A typical annual session of the Iowa Legislature sees hundreds upon hundreds of ideas proposed in bills. Before lawmakers begin their work for 2024 this morning, Fearless is taking a look at a few of the topics most relevant to Iowa women and girls that could come up.

Republicans control the agenda; they enjoy large majorities in both houses of the Legislature and have controlled the governor’s office since 2011. Here is a quick breakdown of what to expect:

Child care
Closing the gaps in the availability and affordability of child care for Iowa families has been a priority of the executive and legislative branches for years. Last year, the Legislature expanded eligibility for state child care assistance, and the state has championed pilot programs throughout Iowa and handed out hundreds of millions of dollars in grants in recent years.

But the work is far from done, reports the Cedar Rapids Gazette’s Tom Barton.

Iowa needs hundreds of thousands more child care slots, according to the Iowa Women’s Foundation. But instead of moving to meet that need, the number of child care providers has shrunk. Republican and Democratic leaders agree that innovative approaches are needed, but neither party has shared detailed proposals in advance of this year’s session. Some lawmakers have championed public-private partnerships to close the gap.

[RELATED: Lawmakers discuss child care challenges, solutions during Iowa Women’s Foundation’s Solutions Summit]

Gender-balance law
The panel ordered by the Legislature last year to review Iowa’s hundreds of official boards and commissions with appointed members made numerous recommendations, among them to repeal a decades-old law requiring that those boards and commissions have near-equal numbers of men and women. Fearless wrote about the panel’s recommendations in-depth last fall.

Republican leaders have said they intend to enact the panel’s recommendations, including the removal of the gender-balance law, according to the Des Moines Register. The recommendations say that the move would allow the “most qualified” candidate to fill vacancies and avert occasional headaches with recruiting candidates in accordance with the law.

Advocates have said that the law is effective and produces better work.

“When we look at the 38 states or so that don’t have any recommendation or mandate, what we see is that men are overwhelmingly overrepresented on state level boards and commissions,” said Karen Kedrowski, a professor of political science and director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center at Iowa State University. The exceptions usually fit stereotypes: women making up half or the majority of boards dealing with the arts or preservation, she said.

Birth control
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has for years publicly backed making hormonal contraceptives available to adults without a prescription. But various proposals to change Iowa law have fizzled. In 2023, the Senate overwhelmingly passed Senate File 326, which would have allowed pharmacists to dispense contraceptives to women who are at least 18 years old.

The bill stalled in the House, but it remains alive to be considered again this year.

Special education audit: Area Education Agencies
Reynolds told the N’west Iowa Review that a “comprehensive review” is planned of the work of Iowa Area Education Agencies, which assist students with individual education plans and support educators’ learning. Some Democrats have said they’re worried such an audit will lead lawmakers to gut the support system for students with disabilities, though Reynolds and others dismissed those concerns.

When the mothers of children with disabilities cannot find safe, high-quality child care and safe, high-quality education options for their children, they are pushed out of the workforce. Access to intervention programs and special education disproportionately affects women, because they’re typically the caregiver who stays home to care for children with significant needs.

It’s unlikely we’ll hear anything from the Legislature about this during the regular session, which is scheduled to end April 16. Legislators last July passed a law that banned most abortions in Iowa. But after Planned Parenthood sued, a judge said the state could not enforce the law because it was too strict.

That ruling followed a series of judgments by the Iowa Supreme Court in recent years that have not yet settled the extent to which the Iowa Constitution does or does not protect a right to have an abortion.

That question about the Iowa Constitution is back before the Iowa Supreme Court, but lawyers are still preparing their cases, and it’s probable the court won’t rule until June. Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Grimes, said Republicans don’t plan to act until that limbo is resolved, according to the Des Moines Register.