GOP leaders gloss over divisive priorities on Iowa legislature's opening day

The Iowa House and Senate convened for the 2017 legislative session yesterday. If all goes according to schedule under Republican control of both chambers for the first time since 2004, lawmakers will complete their work by late April or early May.

Listening to the platitudes in opening day speeches by GOP leaders, you’d never guess what some of their top priorities are for this year.

I enclose below the full texts of remarks by House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow, Senate President Jack Whitver, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, along with the speeches by Mark Smith and Rob Hogg, minority leaders in the House and Senate. For those who prefer to listen, O.Kay Henderson posted audio of all the speeches at Radio Iowa.

Hardly a word was said yesterday about shredding Iowa’s 40-year-old collective bargaining law, defunding Planned Parenthood, restricting abortion rights, doing the will of the gun lobby, making it harder for students, low-income, or elderly Iowans to vote, or other controversial plans GOP leaders have discussed in recent media interviews.

Upmeyer promised to act “through a process that allows for input from voices both large and small” and to keep “Iowans’ best interests at heart.” “Most importantly,” she added, “in order to be successful we must work together.”

The House speaker wasn’t known for collaborative work when he had to cooperate with a Democratic-controlled Senate. Public input is unlikely to alter her plans in any meaningful way.

Near the end of her speech, Upmeyer asserted,

A tax code that grows more complex each year and whose benefits seem designed for a select few. Bureaucracies and policies based more on tradition and protectionism rather than common sense. Budgets and spending decisions that lack the discipline Iowa’s families and businesses must use. No wonder so many are disheartened. If we are here today to help address this unrest and this disconnect, then we need to embrace new ideas and be willing to take bold action.

Take this to the bank: despite declining revenues that require cutting current-year spending by more than $100 million, House Republicans will not repeal any of Iowa’s increasingly expensive tax breaks that “seem designed for a select few.”

Peter Fisher noted in this brief for the Iowa Fiscal Partnership last year, “Business tax credits already on the books drained $178 million from the state treasury in fiscal year 2015, then grew by $94 million to $272 million in FY16, and are expected to remain at about that level next year. The six largest credits (or groups of credits) account for 84 percent of the total.”

Furthermore, Fisher pointed out,

The massive commercial and industrial property tax bill passed in 2013 is responsible for a $268 million cut in funds that otherwise would have been available to adequately fund education, natural resource programs, and other priorities in the current fiscal year, FY16. Next year that figure is expected to grow to $304 million.[ii] The property tax breaks are larger than the sum of all business tax credits.

As Jon Muller demonstrated in this analysis last May, “Virtually all of the benefit [from the 2013 law] has gone directly to improve the wealth of commercial property owners, and shifted the property tax burden to homeowners in the short-medium run.” Few small business owners saw any benefit from that property tax cut, because most rent (rather than own) commercial space.

Perhaps Upmeyer’s comment about “Bureaucracies and policies based more on tradition and protectionism” was an allusion to collective bargaining rights for public employees. The real beneficiaries of protectionism in Iowa are certain kinds of corporations and entities that own commercial property.

Moving to Majority Leader Hagenow’s speech, he promised “bold and ambitious” policies but promised Democrats, “While we will have our disagreements, Iowans expect us to work together, and I look forward to working with you and your caucus to craft better policy wherever possible.” When the 2017 session is over, I doubt Hagenow will be able to point to any significant legislation incorporating input from the other party.

Hagenow’s speech focused largely on budget policies:

Through six years of divided government, House Republicans have held to the foundational principle that government should live within its means. Despite opposition from those whose solutions have been to spend more and tax more, we have changed the conversation about how budgets in this building should be crafted.

Each and every dollar that we touch in this place belongs to the people. Not only will we continue to be zealous stewards of Iowans’ hard-earned money, we will look for ways to leave more of it in their pockets.

Every year, the budget presents new challenges but House Republicans are committed to funding the priority needs of Iowans and leaving here in April with a balanced budget.

We are here to fight for hard-working Iowans who want an opportunity for greater prosperity rather than creating greater government dependence.

We will work to unleash the power of Iowa’s business and industry and free our economy from the grip of government. One of the greatest hindrances to entrepreneurship and economic growth is over-regulation and over-taxation.

Contrary to Hagenow’s fantasy world, evidence shows that manufacturers and other businesses are not over-taxed in Iowa.

Hagenow indicated Republican leaders will be looking to pass additional tax cuts this year, even as he promised “significant new resources to water quality efforts” and education policies that will take funds away from public schools (“remove barriers that parents may face in choosing their children’s education”).

