SIOUX CITY — Northwest Iowa legislators headed to Des Moines have tax relief and education funding as goals to meet once deliberations and debates play out after the opening of the session Monday.
Republican lawmakers say they want to tinker with tax policy. A few GOP members also pointed to qualms about the steps that Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds took to address the novel coronavirus pandemic, such as limiting people in restaurants and attending sports, citing those as a restraint on freedom.
Democrats in particular are pointing to more education funding.
Some legislators, in what appears to be some bipartisan approach, also point to needs to expand broadband internet access and child care initiatives.
“We know that there will be many requests for resources this session, and because of our thoughtful actions in the past, we are in a position where we will be able to fund our commitments and respond to the pandemic in a responsible and fiscally prudent fashion,” House Majority Leader Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, said.
Republicans have said they are emboldened to push through their playbook, given what they consider to be a mandate from Iowa voters.
The Nov. 3 elections maintained GOP majorities in both the Iowa Senate and Iowa House, meaning along with Reynolds in the governor’s office, Republicans for two more years have complete control over the state lawmaking process.
Republicans will start the session with a 59-41 majority in the House, for a gain of six seats in that chamber from the November election, and a 32-18 advantage in the Senate.
There are four new area legislators, including Rep. Steve Hansen, D-Sioux City, who will return to the Legislature for the first time in 18 years. Hansen succeeds former Rep. Tim Kacena, D-Sioux City, who didn’t seek re-election.
Rep. Dennis Bush, R-Cherokee, moves into the District 3 opening that came with the retirement of former Rep. Dan Huseman, R-Auerlia.
Sen. Jeff Taylor, R-Sioux Center, will serve District 2, succeeding Hull Republican Randy Feenstra, who won the Iowa 4th Congressional District seat in November. In one other Senate change, Craig Williams, a Republican from Manning, moves into the District 6 post vacated by Mark Segbart, R-Vail, who did not seek another term.
The legislative session is scheduled to run over 110 days through April. It will be a chance to have a full term of continuous legislative activities, compared to the 2020 session, which was suspended for 10 weeks in the novel coronavirus pandemic early stages, from mid-March until early June.
“After a rough 2020, I look forward to repairing our deep divides and building a better, stronger Iowa,” said state Sen. Jackie Smith, D-Sioux City.
All 17 legislators representing districts in the Journal’s circulation area responded to a Journal reporter’s request to share their top two legislative priorities for the year. Below are their answers.
Sen. Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City, District 3
1. Heartbeat Bill. With the new composition of the Iowa Supreme Court, my ardent hope that the 2018 Heartbeat Bill, which was summarily struck down by the court, would be upheld today. I will again be taking up the fight for its passage.
2. Education reform. Low proficiency in some Iowa schools carries the serious implications of generational poverty and Iowa’s workforce quality. Parents of children in low performing school districts should have a choice where their children are educated. Vouchers for alternate education platforms like parochial or charter schools would give them that choice.
Sen. Jackie Smith, D-Sioux City, District 7
1. Novel coronavirus pandemic. In a bipartisan manner we need to defeat COVID-19. White House Coronavirus Task force recommendations should be codified to prevent additional deaths and shut downs. By working together we can ensure all carriers are covering vaccination costs with no cost share. My constituents want a transparent protocol for the distribution of a vaccine and I believe, with cooperation, that can happen.
2) Assistance to families and businesses. This district has seen dramatic increases in unemployment. Small businesses and agencies are operating on shoestring budgets and need emergency relief. Iowa has seen the largest increase in families that do not have enough food on the table and are literally going hungry. I will be advocating legislation that will provide immediate use of “Rainy Day” fund balances to provide food and assistance to those in our community.
Sen. Zach Whiting, R-Spirit Lake, District 1
1. Emergency powers limitations. I have grave concerns about the scope and duration of emergency powers which seem to have no limits or end date in sight. The legislature needs to take a strong look at Chapter 29C and consider how we can place appropriate limits, checks and balances, and provide remedies for individuals, businesses, churches, and other entities affected by executive overreach.
2. Economic recovery and growth. This will take a multi-faceted approach that looks at issues such as broadband, housing, workforce, and childcare. Additionally, tax and regulatory reforms are key to our economic recovery and growth—to ensure our tax rates and regulatory environment are competitive and attractive to businesses and individuals.
Sen. Jeff Taylor, R-Sioux Center, District 2
1. Pro-Life initiatives. Promote the protection of unborn human life and all life. Government exists to safeguard our God-given rights. The right to life is the most foundational of all.
