DES MOINES, Iowa – Gov. Kim Reynolds outlined her agenda for 2023 in her sixth Condition of the State address on Tuesday night.
She started by assessing where the state stood heading into 2023.
“Through natural disasters, a pandemic, a nationwide recession and more, Iowa’s status as a beacon for freedom and opportunity has endured,” Reynolds said.
“We’ve been recognized as the most fiscally responsible state in the country, we’re ranked in the top ten states to live in America, and we continue to be ranked the #1 state for opportunity. In a world increasingly marked by chaos, Iowa’s strength and stability stand out,” she added. “Our goal today, and throughout this legislative session, is to make sure it stays that way.”
Reynolds made parental choice in education her top priority.
“Our first priority in this legislative session—and what I will be focusing on over the next four years —is making sure that every child is provided with a quality education that fits their needs,” she stated.
“This isn’t about money,” Reynolds said. “It’s also not about public versus private schools. If that’s how you want to frame it, if you want to pretend this is a war between two different school systems, then you’re not focused on our children.”
“If we’re really going to make sure that every child has a quality education, then we have to set aside this us versus them mentality. Because it’s not about whose team you’re on, it’s not about your politics, it’s not about you and it’s certainly not about me. It’s about our children,” she added.
Reynolds announced a comprehensive education reform package with a robust education savings account program, with the state contributing $7,598 to those accounts for those who are eligible, eventually leading to universal school choice in three years.
“(E)very child is an individual who deserves an education tailored to their unique needs, and parents are in the best position to identify the right environment,” she said. “Some families may want an education that conforms to their faith and moral convictions; some kids may have ambitions and abilities that require a unique educational setting; others may experience bullying or have special needs. Regardless of the reason, every parent should have a choice of where to send their child—and that choice shouldn’t be limited to families who can afford it.”
Reynolds also announced that the Iowa Department of Education would come alongside schools that consistently test in the bottom five percent to provide “tailored support” that focuses on early childhood literacy.
She also said that the state would eliminate redundant reporting requirements for schools and provide more flexibility for how local school districts can spend state funds to allow districts to increase teacher salaries.
Reynolds then shifted to talk about the state’s new MOMS program, created by the Iowa Legislature last year, that, when fully operational, will have a statewide network of nonprofits that will connect women with pregnancy support services.
She said she wanted to expand that program to promote paternal involvement and address the needs of fathers. This new funding would allow the state to provide nonprofit grants to assist at-risk dads and mentorship for school-age males.
Reynolds addressed rural healthcare with its declining number of providers. She called on the legislature to fund four OB fellowships for primary care physicians and increase the funding for the health care apprenticeship from $3 million to $15 million.
Reynolds also called for tort reform to protect healthcare providers.
“This is the year that we must enact common-sense tort reform to stop the out-of-control verdicts that are driving our OBGYN clinics out of business and medical school graduates out of state. Iowa is in the minority of states that don’t protect their health care systems by placing reasonable caps on non-economic damages,” she said.
Reynolds also announced a public awareness campaign to help parents understand the dangers of fentanyl. She also called on lawmakers to increase penalties for manufacturing and distributing fentanyl in any amount. She also said first responders should have naloxone on hand to counteract fentanyl overdoses.
She also wants to streamline state government by reducing the number of cabinet agencies from 37 to 16.
“I have a great team of directors, who are served by thousands of capable, hard-working public servants who care deeply about delivering for Iowans. I’d put them up against any state in America,” Reynolds said. “But that talent can’t meet its full potential when it’s hampered by a fractured organizational structure that’s run on autopilot for decades. We can do better for Iowans.”
She also wants to cut down the size of Iowa’s Administrative Code.
“Iowa’s Administrative Code has ballooned to more than 20,000 pages and 190,000 restrictive terms. Many of these rules are unnecessary. Some are actually counterproductive, short-circuiting legitimate economic activity and making our state less competitive,” Reynolds explained.
Earlier on Tuesday, Reynolds signed an executive order placing a moratorium on new rulemaking while directing state agencies to assess whether every existing rule is worth the economic cost.
Republican leadership applauded her remarks.
“Governor Reynolds demonstrated again tonight her positive and uplifting vision for Iowa. Her passion for Iowa and her commitment to parents and students is clear. Iowans have clearly demonstrated their trust in her leadership and the state is better because of her service. Senate Republicans look forward to working with her to empower parents, control spending, expand the workforce, and protect the taxpayer,” Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said.
“Governor Reynolds outlined a vision for the future of our state that fits well with House Republicans’ priorities for the 2023 Legislative Session. I’m eager to get to work on delivering conservative solutions to the concerns and priorities we’ve heard consistently from Iowans like workforce shortages, education reform, government spending and efficiency, and more,” Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said.
Democrats criticized her address.
“The agenda offered tonight by Gov. Reynolds is full of promises and paybacks for the ultra-rich, big corporations and out-of-state interests trying to impose their will on our state,” Iowa Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, said. “But it offers almost nothing for Iowa’s middle-class families.”
“Iowans did not give the governor a mandate to defund public education and weaken our community schools. Iowans did not give Republicans a mandate for more giveaways to the ultra-rich or culture wars that pit us against each other,” he added. “Governor Reynolds’ speech tonight badly misread the needs of our state and the priorities of the folks she was elected to represent.”
Some balked at her tort reform agenda.
“We know the best protection from a dangerous corporate nursing home, a reckless driver, a negligent hospital, or a corrupt employer is our right to hold them accountable in a court of law. This Constitutional right to trial by jury is protected by the 7th Amendment. Damage caps, or ‘tort reform,’ force a one-size-fits-all, government-mandated dollar value on human life. It’s immoral and unconstitutional,” Brad Lint, executive director for the Iowa Association of Justice.
Lint also pointed out that the state’s healthcare providers enjoy some of the country’s lowest medical malpractice insurance rates. He also pointed out that rates for the state’s OB-GYNs are less than half the national average and are the 5th lowest in the country.
Others applauded her plan to reduce the size and scope of state government.
“Streamlining state government and cutting regulations is a smart move to ensure we can continue cutting taxes and improving Iowa’s business environment,” Drew Klein, Iowa State Director for Americans for Prosperity, said on Twitter.