Blog

Whitver Statement on Governor’s Decision to Ease Restrictions

Today, Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, released the following statement supporting Governor Reynolds’ decision to phase-in the easing of restrictions in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Governor Reynolds has shown steady leadership during this time, working to manage the spread of the virus and maintain the production and delivery of essential items like food and medicine to people around the state and around the world. I know those decisions were difficult and I respect her work in balancing those needs. Easing restrictions in counties with no or limited virus activity is a safe and responsible approach to moving forward. Even in those areas, maintaining social distancing and heightened personal hygiene remain as important now as they were in the early days of the outbreak.”

“With the measured steps taken by the governor today, Iowa begins the process of rebuilding our economy. I look forward to additional steps in the coming days and weeks to rebuild what was the best economy in the history of this state. Prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus, the state had strong wage growth, low unemployment, and significant demand for skilled labor. With the policies set in place since 2017, which the legislature will continue to pursue when it returns, I believe Iowa will see that dynamic economy begin to return.”

Iowa Legislature Will Extend Suspension of Session

This afternoon, House and Senate leadership announced the suspension of the legislative session will be extended until at least April 30. This decision follows Governor Kim Reynolds’ recommendation that schools remain closed until April 30.

“The Iowa Legislature continues to follow the guidance of the CDC and the Iowa Department of Public Health. It is important for us to continue to lead by example and limit the possible spread of this disease,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny. “I am thankful for all work done by Iowans in the face of COVID-19. After this virus, I am confident Iowa will rebound stronger than ever.”

Leaders are working to schedule a Legislative Council meeting next week to formally extend the suspension of session. The Council will meet via teleconference.

House and Senate Pass Measures to Fund Government, Pause Session

On Monday, the Legislature passed a series of resolutions to pause the legislative session for 30 days while the state works to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The Senate and House waived the requirement for Iowa schools to reschedule days canceled following Governor Reynolds’ recommendation, in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. On Sunday, March 15, 2020, Governor Reynolds recommended Iowa schools cancel classes for four weeks. Any classes previously scheduled from March 16, 2020 to April 12, 2020 will not be required to be rescheduled.

SF 2408 also included a supplemental appropriation to continue the current budget for July and August 2020, if needed. The spending for these months will be at the current rate of funding in FY 2020 and only go into effect if the Legislature is unable to meet again prior to the end of the fiscal year. However, education funding will increase to reflect the agreement made by the Legislature earlier this year, which provided schools with an additional $99 million. This resolution includes a $91.8 million supplemental appropriation for this current fiscal year, approximately $525,000 of that amount is appropriated to the State Hygienic Lab for additional COVID-19 testing. The remainder of the $91.8 million is for Medicaid, Hawk-I, and the Glenwood Resource Center. The bill also increases the governor’s transfer authority between budget line items in the state budget.

Additionally, SF 2408 permits Governor Reynolds to access the Economic Emergency Fund (EEF) during these 30 days for needs related to the COVID-19 outbreak. The Legislature permitted Governor Reynolds to spend up to 10% of the EEF to address the needs arising from the virus. Additionally, the Legislative Council may approve up to a total of $196 million in funding without the Legislature convening.

All of these laws are passed as session law. Session law means the policy passed today will be temporary and only to address the current public health situation. They are not implemented as a permanent part of the Iowa code. SCR 102 adjourned the Iowa Legislature until April 15, 2020. SCR 102 also pauses current legislative deadlines. If needs arise, the Legislature may reconvene before or after April 15.

“The goal of pausing session is to protect higher risk members of the Legislature, staff, and public potentially at risk during the legislative session and follow the expert guidance provided by the Center for Disease Control and Iowa Department of Public Health,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny. “Additionally, at this time, the focus of state government needs to be on managing the COVID-19 outbreak.”

Senate and House Agree to Waive Requirement for School Days to be Rescheduled

The Senate and House have agreed to waive the requirement for Iowa schools to reschedule days canceled following Governor Reynolds’ recommendation, in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. On Sunday, March 15, 2020, Governor Reynolds recommended Iowa schools cancel classes for four weeks. Any classes previously scheduled from March 16, 2020 to April 12, 2020 will not be required to be rescheduled. Legislation will advance today to implement this agreement.

