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The Legislature convened on Monday, January 15, with new COVID-19 protocols controlling access in the Capitol. The opening of the General Assembly began with remarks by leaders in both chambers and joint conventions for the Condition of the State speech by Governor Reynolds, the Condition of the Judiciary by Chief Justice Christensen, and the Condition of the Guard speech by Major General Benjamin Correll.
Iowa Legislative Branch Update
Among other priorities, majority leaders in both chambers emphasized the need for continued disciplined budgeting practices. Senate Majority Leader Whitver and Senate President Champan included remarks about improving Iowa’s tax climate and protecting K-12 education. President Chapman also mentioned that the legislature must propose an amendment to the Iowa Constitution that states there is no right to an abortion. House Speaker Grassley and House Majority Leader Windschitl also discussed the necessity to lower taxes and addressed the childcare crisis in Iowa. Majority Leader Windschitl also mentioned the protection of the unborn as well as the protection of rights under the Second Amendment.
Minority Leader remarks in both chambers were largely related to making pandemic recovery and investment in public health a priority.
Specifically, Senate Minority Leader Wahls called for the development of an independent and nonpartisan COVID Commission to investigate the state’s COVID response. House Minority Leader Prichard also took the opportunity to denounce the disturbance at the nation’s capital and the actions that threaten our democracy.
The full text of each address is linked below:
Iowa Executive Branch Update
Governor Reynolds delivered the Condition of the State speech on Tuesday, January 12, at 6:00 p.m., breaking with the normal tradition of a morning joint convention. Governor Reynolds opened by addressing the challenges of 2020 – COVID-19, civil unrest, a drought, a derecho and she commended Iowans and their response to the challenges of 2020.
- Increasing spending by 3.7% in FY2022 to $8.079 billion and by 2.3% in FY2023 to $8.275 billion (FY2022 increase includes the increased federal spending for Medicaid in the state)
- Increasing mental health funding by $15 million over the next two years
- Increasing school spending by 2.5% ($27 million) in 2022-2023 and by $143 million in 2023-2024 (additional $20 million for pandemic aid)
- Requiring schools to return to in-person learning and giving parents the option to send their children to districts with in-person school
- Removing triggers for tax cuts in the 2018 legislation and allowing tax changes to take effect in 2023
- Expanding broadband access with $150 million in funding over the next three years
- Doubling the affordable housing tax credit to $50 million
- Making work-based learning available to all Iowa students
- Increasing funding to make childcare more affordable and available
- Addressing police safety and racial profiling with legislation to create protections for police and improve data collection on arrests
- Introducing an amendment to restore voting rights of felons
Other significant Executive Branch developments:
- Governor Reynolds set a goal to have 70% of Iowans in the workforce with education and training beyond high school by 2025. The Iowa Employer Grant Program with $1.2 million in grants is now available through two grant programs from Iowa Future Ready.
The Iowa Employer Innovation Grant fund will help Iowans earn post-secondary degrees. Employers, non-profits, and schools can receive grants up to $50,000 to help design programs with services such as childcare, transportation, books, and internet to help students.
The Child Care Challenge Fund allows employers, non-profits, and schools to receive grants up to $100,000 to help build new childcare facilities and rehab or repurpose older facilities and structures for use as childcare facilities.
- Department of Management (DOM) Dave Roederer will retire on January 31, 2021. Roederer has served as the Director of DOM since 2011 and has served in state government for 38 years.
- Governor Reynolds appointed Adam Steen as the new Director of the Department of Administrative Services (DAS). Steen is currently Director of Business Development at Syverson Strege and replaces resigning Director Jim Kurtenbach.
Iowa Judicial Branch Update
On Friday, January 8, the justices on the Iowa Supreme Court selected Justice Susan Christensen to continue serving as the Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court. The Chief Justice is now selected for a two-year term after the legislature made changes to the selection of judges and other related matters. Christensen was first selected as Chief Justice following the retirement of Acting Chief Justice Wiggins in February 2020.
On Wednesday, January 13, Chief Justice Christensen delivered the 2021 Condition of the Judiciary to a joint convention of the General Assembly. The speech covered access to justice during a pandemic, expansion of implicit bias training, and highlighted two of the Chief’s priorities: helping Iowa children remain with their families and elevating Family Treatment Courts.
Published along with the address was the Iowa Judicial Branch 2020 Annual Report—a comprehensive report about the courts, their response efforts/orders during the pandemic, an overview of Iowa specialty courts, court innovation, access to justice, and caseload numbers.
Former State Senator Miller-Meeks resigned her seat in Iowa Senate District 41 after being seated in the U.S. Congress earlier this month. Congresswoman Miller-Meeks won the race for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District over Rita Hart by six votes; Hart remains committed to contesting the election in the U.S. House. Governor Reynolds has set a special election for Senate District 41 for Tuesday, January 26. Republicans have selected Adrian Dickey to run and Democrats have selected Mary Stewart to run. Stewart lost the race for the Senate in 2018 to Miller-Meeks.
Bill introductions were voluminous this week, with over 130 bills introduced in the Senate and nearly 170 bills introduced in the House.
The House began committee work, holding a number of subcommittee meetings on Wednesday and Thursday. Subcommittees can be attended in-person or online. The Senate held one subcommittee this week on SSB1004, an act that would reinstate the death penalty for capital murder.
Neither chamber will meet on Monday, January 18, in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Regular session will resume Tuesday, though both chambers gaveled-in Friday to read in bills.