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DES MOINES — The differences among Iowa lawmakers was on display during this session of the Iowa Legislature — and not just differences between Republicans and Democrats.
Varied viewpoints among Republicans who control both chambers of the Legislature led to the doom of multiple measures, including one of Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds’ top priorities: private school tuition assistance using public money.
Those differences are now being magnified in the 2022 elections.
The legislative session concluded very early Wednesday. During the roughly five-month session, majority Republicans passed a $1.9 billion state income tax cut, a reduction in unemployment benefits and a ban on transgender girls in girls’ athletics.
Each of those policies displayed the stark differences between Republicans and Democrats. The vast majority of statehouse Democrats — and in some cases, all of them — vehemently opposed those proposals.
But when there were loggerheads during the session, it was not always Democrats vs. Republicans. On multiple occasions, it was Republicans vs. Republicans — or more specifically, Senate Republicans vs. House Republicans.
House Republicans were unable to form a policy-approving majority on Reynolds’ private school tuition assistance bill. Reynolds responded by endorsing Republican challengers to two incumbent Republican House members who expressed opposition to her idea: Reps. Jon Thorup of Knoxville and Dennis Bush of Cherokee.
“That is the governor’s choice to do that,” said Pat Grassley, the Republican House speaker from New Hartford. “But ultimately, at the end of the day as Republicans, we have to be united in our front come November” for the general election.
The lack of agreement on private school tuition assistance also meant the demise of other legislative proposals designed to increase transparency in schools. Some Republicans wanted measures to provide parents with more avenues to challenge school curriculum and library materials that they deem obscene.
Two Republican senators from the Des Moines suburbs, Jake Chapman and Brad Zaun, proposed and supported legislation that would have created criminal penalties for educators who distribute materials deemed to be obscene. But by session’s end, even less heavy-handed legislation did not pass, either.
Instead, on the last night of session, Republicans approved the repeal of the March 1 deadline by which students are required to request open enrollment to another district.
“Just decided at the end (the governor’s) bill wasn’t going to go,” said Jack Whitver, the Republican Senate Majority Leader from Ankeny. “It was all kind of tied together. That bill didn’t pass the House, and so we just moved forward with the open enrollment (changes).”
House and Senate Republicans spent weeks negotiating an $8.21 billion state budget, even though their original spending targets, announced in February, were only $70 million apart.
“I’m going to be honest with you, this is some inside baseball, but the fact that the governor and the Senate really wanted school vouchers and didn’t get them led to some sort of petty (budget) cuts over on the Senate side just to punish House Republicans and House Democrats,” said Rep. Jennifer Konfrst, leader of the minority House Democrats from Windsor Heights.
Whitver said he and Senate Republicans prioritize policy.
“For years I’ve cared more about policy than the total size of the budget. And so when certain policy bills don’t go through, we’re more likely to say, ‘Well, we’re not going to take the budget up then,’” Whitver said. “So it’s been a give and take over the last few years.”
And not enough Republicans saw eye-to-eye on whether utility regulators should grant eminent domain powers to private companies to claim landowners’ land for pipeline projects. House Republicans approved a one-year moratorium on the use of eminent domain for that, but Senate Republicans rejected it.
Despite their differences and some failed policy proposals, Republicans expressed pride in the session.
“This legislative session, I charged the House and Senate to work together to further advance Iowa’s strong growth through policies that cut taxes, invest in biofuels and strengthen our families, communities, schools, workforce and economy,” Reynolds said in a statement. “I’m proud that our state is leading the nation in many of these areas and delivering on the promises we made to the people of Iowa.”
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