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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.”

Senate Oversight Committee to Review Courthouse Security Breaches

Today, the Chair of the Iowa Senate Oversight Committee, Senator Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, announced the committee would convene a meeting to review the Judicial Branch’s handling of the recent attempts to invade the Polk and Dallas County Courthouses. 

“Iowans have a number of questions regarding the rationale, execution, and explanation of the attempts to break into these county courthouses,” said Senator Sinclair. “The Senate will perform its oversight role to search for answers about how these staged burglaries improve the provision of services to Iowans by the Judicial Branch.”

The meeting will be held in Room 116 in the Iowa Capitol. A date and time for the meeting will be announced soon.

Senator Whitver Announces Updated Committee Assignments

Today, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, announced updated committee assignments as a result of Senator Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, stepping down as chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Senator Jake Chapman, R-Adel, will chair the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

“I want to thank Senator Whitver for the opportunity to lead the tax writing committee in the Senate,” said Senator Chapman. “It is an important role that affects all Iowans. It is a privilege to lead this committee. I commend Senator Feenstra on his leadership and I look forward to working with him next year as we continue to reform income taxes and reduce some of the highest tax rates in the country.”

Senator Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, now chairs the Senate Commerce Committee.

“It is an honor to be appointed as chair of the Senate Commerce Committee by Senator Whitver and a privilege to represent my district in this capacity,” said Senator Dawson. “I look forward to working on legislation to decrease burdensome regulations in Iowa and ensure everyone from Council Bluffs and Carter Lake to Davenport has a job opportunity.”

Senator Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City, will serve as chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. 

“I am grateful for the opportunity to serve as the chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee,” said Senator Carlin. “The veterans living in our state have sacrificed so much to protect our nation. I look forward to passing legislation to support Iowa’s veterans and thank them for their service.”

“Senator Feenstra provided strong and principled leadership for the Ways and Means Committee for 3 years. I am thankful for his service to our caucus,” said Senator Whitver. “The depth of talent in the Senate Republican Caucus is on display once again. I have full confidence in Senators Chapman, Dawson and Carlin in their new roles to continue to implement a positive, pro-growth agenda for Iowa.”

Senator Julian Garrett will serve as the vice chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Ken Rozenboom will replace Senator Dawson on the Senate State Government Committee.

Updated committee compositions are below. All changes are effective immediately and other committee assignments are unchanged.

Ways and Means
Chapman, chair
Dawson, vice chair
Behn
Feenstra
Smith
Sweeney
Nunn
Edler
Schultz
Brown
Carlin

Commerce
Dawson, chair
Koelker, vice chair
Brown
Sinclair
Breitbach
Miller-Meeks
Feenstra
Johnson
Smith
Nunn
Chapman

Judiciary
Zaun, chair
Garrett, vice chair
Chapman
Nunn
Shipley
Sweeney
Schultz
Whiting
Sinclair
Dawson

State Government
Smith, chair
Johnson, vice chair
Chapman
Rozenboom
Feenstra
Schultz
Miller-Meeks
Whiting
Cournoyer
Zaun

Veterans Affairs
Carlin, chair
Miller-Meeks, vice chair
Koelker
Costello
Edler
Dawson
Lofgren

Senator Feenstra Steps Down As Ways and Means Chair

Today, Iowa Senator Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, announced his decision to step down as chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

“Since regaining the majority in 2016, the Ways and Means Committee has produced significant pro-growth, pro-taxpayer reforms under my leadership. From income tax reform to property tax reform, this committee has protected the taxpayer, rewarded work, and encouraged investment. Additionally, I worked productively with the House, Senate, and Governor Reynolds to see policy ideas become results for Iowa,” said Feenstra.

“The income tax reform bill in 2018 was the largest income tax cut in Iowa history. It also significantly reduced the complexity of the tax code, providing simplicity and certainty for Iowa job creators. I have spoken with Senator Whitver about my desire to be engaged on tax reform efforts in 2020 and he has assured me I will retain a key policy role as our caucus continues to implement pro-growth tax reforms.”

“Senator Feenstra has had the most productive back-to-back sessions of any Ways and Means Chair,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny. “I look forward to working with him on additional income tax reforms in 2020 to reduce the tax burden on Iowa’s families, farmers, and businesses.”

