Make the 2020 Iowa Legislative Session to find bipartisan solutions to the big problems Iowa faces.
The Iowa Capitol is seen in Des Moines on Thursday, December 19, 2019 (Andy Abeyta / The Gazette)
The 2022 Iowa legislative session opens Monday. And there is no reason the Republican-controlled House and Senate cannot pass bipartisan measures tackling important issues that could be applauded by all Iowans.
Yes, it is an election year. And, yes, we’ve been disappointed too many times to reckon with conflicting, flawed, and highly partisan legislation that has been passed by the Statehouse in recent years. No doubt we will be disappointed again. But we prefer to see our state government work responsibly for the benefit of the Iowans with an emphasis on the common good rather than partisan warfare.
Here are some questions on which we believe common ground can be found.
Workforce Development – Iowa suffers from a shortage of workers, hurting businesses of all sizes and hampering economic growth. A larger investment in Governor Kim Reynolds’ Future Ready Iowa initiative would be a starting point, while expanding opportunities for skills training and retraining. Public schools in Iowa are a good place to start preparing our future workforce, provided they are adequately funded. We should also position Iowa to attract talent. Addressing the lack of protections and benefits for workers, such as paid family leave, could help. Dropping anti-immigrant rhetoric and dropping petty bills targeting transgender people in Iowa would go a long way in making Iowa welcoming.
As part of the larger workforce shortage, school districts in Iowa are also facing a shortage of teachers and administrators. Using Future Ready Iowa to attract and train teachers could be a start, while giving districts more flexibility to embrace creative efforts to recruit and retain teaching talent. Lawmakers should resist efforts to punish teachers and staff for controversial library offerings and bills that would further micromanage the program.
Housing – The expansion of Iowa’s workforce will not happen if workers cannot find affordable housing. Reynolds announced that $ 100 million in federal COVID assistance will be injected into a series of existing housing initiatives. This is good news, but the Legislative Assembly, returning to a budget surplus of $ 2 billion, can find additional funds to do even more.
Child Care – Iowa needs hundreds of thousands of child care spaces to meet demand in a state that dominates the country for the number of parents working outside the home. In November, the Reynolds Child Care Task Force announced its recommendations and the governor is leading $ 200 million in federal assistance to help child care centers. These are good steps, but the legislature can do more not only to help business owners, but also to address wages, benefits and other issues causing a shortage of child care workers.
Mental health – Last year lawmakers dramatically changed the way Iowa’s regional mental health systems are funded, with the state taking over funding previously provided by property taxes. But the change came without a dramatic increase in funding to address significant gaps in the availability of services for Iowa residents in need of help. More dollars are needed to expand access to the service across the state. School districts, which face the same challenges with a lack of available services, also need additional resources and training to meet the needs of students and staff. A stream of public funding dedicated specifically to the mental health needs of schools would be a good start. Illinois recently decided to offer six days of mental health for students. Iowa could follow this example.
Fill the Fund – The constitutionally protected Iowa Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust has remained empty more than a decade after 63% of Iowa voters approved it. Raising the sales tax by three-eighths of a cent could provide up to $ 200 million for water quality improvement efforts, create new recreational opportunities, and inject much-needed dollars into the parks system chronically. underfunded from Iowa. Surplus dollars could also be used for environmental protection.
Community Development – State resources could initiate projects to create transformative places in communities across the state, improving the quality of life for residents, supporting Iowa businesses, and attracting visitors and dollars. they will spend locally.
Marijuana – Lawmakers should expand Iowa’s unduly restrictive medical cannabis program to cover more Iowans and provide better access to beneficial products. Decriminalizing passion for marijuana would be a positive step in addressing racial disparities in the Iowa criminal justice system. And with polls showing support for legal and recreational marijuana in Iowa, it’s time to start the conversation about what legalization in Iowa might look like.
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