2. Education. Promote quality education of Iowa children, including respect for diverse means to achieve this goal. More specifically, I want to ensure that public education prioritizes citizen accountability, student fairness, and curricular integrity.
Sen. Craig Williams, R-Manning, District 6
1. Fiscal responsibility. I’ll focus on two that I can impact, given my committee assignments with Appropriations and Commerce, The state’s budget and financial condition looks excellent, in spite of the pandemic. While I have faith in the Revenue Estimating Conference’s ability to estimate funding, I’m not sure we’ve seen the entirety of the COVID-19 impact. Spending will need to stay under control.
2. Getting government out of the way. Not all regulations are bad. But we need to clear the way for companies to get back up and running and for our citizens to get back to work as smoothly as possible, while offering a level playing field for competition.
Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, District 9
1. Expansion of broadband internet. I’m the new Commerce Committee chairman and a lot of people are working on this. I want to make sure that any state action recognizes that there is not one blanket solution that should be applied to all Iowans. Physical fiber optic line and wireless providers each have a place where they are the best option and many times will be used in combination to provide the best most efficient product.
2. Business friendly environment. The previous formula of conservative budgeting and getting government out of the way is what set us up to be the best state to handle the COVID-19 challenges and will lead us back after a sense of normalcy returns. And I know normalcy will return because a growing number of people recognize that masks and lockdowns and quarantines aren’t helping the natural course of a viral spread. Limiting freedom was not the correct answer.
Rep. Jacob Bossman, R-Sioux City, District 6
1. Child care. For the last three years, I have focused on the issue of child care, particularly how lack of access and affordability can become a barrier to employment for many Iowans who want to work. This also becomes a problem for the employers who are desperate for workers. The issue is even more important now for our healthcare professionals and front line workers with small children who must go to work everyday during this pandemic, and for all families as we reopen our economy and progress towards full employment.
2. Taxes. We in Northwest Iowa are at a competitive disadvantage when we border a zero income tax state like South Dakota. While the Legislature took a big step forward three years ago by passing personal income tax cuts for all Iowans, we need to go further when it comes to our business tax climate to reestablish a balance with our neighbors to the west and stop the flow of businesses and jobs across the river.
Rep. Chris Hall, D-Sioux City, District 13
1. State budget – Most families and businesses use their budget to plan for a period of years into the future. Lawmakers should do the same. We should plan for the state’s long-term growth and ways to keep Iowa competitive with neighboring states. Such a plan should revisit visionary programs to address population loss (like Gov. Vilsack did in 2005) and increase take-home pay for the average family. We must first and most immediately provide economic relief to families hit hardest by the pandemic.
2. Poverty issues. The percentage of Americans in poverty reached 11.7 percent in November. Children impacted by poverty frequently feel its effects well into their adult life, reducing economic prosperity in their household as well as their community. The state should work to reduce barriers to education, improve food security, and create long-term economic growth for rural and urban communities experiencing the highest rates of poverty.
Rep. Steve Hansen, D-Sioux City, District 14
1. Mental health delivery system and resources. The state is under-served and dramatically in need of additional services and bed capacity. The pandemic has heightened the shortage and increased the need for services across all geographic and age demographics. We have gone from a serious situation to a critical one.
2. Restoring Iowa’s education system to number one in the nation. While we are fortunate to have a sound education system in Iowa, the pandemic has shown that we have flaws that we need to address. Not so long ago, we would advertise that we were number 1 in the nation for K-12 education, but now we are not. Broadband service is part of the answer along with additional resources at directed areas of concern. This is an urban and rural problem that will take bi-partisan solutions.
Rep. John Wills, R-Spirit Lake, District 1
1. Tax reform. I would like to see Iowa become competitive with our neighbor, South Dakota in the tax area. Iowa is in the lower tier of states in the nation and, as we know, with our low unemployment we need to have legal immigration to the state in order to grow. Being competitive with our neighboring states will encourage business and people to move to Iowa.
2. Food freedom. I would like to allow Iowans the opportunity to choose where they buy their food and how they do it. This bill would allow a farmer to sell livestock or any food item to individuals in “shares” and then that food could be processed in any way the people choose. A law similar to what I envision was recently passed in Wyoming. Currently there are laws that prohibit this in lockers and other processing that isn’t state or federally licensed.
