DES MOINES — Majority Republicans return Monday to the Statehouse ready to deliver “chapter two” of a conservative agenda that Senate leader Bill Dix said would “change Iowa for the best” by creating an environment with tax cuts and other enticements for more investment and growth.
The first year of the 87th Iowa General Assembly saw the GOP enact significant changes in workplace rules, possession of firearms and fireworks, election laws, abortion restrictions and public safety. Dix, a Shell Rock Republican, assured his backers “we are not done” as the new session convenes.
“We need to keep the momentum going in 2018,” said House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, as Republicans who hold majorities of 58-41 in the Iowa House and 29-20-1 in the Iowa Senate continue to push “common-sense conservative legislation” during a two-year run that began when they took control of the Statehouse in the 2016 election. “What a difference one election can make,” she noted.
Iowans saw a change in command at the top of state government during the interim when former Gov. Terry Branstad stepped down in May to become President Donald Trump’s ambassador to China and his lieutenant, Kim Reynolds, was sworn as Iowa’s first female governor.
Reynolds has indicated her priorities for the upcoming session will include making the state’s tax code simpler, fairer and more competitive; training Iowans so they have the skills needed for successful careers; educating the state’s children to meet the demands of modern employment; and further developing the state’s energy plan to continue to maximize renewable energy sources such as wind and biofuels.
Legislative Republicans say much of their focus will be on tax relief and reform and dealing with a current budget shortfall projected at more than $36 million before formulating a new fiscal 2019 spending plan.
Other issues that could get attention this session, scheduled for 100 days, include expanding school choice for parents, further restricting access to abortion, reinstating the death penalty and requiring local authorities to cooperate with federal officials on immigration laws.
Democrats who are in the minority in both legislative chambers say they are bracing for another volatile session.
“I don’t know how it could get more politically charged or more politically divisive or polarized than last year,” said Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines. “What you saw last year will continue on into this year and I think you’re going to see very deep polarization and I think you’re going to see very strong ideological positions on both the left and the right, and I think that very little is going to be accomplished that’s in a bipartisan, consensus manner.”
The fact that Republicans are calling 2018 “chapter two” of the General Assembly’s biennium “makes me very nervous,” McCoy added.
“But, frankly, I think that kind of kicking the door in on government is going to backfire on them because I think Iowans were pretty disgusted with what happened in last legislative session,” he said, “and I think if they repeat that prior to an election, I think that that’s a bad move on their part.”
Senate President Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, sees it very differently.
He said Republicans are very proud of what they accomplished last year — calling it the most historic and productive session in decades — and he believes they are energized “to keep pushing forward” this year.
“So we expect to have some bold ideas and continue to do big things,” he noted.
One change took place over the interim: Sen. Bill Anderson, R-Pierson, left the Iowa Senate to take a full-time job leading the Cherokee County economic development effort, and was replaced in a special Senate District 3 election by Rep. James Carlin, R-Sioux City. A special election is slated Jan. 16 in House District 6 to fill the seat vacated when Carlin moved across the Statehouse rotunda from the House to the Senate.