Five takeaways from the Iowa legislature's opening day in 2018

The Iowa House and Senate convened Monday with the usual big promises and platitudes about working together to build a better future for Iowans.

Behind the optimistic rhetoric, all signs point to another contentious legislative session. The opening day speeches by Republican and Democratic leaders, enclosed in full below, revealed almost no common ground about the focus of lawmakers’ work and no indication that the most important bills will incorporate Democratic ideas. My takeaways:

1. Republicans haven’t learned lessons from other states’ tax cuts.

Nothing matters more to top House and Senate Republicans than passing a big tax cut this year. Tax reform got far more attention than any other issue in opening remarks that otherwise said little of substance about public policy. A revenue-neutral plan is clearly not in the works, despite continuing budget shortfalls.

Kansas, Louisiana, and other Republican-controlled states experienced disastrous revenue losses in recent years after reducing tax rates for businesses and individuals. Yet Iowa GOP leaders repeatedly implied yesterday that tax cuts could pay for themselves through economic growth. House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow asserted, “Putting more dollars back into the pockets of Iowans will unleash our economy, expand our businesses, and empower our families.” Senate President Jack Whitver hailed Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan: “visionaries, who shared a common belief that growth resulted from reducing taxes.” He quoted Kennedy as saying, “Cutting taxes now is not to incur a budget deficit, but to achieve the more prosperous, expanding economy which can bring a budget surplus.” Whitver failed to mention that the top tax bracket was 91 percent in JFK’s time, or that Reagan signed into law many tax increases as well as his better-known tax cuts.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix declared, “Tax relief is about emboldening our middle class and encouraging our citizens to invest in themselves, their local businesses, and our state. It is about giving Iowans a little more cushion in their family budget, a little extra to put towards their student loans, or a little more towards that big family vacation. It is about growth and opportunity.” Only House Speaker Linda Upmeyer struck a cautionary note, saying, “We have a huge opportunity to grow the state of Iowa with tax reform. We should be excited about this but we must also be pragmatic. It must be done in a way that benefits Iowa families while also protecting the sustainability of future budgets.”

As Bleeding Heartland reported last month, Republican lawmakers are gearing up to lowball the cost of proposed tax cuts through a form of dynamic scoring, which is at odds with how state analysts have traditionally projected future revenues.

Although Dix promised tax relief would “ensure everyday, hard-working Iowans get to keep more money in their pocket,” wealthy Iowans would gain much more than lower- and middle-income taxpayers from a plan Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Randy Feenstra drafted in the fall. In fact, “everyday, hard-working Iowans” could easily end up paying more in total taxes under that proposal, which would levy sales tax on many goods and services that are now exempt. Unlike the highest earners, working-class people spend most or all of the money they make.

2. Republicans are poised to keep underfunding education.

During the 2017 session, GOP lawmakers approved and Governor Terry Branstad signed tens of millions of dollars in mid-year cuts to higher education and millions less for state universities and community colleges in the 2018 budget. While K-12 schools were spared mid-year spending cuts, the 2018 budget increased state aid to public school districts by only 1.1 percent, the third-lowest increase in more than four decades.

Listening to the upbeat remarks from Iowa House and Senate leaders, you’d never guess that state funding has failed to keep pace with rising costs in education. Dix bragged that last year, lawmakers approved “changes to reward our state’s best teachers, and give our school districts more control and flexibility.” He promised, “While we will again tackle a difficult budget, we will keep our promises to create a better environment for job growth in our state, provide our children with an education that ensures competitiveness both at home and abroad, and ensure everyday, hard-working Iowans get to keep more money in their pocket.”

Whitver told colleagues, “Our schools have also been recognized as we were named the #1 state in America in high school graduation rates and #4 in increased education funding.” While he claimed, “Each one of us strives for Iowa children to receive a world class education and prepare them for work in a global economy,” raising state support for schools isn’t as important for the Senate president as other goals. “Progress to me is measurable: low unemployment rates, job creation, revenue growth, more disposable income and lower tax rates.”

House leaders didn’t indicate any desire to boost state funding for K-12 or higher education either. Upmeyer made only one comment about the issue: “We must work both in our classrooms and with employers so that our future workforce gets an effective education that prepares them for the careers and emerging industries that will drive our state forward.” Hagenow said nothing about schools but commented, “As I have traveled the state meeting business and community leaders I often hear about challenges they face in recruiting and hiring skilled employees. House Republicans are excited to work on ideas to further develop Iowa’s workforce.”

House Minority Leader Mark Smith provided a reality check:

I’m optimistic that we can make good progress this session in growing our skilled workforce.

However, it’s essential that this body look at the big picture. We’ll never reach our goal of increasing the number of skilled workers here in Iowa if we don’t acknowledge and address the fundamental challenges facing public education today.

Our public schools and educators have been asked to do more with less for too many years. School leaders are warning us that the Legislature’s continued anemic investment in public schools does not give them the tools they need to prepare Iowa students to compete in the global economy. They have warned us about the struggles to maintain the quality of life in rural communities and the over-reliance on property taxes to fund education because of a lack of investment from the Legislature. Now, our public schools worry about vouchers siphoning money away from our public schools.

