Weekend open thread: End of 2014 legislative session edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

The Iowa legislature got out of town on May 2, 110 calendar days after the 2014 session began. That’s ten days after lawmakers’ per diem payments ran out but earlier than in any year since 2010, when Democrats held majorities in both chambers. After the jump I’ve posted closing remarks delivered by the top Iowa Senate Democrats (Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and President Pam Jochum) and the top Iowa House Republicans (Speaker Kraig Paulsen and Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer). A series of posts next week will focus on some of the more significant legislative results from the session, as well as important bills that never did pass.

I’ve also enclosed Gronstal’s prepared remarks on the final Iowa Senate vote of the session: granting subpeona power to the Government Oversight Committee to continue investigating various scandals in Governor Terry Branstad’s administration. Gronstal emphasized that the resolution is “narrowly drafted” and “not a criminal investigation. The goal is not to convict people. The only goal is to find out what went wrong [in state government] and how to fix it.” The resolution passed by voice vote just before the Senate adjourned on Friday morning. Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix blasted what he called a “dangerous” and “underhanded partisan move.” He claimed the “disruption of separation of powers” will invite “a state constitutional crisis,” and that the Oversight Committee’s investigation is politically motivated.

Finally, in non-legislative news, Patrick Caldwell reported for Mother Jones this week on a remarkably shady deal involving Danny Carroll in 1996. At the time, Carroll was a real estate agent in the Grinnell area and an Iowa House Republican. He currently chairs the Republican Party of Iowa–though probably not for much longer. After reading Caldwell’s piece, I want to know why anyone supposedly committed to Christian values would participate in a scheme to take advantage of an elderly widow with debts.  

Iowa Senate News Release

May 2, 2014

Subpoena power is needed to fix

and improve state government

Prepared remarks by Senator Majority Leader Mike Gronstal

When government isn’t working, the job of legislators is to find out what’s gone wrong and propose policy that will fix it.

It’s obvious things have gone wrong in the Branstad Administration.

For a start, hush money payments and the involuntary conversion of hundreds of merit professionals into at-will employees who serve just as long as they keep the Governor happy.

Then there’s the group of merit employees responsible for overseeing millions in state contracts.  The new management team–straight from the special interests they are supposed to oversee-replaced them with friends of friends, hired at the top of the salary scale without a public job search.  

And that’s just the beginning.

Judges pressured to prejudge cases.  

A state institution illegally closed and troubled children dispersed, even lost.

Workers who blew the whistle on bullying, threats of violence, and sexual harassment were fired and blacklisted.  

When the charges were investigated, the reports disappeared into a black hole located in Governor’s office.

Worst of all, elderly veterans in the care of the state are treated badly.

Iowans need to know what happened.

Iowans need to know what went wrong.

These problems won’t be fixed until we know.

The Senate Oversight Committee needs to find out because Governor Branstad has stopped asking or answering questions.

Just days ago, the Governor again claimed that his internal investigation and Executive Order 85 was all that is needed.

Today, no one believes that.  Even House Republicans on the House Oversight Committee don’t believe that.  

Currently, they are boycotting the Joint Oversight Committee until the Governor responds to their list of questions.

And while serious issues keep popping up, we still have not learned who approved the hush money payments.

I believe we’ve learned that our state’s laws and administrative rules fell short.  We didn’t have enough protections when challenged by a Governor and administration determined to have their way.

What was the consequence of that failure? Taxpayer money was wasted, state employees were unable to serve the public to the best of their ability, citizens suffered, and the will of the voters was frustrated.

That’s why the Senate Oversight Committee needs to continue its work, and have the power to compel testimony and documents.

The goal of this investigation is to find out what happened, how it happened, and, most importantly, suggest policy changes to prevent this from happening again.

The resolution before us is narrowly drafted. It is not a criminal investigation. The goal is not to convict people. The only goal is to find out what went wrong and how to fix it.

To effectively reform state government, we need to first find out the truth of what happened and why.  

That’s what the documents and the testimony under oath obtained through subpoena power will help us do.

