CEDAR RAPIDS — It’s hard for Gov. Kim Reynolds to name one “most significant” accomplishment of the 2019 Iowa legislative session that ended early last month because “so many of the things we worked on are so intertwined.”
Many of her priorities going into the session — $16.7 million in funding for the Future Ready Iowa workforce initiative, establishing a children’s mental health program, passing a second-chance employment law and addressing K-12 school funding — were ways to “help Iowans who are looking for a way up.”
“The legislation we passed this year, I think, moves in that direction,” she said Monday while visiting Cedar Rapids. “The biggest winners were students and families and small businesses and farmers.”
Now the focus must shift to implementing those policies, she said.
For the moment, Reynolds is spending much of her time reviewing — and signing into law — legislation lawmakers sent her.
She was in Cedar Rapids to sign House File 637, which establishes a timeline for reporting misconduct by certified school employees to the Board of Educational Examiners. It requires schools to report misconduct or allegations of soliciting or consummating a sexual relationship with a student, falsifying grades or test scores, use of public property for personal use and being at school or school events under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The bill stemmed from allegations of a middle school teacher’s sexual abuse of a Linn County student, according to Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Marion, who introduced legislation that became HF 637. Although there were three years of complaints and disciplinary action against the teacher, he eventually was allowed to resign and keep his teaching license.
School districts were required to report those incidents, but there was no deadline for doing so, Hinson said. The new bill sets a 30-day deadline for reporting to the Board of Educational Examiners.
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One bill Reynolds said she hasn’t decided whether to sign would regulate and tax sports betting. Reynolds, who has spoken about her own struggles with alcohol, has expressed concerns about other addictions as well.
“It’s happening right now with no oversight,” she said of sports wagering. If sports betting becomes legal, the casinos that operate it would have “mechanisms” to identify people who are potentially addicted.
“So that’s a component I’m looking at,” she said. “I continue to hear from people on both sides of the issue.”
The governor hasn’t given up on one of her priorities that didn’t win legislative approval this year — her call for a constitutional amendment to restore felon voting rights after prison.
It passed the House 95-2, but stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee over questions about what types of criminals would be eligible to get voting rights back and what they would have to do to become eligible.
“This is something I feel very strongly about,” Reynolds said. “I remind legislators all of the time that they’re not really voting on this. They’re allowing Iowans to weigh in.” She’s asking legislators to put the issue on the ballot for Iowa voters to ratify or reject.
“I believe Iowans believe in redemption and they will move in that direction,” Reynolds said.
She’s encouraging lawmakers to use House File 650 as a starting point. It shields employers that hire people with us criminal convictions from lawsuits. However, there are exceptions including murder, sexually violent offenses and if a dangerous weapon was used or exhibited.
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Those exemptions would be a good place to start in writing a felon voting rights eligibility policy, according to Reynolds.
But she rejected some lawmakers’ suggestions that felons complete restitution before being eligible to have their voting rights restored. That is not required now under the process where the governor weighs each request individually.
“I don’t want to go down that route,” Reynolds said. Felons seeking to have their voting rights restored should be making progress on a restitution plan, she said, but “I don’t want to make it more difficult than what we have in place.”
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