This body must also acknowledge the challenges in higher education. Every dollar cut from higher education results in higher tuition and more debt for Iowans who want to improve their skills and offer more to their communities and state. Last session, over $20 million was stripped from our community colleges and universities which led to another round of tuition hikes for Iowa students. We can’t continue to make higher education unaffordable and out of reach for thousands of students and expect to fix the skilled worker shortage we face at the same time.

House Democrats believe it’s time for the Legislature to renew our commitment to public schools and keep training after high school affordable for all so we can grow our skilled workforce.

3. Republicans plan to balance the budget solely with spending cuts.

One of the first items on the agenda for lawmakers will be another round of mid-year spending cuts, as state revenues yet again fell well below projections during the first several months of the current fiscal year. In their brief references to “a difficult budget” (Dix) and “sound budget practices that demonstrate fiscal restraint” (Hagenow), GOP leaders showed no sign that they are open to raising more revenues, with a view to increasing support for mental health programs, water quality, infrastructure, the child welfare system, or other public services.

Smith and Petersen had much more to say yesterday about the “budget mess.” From the top Senate Democrat’s speech:

Iowa taxpayers deserve smarter budgeting practices from Republican leaders.

Too many Iowa families are now paying the price for a state government that is failing to provide essential services and safety net programs for its citizens.

Republicans call the budget cuts “belt tightening” and “finding efficiencies.”

But, in reality, these budget cuts are painful and irresponsible. Not only are they hurting Iowans, they will end up costing Iowa taxpayers more.

Iowans didn’t vote to stop providing Iowa children with hearing aids. Iowans didn’t vote to take away the specialized food and formula program to help babies born with genetic disorders, but these programs were cut back to zero under the Republican budget. Millions of dollars were cut from autism services and mental health services for our children. And we know more painful cuts are being proposed by the Reynolds Administration as “COST CONTAINMENTS” – like cutting new moms off of health insurance and cutting in-home and group care for Iowans with disabilities.

These cuts are bad for Iowa. Iowans don’t want our state to be like Kansas.

Indeed, a new Public Policy Polling statewide survey, commissioned by the advocacy group Progress Iowa, found that 58 percent of respondents prefer that “tax dollars be used to adequately fund public services like education, infrastructure, and clean water,” while only 35 percent said they would prioritize “a decrease in my taxes by a few hundred dollars each year.”

4. Social issues didn’t even get lip service from GOP leaders.

None of the Republican leaders used buzzwords like “traditional marriage” yesterday. They didn’t promise further restrictions on abortion or new policies to allow discrimination against LGBTQ Iowans (such as a transgender bathroom ban or a so-called “religious freedom” bill for business owners). Progressives should remain vigilant, because Republican lawmakers and social conservative groups are still pushing for “personhood” legislation that would declare life to begin at conception. But to all appearances, House and Senate leaders don’t want the 2018 session to get bogged down in fights about social issues.

My hunch is that the main Republican gift to the religious right this year will be legislation that diverts more state education funding to parochial schools and homeschoolers.

5. The Iowa Senate sexual harassment scandal is not going away.

Near the end of her remarks, Petersen praised former Senate GOP communications director Kirsten Anderson for being “one of the many women across our country who had the courage to stand up and demand respect and fairness in the workplace.”

It is disgraceful that Kirsten endured sexual harassment and a toxic work environment by her Republican colleagues in this very chamber. It is also disgraceful that Iowa taxpayers were forced to pay $1.75 million for the bad behavior of the Senate Republican Caucus.

The internal investigation that was conducted following the verdict revealed that many staffers are still afraid to report harassment at the Capitol. That is unacceptable.

But it’s not surprising when the only person fired in this whole scandal was the victim.

Retaliation against a whistle blower is grounds for termination in the Senate’s handbook, but it is clear that rule is being ignored.

There is a reckoning in our country on the issue of harassment in the workplace. The Iowa Senate has the choice: Do something serious to address this problem or be on the wrong side of history.

The Iowa Senate can no longer be a sanctuary for predatory behavior.

We are committed to making the Iowa Senate a safe and healthy work environment.

That’s why I reached out to Ambassador Mary Kramer to offer ideas for better protecting everyone at the Capitol.

I offer my cooperation because we all have a legal, moral and business imperative to address this serious problem.

Barbara Rodriguez reported for the Associated Press on January 8 that “a human resources director to oversee harassment complaints at the state Capitol” will start work on January 21. House GOP spokesperson Colin Tadlock told Rodriguez that top Republicans were talking about hiring a human resources professional before Anderson’s lawsuit went to trial in July.

Statehouse reporters should challenge Tadlock to produce e-mails, memos, or other evidence to back up that claim. The job wasn’t posted until late October. House and Senate leaders first publicly acknowledged the planned hire in mid-November.

Any comments about the new legislative session are welcome in this thread.