Senator Feenstra is stepping down in order to allocate more time to his run for Iowa Congressional District 4.

Closing Remarks from Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver

Below are closing remarks from Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R – Ankeny, as prepared for delivery.

Mister President, Senator Petersen and colleagues in the Senate,

I will start by expressing my gratitude to the staff and senators in this building for all the work they have done this session. It is a privilege to lead such a dynamic and unified caucus. Every day I have the distinct honor of being a part of a caucus full of leaders with bold, fresh ideas for our state. Even with all our differences, our caucus remains committed to each other as a team.

It is hard to believe the 2019 session is drawing to a close. Just 103 short days ago, I asked you all to keep in mind the reason you ran for office. I ran for office to make our state and country a better place for my kids and our family – a place where they can grow up, go to school, succeed in a career they enjoy and spend a lifetime in a place we all love and are proud to call home…Iowa. 

When we began the 2019 Legislative Session I urged my colleagues in this body to be bold, challenge the status quo and enact meaningful policies that serve as a roadmap for the next generation to flourish for decades to come. I urged us to maintain the reform-minded perspective of the first two years in the majority. Together we set an agenda to strengthen and grow our economy, while allowing Iowans to keep more of their hard-earned money.

To implement that agenda, we did not want to just make small changes to a couple lines in an Iowa Code book; instead, we focused on generational changes to bring more prosperity, growth and opportunity to our state. 

These policies are already yielding an abundance of positive results.  We rank as one of the top states for jobs, high school graduation and concurrent enrollment. Our unemployment rate is among the lowest in the country. Last year, Iowa was rated the Number One state in America by US News and World Report. Achieving that top ranking is not easy – but staying there is even more challenging.

This year, we provided an additional $89 million in sustainable funding for our K-12 schools, and extended the sales tax dedicated to help support their infrastructure costs. We passed four welfare reform bills to make those programs run more effectively and efficiently. These bills help ensure assistance is only for those truly in need, encourages people to join the workforce, and could save taxpayers millions of dollars. We passed a bill to protect Iowa businesses and workers, and promote better hiring practices through the use of E-Verify. We created a children’s mental health system in our state. We passed legislation to allow our state’s farmers to grow another crop and another to level the playing field for utility customers. We passed a bill to protect Iowa’s agriculture industry, and a bill to protect the First Amendment rights of students at our public universities.

We proposed a budget that was conservative, responsible and sustainable. It funded the necessities of our state, like education and public safety, and provided the state a cushion to respond to the massive flooding in western Iowa. Responsible budgeting always has been important to this caucus, just as it is important to every hard-working person in our state.

One of the number one concerns we heard when talking with Iowans over the last couple years was property taxes. And, they have reason to be concerned. Property tax collections have more than doubled in the last 18 years. These increases exceed more than $3 billion across Iowa. Meanwhile, during that same time frame, Iowans incomes have risen only 43 percent.

After passing income tax relief for Iowa’s hard-working families during the last Legislative Session, this year we passed property tax reform, to control increases for those who have seen their assessments rise year after year, improve transparency, and hold public officials accountable for any increase in property taxes.

Our work doesn’t stop when we leave this building. There are many issues we can work on next year and continue to forge a path to help grow our economy, retain young graduates and attract new Iowans to call our state home. 

I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to all my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for another outstanding session and for all the work we accomplished. Thank you for the thoughtful debate and discussion and the work you do on behalf of your constituents and our great state. We made a lot of progress this year for Iowa and Iowans, and I look forward to working with all of you next January as we continue this journey toward long-term prosperity.

Closing Remarks from Senate President Charles Schneider

Below are closing remarks from Senate President Charles Schneider, R- West Des Moines, as prepared for delivery.

Senators, guests and fellow Iowans:

I would first like to say it was a great honor to serve again as President of the Senate. I appreciate the trust my colleagues placed in me. I returned it by always doing my best to fulfill the responsibilities of the role to which you elected me.

My goal this session, and every session since I was elected to the Senate, was to make Iowa the best state in the country to live, work, and raise a family. I believe we made progress toward this goal during the 2019 legislative session.

I am proud of the work we did to bring transparency and accountability to the process by which property taxes are determined.

Many Iowans felt their property tax burden getting worse, but could not explain why it was happening. Our convoluted property tax system made it difficult for property owners to hold the right people accountable. 

