Senate Republicans on Rules Review Committee Announce Opposition to Proposed Utility Board Rule

Today, Senators Waylon Brown, R-Osage, Zach Whiting, R-Spirit Lake, and Mark Costello, R-Imogene, announced their opposition to rules proposed in Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) Docket Nos. RMU-2020-0028 and RMU-2019-0024, which were released for comment on May 22, 2020.

“I have a number of concerns about these proposed rules from the Iowa Utilities Board,” said Senator Whiting. “My principal concern is the dramatic expansion of eminent domain authority the IUB appears to give itself. Private property is one of the fundamental aspects of our republic. Eroding those rights through administrative rule-making conflicts with the founding principles of our state and nation. My fellow Republican senators and I look forward to working with the other members of the Administrative Rules Review Committee members to implement a session delay should these rules continue to advance.”

“I applaud the leadership of my colleagues on the Administrative Rules Review Committee to address this administrative overreach,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny. “I look forward to working with the House of Representatives and governor next session to make sure Iowans’ private property rights are protected.”

The proposed rules include three noteworthy changes for counties and landowners. The first change would expand the IUB jurisdiction over the siting and construction of renewable electric generation facilities through the process of certification under Code chapter 476A. The second change would expand the Board’s authority to preempt county and other zoning ordinances and permitting requirements for the construction of wind turbines and certain other renewable generation facilities. Finally, the rules would expand the ability of a developer, upon certification of a project by the Board, to use the power of eminent domain to condemn private property for the construction of facilities.

National Group Hails Iowa’s Budgeting Practices

The Council of State Governments (CSG) recently released a report on the fiscal situations of each state in the country and the resiliency of the budgets in those states. The State of Iowa is the most fiscally sound, most resilient state in the country when it comes to battling through COVID-19, according to a new report issued in July of 2020.

“CSG’s newest report validates the conservative budgeting practices Senate Republicans have implemented for the last four years,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny. “Contrasted with the record of generational debt and massive cuts to K-12 education under Democrat control, Iowans can be confident in stable and predictable funding under Republican leadership.”

CSG commissioned the accounting firm KPMG to study the fiscal risk and resiliency of each state in dealing with COVID-19. The study weighed several factors including percent of GDP by industry in each state, the expected reduction of state revenues, balance in each state’s rainy day fund, each state’s debt to income ratio, the solvency of each state’s pension system and each state’s unemployment trust fund, as well as each state’s cost per enrollee in Medicaid, and growth in K-12 education funding since the Great Recession. 

The full report can be downloaded from this link: https://web.csg.org/COVID19/fiscalimpact/.

Closing Remarks from Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver

Today, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, released his closing remarks as prepared for delivery.

Mister President, Senator Petersen, and colleagues in the Senate,

At the beginning of this year, I urged my colleagues in this chamber to find bold solutions to the problems facing our state. The following weeks were busy with subcommittees, committees and floor debate, as we worked to pass legislation to work on those issues.

In January the unemployment rate was well below three percent and one of the lowest in the country. Iowa had more job openings than unemployed people looking for work. To address that problem the Senate passed bills to address the workforce shortage in our state, whether it was finding ways to bring more people who are able to work into the workforce, building on the governor’s Future Ready Iowa program, or lowering barriers to work in some professions. We worked to expand broadband and continued working on the Empower Rural Iowa initiative.

Early in session the legislature approved almost $100 million in new funding for K-12 schools, including money for per pupil equity and transportation equity among our state’s school districts. We passed legislation to help teachers facing violent students in the classroom, and give them tools to keep themselves and other students safe while they are teaching. We passed legislation to put victims first, and legislation to protect life.

However, the end of this year’s session looked very different from what we thought it would, and vastly different from all years prior. In January, nobody could have predicted the session would take a 10-week break, restart in June with no clerks or pages, and see subcommittee meetings held in the Senate Chamber in the name of public health.

Several months ago we didn’t know how a pandemic would affect our state. We never heard of the virus, the information about it changed almost daily, and the uncertainty was significant. What I do know is this: Iowans all across the state are doing the best they can to help each other, and Iowans are working to get our state back up and running for everyone.

