The new session in the Iowa Legislature, at the dawn of a new decade, promises to be a mix of the new and the all-too-familiar.
This marks the fourth consecutive year that Republicans have had the legislative hat trick of having control of the House of Representatives and Senate under a Republican governor. But there’s a new Republican leadership team with Pat Grassley taking the helm as speaker of the House.
We can anticipate already some issues coming around again.
Topping the list of legislation that should have passed by now but hasn’t is the automatic restoration of voting rights for felons who complete their sentences. Last year, it received nearly unanimous support in the House but couldn’t get passed in the Senate.
Iowa should join Wisconsin and Illinois and 46 other states (or all but one) to automatically restore voting rights to felons who satisfy their debts to society.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have vowed this session will bring legislation around mental health issues and closing the gap between the needs and available services, especially for youngsters. Creation of the Children’s Mental Health System in 2019 was a good start; 2020 should be the year it gets a dedicated revenue stream to fund it.
Gov. Kim Reynolds should make 2020 the year she rethinks her position on medical marijuana expansion. Reynolds vetoed a bill passed last year that would have broadened the scope of the narrow Iowa law.
With recreational marijuana available just across the river in Illinois, it is imperative the state find a middle ground for medical access. Iowa lawmakers must work with the state Medical Cannabidiol Board to find a proposal the governor will agree to and get a law on the books.
Funding outdoor recreation and natural resources might not seem to be intertwined with tax issues, but you can bet it will be this legislative session. Nearly a decade ago, Iowa voters approved the Iowa Water and Land Legacy Amendment to create a Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. The landslide approval was helped by the fact that voters knew it wouldn’t cost them anything unless and until the Legislature increased the state sales tax.
Now, the fund’s time might have come as a higher sales tax is on the table. If a penny increase in sales tax passed, the first 3/8 cents would go to the natural resources fund — to the tune of as much as $200 million. Lawmakers are already discussing which outdoor/natural-resource-related spending they could shift from the general fund to the Legacy Amendment share of the sales tax.
But what voters supported back in 2011 wasn’t supposed to be just a nice label. Presumably, voters liked the idea of dedicating more funding — albeit down the road — for natural resources. Legislators should stand by the spirit and not just the letter of the law.
Each new legislative session holds the promise of new ideals and incremental change to make the state better. Here’s hoping Iowa lawmakers can forge a collaborative path to getting things done for Iowans.