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The 2021 session of the 89th General Assembly began today, Monday, January 11.
Legislative Branch Development
The Makeup of the 89th General Assembly
Republicans maintain their majority in both chambers. House Republicans picked up six seats in the November election, increasing their majority to 59 Republicans to 41 Democrats. The Senate currently sits at 31 Republicans to 18 Democrats due to the resignation of former State Senator Miller-Meeks who was sworn into Congress to represent Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District last week. Governor Reynolds has set a special election for Senate District 41 for January 26. Note: Miller-Meeks won the race over Rita Hart by six votes; Hart is contesting the election in the U.S. House, but Miller-Meeks has been seated.
Due to the retirement of former Senate President Schneider, Senate Republicans elected new leadership this interim. Senator Jake Chapman of Adel will serve as the Senate President for the 89th General Assembly and Senator Brad Zaun of Urbandale will serve as the Senate President Pro tempore.
Senator Janet Petersen has stepped down from her position serving as Minority Leader in the Senate. Petersen was the first woman to lead the Iowa Senate Democratic caucus. Senator Zach Wahls of Coralville was chosen by his caucus to serve as the new Minority Leader. He is in his first term and is the youngest lawmaker to lead the Senate Democrats.
A number of new assistant majority and minority leaders were also selected in both chambers:
House Republicans (Assistant Majority Leaders):
- Holly Brink
- Jon Thorup
Senate Republicans (Assistant Majority Leaders):
- Chris Cournoyer
- Carrie Koelker
- Mark Lofgren
- Zach Whiting
House Democrats (Assistant Minority Leader):
- Jennifer Konfrost
New Committee Chairs
Retirements, congressional elections, and leadership changes prompted numerous committee changes. New committee chairs were installed on several committees as well as a shuffling of committee members. The Iowa Legislature website lists full committee membership assignments.
Note: The Information Technology Committee is newly formed in the Iowa House focusing on state technology infrastructure, cybersecurity, and broadband issues. The Senate did not create a similar committee.
State Budget Outlook
A slow revenue increase is anticipated as the economy gradually emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic recession. Even still, current Iowa leadership has remarked that past budgeting practices have left the state in good financial shape to deal with the impact of the pandemic. Speaker Grassley said that it would be a bad budgeting practice to use the emergency funds for COVID-19 relief, but that the ending balance could be used for one-time expenses.
Major Topics for 2021
Caucuses have set priorities for 2021 in their leadership addresses. Full texts of each address will be included in the next weekly update. At this time, we expect the 2021 session to include COVID relief, economic recovery, tax reform, education reform, police reform, medical malpractice reform, funding for mental health, and childcare assistance.
Governor Reynolds said will not re-introduce her “Invest in Iowa” Act this session, which included proposals to shift taxes and to shift spending for mental health services to the state.
2021 is a redistricting year for the Legislature, and legislators will need to approve a new redistricting map drawn by the non-partisan redistricting commission. Iowa has used a non-partisan commission since the redistricting after the 1980 census and has approved a first or second map each time, without amendment. By law, legislators cannot offer amendments to the first two proposed maps but can offer amendments on a third map. Speaker Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Whitver both said that Iowa has an excellent redistricting process that does not need to be changed but said that they could not commit to agreeing to not offer amendments to a third map in advance of seeing such a map.
With many K-12 schools going online due to surging COVID-19 cases, addressing the lack of broadband Internet in many rural areas will be a top priority. Gov. Reynolds’ administration has undertaken ambitious plans to make broadband more accessible and has directed a large share of federal COVID-19 relief dollars toward bolstering broadband access.
Policymakers are pushing to allow additional types of medical professionals, including dentists and pharmacy personnel, to administer vaccines when a long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine rolls out. Discussions surrounding telehealth also are likely to continue into the 2021 session as lawmakers look to facilitate better access to health care. Like many rural states, Iowa suffers from a shortage of healthcare providers in some regions.
Iowa’s low unemployment rate, even in the face of the pandemic, means the state will continue to find ways to train workers to fill available jobs. To meet growing employer needs, Gov. Reynolds and lawmakers are expected to expand their marquee workforce initiative, Future Ready Iowa. The program provides scholarships and apprenticeship training geared toward specific positions. Legislative leaders also have pledged to reform childcare assistance programs that serve low-income workers so that parents don’t lose benefits if their wages increase.
Gov. Reynolds, who has supported a one-cent increase in the state sales tax, will likely face an uphill battle this year because of the focus on pandemic recovery. The tax increase would fund natural resources, water quality, and outdoor recreation initiatives, as well as provide property tax relief. However, tax cuts remain on the table. GOP legislative leaders have expressed interest in finally implementing income tax cuts passed in 2018 as the state continues its economic recovery.
The 2021 Iowa Legislative session is slated for 110 days: