DES MOINES — Iowa lawmakers convened the 2020 legislative session Monday with taxes, workforce and child care issues on their minds.
With his family including his grandparents U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley and Barbara Grassley looking on, Republican Rep. Pat Grassley was elected by voice vote and took the oath of office to take the speaker’s chair.
The wooden gavel he will use was given to him by his father, Robin Grassley, made from a walnut tree on the family's farm near New Hartford.
Charles Grassley, who served 16 years in the Iowa House, is now president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate — making him third in line to the presidency. He said he was never interested in being Iowa House speaker but he's proud of his grandson's success.
“I think he also knows there's going to be a lot of hard work to maintain control of the Iowa House through the next election but he knows it's worth it,” Grassley said.
He said seeing Democrats take over the U.S. House has “neutered” President Donald Trump's agenda and his grandson will want to avoid that in the Iowa House.
“He wants to make sure the third and fourth year of Gov. (Kim) Reynolds' first term doesn't get neutered by that and to see that that majority is maintained,” he said.
Pat Grassley said workforce issues should be the top priority and that includes finding ways for working families to have access to childcare and make it affordable.
He also said expansion of broadband to rural areas is an important priority.
Rep. Linda Upmeyer, speaker since 2016, has stepped down from the leadership position. She will complete her current term in the House that ends this year before leaving the legislature.
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Two Northwest Iowa legislators will hold top leadership roles in the new session. Rep. John Wills of Spirit Lake was elected by voice vote to speaker pro tempore and Rep. Matt Windschitl of Missouri Valley will be the House majority leader.
Wills said he hoped for a government that is smaller and smarter and a session that advances gun rights and limits abortion.
Windschitl, one of the House's most ardent gun rights advocates, said his focus is on freedom.
“Let us strive to find new and ingenuitive ways to make Iowans freer," said Windschitl, whose district includes part of Woodbury County. "Free from burdensome government regulations. Free from an overly complex tax system. Free to raise their families and live their lives without the fear of government intrusion. Free to exercise their individual fundamental rights without government sanction or approval.”
Republicans remain in the majority in the House and Senate, and leaders have promised to tackle some of the problems that they argue hinder business growth, including taxes, a lack of available workers and a shortage of affordable child care.
Discussion may include funding the children’s mental health program created last year and considering a sales tax increase to pay for water quality and environmental programs.
Reynolds will outline her priorities Tuesday in the annual Condition of the State message to lawmakers.
Senate President Charles Schneider emphasized additional tax relief as a priority.
“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,” he said.
Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen called on lawmakers to “put the power of kindness to work in this place so our children, our grandchildren and all Iowans see that the Iowa Legislature is comprised of helpers who want to make our state a welcoming, friendly neighborhood again for everyone.”
She advocated for paid family leave, equal pay for equal work, and access to affordable child care. She also said lawmakers should pass Reynolds' felon voting constitutional amendment, expanded family planning services and funding for rural hospitals to rescue labor and delivery services rapidly closing in rural hospitals.
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