During my address on the opening day of this session, I expressed hope the Senate would govern wisely and take action to make life better on the bread-and-butter issues that Iowans face every day.
I noted that – in recent years – the Legislature has worked together in a bipartisan manner on policies that were designed to:
- Create jobs and broaden economic prosperity across our state.
- Create more educational opportunities for Iowans.
- Expand access to health care and make it more affordable.
- Improve public safety for families, neighborhoods and communities.
- Help safeguard our people and our property from disasters.
With that in mind, I pledged on the first day of the session that Senate Democrats would focus on real solutions to real problems.
I specifically cited six real problems that need to be addressed:
First, the increase in deadly Iowa traffic accidents.
Second, the Medicaid managed care mess that is failing Iowa patients and families, failing Iowa providers, and failing Iowa taxpayers.
Third, the lack of pension and retirement security for too many Iowans.
Fourth, the statewide problem of impaired waters.
Fifth, the loss of population in over 70 counties and its impact on local schools.
Sixth, the problem of stagnant wages paid to Iowa workers.
So how did the Legislature do on these six key problems facing Iowa?
On traffic safety, Democrats joined with Republicans to pass Senate File 234 to address texting while driving and Senate File 444 to increase penalties when texting causes an accident that seriously injures or kills someone.
That same legislation will also help reduce drunken driving fatalities and other drug and alcohol-related problems by establishing the 24/7 Sobriety program in counties that want to try it. This is probably the best news of this legislative session.
Unfortunately, this body did not take up Senate File 450 to address bicycle safety, and we have much, much more to do for better driver’s education and traffic safety to save lives.
On the Medicaid managed care mess, the Republican majority did not take any action to fix the problem. The Republican majority failed to take up bills Democrats proposed to improve the system, and even blocked a vote on an amendment just to study ways to improve managed care.
To make matters worse, the human services budget (House File 653) slashed funding for hospital reimbursements, slashed funding for child abuse investigations through the field offices, and made further cuts to our mental health system that is already in crisis.
On retirement security, the Republican majority did not take any action to improve retirement security. None. The only good news is that no action was taken on a Republican proposal, Senate File 45, to end the retirement system for peace officers, fire fighters, teachers, and other public employees.
On water quality, the Legislature was much more talk than action. In fact, the Ag and DNR budget (Senate File 510) reduces funding for REAP, CRP, and other water quality programs and would eliminate the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, which Governor Branstad established at Iowa State University in 1987. I still hope that Governor Branstad will exercise his veto pen and save the Leopold Center.
On the declining population in over 70 counties in Iowa, the Republican majority did not enact any positive vision for revitalization in our counties and small towns.
Instead, the Republican majority provided inadequate funding for our schools – again (Senate File 166) – along with cuts to our community colleges (Senate File 130), cuts to the REAP program (Senate File 510), and cuts to our hospitals (House File 653).
These cuts do nothing to reverse the decline in population and revitalize our communities across our state. We should be investing in our natural resources, our schools, and access to health care across our state to reverse declining population and stop school consolidations and closures.
On stagnant wages, the Republican majority failed to make progress, despite the promise of Governor Branstad and Lt. Gov. Reynolds to raise family incomes. In fact, the Republican majority voted for House File 295 – which was signed by Governor Branstad – to cut the wages of 85,000 hard-working Iowans in counties that had already moved forward to raise the minimum wage.
There were other bills that undermine wages and family incomes in our state. The Republican majority voted for Senate File 130 and House File 642 to slash education funding for our community colleges and our universities. The Republican majority voted for House File 518 to create barriers and cut workers compensation for injured and disabled workers.
The Republican majority also voted for House File 203 to circumvent “prevailing wage” and “Buy American” requirements for road projects. The Republican majority voted for Senate File 438 to prevent local governments from considering wages and health and safety qualifications when seeking bids for construction projects.
All of this legislation will make the problem of stagnant wages worse, not better. And dealing with the problem of stagnant wages is the key to creating a future with broad prosperity and more opportunity for all Iowans.
Dealing with stagnant wages with solutions to raise wages and grow family incomes is also the key to our budget. After more than six years under Governor Branstad and Lt. Gov. Reynolds, Iowa’s budget is a mess – not because of a national or global recession, but because of bad budgeting decisions by the Branstad-Reynolds Administration and their failure to grow our economy and family incomes as they promised.
Unfortunately, rather than deal with these real problems, the Republican majority made a decision to pursue the fake problems I warned about on opening day – like the “fake” problem of collective bargaining, the “fake” problem of Planned Parenthood funding, and the “fake” problem of “fake” people casting votes.
The bad news for Iowans is that the Republican majority dedicated this session to addressing these fake problems, with an anti-worker, anti-women, anti-family agenda that hurts Iowans.
The Republican majority attacked the “fake” problem of collective bargaining by taking away workers’ rights and reducing wages and benefits (House File 291), hurting 184,000 Iowa families and communities across our state.
he Republican majority attacked the “fake” problem of Planned Parenthood funding (House File 653), costing the state $3 million in federal family planning dollars and making it harder for Iowans across the state to access preventive health care services.
The Republican majority attacked the “fake” problem of “fake” people casting votes (House File 516), by weakening the voting rights of Iowans, by making it more difficult for all Iowans to vote, especially elderly and disabled Iowans, poor people and minorities who do not own or drive a car, and college students who won’t have the required identification.
I believe the intent of House File 516 was to limit participation, which is fundamentally contrary to the ideals of our state and our country.
But I also believe that because of the attacks on workers, women, families, students, minorities, and all voters, we are already seeing the greatest re-awakening of democracy that Iowa has ever seen.
As I said in my opening day speech, the solution to our problems is not less participation, it is more participation.
So today I ask again – as I asked when this legislative session opened on January 9 – to everyone in this chamber and to those listening or watching the proceedings online – let’s join together with a renewed sense of citizenship, to sit at our table of democracy, to participate, to reach out, to listen, to speak up, and to serve, so that together we can build a safer and healthier future, with broad prosperity and more opportunity, for all Iowans.
Thank you, Mr. President.