IOWA SENATE

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

For years, Senate Republicans had been calling for change in the Iowa Senate, and for legislation and reforms to improve career opportunities for Iowans and create an environment for stronger economic growth.

The people of Iowa responded, and we were given the chance to lead, a chance to show our citizens we are more than just talking the talk. We’re here to walk the walk. Or, as many of you remember, we’re here to kick the door in.

And we kept our promises.

One year ago, we started our journey. We passed legislation on the Second Amendment and voter ID, a joint resolution to let the citizens of Iowa vote on putting a 99 percent expenditure limit amendment in the state’s constitution, changes to reward our state’s best teachers, and give our school districts more control and flexibility. We passed legislation reducing the regulatory burden on Iowa’s job creators and eliminated hurdles to growth for other industries, improving career opportunities for every Iowan while ensuring our state remains a beacon of enterprise and ingenuity.

Here we are today, ready to write chapter two.

Our state is full of motivated, ambitious and hard-working individuals – everyday Iowans who get up before the sun rises and go to bed long after the sun goes down. They are single parents who work multiple jobs to make ends meet and still find the time to help their kids with homework. They are students who work hard to learn a trade so they can find a stable career, start a family, buy a house, and join Iowa’s healthy and growing middle class. They are aspiring small business-owners who are working to turn a hobby into something a little bigger.

Our goal is simple. We want our local businesses – our coffee shops, tire stores, and family diners – to grow and prosper, our communities to grow and thrive, and our children to grow up prepared to tackle the world. We want to relieve the tax burden on the people who make our state what it is, and ensure that every Iowan has the opportunity to thrive here at home.

The objective has always been the same – for more money to be kept by those who earned it.

Tax relief is about emboldening our middle class and encouraging our citizens to invest in themselves, their local businesses, and our state. It is about giving Iowans a little more cushion in their family budget, a little extra to put towards their student loans, or a little more towards that big family vacation. It is about growth and opportunity.

As I’ve stated before, our priorities are no different than they have been in the past. We were sent here to do a job – we were elected to balance the state’s budget, foster an environment of job growth and prosperity, and enact policies that will allow teachers to give our children the education they deserve.

But growth and opportunity don’t just apply to our state’s families. We are also giving our schools and school districts the tools and control to adapt, to innovate, and to spend taxpayer dollars doing what’s right for the students in their community.

While we will again tackle a difficult budget, we will keep our promises to create a better environment for job growth in our state, provide our children with an education that ensures competitiveness both at home and abroad, and ensure everyday, hard-working Iowans get to keep more money in their pocket.

In 2017 our agenda was big and bold. In 2018, Senate Republicans will move an agenda that will again be big and bold because this state deserves big and bold. The changes we make will move our state forward in a positive direction, felt for many generations to come.

The success of our time here should not be measured in how many dollars were spent, or how many dollars saved. Success is determined by how many opportunities that can be created, businesses that can start, and families that stay here in Iowa and continue to call it home for generations to come.

Let’s make it happen!

Senate President Jack Whitver’s opening remarks as prepared:

Good morning! Majority Leader Dix, Minority Leader Petersen, Senators, staff, family and friends welcome to the Iowa Senate as we begin the 2018 Legislative Session of the 87th General Assembly. Colleagues, thank you again for the honor to serve as president of the Iowa Senate!

The first day of the legislative session is one of my favorites as a legislator. Optimism runs high, and there are smiles and laughter heard throughout the Chamber as we reconnect with friends and colleagues.

More importantly, 50 senators unite in this Chamber with promising new ideas on how we will shape the future of Iowa. I have never been more optimistic about what lies ahead for our state. People around the country are taking notice of Iowa.

In just the last year, Iowa has been recognized for our great job climate – being named the BEST state in the country for the middle class. Our schools have also been recognized as we were named the #1 state in America in high school graduation rates and #4 in increased education funding. Our state has been recognized as the 3rd best managed state in America. There are so many reasons to be excited about the future. I have no doubt that our best days lie ahead of us!

As we embark on the 2018 session, I look forward to building on what many have said was the most historic session this body has ever seen. I am proud this legislature has maintained a great vision for the future, working on issues which will have a profound impact on our state for years to come.

One of my personal highlights last year was bringing my children to spend a day at the Capitol.

They joined us in the pledge of allegiance, watched debate, and enjoyed meeting many of you. I know they had a blast as they often ask when they can come back to visit this session.

However, as much fun as they had and the lessons they took away from the Capitol, it pales in comparison to what I gained from it. When things get hectic at the Capitol, big picture thinking can become blurred.

It is imperative we do not lose sight of why we are here.

My children remind me why I serve; and, I am guessing it is the same reason all of you serve.

We inherited a great state from our parents. It is our job to ensure our kids and our grandkids inherit an even better state from us. We must work diligently on behalf of the next generation so they have opportunities and experiences even greater than our own.

