Iowa Legislature adjourns session marked by major tax cuts and roadblocks on education




  • In Business
  • 2022-05-25 05:17:18Z
  • By The Des Moines Register

The Iowa Legislature has adjourned its 2022 session, one where Republicans rallied around priorities like a $1.9 billion tax cut, cuts to unemployment benefits and restrictions on transgender athletes.

But Republicans - who control both legislative chambers - fell short on one of their most high-profile efforts: a push for legislation they said would expand parental choice and transparency in education.

The session's final weeks were marked by gridlock as Republicans were unable, for the second year in a row, to muster enough votes to pass Gov. Kim Reynolds' hallmark education proposal, which would have provided publicly funded scholarships to help families pay for private school expenses.

After two final days of action, lawmakers adjourned at 12:16 a.m. Wednesday upon approving an $8.2 billion budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. The end-of-session flurry also brought a number of policy bills across the finish line, including changes to Iowa's decades-old bottle and can redemption program - a longtime white whale for Iowa politicians.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said in his closing speech that the last two sessions have combined to be "one of the most productive and exceptional" two-year general assemblies in state history. He pointed to the tax cuts and Republicans' efforts during the pandemic.

"Despite all we have accomplished, we have much more to do," he said. "This generational tax cut will be implemented over the next several years, and a conservative, sustainable budget must accompany that tax relief."

But House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, said she's disappointed legislative Republicans didn't do more to address the state's worker shortage and lack of child care and affordable housing.

"Instead what we did was we did a lot of rewarding special interests. We made sure that the wealthiest Iowans got a tax cut and we left a lot of Iowans behind," she said. "So I'm really disappointed. The session had potential and we missed the mark."

The session had stretched more than a month past its target end date, even though Republican legislators acted quickly early in the session, sending Reynolds their top priority - tax cuts - in time for her to sign a 3.9% flat tax into law hours before her nationally televised March 1 response to President Joe Biden's first State of the Union Address. Later that week, she signed a law banning transgender women and girls from competing in female sports.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, seated, speaks with senators and staff at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines, Tuesday, May 24, 2022.
Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, seated, speaks with senators and staff at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines, Tuesday, May 24, 2022.  

But lawmakers spent weeks at home prior to Monday's return as Senate Republicans held up the budget process to allow Reynolds time to push for support for her education proposal.

In the end, House Speaker Pat Grassley acknowledged he didn't have the votes.

Republicans left behind several other education proposals along the way, including ones that would impose new criminal charges on teachers, allow parents to sue school districts, put video cameras in classrooms and require districts to post their curriculum and library books online.

The final hours of the session were marked by a few final policy shifts. Lawmakers voted to eliminate the March 1 deadline for students to open enroll in other school districts, meaning they can do so any time throughout the year as long as the new district accept. The Legislature also voted to ban private money from being used to help run elections - a policy that's cropping up in states around the country in part due to Republican objections to large donations to election offices in 2020 by Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

And, in a last-minute compromise, the House and Senate also agreed on legislation to regulate pharmacy benefit managers, which serve as "middlemen" between insurance companies and drug manufacturers. Iowa is among many states considering more regulations on the industry.

Farewells and final jabs as the last day of session wound down

In the session's final days, there were moments of levity and sentimental farewells as lawmakers said goodbye to colleagues who plan to retire this year.

Rep. Chris Hall, D-Sioux City, gave the final retirement speech of the year in the Iowa House on Tuesday, where he recalled running his first campaign in 2010 and developing friendships across the aisle with Republicans in the years since.

"No matter the passions that get stirred up, for years I've made an effort to always say 'good morning' to my Republican colleagues the day after a hard debate," he said. "And I suspect many of you remember those moments."

Some of the goodbyes were tongue in cheek, like an exchange Tuesday between frequent nemeses Rep. Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines, and Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton.

"I will miss you next year," Kaufmann told Hunter during debate on a budget bill. "So I'm telling you one last time that you're wrong."

"Point of order!" Hunter called out from across the House chamber. "He's wrong, too!"

There was also the typical end-of-session griping by lawmakers upset that their priorities didn't make the final cut. House Democrats rose several times during debate Monday and Tuesday to chastise their Republican colleagues for not fighting harder for the House's more robust version of the budget.

"I'm frankly sick and tired of what the Senate's been doing, and that we're just taking it," Rep. Kirsten Running-Marquardt, D-Cedar Rapids, said Tuesday during debate on the state's economic development budget.

In a solemn pause, both the House and Senate held moments of silence for those killed in a shooting at a Texas elementary school on Tuesday. As of Tuesday evening, the death toll was at least 19 children and two adults.

With Iowa legislative session over, focus turns to the campaign trail

Iowa lawmakers will now hit the campaign trail in advance of the June 7 primary, where an unusually high number of lawmakers face challengers due to the once-in-a-decade redistricting process.

More: Here's who's running for the Iowa House and Senate in the Des Moines metro

Education is a motivating factor in many Republican races, and Reynolds has already endorsed the primary opponent of one House Republican who opposed her scholarship proposal.

Rep.
Rep.  

Once the primary dust settles, the November general election will be, in part, a referendum on Republican leadership in Des Moines as GOP candidates ask voters to return them to power and Reynolds seeks another four-year term in office. Republicans have held the trifecta for six years.

Democrats, meanwhile, will be making the case that Republicans have failed to act on priorities important to Iowans, like the state's worker shortage and lack of child care, and that they've needlessly caused division by focusing on issues like blocking transgender women and girls from competing in girls' sports.

With all the legislative retirements this year and the potential for turnover at the ballot this fall, the policymakers who come to Des Moines next January could look very different than the group that ended the 2022 session.

Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa Statehouse and politics for the Register. He can be reached by email at sgrubermil@registermedia.com or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.

Ian Richardson covers the Iowa Statehouse for the Des Moines Register. Reach him at irichardson@registermedia.com, at 515-284-8254, or on Twitter at @DMRIanR.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Iowa Legislature adjourns 2022 session after passing budget, tax cuts

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