Speaking of school funding, Hagenow said House Republicans “are committed to setting Supplemental State Aid to schools in the first 30 days of session.” I’m glad to hear they don’t plan a repeat of 2015, when public school districts had to approve their own budgets without knowing how much they would receive from the state. What Hagenow didn’t say: under Iowa law Governor Terry Branstad signed during the 1990s, lawmakers should have approved “allowable growth” for K-12 schools in 2017/2018 nearly a year ago. Senate Democrats complied with those requirements, but House Republicans repeatedly refused to follow the timetable required by law.

House Minority Leader Smith observed during his speech yesterday, “So far, we’ve heard from Republican leaders that state supplemental aid will be set early in session and that’s good news. But let’s not forget this body is already one year late and it hasn’t been done on time for six years.”

Near the end of his remarks, Hagenow finally alluded to a couple of divisive GOP plans: “House Republicans will remain committed to protecting unborn life and securing Iowans’ constitutional freedoms.” No word yet on which gun laws will pass first or whether abortion restrictions will go further than the 20-week abortion ban House Republicans passed in 2011 or the unconstitutional ban on telemedicine abortions approved in 2014. Upmeyer and Hagenow allowed surprisingly few abortion-related bills to come up for votes on the House floor these past few years.

In the upper chamber, Senate President Jack Whitver spoke first. His praise for “great public servants” including “Republicans, Democrats and a no party” who share “a love for this state and our fellow Iowans” would have been more convincing if he and Dix hadn’t tried to exclude independent State Senator David Johnson from all committee work.

Whitver urged his colleagues “to spend the next 110 days as J.B. Grinnell did – thinking big and acting bold.”

When this session ends and people remember the 2017 session, let them say that this was the year that positively changed our state forever. Let them say this was the year an economic revival began in Iowa. Let them say that 2017 was the year the legislature dared to dream big.

Let’s work together this session to expand our workforce, strengthen our economy, rejuvenate our ag industry, ease the tax burdens on Iowans, create financial stability for our rural communities and school districts, and provide students with a top notch education.

No one tell Branstad that Iowa’s economic revival (for which the governor claims credit) supposedly hasn’t begun yet.

The theme of tax cuts continued in Senate Majority Leader Dix’s speech. While he didn’t spell out plans to limit state spending via constitutional amendment, he did say quite a bit about the budget, including this passage:

These last few months, Republicans promised a limited, more efficient government. We promised more money back in the pockets of Iowans; money Iowans have earned and deserve to keep. We want a balanced budget with responsible budgeting principles, much like Iowa families budget to honor their commitments.

As I talk to Iowans all around our state in our rural communities, I hear firsthand about declining school enrollment. Iowans also share with me concerns about stagnant wages and unsustainable government spending.

The solution for each of these challenges is quite simple: Growth, growth, growth.

Iowa’s passed lots of business tax cuts already. Fisher’s backgrounder on this issue noted, “In the 10 years from FY2005 to FY2015 state tax revenue actually declined as a share of the Iowa economy.”

Dix’s speech didn’t hint at three of the “first four” priorities he outlined in an interview with Radio Iowa last week (an Iowa version of the Second Amendment, defunding Planned Parenthood, or making it harder for non-wealthy people to file lawsuits).

Senate Minority Leader Hogg’s speech is worth reading in full, but my favorite part warned Republicans about some of their harmful plans:

What we cannot do is ignore these real problems in favor of “fake” problems – like the “fake” problem of collective bargaining. Collective bargaining is working well in Iowa, and has since it was adopted by a Republican Legislature and a Republican Governor in the early 1970s. It’s not a problem. Health benefits for city sanitation workers, and firefighters, and police officer, and DHS social workers, and our correctional officers are not a problem – we need more health security for everyone. We all benefit when labor and management can work together on fair wages and benefits.

Here’s another “fake” problem – Planned Parenthood funding. Planned Parenthood’s eligibility to provide contraception services, cancer screening, and other preventative health services for state Medicaid patients, including many low-income women, is not a problem. These health services prevent problems for low-income women and other patients. They are not a problem.

Finally, there is the “fake” problem of “fake” people casting votes – it is simply not a problem in Iowa. People aren’t risking severe criminal penalties to cast an illegal vote. We don’t need government barriers to voting in Iowa. We don’t need to make it harder for the elderly to vote. We don’t need to make it harder for people with disabilities to vote. We don’t need to make it harder for young people and low-income Iowans to vote. We don’t need to make it harder for a person who misplaces his or her ID to vote. Voting is a fundamental right. We need to help Iowans participate in the political process, not create government barriers to participation. We want more participation, not less.