“This decision will provide Iowa school districts with the certainty that they need to make decisions locally and move ahead this school year,” said Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford.

“In this time of uncertainty, the legislature is working to deliver some certainty for Iowans,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny. “One of the most common questions our members receive is about rescheduling canceled schools days. Now, Iowa schools and families can have some certainty regarding these four weeks of the school calendar.”

Iowa Senate Passes Welfare Eligibility Verification Improvements

Today the Iowa Senate passed Senate File 2272 by a vote of 32-17. This bill establishes a real-time verification system for public assistance programs under the management of the Department of Human Services. 

The non-partisan Legislative Services Agency estimates the bill will cost $1.8 million to set up the systems to manage the verification process. Once implemented, SF 2272 will save the taxpayers $12.3 million per year in eliminated waste, fraud, and abuse. Last year, Iowa was fined $1.8 million by the federal government after overpaying SNAP benefits by $40 million. Iowa’s overpayment on SNAP benefits was almost double the national average. 

“Welfare reforms are one of the top priorities of Senate Republicans this session,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny. “This bill was debated early in the session because this caucus believes  eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse in our welfare system is one of the critical functions of the Iowa Legislature. Furthermore, because of the success of our economic policies, the Iowa economy needs more people in the workforce. This bill will help address that need.” 

SF 2272 requires checking cross-state databases for dual enrollment, asset verification, residency, citizenship, and identity verification for all public assistance programs in Iowa. 

“This legislation is expected to save the taxpayers of Iowa millions of dollars, simply by utilizing current technology to confirm eligibility for public assistance,” said Senator Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, floor manager of the bill. “Utilizing private sector data and expertise can make significant improvements to the management of our welfare programs. Welfare programs are intended to provide for citizens of this country, residents of this state, and genuinely poor individuals and families. This bill helps ensure the right people will have access to public assistance.”

Senate Republicans Release Education Funding Proposal

Today Senate Republicans released their education funding proposal for FY 2021.

“This proposal will provide $91.7 million in new funding for K -12 education. The total increase in K-12 funding will be more than 300 million new dollars since FY 2017. That record stands in stark contrast to the days of overpromising and underdelivering during Democrat control of state government. They promised hundreds of millions of dollars in new spending only to cut K-12 funding by $65 million,” said Senator Jack Whitver, R – Ankeny. “Senate Republicans have fully funded every K-12 education funding promise we have made each year in the majority.”

“Funding proposed this year will complete our promise to eliminate the disparity in education funding for schools with transportation costs higher than the statewide average,” said Senator Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton. “We began this process in the first year of the majority and we have kept our word to rural districts to get them on equal footing with those districts with lower transportation costs. It also addresses one of the most pressing issues in K-12 education by addressing violent student behavior in the classroom.” 

This amount of funding demonstrates a commitment to education. It is responsible and sustainable and it demonstrates that education is a top priority of Senate Republicans. Senate Republicans education proposals provide a $75.7 million increase in supplemental state aid, $7.7 million in new funding for transportation inequity, $5.8 million to address per pupil inequity, and $2.5 million to address violent student behavior (SSB 3080) for a total of $91.7 million. 

Predictable, responsible, sustainable funding for Iowa schools has yielded results. Iowa students are #1 in high school graduation rate, #1 in concurrent enrollment and #1 in average ACT scores.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver’s Opening Remarks 2020

Below are the opening remarks of Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver as prepared for delivery.

Good morning Mister President, Minority Leader Petersen, and my colleagues in the Senate.

It is exciting to be back and ready to work for another legislative session. This will be my second full session as the majority leader in this chamber, and I can’t tell you how proud I am of the members we have here and what we have accomplished so far, with more exciting changes to come. It truly is a great time to be an Iowan.

Iowa has more job openings right now than unemployed people to fill them. One of our challenges as legislators is to help people get the right skills to fill those jobs, with the education and training they need to succeed. We want people to be able to work and be productive members of our society, changing both their own lives and the lives of their family forever.

We’ve seen more dollars in the classroom for schools, reliable, sustainable spending each of the last three years. Every funding promise we have made to K-12 education, we have fully funded. Those promises are yielding results. Iowa has the highest high school graduation rate, highest average ACT score, and the highest rate of concurrent enrollment in the country.