We want all Iowans to live in safe communities. Each one of us strives for Iowa children to receive a world class education and prepare them for work in a global economy. We want our young adults to stay in Iowa – not only for our great career opportunities, but for our outstanding quality of life. And just as important, we want our retirees to stay in Iowa to be close to their families and remain active members in their communities.

While my optimism for our future is great, the challenges of today still exist.

We need to work together to ensure Iowans have access to affordable healthcare, enhance our mental health system, improve our water quality, develop a skilled workforce and continue to revitalize rural Iowa.

In order to accomplish these goals and fund any initiatives, we must always continue to strive for growth in the state of Iowa. This requires more than reducing regulations or adjusting the language in the Iowa Code. It is being open-minded to bold ideas; and having the courage to lead to make that vision a reality.

Two courageous leaders of this nation earned the respect of their fellow Americans during their presidency – John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. Both were visionaries, who shared a common belief that growth resulted from reducing taxes.

I share this belief and challenge the body to act bold in passing tax reform in the state of Iowa for the first time in over 20 years!

The question we must ask ourselves is do we want to succeed and remain in the top run states in the nation, or be complacent and let down the three million Iowans who are looking to us to lead?

We have a choice on which path we forge: One that moves us forward and focuses on economic growth and security for our future generations, or the other which takes us a step backward – slowing economic prosperity and progress.

Progress to me is measurable: low unemployment rates, job creation, revenue growth, more disposable income and lower tax rates. I am confident we all want to see this kind of progress for Iowa, and this can be achieved if we have the courage to act boldly.

Allowing people to keep more of their hard-earned money is not a new idea. JFK discussed this decades before I was even born. He said, “It is a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high and tax revenues are too low and the soundest way to raise the revenues in the long run is to cut the rates now … Cutting taxes now is not to incur a budget deficit, but to achieve the more prosperous, expanding economy which can bring a budget surplus.”

Reagan spent his two terms in the White House also fighting to ease the tax burden on hard-working Americans. “Death and taxes may be inevitable,” Reagan said, “but unjust taxes are not.”

Like Kennedy and Reagan, let us choose a path of growth and prosperity. Let’s continue to look beyond the next election, and look to the next generation as we ensure the 2018 session is even more historic than 2017.

Thank you and welcome back.

Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen’s remarks, as prepared:

Good morning!

Welcome everyone. A special welcome to the pages, new clerks and staff. Welcome to Iowa’s newest senator, Jim Carlin from Sioux City.

I also want to recognize two of our colleagues who have announced they are retiring from the Senate after this session.

Senator Bob Dvorksy of Coralville was first elected to the Iowa House in 1986 and to the Senate in a special election in 1994. Senator Dvorsky still has plenty of work to do this session but I want to take this opportunity to thank him for his service to the people of Johnson County and surrounding counties.

Second, I want to acknowledge, Senator Wally Horn of Cedar Rapids, who is returning to the Capitol today for his 46th and final year in the Iowa Legislature. Congratulations, Wally, on making history as Iowa’s longest continuously serving state legislator ever!

I love being part of Iowa’s part-time, citizen legislature. We are fortunate to spend most of the year in our districts – close to the people we represent.

Senate Democrats have been meeting with Iowans. We’ve heard what’s on their minds and weighing on their hearts. And we’re ready to get to work on their behalf.

Iowans want their leaders to work together, to lead with civility, and to make good things happen for the people of our state.

Governor Reynolds, Senate Republicans, House Republicans and House Democrats: Senate Democrats look forward to working with you on real solutions to real problems.

Last session, the Legislature did a lot of bad things to good people.

That was a mistake, but it has been a wake up call for Iowans.

As I travel this state, I see more energy than I’ve ever seen before.

Iowans are paying close attention to what their legislators are saying back home…and how they are voting at the statehouse.

It’s great to see so many Iowans engaged in what we are doing at the capitol and holding us accountable for our votes.

Iowans – I hope you will continue reaching out to your legislators, attending meetings at the Capitol, signing up for our newsletters, following us on Facebook and Twitter, and attending our local legislative forums this session.

Let us know what you think about what’s going on here. When you do, it makes a difference!

I am proud to be part of the Senate Democratic team. Our priorities are focused on helping Iowans get ahead in life.

We believe that no matter where you live, you should have access to:

• Better-paying jobs with decent benefits;
• Strong public schools;
• Great cultural and recreational opportunities; and
• Affordable and accessible health care

Iowans want us to focus on issues that matter to their everyday lives – and ditch the extreme policy agenda items that give our state a bad reputation.

Let’s focus on helping Iowans increase their pay.

Senate Democrats know that earning a decent paycheck means more than just money to Iowa families.

It means financial stability and family stability.

A good paycheck with decent benefits helps keep families together.

It puts food on the table.

It produces opportunities for our children and for our future.

Iowans working full-time hours deserve paychecks that can support their families.

We can’t afford policies that make Iowa just another low-wage state.

Senate Democrats will work to increase family incomes and help more Iowans get better-paying jobs.