Any comments related to the legislative session are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: House Republican leaders have apparently decided to change the school funding law they’ve been flouting for years. Brianne Pfannenstiel reported for the Des Moines Register,

This year, Republican leaders say they plan to set funding levels for the 2018 budget year, which begins in July. But they do not plan to set funding for the 2019 budget year as currently required by law.

“It’s very difficult to pass that for the second year,” said House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow, R-Windsor Heights. “I think we will be poised to change that law.”

Hagenow and House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, say they don’t believe it’s productive to try to predict the state’s budget situation that far in advance. It makes more sense, they said, to wait until they have a better understanding of the state’s finances.

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer’s opening day remarks, as prepared for delivery:

Ladies and gentlemen, good morning!

It’s such an honor to be here with you today. I love being able to share such an amazing day with you, your families, and people all across our state. Of all the things that come with an opening day, my favorite remains the optimism that fills this room.

None of us do this job alone. Our families and friends help make this possible. I know not all of our family members or friends can be with us today, but please join me in thanking all of those that help support the work we do.

We are here to commence the Eighty-Seventh General Assembly of the Great State of Iowa. What an amazing and enduring institution whose history we are now a part of.

We are gathered here with new and impressive titles. In a majestic building filled with beautiful stone, art, and capped with a brilliant golden dome. Amidst this grandeur, there is a simple but stark contrast that we must keep in mind. Our work here is service, and it should always be grounded in humility.

We have been sent here in service to our communities to represent the hopes of the good people in our districts. They are the reason we have gathered here, and they are what make this building and this state, great.

It is because of this that I am confident we arrive here with common goals. Yes, we will have our differences. Sometimes those differences will be profound, more often they will be minor and easily resolved. Through all of it, we must not lose sight of the fact that we are here in an effort to move our state forward.

With that in mind, as your Speaker I pledge to you that I will keep this chamber moving forward. We will tackle a variety of issues through a process that allows for input from voices both large and small.

This is important because if there is one thing I am confident in; it is that we have not been sent here to mark the passing of time. No, Iowans have sent us here to offer solutions and deliver results.

If we are to accomplish great things during this General Assembly, it means that we must accept the challenge of doing difficult things and having the courage to stay the course because we are acting with Iowans’ best interests at heart.

We have to challenge our assumptions, we have to reject the assertion that the status quo is acceptable, and most importantly, in order to be successful we must work together.

No one legislator is granted the authority to enact change themselves. Instead, we must listen and build consensus. Only then can we find a path forward and hope to deliver on Iowans’ expectations.

As we look to what our work will focus on this session, it is worth noting the energy that has driven our recent elections. Too many feel unheard, unrepresented, or have lost faith in their government’s ability to address their priorities.

They see things like:

A tax code that grows more complex each year and whose benefits seem designed for a select few.
Bureaucracies and policies based more on tradition and protectionism rather than common sense.
Budgets and spending decisions that lack the discipline Iowa’s families and businesses must use.
No wonder so many are disheartened. If we are here today to help address this unrest and this disconnect, then we need to embrace new ideas and be willing to take bold action.

It is the belief that we can do these difficult things that fills this room with optimism today. This is a unique opportunity and I believe with all my heart that this chamber and this building is filled with the right people for the right time.

Thank you.

House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow’s opening remarks, as prepared for delivery:

Thank you Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker, Ladies and Gentlemen of the House. It is my great honor to welcome you, your families, and friends back to the Statehouse to begin the 87th General Assembly.

Thank you to the people of Clive, West Des Moines, and Windsor Heights for placing your trust in me to represent you in the state legislature. It is a great honor I never take for granted.

Speaker Upmeyer, it is an honor to begin another session with you in the chair. Thank you for the courage and determination you’ve shown in leading our caucus.

To House Republicans, thank you for again electing me majority leader. I look forward to serving each one of you in our new, expanded majority.

To the newly elected members, congratulations and welcome. I am excited about the fresh perspectives, knowledge, and ability that each of you brings to this body. I know all of you are eager to get to work and will do a tremendous job for the people of Iowa.

Representative Smith and House Democrats, I have enjoyed working with you in the past to better serve the needs of Iowans. While we will have our disagreements, Iowans expect us to work together, and I look forward to working with you and your caucus to craft better policy wherever possible.