Closing remarks by Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, as prepared:

I started this session by talking about three Iowans who got a ticket to a better life because of our bipartisan efforts during the 2013 session. They were community college students who got better jobs thanks to the skills they gained with help made possible with bipartisan support from Republicans and Democrats in the Iowa Legislature.

Last year, we worked until we found common ground, because that’s the only way to get things done.

This year, we did it again.

We balanced the state budget without raising taxes.

We expanded job skills training.

We invested in infrastructure and job creation.

We extended the tuition freeze at our state universities for a second year.

We boosted funding for our K-12 schools.

That’s the big picture.  Here are three specific areas I’m most proud of.

First, because we worked together, Iowans will have more access to apprenticeships– supervised on-the-job training combined with technical classroom studies.  

In four years, 62 percent of all Iowa jobs will require some training or education beyond high school. Apprenticeships are part of the solution.  

Last year, Iowa had 662 apprenticeship programs, with more than 8,100 apprentices in everything from construction to telecommunications to biotechnology to health care.

Next year, there will be more apprenticeship openings, and more Iowans moving up in the world thanks to decisions made by Democrats and Republicans in the Iowa Legislature.

Second, because we worked together, we’ve significantly improved protections and in-home services for Iowa’s seniors.

To better protect seniors from elder abuse and financial exploitation, we have strengthened Iowa’s power of attorney laws and increased oversight.  

Victims of elder abuse will now be able to secure protective orders  and benefit from state funded local elder abuse services.

The state of Iowa will hire an additional ombudsman to protect the rights of seniors in nursing facilities.

State support will make it easier for seniors to get the services they need to keep living in their own homes.

By next year, fewer Iowa seniors will be victims of elder abuse and more seniors will be able to keep living in their own homes thanks to decisions made by Democrats and Republicans in the Iowa Legislature.

Third, because we’ve worked together, Iowans will have more recreation opportunities and Iowa will be a more attractive place to live.

For the first time in its 25 year history, REAP, Iowa’s most important environmental program, will be fully funded at $25 million.

Funding for recreational trails has been doubled to $6 million.

Our state’s waterways will be cleaner thanks to increased funding for soil conservation and the Water Quality initiative.

Visitors will be drawn to our communities thanks to investments in the arts, cultural endeavors and historic preservation

The new Workforce Tax Credit will make good housing easier to find by providing incentives to build and rehabilitate housing in the areas that need it the most.

By next year, Iowans will be healthier, happier and more connected to their communities thanks to decisions made by Democrats and Republicans in the Iowa Legislature.

I want to thanks all of the Senate staff.  The nonpartisan staff, the partisan staff, our doorkeepers, clerks, pages and interns.  Without your help, our jobs would be much more difficult.

Closing remarks by Senate President Pam Jochum, as prepared:

When we began the 2014 session of the 85th General Assembly, I urged us to create a rising tide to lift all boats. The recovery from the 2008-2009 Great Recession has been slow and has still left too many workers and families struggling to make ends meet.

Education has always been, and remains, the great equalizer.

On that front, the 85th General Assembly has scored a number of successes to build a stronger foundation for our children and for workers seeking to upgrade their skills to meet the changing demands of the 21st Century economy.

That’s why we increased childcare assistance to help families where parents are working part-time while improving their skills and boosted Iowa’s child and dependent tax credit to ease the financial burden for families.

We created a $2,500 tax credit for adoption related expenses to assist more families in providing a stable and nurturing home for more children.

Furthermore, to ensure a good start for our youngest Iowans, we invested an additional $87 million in educational opportunities to ensure a brighter future for Iowa and our nation. Those opportunities include:

·       One-on-one help for students struggling to learn to read and write in the early years of their academic career;

·       Increasing our investment in higher education by freezing tuition at our three State Universities for another year and slowing the rising cost of higher education at our 15 Community Colleges and 28 private colleges;

·       Internship opportunities for students studying science, technology, engineering and math; and expanding apprenticeship and skilled worker programs at our Community Colleges.

In addition, we jumpstarted the recruitment of the next generation of great teachers by making investments to improve the curriculum of Iowa’s teacher preparation courses as well as the teacher and administrator mentoring programs to improve classroom results.

