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Inside the Iowa House: 2017 Legislative Session Underway

January 22, 2017
By Iowa House Democratic Leader Mark Smith , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

The 2017 legislative session opened this week and there is a sense of uncertainty here in Des Moines and DC.

My hope this year is the divisiveness and bitterness that ruled the campaign can be put aside at the State Capitol this year.

As the minority party in the House this year, we know there is much to be done and we are ready to work together with Republicans to make progress for all Iowans again. Our goal is to keep the session focused on Iowa's working families and make sure every family gets a fair shot.

Income inequality and stagnant wages. Higher health care costs and fewer services. Rising tuition and outrageous student debt. Expensive child care costs and a shortage of providers. Retirement insecurity. For far too long, the deck has been stacked against everyday Iowans who are working hard, but still not getting ahead.

We can do better this session. We should work together this session to make K-12 schools our top priority again; make child care more affordable for working families; raise the minimum wage; keep higher education affordable; and expand job training through community colleges and apprenticeships.

Unfortunately, the opening week of session was off to a rocky start.

It started with Republican leaders pledging cooperation, but introducing a host of divisive bills that have nothing to do with making progress for all Iowans and everything to do with politics and ideology.

In the first week, Republicans introduced bills to end retirement security for hundreds of thousands of Iowans (including teachers), create vouchers that shift money from public schools to homeschools and private schools instead, add new voter ID requirements, and even slash access to cancer screenings, birth control and other health services for women.

On Tuesday, Governor Branstad delivered his final Condition of the State Address before leaving for China. While there are some ideas we can work together on this session, the news that made headlines this week was his plan to cut $110 million from the state budget this year.

In his speech, the Governor said growing Iowa's skilled workforce was one his top priorities this year. Yet, minutes later we learned that community colleges and our state universities would bear the largest brunt of his budget cuts at $35 million. That means rising tuition will be on the way for students across Iowa and it will be more difficult for Iowans to get education and training after high school, which is the exact opposite of what Branstad said he would do.

In addition to shifting money from public schools to homeschools, we learned that Republican leaders in the House plan to scrap Iowa's law that puts public school funding first. Over the last several years, public schools have received historic lows in state funding and their plan to delay school funding will make the situation.

From what we've seen so far, the Republican plans in education will hit rural Iowa hard and will lead to more school closures. Anyone who has lived in Iowa knows that when a school closes in a community, that community dries up and blows away. We believe it's the wrong approach.

While it's been a rocky start so far, I hope this session will stay focused on what's important to make progress for all Iowans. That's what Iowans expect and that's what they deserve.



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