IOWA LEGISLATURE

Iowa Statehouse Republican leaders declare mandate from voters

Iowa Speaker of the House Pat Grassley (right) is interviewed after the Condition of the State address at the Iowa State
Iowa Speaker of the House Pat Grassley (right) is interviewed after the Condition of the State address at the Iowa Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Republican state lawmakers plan to return to the Iowa Capitol in January for the legislative session emboldened by what they consider to be a mandate from Iowa voters.

The Nov. 3 elections maintained Republicans’ majorities in both the Iowa Senate and Iowa House, meaning along with Kim Reynolds in the governor’s office, Republicans for two more years have complete control over the state lawmaking process.

The newly elected Republican state lawmakers have been meeting to elect their leaders and begin preparations for the legislative session, which is set to begin Jan. 11 and run through April.

Pat Grassley of New Hartford, who was retained by his Republican colleagues as speaker of the Iowa House, said Monday that he expects the legislative session to begin on time regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic, which now is raging in Iowa now.

The 2020 session was suspended for 10 weeks in the pandemic’s infant stages, from mid-March until early June.

“Our expectation is to return in the beginning of January and get to work. Iowans expect that of us,” Grassley told reporters Monday. Grassley said Republicans have not yet determined what kinds of legislation they will propose related to the COVID-19 pandemic, but he said he does not expect Republicans to consider legislation that would require face coverings in public — which has been recommended by public health officials and infectious disease experts — or legislation that would shut down elements of the economy in order to stop the virus’ spread.

Whatever proposals Republicans do introduce, they say they will do so with a green light from Iowa voters. Republicans have held all the state lawmaking levers since 2017, and in elections during that time have kept their majorities in both Statehouse chambers and won a governor’s race.

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Republicans will start the session with a 59-41 majority in the House — the GOP expanded that majority in this year’s elections — and a 32-18 majority in the Senate.

“I think it validates a lot of the decisions that we’ve been making over the last four years. We’ve had a Republican trifecta for four years now, and Iowans have continuously brought us back to be in charge,” Jack Whitver of Ankeny, who was retained by his colleagues as the Senate majority leader, told reporters late last week.

Republican leaders have not expounded on what new laws they would like to write during the coming session, saying they are only now beginning to have that dialogue as a group. But they have said one thing consistently: they are proud of the health of Iowa’s state budget.

Despite the pandemic, state tax revenues have not yet suffered a serious decline, the current state budget has a surplus of more than $300 million, and the state’s emergency reserve accounts contain nearly $800 million.

The state’s nonpartisan fiscal estimating agency that projects tax revenues for the next state budget year will meet in December, and that projection will guide lawmakers as they craft the state budget that starts on July 1, 2021.

House Republicans also retained Matt Windschitl of Missouri Valley as House majority leader, John Wills of Spirit Lake as speaker pro tem, and Mike Sexton of Rockwell City as majority whip.

Senate Republicans chose Jake Chapman of Adel as the new Senate president. He replaces Charles Schneider of West Des Moines, who did not run for re-election. Brad Zaun of Urbandale was re-elected as Senate president pro tem, and Amy Sinclair of Allerton as majority whip.

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