Most importantly, words in a speech will never come close to expressing my gratitude to my family. My wife Amanda is a blessing and a treasure, and without her – none of what I do here would be possible.

In a few days, I will see a third different presidential portrait hanging in the well since I first took the oath of office. Time moves fast, leaders change, and history marches on. Whether you have been here twenty years, or this is your first day, we all need to make the most of the time we have been given.

Through six years of divided government, House Republicans have held to the foundational principle that government should live within its means. Despite opposition from those whose solutions have been to spend more and tax more, we have changed the conversation about how budgets in this building should be crafted.

Each and every dollar that we touch in this place belongs to the people. Not only will we continue to be zealous stewards of Iowans’ hard-earned money, we will look for ways to leave more of it in their pockets.

Every year, the budget presents new challenges but House Republicans are committed to funding the priority needs of Iowans and leaving here in April with a balanced budget.

We are here to fight for hard-working Iowans who want an opportunity for greater prosperity rather than creating greater government dependence.

We will work to unleash the power of Iowa’s business and industry and free our economy from the grip of government. One of the greatest hindrances to entrepreneurship and economic growth is over-regulation and over-taxation.

Instead of empowering government by extending its reach, we should empower Iowans by stepping aside. Our work should not be an exercise to find the limits of what government can do, but to let the people of this great state be the engine for our future prosperity.

One of the great challenges we face is the ongoing work to improve the quality of our water. Last year, this chamber passed a plan that would have devoted significant new resources to water quality efforts. Our work on this important issue should continue this session.

House Republicans are committed to setting Supplemental State Aid to schools in the first 30 days of session. We will also look for ways to give our local school districts more flexibility and provide them with additional freedom to set policies that fit their own unique districts.

Going further, we will focus on students and families, and work to do more to remove barriers that parents may face in choosing their children’s education.

House Republicans will remain committed to protecting unborn life and securing Iowans’ constitutional freedoms.

All of our work this year is to build a stronger future for this state. Our vision is not just to resolve the issues of today, tomorrow, or even the next election. Let us set forth to make Iowa even greater for the next generation and beyond.

With this in mind, House Republicans will be bold and ambitious. With hard work and diligence, we are determined to make our time here of great consequence to the future of the state of Iowa. Our time is now.

To close, my prayer today is that Almighty God’s hand of providence continues to rest on the people of the state of Iowa and the work that they have sent all of us here to do.

Thank you Madam Speaker.

House Minority Leader Mark Smith’s remarks, as prepared:

Thank you, Madam Speaker. Let me begin my remarks with a humble congratulations to you and your colleagues because the voters of Iowa have entrusted you with the governance of this state. I like the scripture in Isaiah that says, “He gives power to those who have no might.”

As the minority party in this chamber, the might that we bring to this body in this time and place is our voices, our ideas, and our commitment to a better Iowa. This is because we, too, seek what is best for our state and for our people.

We come to this legislative session after what many consider to be the most divisive presidential election in American history. For the fourth time in our history, the majority of the people choose one candidate and the Electoral College has chosen another.

As we embark on the 2017 legislative session, uncertainty reigns in both DC and Des Moines. But I hope the divisiveness and political bitterness that rules DC can be avoided here in Des Moines.
What we do know is that there is much to be done and we, as the Democratic members of this body, stand ready and willing to work with the majority party to make progress for all Iowans again.

Income inequality and stagnant wages. Higher health care costs and fewer services. Rising tuition and outrageous student debt. Expensive child care costs and a shortage of providers. Retirement insecurity. For far too long, the deck has been stacked against everyday Iowans who are working hard but still not getting ahead.

It’s time to fix these problems and make progress again.

It starts in education. So far, we’ve heard from Republican leaders that state supplemental aid will be set early in session and that’s good news. But let’s not forget this body is already one year late and it hasn’t been done on time for six years. Unfortunately, we’ve also heard of your troubling plans to enact vouchers that will siphon millions in our tax dollars from public schools and direct it to homeschools and private schools instead.
Democrats believe public education is and should be the top priority of this body. We can’t afford to shortchange public schools any longer or shift more money away from public schools.

Nowhere is this education debate more important than rural Iowa. Anyone who has lived in Iowa knows that when a school closes in a community, that community dries up and blows away. It’s up to us to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Last month, our state’s non-partisan budget experts found policies enacted by the Republican majority have slowed the state’s economy and led to a big downturn in revenue growth. After hundreds of millions in new corporate tax breaks, the state’s budget surplus has evaporated and the budget is now in the red. The transfer of sales and income taxes from everyday Iowans to ease taxes on out-of-state corporations has not produced good jobs, skilled workers, rising incomes for hard-working Iowans, or a stronger economy as was promised. As you consider new tax giveaways, I hope you’ll heed the warning from our own budget experts and consider the failed tax experiments in other states like Kansas before taking action this year.