We believe the key to holding down property taxes is to bring more accountability to local budgeting processes. The bill passed by the Legislature will hold down budget expansions in cities and counties that had been on autopilot thanks to rising valuations, while allowing local leaders in growing communities to provide critical services to their constituents.

As a result, Iowans should expect to see the amount they pay in property taxes more closely align to local government budgets than their property valuations. This bill will remove what amounts to a government-imposed penalty on an appreciating asset regardless of the taxpayer’s ability to pay.

The property tax reform bill will shine a spotlight on city and county budget processes, while still allowing local government officials to make choices that make sense for their communities. As a former West Des Moines City Council member and a Senator who represents some of the fastest growing communities in our state, I understand these local leaders need the flexibility to grow their physical infrastructure and staff resources to keep up with their changing jurisdictions. I am proud this bill will allow well-managed, fast-growing cities, like those in my Senate district, to continue to make smart choices for their futures.

While many outside this chamber focus on the issues that divide us, I am proud the Senate was able to come together on a number of key issues facing our state.

For me, the children’s mental health bill we passed this session will be a legacy item. This bill demonstrates that the Legislature understands there is a children’s mental health crisis in our state. Unfortunately, this problem is not specific to our state. But, I believe the provisions in the children’s mental health bill position our state to be a leader on this issue. I hope the solutions that result from this legislation will be a model for other states to follow.

I am also proud of the lower-profile issues the Senate came together this year to address. Every session, Iowans from around the state petition their government to resolve issues in their day-to-day life. Though many of these issues do not make the front page of the newspapers, they are important to people in our state and I am proud of our work on them.

While we made important progress this session on a number of key issues, there is still work for us left to do during this General Assembly.

Businesses throughout the state are still experiencing a serious skilled worker shortage. We hear this shortage is already stifling economic growth in our state. While I am proud we supported the governor’s Future Ready Iowa initiative this session, there is still more work to do.

There also continues to be too many barriers to success in our state. Unnecessary occupational licensing requirements threaten to limit opportunities for Iowans to pursue their dreams. Iowa has one of the most heavily licensed workforces in the country. States like Arizona have made important strides to rebalance protecting the public with reducing barriers to economic opportunity. I believe policymakers in Iowa should have a serious conversation next session about this issue.

I would like to wish everyone a safe, healthy and prosperous summer. Thank you for your hard work on behalf of your constituents and our state. God bless you and your families. And, God bless the great state of Iowa.

Senate Republicans Release Budget Targets

Today, Senate Republicans released their budget targets for FY 2020. The overall budget of $7,619,300,000 is the same amount of funding allocated in FY 2019. These targets are $48 million less than the House and $39 million less than the governor. 

“Senate Republicans are maintaining their commitment to taxpayers to manage their money prudently and put their interests first,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny. “Our caucus is committed to continuing to implement pro-growth policies. This budget is one early step in implementing that agenda.”

Senate Appropriations Chair Mike Breitbach, R-Strawberry Point, said, “I look forward to working with my colleagues, the House of Representatives, and the governor to implement a sustainable, responsible, and conservative budget to continue to fund the priorities of Iowans and keep Iowa on the path to maintain its status as the Number One state in the nation.”

These budget targets include $38.8 million in additional tax relief in FY 20. The targets also include nearly $130 million in new funding for education, $14.5 million in new funding for public safety, and $106 million in new funding for health care. The decrease in Unassigned Standings is because the increases in the FY 20 budget are less than the $113 million cash reserve repayment that is not necessary in FY 20. Reductions in Health and Human Services are because of one-time expenditures in FY 19 on Medicaid and an increase in federal funding for that program.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver’s Statement on Condition of the State

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver released the following statement regarding the Condition of the State remarks from Governor Reynolds.

“I applaud Governor Reynolds’ positive vision of Iowa. The policies enacted over the last two years have made Iowa the Number One state in the country. Senate Republicans will continue our partnership with the governor to implement bold, pro-growth policies to build on that success. We will keep our focus on expanding career opportunities for Iowans, enabling them to keep more of what they earn, and making Iowa the best state it can be.

“Iowans rewarded our leadership over the last two years because we delivered on our promises. I look forward to furthering that record of achievement with Governor Reynolds throughout the 2019 session.”