Senate Dem Leader’s opening day remarks

Thank you, President Schneider.

Welcome back to the Iowa Senate and the start of the 2020 Legislative Session.

A warm welcome to our returning Senators and staff and a special welcome to our new pages, clerks, staff and news media.

I hope you enjoyed being home in your districts during the interim.

I am fortunate that most of my family lives in Iowa and we get to spend the holidays together. For Christmas, my mom wrapped up a few records from my sister Barb and my 1980s and ‘70s record collections and gave them to my husband who is an avid vinyl collector. One of them was a “Mister Rogers” album.

While the last episode of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” aired in 2001, nearly twenty years ago, Fred Rogers nostalgia seems to be everywhere. So much so, that my 15-year-old daughter asked me this fall why Mr. Rogers has become so popular again.

I told her I believe Mr. Rogers popularity has resurged because people are longing for kindness and a sense of connection in our world.

As author and podcast creator Carvel Wallace put it: “In a time like this, Fred Rogers has something that we desperately need.”

“Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” was created especially for kids, but it also sent a message to adults about making our neighborhoods, communities and nation better places to live.

Mr. Rogers famously told this story: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’

In that spirit, I’m asking today that we strive to be the new helpers focused on working together to build a healthier, happier, safer and stronger Iowa neighborhood for our parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren and our friends.

What’s that mean for the Iowa Legislature and Governor this year?

First, it means state leaders must lead by example. It is time to start sending a message that Iowa will once again be a friendly, inclusive state for everyone. Iowans shouldn’t have to worry that their human and civil rights are on the line when the Legislature is in session.

We have a responsibility to deliver kindness and care to people who don’t look like us, people who have less money than us, people who don’t share our interests or our political views, and people who haven’t had the opportunities we have received. As leaders, we can foster the idea that our state, our communities and our neighborhoods are safe places where very diverse people can live together.

We have great examples of Iowans who have delivered that message.

Iowa State University graduate Carrie Chapman Catt played an important role in securing women’s right to vote in the United States. Our state and country is stronger because women have the right to vote. As we approach the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, let’s push for policies that expand voting rights and advance women’s rights.

A native of Cresco, Iowa, Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize for a lifetime of work to feed a hungry world and to prevent famine and misery in Asia and Central America. His legacy was the inspiration for the Iowa-based World Food Prize, which recognizes the achievements of individuals who are improving the world food supply. This prize continues to make our world safer and brings some of the best and brightest young people to our neighborhood.

Governor Bob Ray spread hope and kindness when he welcomed thousands of refugees from Southeast Asia in the 1970s. It was a humanitarian effort that made our state better. When Governor Ray died in 2018, here is how Iowa’s beloved leader was remembered: “He was a hero in our eyes because he had the courage and the commitment to do what he felt was truly honorable, and the right thing to do to save thousands of lives.” Today, Iowa neighborhoods are stronger because of the Southeast Asian refugees and other new Iowans.

Senator Tom Harkin used the power of public office to advance the rights of Americans with disabilities. He’s continuing that important work as a citizen now, with The Harkin Institute, headquartered in Iowa.

The grit and persistence of Peggy Whitson, the first woman to command the International Space Station, make her a role model for young women everywhere. Did you know she applied to be an astronaut 10 times before finally getting selected? A native of Mt. Ayr, Iowa, Whitson now holds the record for spending more time in outer space than any other American: 665 days.

And the late Chief Justice Cady and the Iowa Supreme Court sent a positive signal to the world 10 years ago about the importance of equal protection under the law when it unanimously ruled in favor of marriage equality in the Varnum decision. The decision continued Iowa’s long tradition as a leader for equality.

We have a chance this year in the Iowa Legislature to send more positive signals to our children that we want them to stay in Iowa after graduation. We can build safe, caring and vibrant neighborhoods for people of all ages by working together to get the job done.

So, what’s that neighborhood look like?

  • It has friendly workplaces. Iowans deserve policies that will help them win at work and at home – like paid family leave, equal pay for equal work, and access to safe, high-quality, affordable child care in every community. While Iowa unemployment may be low, too many Iowans are still underpaid. Let’s raise the minimum wage and end welfare practices that prop up low-wage employers who trap Iowans in chronic poverty. Let’s ensure Iowans are safe on the job by restoring workers’ rights and expanding protections against workplace discrimination and harassment.
  • Let’s make Iowa a safer place to have a baby for parents-to-be. Iowa’s maternal health system is in crisis. We are expecting to  see the 35th labor and delivery unit close in our state and maternal mortality has more than doubled in the past three years. This        is a crisis that we can no longer ignore. We are just seeing          the tip of the iceberg. Family planning also needs attention. The Reynolds Administration recently released data that shows Iowa’s new family planning program is failing with an 85 percent  decrease in participation and increase in sexually transmitted infections since it began in 2017.
  • Let’s help Iowans get a second chance. This includes immediately restoring voting rights to Iowans leaving prison and returning to their communities, as well as ensuring people in prison get job training, education, and skills they need to reenter society. And let’s ignore the call by some to impose a poll tax on returning citizens who want to vote in the next election.
  • Let’s expand health care and mental health services, and ensure stable, substantial funding for adult and children’s mental health services. And let’s protect our children from the dangers of vaping!
  • Let’s pass a meaningful medical cannabis laws that actually helps Iowans with chronic pain and debilitating diseases. Governor Reynolds, thousands of Iowans are counting on you to provide direction so this can be one of the first issues we tackle this year.
  • Let’s protect human and civil rights. It is time to impose a ban on conversion fraud, a discredited and dangerous practice, and quit putting politicians in charge of the reproductive rights of women. Discrimination deserves no place in the Iowa Constitution.
  • Let’s improve democracy by restoring checks and balances in government. Privatizing oversight of senior programs, relying on the federal government to investigate crime in our DHS facilities, blocking amendments from being debated, back room deals, and ignoring calls for Government Oversight to meet are all unacceptable measures. President Schneider and Senator Whitver, Iowans deserve clean government.
  • Let’s clean up Iowa’s water and increase cultural and recreational opportunities, especially in our small towns and rural areas.

Instead of more closed-door meetings, let’s invite everyone to the table to talk about how best to clean up Iowa’s water.

  • Let’s get the Iowa economy working for everyone. Iowans don’t win when tax cuts go to out-of-state corporate giants and the wealthy and program cuts go to our public schools and health care services. Our budget should put Iowans first – investing in          our K12 public schools, apprenticeships and job-training programs at a rate higher than inflation.
  • Let’s protect our children so that Iowa kids can be kids. Iowa shouldn’t be a safe place for sexual predators. Let’s pass meaningful legislation to remove Iowa’s criminal and civil statute of limitations and give adult survivors a chance to seek justice. Let’s also give the Attorney General expanded powers to go after sexual predators and organizations that cover up crimes.
  • Let’s redouble our efforts to expand the rights for residents of manufactured homes. Even though they own their homes, these residents have fewer rights than renters and they are facing outrageous rate hikes from predatory, out-of-state landlords.

As Fred Rogers once said: “If you look for the helpers, you’ll know that there’s hope.”

Let’s put the power of kindness to work in this place so our children, our grandchildren and all Iowans see that the Iowa Legislature is comprised of helpers who want to make our state a welcoming, friendly neighborhood again for everyone.

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