DES MOINES, Iowa — The 2021 legislative session is underway. On Monday, the 89th General Assembly was sworn into office with leaders laying out their priorities for the coming year.
WHO 13 Political Director Dave Price reports the focus on all sides in the Iowa House will be on the pandemic. Republicans who control the Iowa House are waiting on the Biden administration to begin and make decisions on supplying additional state aide. Democrats want the state to spend its own money now to help Iowans.
In the Iowa House, both the majority and minority leaders addressed the attack on the US Capitol that resulted directly in the death of one police officer in their opening speeches. Speaker of the House Pat Grassley said all lawmakers should set an example for the nation in the wake of the siege of the US Capitol building by hundreds of President Trump’s supporters.
“This session, let’s show Iowans and the rest of the country that we can express our disagreements passionately, unequivocally without resorting to violence, aggression or contempt,” Grassley said.
House Minority Leader Todd Prichard called out the Republicans for the role he alleges they played in creating the political environment that preceded the attack. “As an elected leader, I am disgusted at the reaction, or rather the inaction, of some and many of my Republican colleagues here in Iowa,” Prichard said, “For too long politicians have not only enabled, but served as a willing partner in the spread of misinformation about election fraud.” The US House introduced an Article of Impeachment against President Trump on Monday accusing him of “incitement of insurrection.“
Speaker Grassley says further priorities this session will include getting kids back into classroom amidst the pandemic and also addressing the “child care cliff” that leaves many parents unable to afford child care.
The Iowa Senate was also called to order for the first time in 2021 on Monday. Leaders there say the priority will be COVID-19 pandemic recovery and relief as well. Democrats called for the state to spend from its emergency funds to begin helping Iowans immediately. The Republican majority says the best way to respond to the economic losses of the pandemic is to focus on conservative fiscal practices and tax cuts.
“Our state was recognized as one of the most resilient when it comes to our budget. This does not mean we start raiding the surplus and recklessly spending what we have so carefully built up,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver. “It means we are prepared if revenues dip again and not enough money is available to keep the promises we made to public safety, health care and education last year.”
Whitver kept his speech focused on forging ahead into recovery, which he thinks can be done in part with more tax relief and bolstering in-person education. Whitver’s remarks are in contrast to the Democrats, who call for using more state funds to give pandemic relief to Iowans, rather than relying on federal funding.
Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls used his speech to draw on the “failures” of leadership and how he thinks they can turn the corner.
“We missed our opportunity to stop the spread. As a result, the virus is tearing through our state,” said Wahls. “We must help those who are hurting by using federal monies, our budget surplus and the economic emergency fund to help everyday Iowans.”
The scene on the floor of the Iowa House was much different than past opening days. Journalists and lawmakers’ clerks were not allowed on the floor to promote social distancing. Several lawmakers are also choosing to work remotely this session due to the pandemic.
As lawmakers apply those rules in areas of the Capitol they control, a group of Iowans had a different message in the building’s rotunda. Hundreds took part in what they called a “freedom rally” to push lawmakers to ease public health measures enacted by Governor Reynolds in response to the pandemic that has killed more than 4,000 Iowans. The group carried signs reading ‘Unmask Iowa’, ‘Freedom for All’ and ‘Mandates Belong in Socialist Countries’.
Governor Reynolds will deliver her annual Condition of the State address at 6:00 pm Tuesday. WHO 13 will carry the address live at www.who13.com