The state budget, when we took the majority, had a deficit over $100 million, but now it has a surplus of hundreds of millions of dollars. According to Forbes, Iowa is one of only a few states in America with a truly balanced budget, a budget surplus, instead of deficit. Iowa has the second lowest unemployment rate in the country, and it is rated one of the top states for opportunity.

All these positive results did not happen by accident. They happened with the methodical and purposeful implementation of pro-growth policies: Policies to conservatively manage the state budget. Policies to make it easier to do business in Iowa. Policies to fully fund our commitments to education. And policies to reduce the tax burden, so Iowans can keep more of what they earn.

But we still have a long way to go in our race to be the best state in the country. We passed the largest tax cut in Iowa’s history. It was a huge reform package, and now that we are a few years into that plan, we are starting to see some of the results and benefits. And more needs to be done. We want to continue to reduce those rates to bring our state from the back of the pack to one of the states with the lowest rates. We can continue to do more to simplify and make taxes lower, fairer, and more efficient. But the ultimate goal is to ensure the people who work hard for their money are getting to keep more of it. 

We implemented Future Ready Iowa last year to help address the skills gap, but work remains to be done to encourage those able-bodied Iowans on public assistance programs to join the workforce. A workforce that needs them to fill some of the 50,000 open jobs in our state. 

At the end of the day, our goal is to implement policies that provide an opportunity for success for every human being who has chosen to call our state home, while cultivating an environment here to attract people outside Iowa to call our state home. We should be fixing the broken systems that hinder a person’s chance of being successful.

An old Latin proverb reads, “fortune favors the bold.” I want to urge my colleagues to continue to seek out bold solutions to improving this state. We have pursued a bold agenda and the results speak for themselves. If we don’t take this chance to make big changes to how our state runs, should we even be here? Bold change is the legacy I want to leave and if we continue to pursue those reforms, it will be how we are remembered.

As we continue to build that legacy here, we want to make sure we are focused on policy we believe is right and will move our state forward. We will continue to challenge the status quo and implement bold reforms.

What I like most about my colleagues and this chamber is that we work from the ground up. We work on the issues important to our constituents, their families, and our communities. And the most important part of this is, we want our time here to be meaningful. We want to make changes that aren’t just going to fix a problem for a year or two. We want the laws we pass to make positive changes for generations to come. We have the opportunity here to really change people’s lives for the better and improve the environment for them to succeed. 

Now, let’s get to work!

Senate President Charles Schneider’s Opening Remarks 2020

Senate President Charles Schneider’s opening day remarks as prepared.

Good morning and welcome to the second session of the 88th General Assembly.

As I said last session, I am honored to serve as President of the Iowa Senate. I appreciate the trust you have placed in me, and I will work hard every day to fulfill the obligations of this office.

Every year, fifty senators from different parts of the state gather in this chamber. We have different backgrounds. We represent different constituencies. We are from different generations. But we share a common goal – to make Iowa an even better state in which to live, work, and raise a family. I want to thank each of you for your service to our great state. I look forward to working with you in the weeks ahead.

We begin this session with our state in a strong fiscal position. As a result of responsible budgeting during the last three sessions, our reserve accounts are full, and we have a significant budget surplus. 

In times like this, there is pressure to spend. While there are places where new investments make sense, it’s important for us to remember that we are spending taxpayer dollars. Taxpayers expect us to spend responsibly. And if the state receives more revenue than is necessary to fund generally agreed-upon priorities, those same taxpayers expect us to return the surplus to them. 

The conventional wisdom among the press corps, political pundits, and even some legislators, is that it is not possible to accomplish big things during the session immediately preceding an election. I reject this notion outright. In fact, we passed the largest income tax cut in state history just two years ago during an election year. We even adjourned after our per diem days had expired.

The reality is that the challenges we face do not wait for a non-election year to confront us. We face them every year we are in session. Chief among them this session is the shortage of skilled workers in our state. This stifles our economic growth and keeps us from reaching our full potential. We must make Iowa a more attractive destination for talent.

Iowa has a lot to offer individuals, families, and businesses. We have an outstanding education system, an educated workforce, a strong work ethic, low unemployment, outdoor recreational opportunities, and friendly people.

