From the Desk of Senator Bennett
It’s been a dramatic few weeks at the Capitol and the short version is this: Instead of directing the collective energy of the legislature toward issues like childcare, cleaning up our water, or extending healthcare coverage to more Iowans, much of the energy in the building has been devoted to bills to ban books, decrease child labor protections, and numerous bills targeting LGBTQ kids.
I have heard from many of you about these issues and I have visited with many of you when you came to the Capitol to speak at subcommittees. I’m proud to represent a district with so many engaged citizens.
You may have heard that on Wednesday, students across the state organized to articulate their opposition to these types of bills. Students from East High School in Des Moines marched to the Capitol to demonstrate and speak with legislators. I was impressed with how prepared they were and how committed they were to participating in our democracy. While most of these students can’t vote yet, the decisions made in the legislature profoundly impact their lives and their futures. We’re lucky to live in a country where they can make their voices heard.
Some of the East High School students asked to take a photo with legislators. This is only a small group-There were probably 200 kids.
We also had Community College Day on the Hill this week. Iowa Community Colleges play a crucial role in preparing Iowa’s students for careers. Whether students transfer to four-year institutions or complete career training programs at the community colleges, graduates are well-prepared by the quality programs offered. I love hands-on learning and had the chance to check out several programs offered. Check out these photos:
Kirkwood Community College Faculty, Mike Kubas, Justin Hoehn, and Dean, Kristy Black
Trying out the welding simulator with Kirkwood Instructor, Mike Kubas: I’m not gonna quit my day job.
I touched a pig lung, with the encouragement of Northeast Iowa Community College Respiratory Therapy instructor, Joe Pagura.
Meet My Clerk
I wanted to take a moment this week to pull back the curtain and introduce you to the secret of my success in the Senate: my clerk Michelle.
Originally from Chicago, Michelle has resided in Des Moines since 2018, having fallen in love with Iowa after temporarily relocating here in the months leading up to the 2016 caucuses. Having organized electorally and around issues that matter to her in 8 states over the past decade, she is happy to be back at our Capitol for her second year, doing the work for the adopted state she now calls home.
Clerks are essential to keeping things running in the Iowa Senate. Michelle helps with scheduling meetings, managing the correspondence I get from constituents like you, and generally keeping me organized and on task. Here in Iowa, our part-time legislature runs pretty lean, and the pace can get hectic. It’s safe to say I’d be lost without her.
Michelle personifies public service and the spirit of our citizen legislature. I’m so grateful for the long hours she puts in on my behalf and on yours.
- Funnel Week is here. This week was Funnel Week in the legislature – a key procedural deadline that helps decides which bills will advance and which are no longer eligible for debate. The funnel is always a hectic time in the Capitol, as lawmakers scramble to consider bills and protect their priorities. We’ll have more to say about the Funnel next week.
- Equal pay for equal work. All Senate Democrats signed on as co-sponsors to SF 396, a bill to address wage discrimination under the Iowa Civil Rights Act of 1965 and establish an equal pay taskforce. Making our state fairer for working women and their families is a top priority.
- Supporting pregnant workers. No pregnant mom should have to worry that she will be forced off the job or face workplace discrimination or retaliation. SF 435, cosponsored by several Senate Democrats, requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees based on pregnancy or childbirth.
- Repealing health. Here’s one important but overlooked piece of the Governor’s massive government reorganization bill: one line on page 911 repeals the State Board of Health. The board has operated since 1880 – early 150 years in which it has promoted high-quality public health across our state. Gov. Reynolds proposes folding the Board of Health’s duties into a new Health and Human Services Council, with one big catch: only one member of that new board must be a knowledgeable health professional. The Board of Health requires seven. This is part of the Reynolds’ attempt to centralize power with political appointees rather than professionals and community members.
- Relief for tenants. A bill allowing tenants to seal records concerning unfounded eviction actions and evictions that took place more than five years ago appears to be advancing in the Senate. Half of all eviction actions are withdrawn or unfounded, but they haunt people for years, making it much harder to access stable housing. I’m hopeful this bill will quickly become law.
- Slapping down SLAPPs. Iowa is inching closer to passing Anti-SLAPP legislation, an important tool for protecting whistleblowers and critics from retaliation by powerful corporations and billionaire ideologues. If you need a refresher on SLAPP suits, watch John Oliver’s colorful explanation. (Be beware his language can be a little salty.)
- Be a History Day judge. The State Historical Society of Iowa is looking for people to serve as District Contest judges. The National History Day in Iowa contest is part of a program that challenges junior high and high school students to become historians as they investigate primary sources, craft historical arguments, and create projects about historical topics they’re passionate about. If you’re interested in serving as a judge, simply select a contest near you and sign up. More information is available here.