Iowa can do that if we:

• Invest in our community colleges
• Support apprenticeship and job-training programs that help Iowans get ahead
• Invest in safe roads, water and other important community infrastructure
• Make sure Iowa families have affordable and safe housing
• Help Iowa companies succeed – especially employers providing good-paying jobs in our small communities.

Our state has a growing number of older Iowans, many of whom live alone.

Let’s make Iowa the state that’s known for taking great care of its older population – helping them stay connected to their communities and helping them live happy, healthy and safe lives in their homes for as long as possible.

That starts by protecting Iowans’ retirement accounts.

• Senate Democrats believe every Iowan should be able to retire with dignity. We will oppose any effort to dismantle or weaken the retirement security of Iowans.
• We must also do everything possible to protect seniors from financial exploitation, neglect and abuse.

Senate Democrats know Iowans want safe drinking water and waterways where we can swim, fish and go boating.

We don’t have 10,000 lakes, but we certainly could make Iowa the “Clean Water State” if we open our minds and open the doors to allow all Iowans to come to the table.

Let’s start the conversation with a message that unifies us instead of tearing us apart. No matter where you live in Iowa, the water coming out of your faucet must be safe to drink.

Safe drinking water is a public health issue. It’s an economic issue. It is an issue affecting all of us. And the solution should involve all of us too.

That means it is time to stop the Republican closed-door “working group” meetings that shut out health officials, shut out environmental experts, and block bipartisan dialogue.

This summer, Senator Rita Hart held a water quality summit in DeWitt. Senator Hart’s meeting included Republicans and Democrats, farmers and city folks, everyone who was interested, including members of the media. Senator Hart and other Democratic legislators have good ideas. We are ready to help craft a bipartisan solution.

Let’s work together to bring both clean water and new job opportunities to Iowans. Let’s make the first bill the governor signs meaningful, not a waste of ink.

Senate Democrats believe in investing in our children and grandchildren. They are Iowa’s future.

It’s time to make Iowa’s public schools #1 again. That means responsibly investing in them. It means backing our teachers and all the professionals who show up for our children in Iowa classrooms every school day, teaching and preparing our kids for the future.

Let’s help young families send their kids to safe, quality childcare settings they can afford. With strong early childhood and preschool programs, we can get those kids off to a great start in school and in life.

Iowa children deserve a mental health system that will take care of them when they need it. Fifty percent of mental illnesses begin before a child reaches adulthood, yet Iowa still has no children’s mental health system in place.

No parent in this state should have to bury their child because we failed to make mental health services a priority.

And let’s recognize that brain health conditions need treatment just like other health conditions. A prison sentence is not treatment. We can and must do better by all Iowans living with mental health conditions.

Speaking of health – this Legislature should act immediately to let Congress know that Iowa’s children, our future, deserve health insurance.

What does it say about our country when Congress can’t even come together to pay for our children’s health insurance program?

Finally, to the babies and children in our state who are not living in safe home environments – we must fix our child welfare system. Iowans were appalled when state leaders remained silent as they saw story after story of abuse unfold around our state.

Not only do we need to protect our children, but we also need to invest in Iowans to grow our economy.

You can’t cut your way to prosperity.

The best ideas for our state come from the people we represent. Let’s push for home-grown ideas — not failed ideas from Kansas and other states.

• Let’s start by spreading the sunshine with more homegrown energy – solar, wind, and biofuels.
• Local energy means more local jobs and money. Local energy means energy independence and doing our part to stop climate change.
• Wind and solar energy support more than 7,000 Iowa jobs and nearly 300 Iowa businesses. Ethanol and biodiesel support thousands more jobs and generate wealth for Iowa farmers.
• Let’s give all Iowans access to high-speed internet so they can connect to each other, to the world and have tools at their fingertips to create entrepreneurial ventures in towns across our state.
• Let’s build more home-grown talent: We can create an Iowa where more of our children and grandchildren will CHOOSE to live, work and raise their families close to home. Too many of the Legislature’s decisions last year told younger Iowans that they just don’t have a future in our state.
• Let’s put more resources into our small towns and rural areas: Imagine if the state had taken the $20 million it used to lure Apple – a multi-billion dollar company – to the Des Moines Metro area and instead invested it in Main Street companies and job-creation initiatives in our smaller counties and communities.

Funding our priorities will take work and discipline. Our state budget is in a mess. Iowa taxpayers deserve smarter budgeting practices from Republican leaders.

Too many Iowa families are now paying the price for a state government that is failing to provide essential services and safety net programs for its citizens.

Republicans call the budget cuts “belt tightening” and “finding efficiencies.”

But, in reality, these budget cuts are painful and irresponsible. Not only are they hurting Iowans, they will end up costing Iowa taxpayers more.

Iowans didn’t vote to stop providing Iowa children with hearing aids. Iowans didn’t vote to take away the specialized food and formula program to help babies born with genetic disorders, but these programs were cut back to zero under the Republican budget. Millions of dollars were cut from autism services and mental health services for our children. And we know more painful cuts are being proposed by the Reynolds Administration as “COST CONTAINMENTS” – like cutting new moms off of health insurance and cutting in-home and group care for Iowans with disabilities.