Iowans are no stranger to hardship. Our country has seen civil war, the Great Depression, and been victim to terrorism. The agricultural economy, so vital to our state, has seen ups and downs and more uncertainty year to year than most other industries. Iowa now has record high unemployment in our state. In efforts to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus, many restaurants, shops and stores had to shut their doors. Unfortunately, some of those doors were shut permanently.

But Iowans always rise to the challenge. Many went out to support local businesses in their area, to help keep their neighbors afloat. I read story after story of Iowans packing up meals for kids and families in the area, and people who worked day after day to make masks for health care workers and other essential people in the workforce. Businesses across the state altered their day-to-day practices to help keep employees safe and support them to the best of their abilities. Even in hard times, Iowans are there to help each other and support one another.

Too many Iowans have lost their jobs, have had hours cut, or been forced to shut down the businesses they worked their whole lives to build. The path to recovery starts now. I believe we can get back to where our economy was, and keep moving forward to get Iowans back to work. The coronavirus will not last forever, but the actions we took this week will help put our state back on a path to prosperity.

That work started by implementing reliable and sustainable funding for the essential aspects of state government. This budget will keep the promise of nearly $100 million in new funding for K-12 education. Keeping that promise is exactly what I mean when I say our budget is reliable and sustainable. In the face of a dramatic economic downturn, this chamber made the tough choice and budgeted in the same manner Iowa families budget.

The Senate also included important legal protections to ensure job creators, churches, schools, and cities could reopen their facilities with confidence. In order to restart this economy effectively, all those entities need to know they can put forth a good faith effort to maintaining public health and be protected from a career-ending lawsuit. The last thing a small business in this state needs, after being wounded by the coronavirus, is to be killed off by a lawsuit from someone claiming they could possibly have contracted the virus in their facility.

Finally, we took big, important steps to improve the relationship between law enforcement and minorities in this state. Justice is a fundamental aspect of our government and when it is denied to an individual or a group, it is incumbent upon the elected leaders to take steps to improve the application of laws and justice.

As we finish this legislative session, I look back on the work we done and the decisions we made and I believe implemented important policies to help this state recover from the economic shocks of the coronavirus. But our work is not done. I look forward to working on issues to continue to rebuild the Iowa in the next legislative session.

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, staff, visitors, and fellow Iowans:

I believe voters send us to the capitol each year to make Iowa the best state in America to live, work and raise a family. This is an aspirational and open-ended goal, but one that we as lawmakers should always strive to attain. It’s our responsibility to the people of Iowa.

As I prepare to leave the Legislature, I am proud to say that I fought for this goal every single day since I assumed office in 2013.

For those of us who last faced the voters in 2016, this was one of the most productive and eventful terms in modern history. Since January 2017, the Legislature passed the largest income tax cuts in state history, making Iowa a more competitive place to attract jobs and people. We reformed the opaque and punitive property tax system by giving property tax payers more say on how local governments set their tax rates. We put hardworking Iowans, instead of the union bosses, in charge of the state, local governments, and school districts. We cut unnecessary rules and regulations that hindered economic growth and job creation. We protected doctors and business owners from frivolous lawsuits. We held the state budget in check. We even created the blackout license plate, the most popular specialty license place in state history!

I couldn’t be prouder of our record. I believe these reforms make Iowa a more free, fair, and prosperous place to live.

The last four years have also brought challenges we are still working to overcome. Right now, all legislators are concerned about the physical and economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are all outraged by the violent death of George Floyd and are sympathetic to our neighbors in the streets demanding racial justice. We are also angry at those who hid behind lawful protesters to loot and commit acts of violence.

As state leaders, it is our responsibility to lead our state through the current challenges, and back to growth and prosperity. Since 2017, we have worked closely with Governor Kim Reynolds and the House of Representatives to control spending.  We turned a structural deficit in 2017 into the surpluses that are sustaining us through these challenging times. As a result, Iowa is in a stronger position right now than many other states. While the pandemic is forcing other states to make devastating cuts, Iowa has the resources to withstand a significant drop in revenue while keeping its promises to Iowans.

I expect state leaders will continue to work with stakeholders in pursuit of racial justice in Iowa. Our reforms this year are a down payment on what will be a long-term discussion about racial justice in our state. As these conversations move forward, I am optimistic about their outcome. Iowans are a welcoming people. Most Iowans are accepting of anyone who works hard, is a good neighbor, and plays by the rules. I believe our state gains strength from its diversity. I am confident that when sensible Iowans of all races, genders, orientations, and backgrounds come together to solve a problem, there is no limit to what we can accomplish.