Rep. Megan Jones, R-Sioux Rapids, District 2
1. Child care issues. Last session, I introduced a bill that would eliminate the state income tax for child care providers. This was recommended to me by an employer in Northwest Iowa as a solution to increase the take home pay for providers- but not put that cost on working families. I will be renewing that conversation and fighting to make quality childcare also affordable childcare.
2. Broadband expansion. When it comes to broadband, we continually push for expanded access and a fair playing field. Last session, I championed language that made it so broadband grants are not considered income for tax purposes. In some cases, this meant nearly $1 million to providers, who then were able to expand access by nearly $1 million more. We need to continue to open doors for providers, with better maps, grants and rules so we can ensure Iowans have stable, reliable internet access.
Rep. Dennis Bush, R-Cherokee, District 3
1. Mental health region funding. My top priority is to provide the necessary funding to ensure statewide implementation of mandated mental health services, preferably shifting a portion of the burden from property taxes. If revenue is not provided by the state, counties should be allowed to levy up to $47.28 per capita to fund these services and the state should remove the regional ending fund balance limitation for three years. The implementation deadline for mandated children’s mental health services should be extended two years.
2. Increase Medicaid rates paid to mental health providers. The state can mandate certain mental health services, but if mental health providers, such as Siouxland Mental Health and Plains Area Mental Health, cannot be reimbursed sufficient to cover their costs for providing those services, the programs are not going to happen. Mental health regions are not responsible for being the providers of services. They are responsible for the coordination, start-up costs, and a portion of the ongoing costs of these mandated services.
Rep. Tom Jeneary, R-Le Mars, District 5
1. Gun legislation. Iowa is one of six states without enumerated protections for our Second Amendment rights. The proposed amendment to the Iowa Constitution would provide modern day protections from governmental overreach and activist courts.
2. Adding an abortion amendment to the Iowa Constitution. The proposed wording would be, “To defend and protect unborn children, we the people of the State of Iowa declare that this Constitution does not recognize, grant, or secure a right to an abortion or require the public funding thereof.” That step is needed because U.S. Supreme Court Justices declared abortion to be a constitutional right, Jeneary said. (The measure would have to pass two consecutive legislative sessions to be placed on the 2022 Iowa election ballot for Iowa voters to decide.)
Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Orange City, District 4
1. Education reform. The Legislature needs to take a serious look at our education system from top to bottom. This includes stronger language for protecting free speech and conservatives on college campuses, increasing parental choice in education, and ensuring our kids are taught to love our great country, heritage, history and founding principles.
2. Restoring freedom. The Legislature needs to look at how pandemics in the future should be handled from a constitutional standpoint, as well as ways to shrink the size and scope of government. We must return to the ideas of limited government and personal responsibility.
Rep. Gary Worthan, R-Storm Lake, District 11
1. Department of Public Safety budget. We are still short manpower in both the Highway Patrol and the Division of Criminal Investigation. We have been able to improve those numbers over the last several years, but there is still room for improvement.
2. Department of Corrections. The recidivism rate of those leaving our corrections system has been creeping up of late. While the primary focus of the DOC needs to remain the safety of the staff and inmates, it is also important that we improve the treatment and education of the inmates, so that they are ready to become productive citizens when they are released.
Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, District 17
1.Responsible budgeting. Our state budget is in great shape with a healthy surplus and full reserve accounts. In fact, the nonpartisan Council of State Governments ranked Iowa the top state in the country whose budget is prepared to withstand the challenges of COVID.
2. Second Amendment legislation. Another major priority will be enshrining protections for our Right to Keep and Bear Arms into Iowa’s Constitution. Iowa is one of only six states that does not already include these individual, fundamental rights in our constitution for law-abiding Iowans to defend themselves, their family and their property. Once we pass this constitutional amendment again this session, it will then go to Iowans to vote on in 2022.
Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison, District 18
1. Public safety concerns. There were peaceful protests in summer 2020 but there was also violent unrest. In light of the riots in Iowa, we need to do the following: Creating penalties, up to the felony level, when loss of life occurs and for obstructing roadways. There should be penalties for shining lasers into the eyes of law enforcement officers, and other initiatives to ensure that cities and counties enforce the law and protect their citizens.
2. Life Amendment. The Life Amendment would make the Iowa Constitution neutral on abortion and the legal authority for abortion in Iowa would be back where it has always been, with federal law and the Roe V Wade decision. We need to neutralize the Iowa Supreme ruling from a few years back. The Iowa Supreme Court, in striking down the 72 hour waiting period, created a fundamental right to abortion that simply did not exist in the Iowa Constitution.