These cuts are bad for Iowa. Iowans don’t want our state to be like Kansas.

In Kansas, Republican legislators were forced to abandon their reckless tax cuts because they failed to deliver the promised increases in jobs and income. It would be irresponsible for Iowa to go down that road. Iowans want us to make wise choices to improve our state. We can’t afford to repeat the mistakes of others.

Senate Democrats believe making smart decisions with Iowa taxpayer dollars will save money in the long-run.

Senate Democrats believe any efforts to reform and cuts taxes must follow these guiding principles:

• Iowa’s tax code should be more transparent so everyone can see Iowa’s true competitiveness.
• Taxes should be fair for all Iowans.
• Any changes should take into account our current budget situation.
• Corporate tax credits should be examined.
• Changes should be developed with everyone’s input.

Some of the biggest mistakes of the 2017 session — anti-worker legislation, voter suppression and other extreme changes – were cooked up behind closed doors without any input from hard-working Iowans.

Iowans expect legislators to stand up for them. When we know things are not going right, we need to have the backbone and courage to change course.

• It’s time to call for an end to Governor Reynolds’ Medicaid privatization mess. Too many Iowans have suffered under it.
• We must protect Iowans, our hospitals and our health care providers from the damage caused by Medicaid privatization, especially in smaller towns.
• Iowa’s small towns, communities fighting for survival, cannot afford to lose more local doctors, nurse practitioners and health care providers.

Speaking of courage, I’m grateful to Kirstin Anderson and others who spoke out against the sexual harassment in the Iowa Senate Republican caucus. Kirsten is one of the many women across our country who had the courage to stand up and demand respect and fairness in the workplace.

It is disgraceful that Kirsten endured sexual harassment and a toxic work environment by her Republican colleagues in this very chamber. It is also disgraceful that Iowa taxpayers were forced to pay $1.75 million for the bad behavior of the Senate Republican Caucus.

The internal investigation that was conducted following the verdict revealed that many staffers are still afraid to report harassment at the Capitol. That is unacceptable.

But it’s not surprising when the only person fired in this whole scandal was the victim.

Retaliation against a whistle blower is grounds for termination in the Senate’s handbook, but it is clear that rule is being ignored.

There is a reckoning in our country on the issue of harassment in the workplace. The Iowa Senate has the choice: Do something serious to address this problem or be on the wrong side of history.

The Iowa Senate can no longer be a sanctuary for predatory behavior.

We are committed to making the Iowa Senate a safe and healthy work environment.

That’s why I reached out to Ambassador Mary Kramer to offer ideas for better protecting everyone at the Capitol.

I offer my cooperation because we all have a legal, moral and business imperative to address this serious problem.

Finally, as we kick off the 2018 legislative session, let’s stay focused on helping Iowans and leading with civility.

Thank you to my Iowa Senate Democratic colleagues and staff for their support. It is an honor to be part of a team of people who have such a heart for public service. As a new leader, I promise to listen, to learn and to fight for bluer skies in Iowa’s future.

IOWA HOUSE

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

Welcome back to the Iowa House!

It has been 262 days since we adjourned the 2017 session. Normally, that would sound like a long time, but today it sure feels short.

In those 262 days, we have done exactly what was intended of this citizen legislature. We went home to our families, we went to work and we spent time with our communities. Most importantly, we spent time listening.

I am so proud every time I talk with one of you or I pick up a newspaper and see the engagement you have with your communities. Countless miles, meetings, and conversations are what filled those 262 days.

So today, we call the Iowa House back to order and we bring with us the benefits of being home to live, work, and listen. We will do with that experience what I believe we do better than anyone else in the country, we will put it into action.

Last month, Iowa’s unemployment rate dropped to the lowest it has been in 17 years, 2.9%! However, I know that behind that number are too many Iowan’s who lack the training or the experience for the high-skilled and high-wage careers that many employers are looking to fill right now.

This is about the essence of the American dream, upward mobility. We have so much talent in this state, we cannot let it slip away. We must connect today’s workforce with training and certification so they can achieve that dream… a career and security for their families.

We must work both in our classrooms and with employers so that our future workforce gets an effective education that prepares them for the careers and emerging industries that will drive our state forward.

I want Iowans to find their American dream right here at home and I am happy to work with Governor Reynolds on a plan of action that will focus on results that will benefit every Iowan and every community.

If Iowa is going to be a place that our children and grandchildren choose to stay, we must also offer them access to the affordable healthcare they need and the quality they deserve. For years, I have complained about burdensome federal regulations stripping us of our ability as a state to address our own needs.

With the collapse of the individual insurance market, we have seen the consequences of failed federal policies. I am tired of complaining, I am tired of waiting. It is time for us as a state to act.

Before long, Iowans will begin to see how federal tax reform benefits each of them and their families. Individual taxpayers in Iowa are estimated to save over $1.5 billion, and more money in Iowan’s pockets is a great thing.