In recent weeks, I’ve read reports of your agenda to take away women’s rights, voting rights, and worker’s rights. If you decide to take those divisive issues up this year, be prepared for a fight. Our goal is to make the economy work again for all Iowans and our job is to hold this chamber accountable when it isn’t doing what is best for them.

Democrats will work to make public schools first again, not shift resources away from them. Democrats will fight to raise wages for Iowans, not lower them. Democrats will work to expand job training opportunities and keeping higher education affordable, not make it more expensive. Democrats will work to put women on an equal playing field with men, not limit personal health care decisions. Democrats will help working families get ahead, not take away their rights.

My hope is we can commit today to work together and make progress again for all Iowans this session. That’s what Iowans expect and that’s what they deserve.

Thank you Madam Speaker and let’s get to work.

Senate President Jack Whitver’s remarks, as prepared:

Good morning. It is an honor and a privilege to be elected as the new Senate President. And, like all of you, being elected to serve the great people of our state is not a responsibility I take lightly.

The first day of every General Assembly is always my favorite day because I am overcome with a great sense of optimism. I have so much optimism because I look around this room and see so many great public servants. I see teachers, peace officers, farmers, bankers, small business owners and pharmacists. And yes, I see Republicans, Democrats and a no party.

But, beyond professions and party affiliations, I see Iowans. I see senators who share a common passion – a love for this state and our fellow Iowans. I see senators who welcome the task to make Iowa the best state we possibly can. I have so much optimism because I see 50 senators coming from every corner of this state, converging in Des Moines with big plans and big dreams for this upcoming session.

Though I represent the great community of Ankeny, I was raised in rural Iowa – in Grinnell. This is where my parents, who are with us here today, taught me so many life lessons, the importance of hard work and what it means to have Iowa values.

When moving in my office, I learned of a couple of old pictures available through the State Historical building. One of them inspired me and now hangs in the Senate President’s office behind this chamber. It is a picture of Josiah Bushnell Grinnell, a pioneer who founded the city of Grinnell. He served in this body, the Iowa Senate from 1856-1860.

Many of you have heard the phrase, “Go west young man, go west.” This advice, many say, was given by the great statesman Horace Greely to a young man named J.B. Grinnell.

Greely’s advice was more than a compass direction. The west back then represented many things: Natural beauty. Wilderness. Boldness. Optimism. Opportunity, and its constant traveling companion, Risk. Most of all, it represented a pursuit of destiny, with little regard for what was familiar, or comfortable, or even safe. The West was where the future was being built.

Grinnell took Greely’s advice and traveled west into the unknown. He set out looking to make his mark on his country and create a legacy for those who came after him. He finally settled in what is now the city of Grinnell because of the endless opportunities he saw right here in Iowa.

Now, more than 150 years later, I believe the endless opportunities Grinnell chased are even greater today in our state. I challenge us to look at Iowa and seek out the same opportunities he pursued.

I urge my fellow senators to spend the next 110 days as J.B. Grinnell did – thinking big and acting bold.

When this session ends and people remember the 2017 session, let them say that this was the year that positively changed our state forever. Let them say this was the year an economic revival began in Iowa. Let them say that 2017 was the year the legislature dared to dream big.

Let’s work together this session to expand our workforce, strengthen our economy, rejuvenate our ag industry, ease the tax burdens on Iowans, create financial stability for our rural communities and school districts, and provide students with a top notch education.

Let us go west, not across the ground, but in our hearts and minds. Let us confidently face the unknown future the way J.B. Grinnell faced the challenges of the wild frontier.

Today is a good day to be an Iowan. Let’s work together to make tomorrow even better.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix’s remarks, as prepared:

Today, we embark on a new direction for the State of Iowa. It will be a journey that creates optimism and a stronger financial footing for our great state.

This last election was a tough one, for both sides. Now, more than ever, we need to come together and do what is best for Iowans. We all want Iowa to be the best state in the country; one that keeps Iowans here, and attracts new residents to our state. It is imperative we create an atmosphere in which people can create businesses and thrive, raise their families, and trust their children are getting a world class education.

Our priorities are not new – and they shouldn’t be. For the past few years you have heard our hopes and concerns. Our ideas and dreams. Our plan for a better Iowa.

