State leaders talk 2019 session priorities

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during The Associated Press' annual Iowa legislative seminar as Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg, left, looks on, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019, at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Gov. Kim Reynolds and Iowa legislative leaders shared their priorities for the upcoming legislative session at the Iowa Capitol Building Thursday morning.

The leaders gathered for a forum hosted by the Iowa Associated Press. Lawmakers said they learned a lot about what Iowans want as they knocked doors on the campaign trail last year.

“What we heard from Iowans is that they care very much, it’s a priority for them with health care,” said Iowa House Speaker Rep. Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake. “The other thing we’ve heard about is taxes.”

She said many voters appreciated the Republican-led income tax reform in 2018, but still had questions about increasing property taxes.

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Sen. Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, agreed that voters liked the changes that have been made since Republicans took complete control of the state government in 2016.

“I’ve asked our caucus to continue to challenge the status quo and continue reforms that help Iowans,” he said. “That’s really, in general, what we want to continue … just because it’s been done a certain way for 20 or 30 or 40 years doesn’t mean it needs to be done that way for the next 20 or 30 or 40 years.”

Whitver said he wants to “try to reduce the tax burden on hard-working Iowans” this session, while also “looking at property taxes.”

Democratic leaders also weighed in on the discussion.

“Like Speaker Upmeyer and Sen. Whitver said, we’ve heard a lot from Iowans about their concerns about health care and education and mental health and the workforce,” said Senate Minority Leader Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines. “Those will be many of the issues Democrats will be working hard on in the upcoming session.”

She said Democrats will work to bui but added “if we continue to see Iowans shoved to the back of the line, putting … out-of-state corporations like the MCOs (managed care organizations) first and millionaires first, we will be loud and fierce in our opposition.”

House Minority Leader Rep. Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, agreed that Democrats will try to work across the aisle on several issues.

“Democrats in the House will be focused on really two key priorities. They will be health care and education,” he said.

Prichard said education funding has been “lacking” from Republican leadership in recent years and said more funding to education would help the state’s workforce.

One subject touched on by all four lawmakers was the Future Ready Iowa Act passed into state law last year. The programs in that law will need funding from the legislature this year.

Future Ready Iowa is meant to fill Iowa’s workforce needs and help citizens access higher education and training. One major workforce developer is the state’s community college system.

“Our regent universities and community colleges create a skilled workforce,” Prichard said. “If we’re not making investments to have these programs available … we are undermining Iowa’s economy.”

He said student debt is a major problem for young people looking to enter the workforce.

“Last year, three out of four people who applied for the community college Kibbey Grants were denied,” Petersen said. “When you deny them a grant, you deny them the opportunity to get ahead in life.”

She said education funding should be a priority for lawmakers and the governor in 2019.

“One of the things I think we have to remember about community colleges is that they have an open-door policy,” Upmeyer said. “So, we have to make sure that they have the ability to help the very neediest. That is a great opportunity for people who want lower-cost opportunities, not to build such a large student debt.”

Whitver said the community colleges’ role in workforce training is only going to increase in coming years. He said he supports informing high school juniors and seniors about the career opportunities in Iowa, what amount of debt students may face, and the salaries available at different jobs.

A word from the governor

Reynolds, who is coming out of 2018 as Iowa’s first elected female governor, focused on last session’s accomplishments Thursday.

“We passed the largest tax cut in the history of our state. We did that while being fiscally responsible and honoring our priorities,” she said. “With bipartisan support, we passed a water quality bill that put in place a dedicated, growing and long-term funding for water quality.”

She also touted the Future Ready Iowa Act and called for that law to get funding this year.

“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” Reynolds said.

She said she wants to see bipartisan work done in 2019 in areas like health care and mental health care, fixing Iowa’s privatized Medicaid system, criminal justice reform and more.

Reynolds is set to give the traditional “Condition of the State” address to the combined members of the Iowa House and Senate Tuesday after the session kicks off Monday.

In that address, Reynolds is expected to go over her priorities for the session.

For more information and to keep up with state legislation, visit https://www.legis.iowa.gov/

Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com