I cannot close without mentioning our achievements in providing affordable, quality healthcare for thousands of previously uninsured Iowans, the reform measures in Iowa’s property tax system to make it more fair and equitable, the dozens of programs to assist Iowa’s veterans with education, homeownership, and employment, and the significant investments made to improve and protect our land, water and air.

What’s more, we forged partnerships with local communities through flood mitigation programs to protect our homes, farms, and businesses from natural disasters and made significant investments to improve the quality of life through recreational and cultural opportunities.

Finally, once again, we stepped up to the plate to protect and ensure the civil rights of all Iowans.

I want to thank every Senator and Representative for their dedicated service to the people of Iowa. More importantly, I want to thank the people of Iowa who have entrusted their faith in each of us and have given us the opportunity of a lifetime to serve in the Iowa Legislature.

We can all be proud of the significant progress we made to create a rising tide to lift all boats.

Closing remarks by House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, as prepared:

I’d like to start by quickly thanking you, the members of the eighty-fifth general assembly for your hard work and for closing the books on another session. It is truly an honor to serve as your speaker. Specifically, I’d like to thank the House Republicans – you have proved once again that we can govern while maintaining our principles.

To my wife, Cathy, and our children, thank you for your constant support and understanding.

I want to thank our great leadership team that I am honored to work with – Reps. Windschitl, Hagenow, Rogers, Smith and Fry – I appreciate your leadership and dedication to the Republican caucus. To Speaker Pro Tem Steve Olson, I have greatly appreciated your insights and our conversations. You will be missed next year.

To the Majority Leader, Linda Upmeyer, thank you for your unwavering leadership. Rarely is there a wall put up that you cannot find a way around or, as sometimes is required, to break through. I value your friendship and appreciate your tireless work.

To Leader Smith and the minority party, thank you for your efforts this year.

To our leadership staff: Louis, Terri, Josie, Angie, and Tony. And, in my opinion, the best caucus staff in the building – the House Republican Caucus staff: Jeff, Lew, Brad, Jason, Kristi, Carrie, Colin, Amanda, Dane and Brittany – you are not thanked enough for the work that you do and the service you provide. We are very appreciative.

Chief Clerk Boal, thank you to you and your staff, the work you all do to make this chamber operate efficiently. And LSA for all of your hard work, much of what you do is not seen but it does not go unnoticed.

And finally, a special thank you to Governor Terry Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds and their team for their resolve and steadfast leadership.

When Iowans look back on the entire eighty-fifth general assembly, and specifically the House of Representatives, I think they will remember it for the work focused on those Iowans who play by the rules and simply want less government in their lives and in their pockets. This Legislature has opportunities to make family life more affordable, upward mobility more likely and employment easier to find.

We did this through targeted investments in education and job training. Iowa’s community colleges saw an increase in funding, nearly a 25 percent increase over the past four years. Families will find it a bit easier to afford the cost of college tuition as we have provided the funding necessary to freeze tuition at our regents institutions.

We focused on family-friendly tax changes, including the implementation of the taxpayer trust fund, a mechanism to return the overpayment of taxes back to the taxpayers. And after more than a decade of kicking the can down the road, we came together to pass historic property tax relief and reform that absolutely makes a difference for every Iowan.

We also fulfilled our commitment to provide strong budget leadership. It wasn’t that long ago when Iowa faced a $900 million budget shortfall, behaving much like they do in Washington, D.C. Iowans demanded change. In response, House Republicans outlined budgeting principles that have guided our decisions for the last four sessions. This included a serious commitment to a very basic and common sense practice – paying off the state’s debt. We should all be very proud that unlike Washington, D.C. we have stopped borrowing money and instead we are paying off our debts. A new course has been charted for future legislatures, one that puts hardworking Iowa taxpayers first, not the government.

In my opening day speech, I asked you to consider a few questions and let them guide you through this session. Are we offering Iowa families relief from the squeeze of federal, state and local taxes? Are we looking for ways to make it easier for them to send their kids to college? Are we removing barricades that stop them from improving their own financial health?