Senate Republicans have a vision of economic prosperity for the people of Iowa, a vision of a vibrant agricultural presence in our rural communities, a vision of fiscal responsibility in the Iowa Senate, and growing our state and making it attractive for investment and new career opportunities.

Iowa is an agricultural state. I, myself, am a farmer with a diverse operation. Our rural communities have long been the backbone of Iowa’s economy, culture and character. There is no reason these communities should be struggling the way they have been for so long. This must change, and let me tell you why.

Do you remember when you were taught to tie your shoes? You were told to tie them once, nice and tight, and then again, a double knot for security, so you do not trip and fall. A double knot, so you could move forward without worry you will trip and fall, so you could move without concern it will all come undone.

We are all here for the same reason – we care about our state. We care about our families, friends, neighbors. We care about people and want them to have the best life they can. We want them to be successful and thrive. We want to make sure Iowans can do more than just make ends meet, but even tie the ends a few times over, like a double knot. To ensure Iowa families feel secure. We want to enable them to grow, to move forward, and succeed.

These last few months, Republicans promised a limited, more efficient government. We promised more money back in the pockets of Iowans; money Iowans have earned and deserve to keep. We want a balanced budget with responsible budgeting principles, much like Iowa families budget to honor their commitments.

As I talk to Iowans all around our state in our rural communities, I hear firsthand about declining school enrollment. Iowans also share with me concerns about stagnant wages and unsustainable government spending.

The solution for each of these challenges is quite simple: Growth, growth, growth. We should be making our state attractive, inviting, and a great place to live for our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. We must foster an environment that creates flourishing career opportunities for those graduating high school, college and for those seeking to embark on a new career path.

Iowans responded to these words, to these promises, to these principles and overwhelmingly chose us to move Iowa forward. And, we are ready to lead.

The windows of my Senate office look out over the Des Moines skyline. If you look out those windows, you can see the positive things investing in our state can do. It represents the commerce and economy of our state and the positive impacts of investing in our state, its people and ideas.

Let’s get to work in our pursuit of real, substantive policies to provide an environment for growth. Economic growth, personal growth, educational growth. The key here, is growth. Senate Republicans are excited to start this new venture and work with the House of Representatives and the Governor.

We stand ready to make all Iowans hopeful for and proud of what is on the horizon for our great state.

Let’s Make It Happen!

Senate Minority Leader Rob Hogg’s remarks, as prepared:

Good morning, Mr. President, Mr. Majority Leader, returning Senate colleagues, new Senate colleagues, Senate staff, family, friends, and fellow Iowans.

Today, I want to begin with a few personal observations. The first is the honor I feel to stand before you today as the first new leader of the Senate Democratic caucus in 20 years. Few people have the honor of leading the Iowa Senate Democrats, and I want to extend my thanks to my Democratic colleagues for entrusting me with the leadership of our caucus. I hope my service meets with your approval.

Today is also my grandfather’s 119th birthday – Mason Ladd was born this day 119 years ago in Sheldon, Iowa, January 9, 1898. He was the son of a lawyer-farmer who served as a Justice on the Iowa Supreme Court.

My grandfather was also a public servant, serving the people of Iowa as a professor and long-time dean of the University of Iowa Law School from 1929 to 1966 and as one of the architects of the Federal Rules of Evidence.

Before my grandfather passed away in 1980, he also did other important things – along with my grandmother – such as teaching me to be an Iowa Hawkeye fan, showing me how to dig fence post holes, and teaching me to clean, store, and install the screen windows and storm windows each spring and fall. As always, I hope my service meets with their approval.

I also want to note at the outset that this is the first time the Iowa Senate has convened since the passing last September of our friend and colleague, Dr. Joe Seng. Joe was one of a kind, a truly unique person: an accomplished musician, a leading veterinarian (who took care of just about every animal in Scott County), and a committed public servant. This morning, would you please join me in a moment of silence to remember and honor Joe Seng? Thank you.

Now, let’s talk about the Iowa Senate and the Iowa Legislature and the opportunities we have at the start of this new session. My remarks are especially directed to Senator Boulton and the other new Senators who are joining the Legislature for the first time this year because you need to know that this institution has the capacity to govern wisely and take action to make life better for the people of Iowa on bread-and-butter issues that Iowans face every day.