I am optimistic about our future. In my time as a senator, and specifically as President of the Senate, I traveled the state from river to river. I spoke with Iowans from every walk of life. I know Iowans can take on anything that comes their way. We are hard-working, resilient, and never afraid of challenge or hardship. Iowans are kind and compassionate. And, from the emails and phone calls I receive, and questions I get at forums, I know first-hand that Iowans are knowledgeable and tough, always asking difficult questions of those they elect and willing to hold us accountable.

There will be long days ahead as we continue to fight the pandemic and transform our society into one where everyone can achieve the American dream. We will continue to mourn those we lost to COVID-19, care for the sick, confront economic insecurity, and work for justice. And when this difficult night turns to dawn, we will see a bright future for Iowa on the horizon.

My goal has always been for this state to be one where everybody can be successful, where there are opportunities for people to further their education, start a business, or settle down with family. Iowa is and should always be a place where anyone can come and build their American dream, however that may look.

I am proud to leave the Iowa Senate knowing that I achieved many of my goals, and knowing that the future of our state is in very capable hands. Thank you to all of my senate colleagues, past and present, on both sides of the aisle for your friendship, support, and leadership. It was an honor to serve with you, debate beside you, and work towards building an even better Iowa.

Senate GOP Leaders Comment on HF 2647

Today Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, and Senate President Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, commented on the passage of HF 2647, a police reform bill to address unequal treatment of minorities by some members of law enforcement. 

HF 2647 has four policy divisions. Division 1 empowers the attorney general to investigate a death caused by a law enforcement officer. Division 2 bans choke holds by law enforcement unless an officer is in a life threatening situation. Division 3 prohibits officers with a proven record of misconduct from moving from one law enforcement entity to another and continuing their misconduct in a different city or state. Division 4 requires law enforcement agencies to provide annual training in de-escalation techniques and the prevention of bias in law enforcement. 

Senator Whitver’s floor remarks on HF 2647 are below:

Unequal treatment of minorities by some members of law enforcement has not been a problem that has emerged over the last 2 weeks, or 2 month or 2 years. It has been with us for generations.

A failure of action has afflicted not only Republicans majorities in the chamber, this state, and this country but Democrat majorities as well. In light of recent events and the history of this issue, it is time to move forward on policies to improve the treatment of minorities and take steps to address incidents of law enforcement officers infringing on the constitutional rights of minorities.

One of the principle reasons people organize themselves into governments is to protect themselves. Whether a feudal castle, an ancient walled city, or the United States of America establishing itself apart from the tyranny of the British crown, people depend on their government to protect their life and their property. When the government fails to protect the people, unprotected people rightfully seek a solution.

When the rights to life and due process are denied to people like George Floyd or Ahmaud Arbery, it provides a platform for the shared experiences of other black Americans. They demand some solutions from their government.

And so do I. 

That reason is why I have brought SF 2416 to the Senate floor today. This bill has four main policy proposals. It prohibits the training and use of choke holds by law enforcement unless a law enforcement officer is experiencing an imminent threat to his or her life. It prohibits officers with records of proven misconduct from moving from police department to police department to continue that misconduct. It also empowers the attorney general to investigate a death caused by a police officer. Finally, this bill implements training for law enforcement on de-escalation techniques and methods on eliminating racial bias in law enforcement practices.

The government has a role to play in solving this problem but the government cannot solve every problem of racism or discrimination. That change can only happen in the hearts and minds of Americans through the conversations now happening in workplaces, neighborhoods, and homes around the country. 

I don’t believe this bill will solve all the problems black Iowans face. I do believe this bill is a bi-partisan, good faith effort on behalf of the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the governor to implement a number of requests put forward by those Iowans advocating for fair treatment of minorities by law enforcement.

Senator Schneider commented: 

“I am proud to see the Senate pass this legislation and take a step toward improving relationships between minorities and law enforcement in Iowa. House File 2647 is a great example of how change can come from listening to each other and working together to find real solutions to the problems facing our state. While this bill is one step in the right direction, there is still work each and every one of us has to do to make sure everybody is treated equally in our home state.”

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.