Because of federal deductibility, federal tax cuts for Iowans could mean a higher state tax burden in future years. Those tax cuts were intended to remain with the hardworking taxpayers of Iowa. Let’s make sure that happens!

We have a huge opportunity to grow the state of Iowa with tax reform. We should be excited about this but we must also be pragmatic. It must be done in a way that benefits Iowa families while also protecting the sustainability of future budgets.

No single one of us can get anything done without working together and finding some level of consensus in this room. Do not let the days of this session slip away waiting for someone to reach out to work with you. Be the one who reaches out and inspires others to come together. Let there be many fingerprints on our work, and we will be more successful because of it.

Our ability to turn ideas into action is the hallmark of the Iowa House. Now I want us to get down to business, so maybe I can help by wrapping up this speech!

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s get back to work!

Thank you.

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

Thank you Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker, ladies and gentlemen of the House. It is my great honor to welcome you back to the Statehouse as we continue the historic work of the 87th General Assembly.

With the first day of each session comes excitement and anticipation. But, this year, it also comes with reflection as we remember two of our members whom we will greatly miss – Representative Greg Forristall and Representative Curt Hanson. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with their families and may we never forget their honorable service to our great state.

All of us here today, whether Republican or Democrat, return to do the people’s work and it is the service of Iowans that we must always keep in mind. This great institution is stronger and our government works better, when we are willing to talk to each other, listen to each other’s ideas and not merely dismiss them based on which letter follows their name on a ballot. I’m grateful for the many relationships I have developed on both sides of the aisle and working together on our shared interests.

It is a tremendous honor to lead this group of House Republicans. While pundits and prognosticators concern themselves with which direction the political winds may be blowing, those voices will do nothing to change our resolve. You are determined, committed, and principled leaders. There are voices out there that wish to stifle our every effort and take us back to the old ways of doing things – instead, you continue to work hard, find creative policy solutions, and be unafraid to challenge the status quo.

Last year, we made extraordinary accomplishments due to the opportunity entrusted to us by Iowans. House Republicans remain committed to charting a brighter course for the state of Iowa by focusing on innovative policy solutions that look ahead to the next generation.

We must continue to boldly lead and always challenge yesterday’s voices who seek to turn the calendar back. We will lead by looking ahead and always asking, “What’s next?”

Every year, House Republicans are dedicated to responsible stewardship of the hard-earned resources of Iowa taxpayers. We are again committed to sound budget practices that demonstrate fiscal restraint, safeguard the priority needs of Iowans, and protect Iowa taxpayers.

Along with our commitment to strong budget leadership, we look forward to a broad conversation about reforming Iowa’s tax code to make the system fairer, simpler, and more competitive. House Republicans would rather grow our economy than grow our government. Putting more dollars back into the pockets of Iowans will unleash our economy, expand our businesses, and empower our families.

As I have traveled the state meeting business and community leaders I often hear about challenges they face in recruiting and hiring skilled employees. House Republicans are excited to work on ideas to further develop Iowa’s workforce. Not only can this help Iowa businesses grow, but these efforts will help individual Iowans find new and better careers. The needs of Iowa’s economy are ever-changing, and we must continue to help prepare all Iowans for greater prosperity in a twenty-first century economy.

Each of us makes a sacrifice to be here; but, it is important to reflect on the sacrifices each of our families make, and often, their sacrifice is far greater than ours. Without their patience and support nothing I’ve accomplished here would have been possible.

To close, my prayer today is that God will continue to bless each one of us, the people we represent, and the great State of Iowa.

Thank you Madam Speaker.

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

Thank you, Madam Speaker and good morning members of the Iowa House of Representatives.

I especially want to welcome Representative Jon Jacobsen and Representative Phil Miller, who were elected in special elections held during the interim. Congratulations on your honor and responsibility to represent the people of your districts.

Over the interim, we lost two members who devoted a good deal of their lives to this body: Representative Greg Forristall and Representative Curt Hanson. Both wanted to keep the seriousness of their illnesses as quiet as possible. Both will be missed.

I once had the honor of sitting next to Representative Hanson. In all my years here, I have never seen someone interact with constituents better than Curt. He was patient and kind. He had a folksy manner in which he could disagree and still be on friendly terms. This is a business where you often create enemies, but Curt never did.

Curt was a drivers education teacher for over forty years. I can only imagine some of those car rides flying through county highways in rural SE Iowa. I believe these experiences gave him his ever calm demeanor, no matter how stressful the situation. I spent a good amount of time with Curt close to the end and his ability to bring levity to his own situation always amazed me. He will be missed dearly.

House Democrats believe it’s time for the Legislature to work together and get back to the basics. That means focusing our efforts on good jobs and boosting our skilled workforce. It means renewing our commitment to public schools. And it means working together to make health care both more affordable and accessible.

It’s our job here to make life better for Iowans and their families, not make it more difficult.

Since we left the Statehouse last May, a lot has happened.

