to give any recommendations to the governor and legislature by July 1, 2025.

Other bills signed include:

Behavioral health

House File 2673, which establishes the Behavioral Health Services System (BHSS) to provide mental health and substance abuse services in the state. The new system would combine provisions from the Mental Health and Disabilities Services (MHDS) with the state’s substance use and addiction recovery services, creating seven care districts to take over from the current 13 mental health and 19 substance abuse regions.

Disability care being provided through MHDS would move to the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services’ division of disability and aging services. The new system is set to be implemented by July 1, 2025.

Reynolds said in a statement that the new system creates a unified system for related services in a way that “will enable better coordination of care supporting the best possible outcomes for each individual,” praising lawmakers for passing the measure with bipartisan support.

“The new system will be comprised of seven districts, each with a lead agency and an advisory board to maintain strong local connections,” Reynolds said. “Additionally, each district will be required to provide a standard set of core services, ensuring consistent care systemwide. Finally, the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services, under the exceptional leadership of Director Kelly Garcia, will define district boundaries and required services, implement performance metrics, and provide the necessary oversight of the system.”

Reynolds joined Iowa Health and Human Services Director Kelly Garcia and service providers at Foundation 2 Crisis Services in Cedar Rapids to sign the bill Wednesday. Garcia said that the new “intentionally planned” system will make prevention, treatment and recovery services more accessible and effective for Iowans in need.

“The success of this redesign hinges on our being united in our approach to a new statewide plan for behavioral health — shared goals, shared responsibilities,” Garcia said.

Fake meat, food labeling

Senate File 2391, which creates fines for businesses that create and label non-meat products with terms used for butchered meat without including words like “fake” or “vegetarian” to indicate the substances are not animal meat products.

“This legislation prohibits companies from exploiting the trust consumers have with our livestock producers and misleading consumers into buying products they don’t want,” Reynolds said in a statement. “This is about transparency. It’s about the common-sense idea that a product labeled chicken, beef, or pork, should actually come from an animal.”

The law also adds labeling requirements and fines for misbranding of “fabricated egg products” as eggs, a provision added as an amendment in the House. During floor debate, Democrats spoke in opposition to the “fabricated egg” provision for adding purchasing restrictions on these products for Iowans using food benefits programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

If egg substitutes are approved through these programs, the law directs Iowa HHS to seek waivers or exemptions for these products’ eligibility for purchase through SNAP or WIC.

While Democrats argued that the provision is unfair to Iowans on food benefits who have egg allergies, Republicans argued that the foods being used as egg substitutes could still likely be purchased through SNAP and WIC, as the measure would only apply if they are labeled as egg substitutes.

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