On January 11 we officially started the 89th General Assembly and the 2021 legislative session. Those of us who have been at the Capitol before have had to adjust to many changes due to the pandemic in an effort to keep everyone in the building safe while still conducting our work with full transparency.
The first week is busy with the process of organizing a new Senate and a new session. Eight new members were sworn into the Senate, including seven new members to the Republican caucus. They will be great additions to the Senate, and I look forward to hearing about their ideas for the challenges and issues we will be dealing with this session.
My committee assignments are nearly the same as I will continue to serve on the Appropriations, Agriculture, Education, and Natural Resources & Environment committees. I will also be on the Transportation committee for the first time, while giving up the State Government committee work. The other change is that, after four years of chairing the Natural Resources & Environment committee, I have passed that work on to Senator Annette Sweeney’s capable leadership. Instead, I will now chair the Ag and Natural Resources Budget Subcommittee.
The initiatives set forth by Governor Reynolds are encouraging to me and I look forward to working with her and the House of Representatives to send strong legislation to the her desk. We have the opportunity to work together to improve our state’s access to high-speed broadband and get Iowa back to work. We will also work towards the goal of continuing to support programs to provide the education and training needed to fill job openings in Iowa. Addressing our child care needs is also critical.
Throughout the pandemic it has been abundantly clear that mental health, telehealth, and supporting our health care systems is vital to support the well-being of Iowans. We must also focus on the future of Iowa children. We will work diligently to make sure students have the option to be back in the classroom full time. Parents all across the state are demanding that our schools find a way to keep our children in the classroom! I believe our work on education matters will be the most significant work we do this year.
Of course, another key priority for the legislature is passing a balanced budget. The good news is that Iowa is the most resilient state in the union in terms of managing the economic impact of the pandemic. That’s because the last four years have been notable for responsible, conservative budget practices that have left our reserves accounts full, and an ending fund balance of over $400 million this fiscal year. My promise to my constituents is that we will continue those responsible budgeting practices again this year.
We will continue to fund K-12 education at adequate and sustainable levels, and we will deliver every penny we promise to our schools, as we have in the past. The Governor is asking for additional funding for mental health services and broadband, and we will take a close look at those key initiatives.
As we all know, Iowa depends very, very heavily on agriculture. Our farmers continue to provide the cheapest, safest food supply the world has ever known. But agriculture is increasingly being targeted by vicious attacks from special interest groups who are extremely well-funded by some of the wealthiest people on the planet. The latest threat to our livestock producers is a referendum passed by the people of California known as Proposition 12. I will be explaining more about this new barrier in the weeks ahead, but Iowans need to know that one of our largest economic drivers, livestock production, is again in the crosshairs of Humane Society of the US.
Hundreds of bills are in process now at the beginning of the legislative session. Next week we begin the subcommittee and committee work to sort out and refine those new bills. Stay tuned.