Those advantages alone, however, have not been enough to train, keep, and recruit as many people as we need to fuel our growing economy. There is more we can do.

First, we can improve our tax climate. We know a state’s tax climate can attract people. It can also drive them away. According to the Tax Foundation, Iowa ranks 42nd in business tax climate. The income tax cut bill we passed two years ago has improved our ranking, and it will continue to improve as the bill phases in over time. Still, it is a barrier to growth and an area where we must improve. The more we can lower income taxes, the sooner Iowans will be able to pay off student loans, buy a home, start a family, save for their children’s education, or put aside money for retirement.

Second, we can remove barriers to work. Excessive occupational licensing is the proverbial government red tape of our era. Unelected bureaucrats should not impede people who move to Iowa from working in an occupation for which they were licensed in their home state. If someone who moves to Iowa is a doctor, electrician or other licensed professional, whether they come from Boston or Bangladesh, Iowa should welcome them to the workforce as quickly as possible.

Finally, we can improve how our assistance programs work. Our programs should promote work and career development. Unfortunately, for Iowans receiving childcare benefits, that is not always the case. Far too often, I have heard from constituents and business leaders who say people turn down opportunities to advance in their careers because they risk losing their childcare benefits. This is unacceptable. We need to find a way to reform this benefit to allow people receiving it to have a better shot at their American dream.

While the shortage of skilled workers is a major challenge for us this session, it is not the only one we face. We must continue to find opportunities to position rural Iowa to compete in the 21st Century. We must continue to improve access to mental health services. 

These and other issues we will address this session are big challenges, but that does not mean they are insurmountable. We can achieve great things for our fellow Iowans if we work together. 

I wish everyone in this chamber, including the staff, clerks, and pages, a happy, healthy, and productive legislative session. I look forward to working with all of you to make our state an even better place. 

God bless you all, and God bless the great state of Iowa.

Miller-Meeks Steps Down as Human Resources Chair, Sweeney Named Chair

Today, Iowa Senator Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Ottumwa, announced her decision to step down as chair of the Senate Human Resources Committee.

“During the 2019 Iowa Legislative Session I was proud of the work the Human Resources Committee accomplished on a number of important priorities, including improved transparency of prescription drug costs, creating a children’s mental health program, and passing behind the counter birth control through the Senate. I enjoyed working with the House, Senate, and Governor Reynolds to see positive results for Iowans,” said Miller-Meeks.

“Senator Miller-Meeks provided important leadership on the Human Resources Committee,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny. “I look forward to continuing to work with her on policies to reduce the cost of health care and encourage economic growth in Iowa.”

Senator Miller-Meeks is stepping down in order to allocate more time to her run for Iowa Congressional District 2.

Senator Whitver named Senator Annette Sweeney, R-Alden, as the new chair of the Human Resources Committee, replacing Senator Miller-Meeks.

“Senator Sweeney is a rising leader in our caucus and she has the experience to navigate the issues in that committee,” said Whitver. “The work done in Human Resources affects many Iowans and I have full confidence in her leadership of the Human Resources Committee.”

“Chair of the Human Resources Committee is a challenging position and it is a challenge I am eager to meet,” said Sweeney. “I thank Senator Whitver for his faith in me. My constituents and all Iowans know I will work tirelessly in this job.”

Senator Sinclair Releases Statement Following Government Oversight

Today, Senator Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, issued the following statement regarding today’s Senate Government Oversight Committee meeting reviewing the burglaries of the Polk and Dallas County Courthouses.

“I appreciate the time from elected officials and staff of Dallas and Polk Counties as well as members of the Iowa Judicial Branch. Today’s meeting was informative and enlightening. I was pleased to hear Chief Justice Cady offer an apology for diminishing the public trust and his commitment to ensure similar incidents never happen again.

The Judicial Branch’s hiring of an out of state vendor to break into county courthouses on September 11 created significant danger, not only to the contractors, but to local law enforcement, and members of the public. Additionally, the Judicial Branch seems unable to address the inconsistencies whether or not physical break in was expected or authorized. Upon the conclusion of the ongoing investigations, I look forward to receiving more information regarding these incidents and the processes put in place to ensure a similar incident does not occur.”