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Iowa Legislature begins 86th general assembly today in Des Moines

This news story was published on January 11, 2016.
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Iowa capitol

Iowa capitol

DES MOINES – The Iowa legislature is convening today in Des Moines to begin 86th General Assembly.

Iowa Democrats say they want to rebuild the middle class by expanding preschool, raising the minimum wage, and ensuring equal pay for women, among other proposals.

Republicans will likely attempt to hold the line on school spending and other programs as Governor Terry Branstad finalizes Medicaid privatization.

2016 Opening Day Remarks by Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs:

Welcome to the first day of the 2016 session of the Iowa Legislature.

Our focus this year must be bringing more workers and their families into Iowa’s middle class.

Iowans are counting on us. Based on the events of the last year, here are two steps that should receive strong, bipartisan support in the Iowa Senate, the Iowa House and in the Governor’s office.

One, we should expand educational opportunities and, two, we should strengthen the health care safety net all Iowa families count on.

Our children and grandchildren must be better prepared for the challenges of the 21st Century economy. If we want more high-wage, high-skill jobs in Iowa, we must do more to prepare Iowans to fill those jobs.

That’s why we must invest more in K12 and higher education. This includes increased state aid to our local K-12 schools for the next two years by an amount that will increase educational opportunities.

We must also invest more in our universities and community colleges.

We must break the pattern of the last few years when the Governor and Iowa House leaders successfully insisted on inadequate funding for our local schools.

Look at the results: more crowded classrooms, fewer advanced courses, and higher property taxes.

Last year, House leaders refused to provide adequate funding in the Education Budget to continue the in-state tuition freeze at our state universities. They also refused to make adequate investments in Iowa’s community colleges.

Those mistakes are making it harder for students from middle-class families to get ahead. Those mistakes are also making it more difficult for Iowa businesses to hire the skilled workers they need.

In 2016, we can and must do better.

Every Iowa family counts on the Medicaid safety net when faced with the most severe medical challenges.

Everyone in this chamber has talked with constituents whose family health care costs would bankrupt the financial resources of 99% of all Iowa families. Rather than dismissing their well-founded concerns, we should listen and take action.

During the summer and fall, Senate Democrats organized 17 listening posts in every corner of the state because we wanted to hear first-hand what Medicaid recipients, their families and health care providers had to say about Medicaid privatization.

Iowans — Democrats, Republicans and Independents — told us that the privatization scheme developed unilaterally by the Branstad/Reynolds Administration is a poorly planned, poorly implemented mess.

There is much we can do to help fix this problem. If we want to help, we can.

We can ensure that all Iowans have access to high-quality, affordable health care.

Last year, the House refused to take up the Senate’s Medicaid oversight legislation. That was a mistake.

This year, I hope that the events of the past six months and the outcry from their constituents will have changed their minds.

And I also hope we will agree on legislation to stop the Branstad/Reynolds Administration from closing Iowa’s remaining Mental Health Institutes.

Voting for quality, effective mental health care is a matter of human decency and public safety.

It is time to stop outsourcing mental health care onto local police departments, county jails and local property taxpayers.

Much has happened since the Legislature was last in session.

During that time, everyone in this statehouse – State Representatives, State Senators, the Governor and Lt. Governor –have told our constituents that we support:

• Better education for our children, and

• High quality, affordable health care

Here’s my main point today.

It’s not enough to tell your constituents that you agree with them on better schools and better health care.

Talk is cheap. We all know that.

Let’s not forget that failing to invest in education and health care is certain to be ruinously expensive.

Starting today at the Capitol, it’s time to back up your words with action.

We can do it. And we can do it this year.

But to get this accomplished in 2016, Senate Democrats need willing partners.

We need people willing to find solutions, people from the Senate Republicans, the House Republicans, and Governor Branstad and Lt. Governor Reynolds.

We need your support. We need your votes.

Your constituents, your families and your state need less talk and more action. So, let’s get to work!

Thank you.


Pam Jochum (far right)

Pam Jochum (far right)

2016 Opening Day Remarks by Senate President Pam Jochum of Dubuque

Good Morning.

Welcome back. Hopefully during the interim you were able to rejuvenate and enjoy some quality time with family and friends.

This is a hopeful time of the year when we ring in a New Year and a new legislative session. It is a time to look back and reflect, and it is a time to look forward to what we will do to make Iowa better for all Iowans.

So, as we’re driving down the newly paved highway, and looking in the rearview mirror, the 2015 interim brought about a few changes – the Senate will be working with new House leaders this session.

I’d like to congratulate Representative Linda Upmeyer and Representative Chris Hagenow in their new roles and thank Speaker Paulsen for his service and leadership. Representative Upmeyer is the first woman to be elected Speaker of the Iowa House, and for the first time in Iowa history a woman is serving as the presiding officer in both the House and the Senate.

