116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Emboldened by six years of conservative reforms under their belts and multiple elections that expanded their majorities in the Iowa Legislature, Republicans kicked off the 2023 state lawmaking session Monday by promising more conservative action — particularly on K-12 education and property taxes.
The 90th Iowa General Assembly met for the first time at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines. In the coming months, legislators will consider hundreds of proposals to make changes to Iowa state law.
Iowa Republicans hold commanding agenda-setting majorities — 34-16 in the Senate and 64-36 in the House. While that margin grew in November’’s election, this is the seventh consecutive year that Republicans have held complete control of the state lawmaking process by virtue of their majorities in the Iowa Legislature with a Republican governor.
Jack Whitver, the Republican Senate majority leader from Grimes, used his opening day remarks to highlight many of those conservative law changes of the past six years, including multiple rounds of state tax reductions, a dramatic reduction of collective bargaining rights for public workers, changes to the state’s elections laws and judicial nominating process, restrictions on legal abortions and the expansion of gun rights.
“Republicans in the Iowa Senate do not shy away from hard work or hard decisions, and Iowans have rewarded us for it,” Whitver said. “With the historical successes we have had, I think it’s safe to say that we are ready for bigger, bolder and better.”
Democratic legislators, who by virtue of being outnumbered are unable to influence the lawmaking process with their votes, made calls for bipartisan work in the Legislature and called on Republicans to work on legislation that will benefit all Iowans.
Zach Wahls, leader of the Senate Democrats from Coralville, said lawmakers’ focus this year should be on Iowa’s stagnant population growth and shortage of workers.
“It’s been called a brain drain and a workforce crisis. But really this challenge is bigger than that. What we face is a people crisis, an exodus in the state of Iowa,” Wahls said. “Whether it’s growing wait lists for child care, bigger class sizes in our public schools or the shuttering of labor and delivery units at hospitals across our state. This crisis threatens the future of Iowa and is holding us back every single day. … Everything we do this session should be focused on this crisis.”
Republicans pledged action on three main topics: property taxes, funding for K-12 private school students and expanding transparency in K-12 public education.
Republicans plan for a third consecutive year to work on legislation that would set aside state funding for private school tuition assistance. Previous attempts were supported by Gov. Kim Reynolds and passed the Senate, but stalled in the House.
During her successful 2022 re-election campaign, Reynolds supported challengers to incumbent Republican state lawmakers who did not support the private school tuition assistance bill.
Speaking at the Republican Party of Iowa’s annual legislative breakfast Monday morning, Reynolds said voters gave Iowa Republicans “a mandate to continue to be bold” in pursuing an agenda “that puts parents and students first when it comes to their education, that fights back about the liberal, woke agenda that’s being shoved down our throats from Washington, D.C., and continues to keep our community safe.”
She called Republicans’ dominance in the 2022 state elections a “red tsunami” that “shows Iowans like the direction Republicans are taking this state.”
While previous so-called school choice proposals died in the House, Republican Speaker Pat Grassley has been more optimistic about some form of legislation passing this year. He formed a new committee — which he will chair, which is not common for a House speaker — to address education policy, including private school tuition and K-12 transparency. He said that legislation will be House Republicans’ top priority this session.
Grassley added that while state-funded private school scholarships “are an important part of that discussion, we believe it’s just part of the much broader reforms that we will see,” he said.
“With a variety of policy ideas — some of which will look familiar — we can provide greater choice to Iowa parents and keep our public school system strong,” Grassley said. “We’re crafting creative solutions to the issues that have plagued our state for years like workforce shortages. We’re digging deep into the issues that are oftentimes deemed too complicated to address like property taxes. And we’re acting on the concerns we hear consistently from our constituents and are pushing back against the radical social agenda being forced upon us and our children by the left.”
Iowa House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, of Windsor Heights, reiterated the House Democrats’ position of putting “people over politics” — a message they unveiled during the 2022 campaign — and urged House Republicans to remember the wishes of their constituents.
“My charge to you, and to us, is to use this new House of Representatives as an opportunity to set politics aside and do the work for the people,” Konfrst said. “We all knocked on a lot of doors last spring, last summer, last fall, and we talked to our constituents about what they wanted. Let’s remember what they told us when drafting legislation.”
Konfrst said Democrats will prioritize lowering costs for Iowans, legalizing marijuana, increasing funding for public schools and protecting abortion rights — all issues she said Iowans care about.
Listening to voters is exactly what House Republicans plan, according to House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl, a Republican from Missouri Valley. He said House Republicans’ wins in the 2022 election show the party has a mandate to enact their agenda.
Windschitl said Republican legislation will be crafted with an eye toward expanding freedoms in Iowa, referencing an amendment Iowans passed designed to enshrine gun rights in the state’s constitution.
“We took a message out, we showed Iowans what we’re capable of, we told them what we’re going to do, and how we’re going to govern. And (voters) said, ‘Yes, that is what we want,’” Windschitl said.
The first week of the legislative session is largely ceremonial.
Legislative leaders gave their session-opening remarks Monday; Reynolds will give her condition of the state address Tuesday evening to the Iowa Legislature; Iowa Supreme Court chief justice Susan Christensen will address lawmakers Wednesday; and Iowa National Guard adjutant general Ben Corell will address legislators Thursday.
The session is scheduled to last until late April, but there is no hard deadline for it to end. Iowa’s sessions often trickle into May and occasionally into June.
One of lawmakers’ top priorities each year is to craft the next state budget. Iowa’s state budget year begins July 1.
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