The Legislature, with bipartisan support, has helped create jobs and broaden economic prosperity across our state. For example, we supported the expansion of Iowa’s renewable energy industries including wind, solar, biogas, ethanol, and biodiesel. In 2012, we created a solar energy tax credit that led, through the end of 2015, to over 1,800 solar energy projects, over $100 million invested, and more than 700 jobs in the solar energy industry that basically did not exist before. And 2016 was an even bigger year, and with our continued help, that industry can keep on growing. Renewable energy is a winner for jobs, businesses, farmers, our health, and our environment.

The Legislature, with bipartisan support, has helped Iowans with educational opportunities from early childhood to college and job training, such as the STEM initiative we started in 2008 and community college programs like PACE career pathways, GAAP tuition assistance, the Kibbie Skilled Workforce Shortage Tuition Grant, and other programs supported by the Iowa Skilled Worker and Job Creation Fund that help Iowans improve job skills and find better-paying jobs available in today’s economy.

The Legislature, with bipartisan support, has supported the community attraction and tourism program and other economic and community development efforts that have helped communities across this state invest in themselves – projects like American Gothic House Center in Eldon in Wapello County – projects that create jobs, improve the quality of life, help retain Iowans in our state, and help attract visitors to our state.

The Legislature, with bipartisan support, has helped Iowans prepare for disasters to safeguard our people and our property – with programs like the Iowa Flood Mitigation Program that has helped communities across our state invest in flood mitigation infrastructure – Council Bluffs, Storm Lake, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Coralville, Burlington, Dubuque, and Waverly. In Waverly in September, those investments paid off as they helped Waverly avoid flood damage while nearby communities, Plainfield, Shell Rock, Clarksville, and Greene, suffered much damage – that’s a problem we can solve, it’s a problem we can address.

Here are more examples: The Legislature, with bipartisan support, used the opportunity provided by federal law to create the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan that today provides access to health insurance for over 150,000 Iowans. The Legislature, with bipartisan support, raised the tobacco tax in 2007 and provided for smoke-free workplaces in 2008, to improve health. The Legislature, with bipartisan support, has taken significant action to improve public health and safety, with efforts in recent years to prevent underage drinking and combat human trafficking.

Especially for you new members, I want to share what I considered my first significant legislative accomplishment, in 2004, when I was in the minority in the Iowa House. We updated Iowa’s child safety seat law, to help keep our children safe. To help get that done, I worked with a Republican, Clel Baudler, and a Democrat, Vicki Lensing. I will always remember asking Rep. Baudler if he would help co-sponsor the bill to strengthen Iowa’s child safety seat law. He told me, “Strengthen no, update yes.” And that was a step in getting more of the bipartisan support we needed in the House to “update” that law.

Here is why I am sharing these examples with you today: when this Legislature identifies real problems and works together to solve them, we can make real positive changes for the good of the people of our state:

Ø helping Iowans get better jobs with higher wages and better benefits,
Ø providing educational opportunities that prepare our students for work and citizenship,
Ø helping people access health care and improving public health,
Ø creating real public safety to safeguard our people and our property.

So what are the real problems this body can address this year? As we begin the 2017 session, I pledge that Senate Democrats will focus on real solutions to real problems. We will work with every Iowan, regardless of party, to move our state forward.

Here are six real problems that need to be addressed: Let’s start with the tragic increase in deadly Iowa traffic accidents. Over 400 people died on Iowa roads in 2016, reversing many years of progress. That was 20 percent more than in 2015. Fortunately, the Iowa Senate has at least one real solution ready to go. Two years ago, we voted 44 to 6 to ban texting while driving. That would help – it would allow Iowa law enforcement officers to stop people who put all of us at risk by texting while driving. Public safety is government’s first responsibility. Let’s act to stop the carnage on our roads, and let’s act on other issues – child abuse, mental illness, substance abuse – that threaten the lives and health of our people.

Here’s another real problem: the stagnant wages paid to Iowa workers. While profits have gone up, the wages Iowans earn have not kept up. This is a problem with many causes, but the Iowa Legislature can help. Iowa’s minimum wage is too low. It is lower than the states around us. It is so low that full-time Iowa workers can actually qualify for public assistance.
Let’s do what our Democratic neighbors in Minnesota and Illinois, and our Republican neighbors in South Dakota, Nebraska, and Missouri, have already done. As part of an economic development strategy to increase wages, let’s raise Iowa’s minimum wage, and let’s do it without voting to lower the wages of any Iowa worker.

