Local legislators ready to get back to work
A preview of the 2022 session
DES MOINES — The last few sessions of the Iowa Legislature have ushered in a slew of changes to state law, and Marshall County’s delegation — Reps. Sue Cahill (D-Marshalltown) and Dean Fisher (R-Montour) and Sen. Jeff Edler (R-State Center) — are excited to keep up their work heading into 2022. In recent interviews, they shared their goals for the upcoming session, which begins on Monday, Jan. 10, and some general long-term priorities.
Cahill: I would love to see more collaboration and bipartisanship
As a member of the minority party (Republicans hold a 59-41 advantage in the House), Cahill knows that she’ll need bipartisan support on any legislation she hopes to see passed.
“That’s just a personal goal of mine, to see us work better for all Iowans so that we’re not just serving part of the people who voted for us. But we’re serving all of the people in our districts,” she said. “I know that will take work, cooperation and listening to try and come up with some common sense approaches to some of the issues we have in Iowa.”
With her background as a teacher in the Marshalltown Community School District (MCSD), Cahill, who represents all of the city of Marshalltown along with north-central and northeastern Marshall County, always keeps a close tab on legislation affecting education, and some of her key goals on that front include improving mental health for students and staff, retaining teachers and increasing early childhood options.
Drawing from her own experiences as a teacher-librarian, Cahill offered her thoughts on several hot-button educational issues such as proposed legislation that could lead to criminal charges against teachers or librarians who distribute books determined to be obscene and the ongoing spat over Critical Race Theory in schools.
According to Cahill, a process already exists allowing parents to challenge books deemed offensive or inappropriate, and she does not believe criminally charging educators would be productive or beneficial. She said it has been important to find reading materials from a wide variety of perspectives that reflect the cultural diversity of her own community, Marshalltown.
“I think that we need to appreciate the process in place, and I think that there’s a lot of noise about pornographic material and material that teachers and librarians would have criminal charges against them,” Cahill said. “I think that’s very inappropriate because there are procedures that we go through to make sure we have good literature. All literature doesn’t appeal to every person, and we have to be aware of that.”
Discussions about what to do with Iowa’s budget surplus have been ongoing over the last several months, and Cahill said she would like to see some benefits for working class individuals in the “middle to lower income” range along with a possible property tax freeze for seniors or Iowans who meet certain income guidelines.
As legislative Democrats have announced a plan to push for the legalization of marijuana in Iowa for recreational use, Cahill said she “isn’t opposed” to the idea, but her primary focus remains on expanding access to medical cannabis.
On COVID-19, Cahill is thankful for the widespread availability of vaccines and said she will continue to wear a mask at the Capitol, but she isn’t sure if her colleagues will follow her lead.
“I would hope that we can use some common sense, and we can find a way to meet the common good of people,” Cahill said.
During the 2022 session, Cahill will serve as the ranking Democratic member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
Fisher: Protect vaccine choice, stick to basics at schools
Fisher, who hails from western Tama County, will represent portions of Marshall County — the southeastern corner and most of the western half — for one last time in 2022 before redistricting shifts him into a new district after the next election.
Tax relief is a key priority for Fisher heading into the upcoming session, but he isn’t convinced that immediately eliminating the state income tax is the right move.
“I just don’t think it’s feasible at this point,” Fisher said. “(Do it) incrementally, and be cautious. There’s still some volatility in the economy and how things turn out. That’s going to be a big issue this session, I’m sure.”
As the Biden administration’s vaccine or testing mandate for employers with at least 100 workers is still tied up in court battles, Fisher said the House GOP is closely monitoring the situation and hopes to introduce more legislation protecting employees who could potentially lose their jobs over the mandate.
Overall, Fisher has been pleased with the state’s response to COVID, but he had harsh words for the federal government on the matter.
“There’s probably things the government can and should be doing. I’m just not convinced that the federal government is doing the right stuff,” he said. “I feel confident that Iowa is responding as best we can and doing it well. It’s the federal government that’s mucking it all up. I think the federal government needs to stand down with the mandates and let common sense and freedom rule.”
On education, Fisher said he’s “very frustrated” with public schools for believing it’s their job to teach students about LGBTQ issues, and he would rather kids learn about them in their homes.
“The schools need to focus on reading, writing and arithmetic — the basics that taxpayers believe they’re paying for — not all this other social justice stuff like Critical Race Theory and transgenderism and so forth,” he said. “We’re going to continue working on that. We did some legislation last year to try to deal with it. I’m sure there’ll be more this year, and that is a priority for me.”
In the agricultural realm, Fisher remains supportive of state and federal efforts to create more competition in the meatpacking industry and promote more equitable agreements for farmers. He also said he would support a law that allows employees to keep firearms in their cars regardless of employer policies.
Edler: Keep promoting growth in Iowa
For Edler, who was first elected in 2016, keeping Iowa growing is the top priority this year and every year, and he seeks to continue promoting a tax climate favorable to businesses both small and large.
“Whether you’re a sole proprietor or a corporation, you’re much more welcome in Iowa under the current tax climate, and we continue to push for that,” he said.
Edler said he supports a push to eliminate the state income tax if it can be done in a “responsible way” that ensures a functioning government is still funded.
After almost two years of canceled classes and remote or hybrid learning, Edler said it’s imperative to get students “caught up” and instill a sense of accountability in school districts across the state.
Citing a promise he made to a law enforcement officer, Edler still considers overhauling Iowa’s mental health system a top priority going forward.
“We’re making headway, but it is a very complex system given the acuity of need. We’re trying to figure out what we need to do differently to accommodate that,” he said.
Like Fisher, Edler is waiting for the Supreme Court to hear arguments on the Biden administration’s vaccine or testing mandate before making decisions specific to Iowa, but he called the mandate for private businesses “an absolute overreach of the federal government.”
“I just hope the Supreme Court makes the right decision and gives people the opportunity to choose whether or not they want to be vaccinated,” he said. “It’d be nice if the federal government would realize they don’t have this ability and walk it back because they are creating workforce issues.”
He cited conversations with business owners who told him that prospective employees have asked whether they would need to be vaccinated to work a job, and when they’re told they do, they’re no longer interested in the positions.
On the debate over which books should be taught and made available in schools, Edler said that if they can’t be shown on TV news due to possible Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fines, they shouldn’t be in school libraries.
As a farmer, Edler would like to continue to promote the use of 10 percent ethanol blend while respecting small filling stations without placing an “undue burden” on them, and he remains concerned about a California law that would increase the space requirements for farm animals and would affect meat shipped into the most populous state in the U.S. from top pork producing states like Iowa.
“It’s kind of frustrating when individuals who don’t even know about animals or about farms try to dictate how we raise them because we do what’s best for the animal, because it’s best for us,” Edler said. “It’s like a banker trying to do surgery.”