The gross mismanagement of the state budget has been on display consistently since we adjourned last year. In just a few short years, the state budget has gone from a $900 million surplus to a $259 million deficit last year.
After putting $130 million on the state’s credit card to balance the budget in the closing days of session last year, the 2017 budget went in deficit for the third time last summer. Our new Governor announced she would transfer money and put millions more on the state’s credit card to cover the deficit yet again.

After reviewing the law carefully, members of the House Democratic Caucus joined State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald in expressing concern about the transfer because it did not meet the requirements of our law. However, the Governor illegally transferred the money anyway. So, the first order of business this session has to be to clean up the 2017 budget mess. Next, this body will have to take action on the 2018 budget, which is now in deficit, because the budget you approved last session spent more than we took in. Again.

House Democrats will work this session to protect the taxpayers of Iowa and restore fiscal discipline. We don’t believe Iowans should be forced to clean up the budget mess and we will work to hold both the majority party and the Governor accountable.

Since we last met, there has been a lot of discussion about Iowa’s skilled workforce. I’ve heard from members on both sides of the aisle that this must be a top priority this session and I couldn’t agree more. Iowa businesses want better trained workers. Iowans want to improve their incomes by furthering their education. At no time in our state’s history has the need for education and training after high school been more important.

I’m optimistic that we can make good progress this session in growing our skilled workforce.

However, it’s essential that this body look at the big picture. We’ll never reach our goal of increasing the number of skilled workers here in Iowa if we don’t acknowledge and address the fundamental challenges facing public education today.

Our public schools and educators have been asked to do more with less for too many years. School leaders are warning us that the Legislature’s continued anemic investment in public schools does not give them the tools they need to prepare Iowa students to compete in the global economy. They have warned us about the struggles to maintain the quality of life in rural communities and the over-reliance on property taxes to fund education because of a lack of investment from the Legislature. Now, our public schools worry about vouchers siphoning money away from our public schools.

This body must also acknowledge the challenges in higher education. Every dollar cut from higher education results in higher tuition and more debt for Iowans who want to improve their skills and offer more to their communities and state. Last session, over $20 million was stripped from our community colleges and universities which led to another round of tuition hikes for Iowa students. We can’t continue to make higher education unaffordable and out of reach for thousands of students and expect to fix the skilled worker shortage we face at the same time.

House Democrats believe it’s time for the Legislature to renew our commitment to public schools and keep training after high school affordable for all so we can grow our skilled workforce.

In the first decade of this century, the Iowa General Assembly worked together to provide a greater degree of health care to its people than other states. A decade later when the Affordable Care Act was enacted, Republicans and Democrats worked together again to give Iowans more options for their health care.

Since that time, however, our healthcare system has deteriorated rapidly and nowhere is that more apparent than Medicaid privatization. Some providers have closed and others have taken on debt because they aren’t getting paid. Iowans are still scrambling to find the care they need. The whole system was thrown in chaos again when one of the private companies left Iowa and left over 200,000 Iowans in the lurch. Because of privatization, Iowans are getting less care and have fewer options today.

The good news is there was bipartisan agreement at the Health Policy Committee meeting last month that Medicaid privatization is failing Iowans right now. It’s up to us to fix these problems this session — and quickly — before more Iowans die unnecessarily.

Since we last met here, more tragic deaths have occurred as a result of our failing mental health system. Since I first began work as a social worker 43 years ago, research has unraveled more and more of the mysteries of the human brain. With more precision and at earlier stages, mental illnesses can be detected and treated.

However, as policy makers, we have not kept up with the science. Much more can and should be done to intervene and treat mental health conditions. We need to invest in the training of all levels of mental health professionals; develop a community-based, comprehensive treatment approach that includes substance abuse disorders; and fix the way we fund our system that punishes rural counties with higher rates than urban counties.

My grandfather was an eighth grade educated Iowa farmer who lived by the rules of feeding your family, honoring the soil, and being a good neighbor. Feeding our family is actually being nurturing to all who make Iowa their home.

Honoring our soil is one of the most important actions we can take and being a good neighbor encourages us to have clean water and fair policies so that we welcome those around us. We have three pressing obligations this session: 1) to continue producing food for the world, 2) to replenish our soil so that we hand it down to future generations, and 3) to improve water quality. We cannot wait longer to address these critical issues.

In the past, we have worked in a bipartisan manner to address the challenges we face and we, as House Democrats, stand ready to do so again. However, our involvement should and must be from the beginning.

Whether it’s health care, water quality, education, or building a skilled workforce, we can always say there will be another time to make progress. We can always put off until tomorrow what we should do today. Those restrains did not stop our ancestors for having the courage to tackle the problems facing them in the Great Depression or when they were breaking Iowa’s sod for the first time. It’s time for us to tackle the challenges we face today. Together.

I close with a quote from the elegant poet, Maya Angelo: “History with its wrenching pain cannot go unlived, but when faced with courage, need not be lived again.” A bright future for Iowa is a head, if we prepare for it today.

Thank you, Madam Speaker.

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