We also said good-bye to Representative Jack Drake after a battle with cancer. Jack and I were elected to the Iowa House in the same year. Representative Drake was always respectful to other members, even in disagreement.

On a more personal note, my family gave a final farewell to my father. Dad passed on December 14th from congestive heart failure. Last year at this time, he held the Bible for me as Chief Justice Cady swore me into office as President of the Senate.

The 2015 session went into overtime but on June 3rd, the House and Senate reached an agreement on funding education and passed a balanced budget. Unfortunately, major pieces of that agreement were vetoed.

There were also an unprecedented number of unilateral decisions made behind closed doors that bypassed the legislative branch—decisions to privatize the entire Medicaid system, to close two mental health institutes, and to cut $48 million in taxes by administrative rule, to mention a few.

We can each decide if those ideas will improve the lives of Iowans. Only time holds the answer.

The issues that linger are trust, transparency, the checks and balance of power, and the rule of law. Trust is the lifeblood of our democracy. It is the bond between the people and their government and it is the bond between all of us serving in government.

There’s unfinished business.

The 60-day delay of the Governor’s proposed Medicaid managed care plan by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) was welcomed by thousands of Iowans. However, the results of privatization in other States have not produced the promised results.

Therefore, I urge the House Republicans to pass SF 452 that provides for comprehensive oversight IF CMS gives its final approval. Furthermore, we need to work together to ensure there are safeguards in place that will protect our most vulnerable citizens and our local providers if this moves forward.

This is a time to look forward. The Iowa Presidential precinct caucuses are just around the corner. Next year at this time, our nation will be swearing a new President into office as well as a new Congress and a new Iowa Legislature. As hard as it may be to resist at times, let’s make a pledge to remain focused on governing for the next 100 days and leave the campaigning for the remaining 202 days.

It’s been said, “Politicians look to the next election. Statesmen and Stateswomen look to the next generation.” Let’s be the statesmen and women who do just that. It is the next generation I want to focus on today.

• There are 725,954 children in Iowa.

• 108,888 Iowa children are poor—that means a family of four is living on less than $23,834 a year.

• 1 in 15 children in Iowa live in extreme poverty, or living in a household with less than $11,917 a year.

• Nearly 7,000 Iowa public school students were homeless in the 2012-13 school year.

• Nearly 20 percent of our children lived in households that lacked access to adequate food.

• On a brighter note, 89 percent of Iowa public high school students graduated on time in 2012, placing Iowa 1st among states.

• 11,345 children were abused or neglected in 2013.

• 15,897 children between the ages of 10-17 were arrested in Iowa in 2012.

• Iowa spent 2.8 times as much per prisoner as per public school student in FY 2012.

These are the children of our next generation. These are the children of our future. We have to do better. What is disturbing is that Iowa is faring better than most states.

As the statistics reveal, the rungs of the economic ladder have grown farther apart. Poverty and income inequality can no longer be dismissed or ignored, nor can violence in homes and gun violence among our youth. It is time for a “New War on Poverty and Inequality.” It is time to focus on working families and expand the middle class. It is time to make the promise of equality and opportunity for all a reality.

We cannot just cut our way to prosperity. We must out-educate, out-innovate and out-build the world. That requires an investment in our “human” capital. It’s up to the States and local governments. New federal policies to address these problems seem highly unlikely.

I urge the House Republicans to pass SF 269. Let’s set a wage floor of $8.75, give 181,000 Iowans a raise, most of whom are women and children, and THEN we can focus on a living wage. According to the Iowa Department of Economic Development, a family of four needs a minimum of $45,000 ($25 an hour) to be financially independent to meet its basic needs. Let’s get to work on increasing the household income of Iowa’s working families. And that begins with education – educating our young children, ensuring affordable higher education and expanding robust worker skills programs at our community colleges.

Education is the engine that moves us forward. It is the hub of economic growth and opportunity. We cannot afford to undercut education again this year. I urge the House Republicans to pass our anti-bullying bill so that students have a secure and healthy educational environment in which to learn, AND to work with us to reach an agreement on adequate and equitable school funding by February 11th that ensures quality, meets the needs of students, and improves student learning. Every student, regardless of ZIP code, deserves a quality 21st century education.

In short, we need better-educated Iowans, we need more young Iowans, we need better-paid Iowans, we need an Iowa where there are “fields of opportunities”.

In the words of former U.S. Senator Paul Wellston, “We all do better when we all do better.” Let’s work together so that next January when the 2017 session opens, we can look back and say, “All Iowans did better”.

Thank you.

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