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OTHER VOICES: After 2020, Iowa needs different legislative session

OTHER VOICES: After 2020, Iowa needs different legislative session

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The year just ended was unlike any other. Iowans faced a global pandemic, social upheaval and a devastating storm. In the face of those challenges we adjusted, shifted priorities and innovated.

We changed the way we do business, teach children and deliver health care. We created new systems, adapted to unprecedented circumstances and invented new traditions.

Many of us masked up, mourned our losses and worked to recover.

But most of all, we learned. The past year was a heartbreaking refresher course in the fundamental problems plaguing Iowa for years, laid bare by our challenging times.

Iowa has been changed by 2020. We can’t ignore the lessons. And we can’t go back to “normal.”

So it would be a truly welcome development if the Iowa Legislature that reconvened this week would embark on a different kind of session serving that changed Iowa. Shun the same old partisan fights and look for sturdy solutions and bipartisan accomplishments. We hope that lawmakers, too, have learned the hard and valuable lessons of a difficult year.

The fact Republicans who run the Legislature are not requiring face coverings in the Capitol makes us wonder about the learning. But it’s too soon to give up hope.

We’ve learned that Iowa faces a child care crisis, with a widening gap between working parents in need of care and accessibility to affordable, quality options.

We’ve learned amid the isolation and anxiety of the pandemic that our underfunded mental health system cannot meet the needs of Iowans searching for help. A children’s mental health system created with much fanfare still has not been adequately funded.

We’ve learned the importance of public education for not only teaching our children but also providing a stable support system. And we learned schools’ ability to provide learning online when necessary do not adequately meet the needs of students. That lesson should yield to a new push for innovation in how teachers deliver lessons, in training of teachers and in the educational technology industry the state has shown interest in growing.

We’ve learned the decline of health care accessibility, especially in rural Iowa, is accelerating. We’ve learned our system for protecting children remains inadequate. We’ve learned that hunger in Iowa is a problem that demands immediate action. Iowans struggling with evictions and other economic side effects of the pandemic need aid.

We’ve learned that our criminal justice system, plagued by systemic racism, is in need of long-overdue, meaningful reforms. One of the best moments of 2020 was in June when lawmakers of both parties, heeding the calls of Black Lives Matter protesters, swiftly and unanimously passed a package of policing reforms. Lawmakers can build on that proud moment.

We’ve seen destructive weather extremes consistent with the consequences of a changing climate. Can Iowa leaders send a signal to the nation and beyond we’re committed to do our part to address this dire threat to our future?

And when we couldn’t come together in some of our traditional gathering places, we saw people flock to trails and state parks to get some exercise, or explore something new. We were reminded that our outdoor spaces need investment too.

None of these issues have to be partisan. Bipartisan action is possible in all cases. After a year that saw Americans more divided than ever, Iowa could set a much needed example of how government can still work for everyone, not just the tribe in control.

Yes, we’ve seen the Legislature in action over the past four years. We’ve criticized much of its work.

But we’ve also seen 2020. And we’ve learned we can’t pass up this chance to help Iowa heal and make our state stronger.​

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