From the Desk of Senator Bennett
It’s been a wild few weeks at the Capitol. In addition to the numerous anti-LGBTQ bills I’ve been fighting, I also attempted to make a key change to the Governor’s governmental reorganization bill, which on the whole, consolidates a lot of power into the hands of the governor (and thus, political donors.) There have also been a few GOOD things, which I’ll detail below.
There were many concerning pieces in the Government reorganization bill, and one in particular concerned changes to the Office of the Consumer Advocate (OCA.) Currently, the Office of the Consumer Advocate argues on behalf of Iowans in complicated cases before the Iowa Utilities Board. The head of this department is appointed for four years purposefully to allow the Advocate to operate independently from pressure caused by utilities/campaign donors or from fear or losing their job.
In 2019, Alliant Energy proposed a $203.6 million rate increase. The OCA successfully argued and this increase was cut in half, saving Iowans millions of dollars every year. Once this bill passes the House and is signed by the Governor, the OCA will become an at-will position, stripping away their ability to advocate for consumers. I argued against this on the Senate floor and offered an amendment. While the amendment did not pass, I believe it was important to fight on the behalf of Iowans. Read more here.
A Few Good Things
Help for Student Robotics Teams: SF 398 allows robotics teams to be classified as Career and Technical Student Organizations, thus allowing for different types of funding. This will make participation more accessible to more students and that’s great! Robotics teams foster creativity and technical learning, and also offer the opportunity for students who may not be as athletic to participate in team sports. I was happy to support this bill in subcommittee, full committee, and on the Senate floor.
Improving Access to Contraception: SF 326 started as a good bill allowing pharmacists to order and administer EpiPens to individuals over the age of 18. I supported amendment S-3068 which allows pharmacists to order and administer hormonal birth control including oral contraceptives, vaginal rings, or hormonal patches. The bill specifies that it excludes any medication intended to cause abortion. I was happy to support this bill as amended to give people more control over their reproductive health.
Cracking down on Electronic Stalking: SF201 This makes stalking using a GPS or other electronic device a Class C Felony. I supported this bill in subcommittee, committee, and on the Senate floor. Electronic stalking, often using Apple AirTags, has become an issue nationwide, and there have been several cases in Iowa (read more here and here.) In one high-profile, particularly egregious case, two Des Moines restaurant owners teamed up to stalk women. Even after being charged and arrested, Steve McFadden (Owner of Grumpy Goat and Tipsy Cow in Des Moines) broke a no-contact order and contacted an ex-girlfriend. Stalking behavior is intended to exert control and cause fear in victims and this behavior often escalates. If you are concerned that you or someone you love may be a victim of stalking via AirTag, here is a helpful article showing how to scan and check for the presence of an AirTag.
Visit Your State Capitol!
One of the best things about being a senator is meeting constituents who visit the Capitol and stop by the Senate to say hi.
This week, I had the pleasure of meeting Kristi Kasper, and kiddos Lucy and Lennon.
Every day that we’re in session, the Capitol is full of visitors: organizations holding lobby days, school groups on class trips, sightseeing families, and tourists just passing through. All are welcome, and every one is a welcome reminder of the people and places we represent.
I’d love to see you at the Capitol! Here are a few tips if you’re planning a trip to the Golden Dome.
When to come: The Iowa State Capitol is open year-round 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. But if you want to meet your legislators and see the Legislature in action, you’ll need to plan ahead. The House and Senate are typically in session Monday through Thursday from January through late April or early May – that’s when the action is happening, and the best chance you have to see your government up close.
Take a tour: Our Capitol is a beautiful place, brimming with art and history. The Capitol’s wonderful guides lead tours multiple times a day (always on the half-hour), and provide numerous options for self-guided audio and video tours. More information is available here. To schedule a tour for 10 or more people, click here.
Watch a debate: If you happen to visit on a day the Senate is debating legislation, you can watch the discussion and tally the votes live and in person from the third-floor galleries overlooking the chamber.
Meet me in the rotunda: Come say hi! You can always ask to meet a senator while we’re in session. Outside the Senate chamber in the second-floor rotunda, you’ll find a pad of “pink slips” where you can write a message and provide your contact information. Hand your pink slip to the Sergeant at Arms or a page at the Senate door and he’ll hand-deliver it to the senator on the floor. When there’s a break in the action, we’ll come out to say hello, hear your concerns and pose for a photo.
Let’s make a plan: If you’re going on a visit to the Capitol – especially with a group – please reach out and let me know in advance. If we know you’re coming, we can set aside time to meet and even formally recognize you from the Senate floor.
- Local Business Grant Award. Feed Iowa First of Cedar Rapids recently received a $3,000 Choose Iowa grant from the Iowa Department of Agriculture to purchase a hoop house and small grain mill processing equipment for culturally relevant foods and tender greens.
- New investments in Cedar Rapids. The state announced a new round of federal aid for quality-of-life projects, including awards in our community:
- The African American Museum of Iowa will receive $800,000 for major renovations and the reinstallation of a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.-inspired sculpture and garden.
- The City of Cedar Rapids will receive $3 million toward the $19 million LightLine Loop project in the Czech Village and NewBo.
- All the grants were made available through the federal American Rescue Plan Act.
- Equal Pay Day. This past Tuesday was Equal Pay Day, the day marking how far into the year a woman must work before her pay catches up with the annual earnings of men doing the same job. Senate Democrats used this symbolic day to raise awareness of the gender pay gap. We’ve introduced legislation to address wage discrimination, because we know equal work deserves equal pay.
- New numbers for Iowa’s next budget. Last week, a state panel met to set revenue estimates for the current and upcoming budget years. The panel is projecting lackluster growth, with projected revenues for 2023 and 2024 falling below previous years. Our top responsibility as legislators is to pass a balanced budget that serves the needs of Iowans. It’s time for statehouse Republicans to put aside their nationally-driven, culture-war agenda and get to work on a budget.
- Bipartisan win for vulnerable Iowans. One of the few bipartisan bright spots of the legislative session so far passed the Senate floor last week. Senate File 295 increases protections for Iowans with a guardian or conservatorship. Iowa’s most vulnerable citizens deserve accountability and transparency when they entrust their entire lives to another person.
- Bipartisan progress for new moms and babies: Two months after all Senate Democrats cosponsored Senate File 57 to increase postpartum Medicaid coverage for pregnant Iowans, we’re glad to see that House Republicans have introduced a similar bill, House Study Bill 226. Senate Democrats hope to see more bipartisan support for this common-sense legislation that would better support pregnancies and newborns in Iowa.
- Iowa Drought Plan announced. The state has finalized a comprehensive drought plan for use by local, county, state agencies and governments. The plan designates five drought regions in the state and provides an approach to prepare for, identify, respond to and recover from a drought. Read the full plan here.
- Read Across Iowa: Celebrated throughout the month of March, Read Across Iowa helps motivate kids to read. Join Abby Brown from Iowa PBS on Facebook as she reads “Our School Garden!” by Rick Swann on at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 18.
- Spring break at the library. Visiting your local library can help keep kids entertained during spring break. Community libraries have free resources and offer children’s programs that support reading. In addition to books, you can also get access to technology and learning games.
- Help is here if you need it. Are you or someone you know searching for mental health or substance use counseling? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services maintains this tracker of providers, so you can quickly enter your zip code and find a provider near you. Senate Democrats continue to seek improvements to our mental health support system in Iowa.