One component sorely missing from the 2019 Iowa legislative session was political leadership.
With one party in control of the Legislature and the governorship, Republicans had latitude to push through legislation without support from Democrats. Even so, Republican leaders failed to assemble support for their agenda in a timely fashion, leaving some important issues unfinished until the final days or even hours before adjournment.
Important items such as changes to the judicial nominating process and medical marijuana expansion (the latter of which Gov. Kim Reynolds eventually vetoed) were among the issues left unresolved until the very end of the session. The results of that hurried process left Iowans confused and frustrated.
Already, legislative leaders are suggesting some of their 2020 priorities might not be worked out until the 100th day of the new session approaches. Part of the blame lies with Reynolds, who has developed a habit of being noncommittal when journalists and constituents ask her to take a specific position on key policy issues.
There’s one thing Reynolds can do to improve her reputation as a thoughtful policymaker — she should use her Condition of the State address this week stake out her vision and signal to legislators how far she is willing to go to support her own stated priorities. Here, The Gazette editorial explains a few of the issues where Reynolds’ leadership is most needed.
• Filling the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund
There’s talk at the capitol of raising the state sales tax to, at long last, fill the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, approved by voters in 2010. Three-eighths of a one-cent sales tax increase would go to the fund, and GOP lawmakers are considering using the remaining five-eighths to cover tax cuts. Lawmakers and Reynolds also have talked of changing the formula for spending trust fund dollars, steering money away from outdoor recreation. We’d like to see Reynolds propose a detailed plan for trust fund dollars, rather than leaving those details to the whim of the Legislature. And there should be a public process for Iowans and stakeholder groups to weigh in.
• Medical marijuana
Improving Iowa’s heavily restricted medical cannabis program is one of the most frustrating issues legislators are expected to encounter this year. That’s because the House and Senate already reached a bipartisan compromise last year, but Reynolds vetoed it.
While some Democrats support aggressively expanding the program to be in line with the real medical marijuana programs that exist in other states, both parties settled on a bill to increase the amount of THC allowed in products through Iowa’s existing system of producers and dispensaries, which gained overwhelming support.
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That would have been a vast improvement over the status quo, empowering thousands of Iowans to effectively treat their medical conditions. Reynolds killed the proposal, saying the THC limit was too high, but she has not specified what amount she is comfortable with.
• Felon voting rights
It’s ridiculous that the back log of felon voting rights requests haven’t been cleared yet. Iowa is one of the last two states in the nation that haven’t solved this problem. So, while Reynold’s tries to wrangle the Legislature into passing a constitutional amendment to restore felon voting rights, she could take swift and decisive action with an executive order.
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