The problem of stagnant wages is directly tied to another problem – the loss of population in many parts of our state. We have over 70 counties that have lost population, not because of the Farm Crisis of the 1980s, but just since 2010. We need higher wages. Our businesses need skilled workers and more customers. We need to retain Iowans and attract people to our state. We need to invest in our communities. We need to invest in our main streets.

We need to support our local public schools with adequate school funding – every community needs a high-quality public school. When a community loses its schools, it simply cannot attract new families and new businesses. Education is the foundation of our state, our economy, and our future. Let’s make sure schools across our state – in rural Iowa and urban Iowa – get the support they need to provide world-class education for every young Iowan.

Another real problem we can no longer ignore: impaired waters. This doesn’t mean that every stream, every river, and every lake in Iowa is a health hazard, but we do have over 700 impaired waters in our state, we are the second leading contributor to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, and we do have communities in this state that struggle to provide safe drinking water for our citizens.

Senate Democrats have led the way for additional funding for water quality efforts in recent years, including an infusion of $20 million in 2013 that Secretary Northey called a “game changer” for the Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

This year we are ready to work with you to bolster monitoring and to bring together all sectors – industry, cities, landowners, septic tank owners – so that we can make near-term, tangible progress toward our longer-term clean water goals.

Here’s another real problem: too many of our neighbors don’t have the security of a pension or retirement plan. The good news is that our State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald has a real solution: get private employers who don’t provide a pension or retirement plan to make a contribution. And for Iowa workers who are looking for a safe, secure place to put those retirement savings, Treasurer Fitzgerald has another good idea. He wants hard-working Iowans to have access to professional, tax-free retirement savings. His “Iowa Retirement Savings Plan” is modeled after the very successful Iowa College Savings Plan he already manages. Just like the college savings plan, no state funds would be involved. This is a real solution to help hard-working Iowans achieve retirement security.

We must also address the health care security of all Iowans. Our health care safety net, Medicaid, is under duress. A year ago, the Iowa Senate recognized that the Medicaid privatization proposed by the Branstad-Reynolds Administration was a potential disaster that should be stopped before it started. We had no idea then how right we were. We were concerned that it would fail to meet the needs of Iowa families and undermine Iowa’s local health care providers. Unfortunately, that is what has happened – and now we know that the new system run by out-of-state insurance companies is also in danger of financial failure. The Medicaid mess is a real problem and needs a real solution.

These problems – tragic traffic deaths and other threats to public safety, stagnant wages, loss of population in more than 70 counties and loss of schools, impaired waters, lack of retirement security, the Medicaid mess – these are all real problems affecting the lives of real Iowans every day. In the Iowa Legislature, we can help solve these problems, if we work together and focus on practical solutions.

What we cannot do is ignore these real problems in favor of “fake” problems – like the “fake” problem of collective bargaining. Collective bargaining is working well in Iowa, and has since it was adopted by a Republican Legislature and a Republican Governor in the early 1970s. It’s not a problem. Health benefits for city sanitation workers, and firefighters, and police officer, and DHS social workers, and our correctional officers are not a problem – we need more health security for everyone. We all benefit when labor and management can work together on fair wages and benefits.

Here’s another “fake” problem – Planned Parenthood funding. Planned Parenthood’s eligibility to provide contraception services, cancer screening, and other preventative health services for state Medicaid patients, including many low-income women, is not a problem. These health services prevent problems for low-income women and other patients. They are not a problem.

Finally, there is the “fake” problem of “fake” people casting votes – it is simply not a problem in Iowa. People aren’t risking severe criminal penalties to cast an illegal vote. We don’t need government barriers to voting in Iowa. We don’t need to make it harder for the elderly to vote. We don’t need to make it harder for people with disabilities to vote. We don’t need to make it harder for young people and low-income Iowans to vote. We don’t need to make it harder for a person who misplaces his or her ID to vote. Voting is a fundamental right. We need to help Iowans participate in the political process, not create government barriers to participation. We want more participation, not less.

Today, I ask you in this chamber, and I ask all Iowans listening to these proceedings or watching these proceedings, to join together with a renewed sense of citizenship, to sit at our table of democracy, to participate, to speak up, and to serve … by addressing the real problems facing our state and our country in this century.

Much has changed since my grandfather was born in Sheldon 119 years ago today. But Iowans are still the responsible, practical, hard-working, community-minded people today that we were then. Let us show the world how we can work together, even under single party control, to address real problems to make Iowa even better for our people and our future.

Thank you, Mr. President.

  • Doug Potter

    Thank you for this recent posting. I listened to the entire Brandstad speech and the back patting alone had to be hard on his cervical spine. Again, thank. you.

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