Senator Bennett’s January 27 Newsletter

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From the Desk of Senator Bennett

Greetings from the Capitol,

This week was a difficult week, as we kicked off Monday with a marathon session debating Governor Reynolds’ private school voucher bill. The House debated for several hours, and it was after midnight when we finally voted in the Senate. As most of you probably know, the bill has passed and has been signed by the Governor.

I received a large volume of emails from constituents on this issue, with the majority against the proposal. While I appreciate the role private schools can play as an educational option, I feel a responsibility to ensure a stable foundation for our public schools. As our public schools are still being denied the resources to reduce class sizes and bring more counselors into the schools, I could not support this bill and voted “No.” Interestingly, in both the House and the Senate, there were some Republicans who also voted “No,” likely because of the projected impact on rural schools.

Thank you to all who reached out. My clerk and I are still working to respond to everyone’s emails. I’m grateful to have such engaged constituents!

Quick Update on legislation impacting LGBTQIA Iowans and families: The good news is that the Gay and Trans Panic Defense Ban, which I originally wrote and worked across the aisle to pass twice during my time in the house has AGAIN passed out of a House subcommittee. Read more here.

HF8 and HF9: The so-called “Don’t Say Gay,” and “Tell if Trans,” bills are moving in the House. House. HF 8 is very similar to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which bans discussion of LGBTQ people or families in schools. HF 9 would create an unsafe environment for transgender, nonbinary, or questioning kids by requiring teachers or counselors to “tell on” them to their parents. This may not seem like a problem, but it would stop students from talking to trusted adults and can exacerbate youth suicide, abuse by adults in the home, and youth homelessness. Both of these bills have been assigned to subcommittees, but the subcommittees have not been scheduled.

One last update on an issue I’ve received many contacts about is HF 3, a GOP sponsored bill which would limit SNAP available foods to those eligible for WIC. The problem with this is that these two programs are designed to serve entirely different demographics of people. If enacted, this bill would ban SNAP recipients from purchasing American cheese, chili beans, baked beans, and refried beans, and would also ban purchase of fresh meats, allowing only canned meats.

In my opinion, this was not well-thought-out and reveals a cavalier and punitive attitude toward those Iowans who need a little bit of help. The health consequences of allowing only canned meats which are typically higher in sodium should be noted, The bill would also cut assistance to households owning two cars, which is hard to understand, given that a two-adult household with multiple jobs would have a hard time coordinating work schedules, doctor’s visits, child school schedules, etc. to work with only one car. In a 2-1 vote, the subcommittee did recommend passage on Thursday. To voice your concern over this bill, I recommend contacting the members of the House Health and Human Services committee. Their names and emails can be found at this link.

Here is an update on a community matter outside of the legislature: Many constituents have continued to reach out to me regarding the stabbing and death of Devonna Walker. I have been notified that multiple community organizations have joined together to hold a town hall meeting regarding this situation. More information is available on Facebook.

What Can the Iowa Senate Do for You?

As the legislative session gets underway, it’s essential to know what issues are on your mind, and what you want to see lawmakers working on this year.

Please take this quick survey to share your priorities and let me know how I can speak up for you in the Iowa state Capitol.

Quick Updates

Vouchers are a done deal. Gov. Kim Reynolds and statehouse Republicans rammed their private school vouchers bill through the legislature this week, using an unprecedented array of political maneuvers and parliamentary tricks to pass it into law as quickly as possible.

  • In the House, Republican leaders created an entirely new committee to consider voucher legislation, shutting many of their own members out of the discussion, and then tweaked the rules to dodge any scrutiny into the financial implications of the plan.
  • In the Senate, the GOP used a legislative trick to block any amendments to the bill – from Democrats or Republicans – that could’ve been offered to make it less harmful to public schools and rural communities.
  • The governor welcomed national school voucher lobbyists to the Capitol late Monday night for the bill’s final passage, and then rushed to sign it into law less than 12 hours later.

The final Senate vote was 31 to 18, with three Republicans joining 15 Democrats in opposition. Now, private school vouchers are the law of the land, beginning an unprecedented diversion of taxpayer dollars to exclusive private schools.

The plan is projected to pay private school tuition for 41,687 Iowa students at a cost of $341 million a year once fully phased in – while slashing funding to public schools by $46 million per year.

  • Senate Dems support family leave. Last week, every Senate Democrat signed on as cosponsor to SF 95, a bill establishing paid family leave for Iowa’s working families. Senate Democrats’ number one priority is supporting working families, lowering costs, and creating opportunity, and paid leave is essential to accomplishing those goals.
  • License to Kale. The Senate Local Government Committee advanced a bill to open up farmers markets vendor licenses on a statewide basis. That means your favorite stand could have an easier time covering multiple locations this summer.
  • Cold Cases at DPS. The Senate held a hearing this week on the creation of a cold case investigation unit in the Department of Public Safety. Solving cold cases give closure to victims and is a huge morale boost for a police force.
  • Don’t device & drive. A bill banning handheld devices while driving advanced in the Senate Transportation Committee this week. SF 60 is aimed at keeping Iowa’s roadways safe by preventing distracted driving. Under the bill, using a device while driving would be a moving violation subject to a $100 fine and could lead to a suspension of your license.
  • Insulin relief is on the way. Medicare beneficiaries who need insulin will see tremendous relief with the implementation of price caps included the federal Inflation Reduction Act. That’s great news for Iowa, which currently faces the second-highest out-of-pocket insulin costs in the nation. Check out this report on the Rx benefits of the Inflation Reduction Act.

This Week in the Capitol

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