Government

Republicans hail accomplishments of 'historic' legislative session

"We've done things legislators have only dreamed of doing"

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, and Senate President Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, shake hands minutes after the Iowa Legislature adjourned it's 2018 session at 5:25 p.m. Saturday, May 5, 2018. (James Q. Lynch/The Gazette)
House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, and Senate President Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, shake hands minutes after the Iowa Legislature adjourned it's 2018 session at 5:25 p.m. Saturday, May 5, 2018. (James Q. Lynch/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Conservative Republicans jubilantly put their final stamp Saturday on a two-year run at the Statehouse that will reshape Iowa for years to come by passing the largest income tax cut in state history. Democrats predicted the session would leave its mark by paring government services Iowans expect and continuing a cycle of budgeting mayhem.

The closing weekend for the 87th General Assembly ended with the passage of a $2.86 billion cut in state income taxes over six years and completion of a $7.48 billion budget for the next fiscal year that would spending to run state agencies, programs and operations by 3.1 percent.

The Senate adjourned at 5:11 p.m. The House followed 14 minutes later.

Sen. Wally Horn, D-Cedar Rapids, the longest continuously serving legislator in Iowa history, offered the “sine die” resolution in the Senate to cap his 46-year career.

The list of accomplishments include passage of the so-called “heartbeat” abortion restriction, which is the toughest in the nation; expanded funding for water quality efforts; a revamp of the state’s utility and energy-efficiency regulations; and new approaches to curbing opioid addictions and treating mental illnesses.

“It’s monumental. It’s historic,” said Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel. “We’ve done things legislators have only dreamed of doing in just a very short amount of time.

“Whether it’s voter ID, whether it’s protecting life, we’ve done some incredible things, protecting our Second Amendment rights, so for me it’s been absolutely historic.”

Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, agreed.

“I cannot imagine another two-year General Assembly matching this one for the amount of good taxpayer-friendly, family-friendly, budget-friendly legislation that has been passed,” Schultz said.

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“I believe these two years will go down in history, and lobbyists who are now just entering the field will be 50 years into their careers talking about the 2017/2018 General Assembly. This will go down in history for eons as the best use of two years the Legislature has ever had,” he added.

Tax changes

From an outsider’s point of view, John Steinman of the Iowa Chamber Alliance, a business organization that was active in pushing to make Iowa’s tax code more competitive, said the GOP-run Legislature and Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds made “real progress” toward a simplifying a tax system that hadn’t been changed in decades and broadening the state’s tax base to bring it into the online-based 21st century.

“I think every Super Bowl champion looks at themselves as the best team ever,” noted Steinman. “I’m not equipped to historically rank them, but I would absolutely concur that they’ve been effective, and I would say that what sets this apart from others is that by and large, they’ve hung together and there hasn’t been a fundamental breakdown like we’ve seen in the past with a trifecta.”

Democrats react

The best thing that minority Democrats could say about the 2018 session was that it was over. They said the GOP approach was anti-worker and anti-women as well as hurtful toward ordinary Iowans who rely on critical public services.

“It’s just been a devastating two years for Iowans,” said Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, “I’d give them an F minus and tell them they’d have to repeat the entire two years over again except I don’t think that Iowans could stomach it.”

‘Chapter 2’

Republicans, who captured majorities of 29-20-1 in the Iowa Senate and 59-41 in the Iowa House in the 2016 elections, arrived at the Capitol in January 2017 pledging to “kick in the door” with an aggressive conservative agenda intent on reshaping Iowa as a business-friendly growth state and taking a right turn on social issues.

After revamping workplace rules, legalizing fireworks, re-establishing a uniform minimum wage statewide and expanding gun rights, among other things last year, GOP leaders set about making 2018 “Chapter 2” for their conservative makeover of state government.

The year was not without missteps, with a GOP state representative arrested and charged with drunken driving and the Senate’s top Republican leader forced to abruptly resign when a video surfaced depicting him kissing a female lobbyist who was not his wife.

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Senate Republicans regrouped with a new leadership team intent on finishing the session strong by passing their remaining priorities with the tax code overhaul at the top of that list.

“I think we’ve had one of the most historic and productive sessions this state has ever seen, and possibly any state and any country in two years. We’ve accomplished a lot of big pieces of legislation, and our members feel really good about the direction that we’re leading Iowa,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, who took over the post in March.

“Look, people can disagree with some of the policies that we’ve put forward. But what you can’t disagree with is the results that we’ve gotten for the state of Iowa,” Whitver said.

“Nonpartisan, third-party people are looking at Iowa saying you guys are doing things right, and the overall No. 1 ranking by U.S. News & World Report is an indication of that.”

118th and Final day

Legislators spent their 118th day at the Capitol finalizing the remaining pieces of their $7.48 billion state budget by passing a $1.8 billion health and human services budget and a catchall standing appropriations measure.

A Democratic amendment on House File 2502, the standing bill, would have held state political parties and campaigns liable for sexual harassment settlements for officeholders or their appointees. It also contained language opposing tariffs, creating a tax fund from withholding income tax reform benefits from filers earning $1 million a year or more and protecting solar and geothermal tax credits. Democrats also included support for non-partisan redistricting despite voting against applying it to county boards earlier this session.

It was ruled not germane to the in both the House and Senate.

An amendment offered by the bill manager Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Marion, would prohibit a credit union from using the name of a state university in its name. It also would prohibit members of the Legislature and other statewide elected officials from spending tax dollars for advertisement or promotion bearing their names, likeness or voice.

Democrats said it would mean the governor’s name could not be used on state maps and the secretary of agriculture’s name would have to be removed gas station pumps.

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The amendment would allow Native Americans to use a valid tribal identification card for voting purposes. A separate change to the measure exempted cities with populations of less than 21,000 from provisions of a lease-purchase bill passed earlier in the week and signed by Reynolds.

“This standings bill is always an interesting journey,” said Rep. Chris Hall, D-Sioux City. He complained the process has not been transparent. He pointed to language that would force a particular credit union — the University of Iowa Community Credit Union — to change its name “because members of the majority party just don’t like it.”

“Doesn’t seem odd? Doesn’t that seem petty?” he asked, but was in keeping with the “petty nonsense” that characterized the two-year General Assembly.

House File 2502 was passed 54-33 by the House and 30-17 by the Senate.

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