Ladies and gentlemen, I believe the answer to those questions is yes.

Again, thank you for your efforts.

Closing remarks by House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, as prepared:

Thank you Mr. Speaker.

At the beginning of this, the 85th General Assembly, I spoke on the floor about my concern that Iowans were losing faith in government. This arises from the gridlock that has consumed Washington D.C. Each night you can turn on the television and watch pundits and politicians arguing about blame when we really need to be coming together to talk about solutions.

It’s that kind of culture in the federal government that has Iowans doubting that elected officials can come together and tackle issues head on. Our challenge was to show Iowans that we could do better.

So how did we do that?

We did it by taking on an issue like property tax growth that has been unresolved for years. We have long known that the growth in property taxes was unsustainable for homeowners and that it was discouraging job growth. It was the members of this General Assembly who finally stepped up… and in the process passed the largest tax cut in state history!

We have shown Iowans that they can have faith in state government when we have done more than talk about improving our children’s education system. Instead of lip service when it comes to education, we stepped up and truly innovated. The teacher-leadership model broke the mold of how we look to improve the achievement of our students. This is the kind of landmark legislation that will help us compete with an increasingly global challenge.

After a couple of years of strong fiscal discipline, you could not blame Iowans for thinking we would slip back into the bad budgeting practices of the past. Rather than doing that, we have shown Iowans that we can keep our commitment to common sense budgeting principles. As a result, we are spending less than we take in and we are sending money back to the taxpayers!

A few short years ago the state racked up unprecedented debt. Having seen so much government borrowing around the country, Iowans may have resigned themselves to continuing down that path going forward.

While the federal government and states like Illinois burden future generations with their borrowing, we have wisely chosen to go a different direction. Over the last two sessions we have paid off over $200 million in debt early and ensured a stronger financial future for our Iowa.

Doing the easy thing and the right thing are rarely the same thing. There is no better example of that than what Iowans sent us here to do. They sent us here to come together, in a bipartisan manner, and get work done. While I am proud that we have done this, we have also been reminded this session of how fragile a thing it can be. At times this year there have been efforts to campaign through our committees. When that happens, it becomes hard to distinguish our process from the one in Washington, D.C.

Thankfully, in recent days I believe we have risen above the fray and renewed our focus. I am so honored to stand before you today as we close the 85th General Assembly because I believe that over the course of the past two years we have demonstrated the best in public service. You have displayed the leadership our nation’s capitol lacks and needs to follow.

Ladies and gentlemen of the House, thank you for rising to the occasion. It is an honor to serve with you.

Thank you Minority Leader Smith, the House Democrat caucus and your staff for working with us and your dedication.

Thank you Governor Branstad, Lieutenant Governor Reynolds and your team for your tireless efforts.

Thank you to everyone who keeps this building beautiful and running smoothly.

I want to thank the Chief Clerk’s office and everyone in LSA. We would never shut this place down if you were not ready and willing to help at a moments notice.

Thank you to our staff. Jeff, Brad, Jason, Amanda, Carrie, Colin, Kristi, Lew, Brittany, Dane, Terri, Louis, Josie, Tony and Angie, you guys rock!

To the leadership team: Steve, Chris, Matt, Jeff, Joel, Walt, Lee and Jarad, thank you for your support and counsel.

To my caucus, I am honored to serve with you and humbled at the opportunity you have given me. I am excited about what the future holds for this caucus, thank you.

Mr. Speaker, thank you for your friendship and your leadership.

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  • Oberstar

    Sad to hear of Jim Oberstar’s passing.  His mind was still very sharp and he certainly could have offered significant policy contributions for another decade.  He was quite an advocate for the people of the Iron Range.  I hope that region returns to more of their working class voting patterns.

    • he was one of the greats

      If I could turn back the clock on one major political event of 2009, I’d have Congress work on a long-term transportation bill rather than the climate change bill. Oberstar could have gotten a fantastic bill through Congress that would have significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Instead we wasted a year on a pretty bad bill that died in the Senate and spawned a hundred “cap and trade” attack ads against House Ds.