Government

Lawmakers see chance for teamwork in Reynolds' agenda

She keys on workforce, mental health and rights for felons and victims

DES MOINES — Lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats — found things to like Tuesday in Gov. Kim Reynolds’ Condition of the State speech, but say they will withhold final judgment until they see details of her plans to increase K-12 and higher education spending, pay for workforce development and mental health care initiatives and amend the Iowa Constitution to restore felons’ voting rights and protect victims’ rights.

In her second Condition of the State speech, Reynolds called for fulfilling the promises lawmakers made last year in their unanimous passage of the Future Ready Iowa Workforce Development plan and a mental health care reforms — including creating a children’s mental health system.

“We have laid the foundation for a bright future. Let’s build on it,” the Osceola Republican told a joint session of the Iowa House and Senate, which convened this week for the 2019 legislative session. “The time is now to finish what we started.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds has concluded her Condition of the State speech.

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Lawmakers said they were encouraged by her focus on the bipartisan sues of mental health and workforce development as well as rural economic development.

Senate Republicans will work with Reynolds to “implement bold, pro-growth policies to build on that success” of the past two years, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said.

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, also pledged to work with the governor “to push more opportunity to rural Iowa and continue to address our state’s skilled worker shortage.”

Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, agreed with Reynolds that it “time for her and others to deliver on their promises to fully fund mental health, rural revitalization and job training initiatives.”

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It’s not that she’s never heard a governor talk about those things, “but her proposal here in front of everyone today, with a dollar amount attached to it, that means something promising,” Rep. Kirsten Running-Marquardt, D-Cedar Rapids, said about Reynolds’s call for $20 million to implement Future Ready Iowa and $11 million over two years for mental health care.

“There’s some issues within her speech that Democrats and Republicans should be able to work on together,” added Rep. Chris Hall of Sioux City, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee that will parse the governor’s proposed budget.

A 2.3 percent increase in state aid to K-12 schools that Reynolds asked for is more than double the 1 percent increase approved last year. If the full amount is approved by legislators, it would make up 46 percent of the state’s $7.6 billion general fund.

The governor also asked for $18 million more to fully fund a Board of Regents’ request. In all, her education recommendations would account for 56 percent of the state budget.

“Creating a comprehensive children’s mental health system will take time. But we can and must take action"

- Gov. Kim Reynolds

She also proposed $20 million over two years for broadband infrastructure and doubling rural workforce housing tax credits to $10 million.

In addition to setting aside $11 million more over two years for mental health care, Reynolds wants funds for four additional psychiatric residencies at the University of Iowa, $3 million to train teachers and nurses to recognize early signs of mental illness and funding for home- and community-based children’s mental health services.

“Creating a comprehensive children’s mental health system will take time. But we can and must take action,” she said. “The days of merely talking are over.”

After creating the Empower Rural Iowa initiative last year, Reynolds this year called for funding to accelerate expansion of broadband infrastructure and leverage an additional $120 million in private investment for the high-speed internet relied on by businesses, schools, hospitals and farmers.

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She also announced the creation of a Center for Rural Revitalization within the Economic Development Authority to “give our Main Streets a road map for success.”

Democratic lawmakers, however, nicked the governor for some of the things she didn’t mention as priorities.

“I would have liked to hear more about opportunities we have for oversight on Medicaid,” Running-Marquardt said.

Efforts to improve health care access and affordability, and raising family incomes were “notably absent from her speech,” said Hall, the Sioux City Democrat.

The governor called for a pair of constitutional amendments that would require ratification by voters — one to help felons regain their voting rights and the other to protect the rights of crime victims.

Although she has granted felons clemency 88 times, Reynolds said restoration of those rights should not be in one person’s hands.

Lawmakers should follow the lead of 36 other states by “enshrining victim’s rights into the Iowa Constitution (to) send victims a loud and clear message: We will protect you.”

Lawmakers will continue to hear “condition” statements when Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady delivers the Condition of the Judiciary at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Adjutant General Tim Orr will deliver the condition of the Iowa National Guard at 10 a.m. Thursday.

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Reynolds will be sworn in to office at 9 a.m. Friday at the Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center, which will be the site of an inaugural ball at 7 p.m. A second ball, also at 7 p.m., will be at the Scottish Rite Consistory.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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