Monday, January 14th marked the first day of the 2019 legislative session as thirty-one new lawmakers were sworn-in to office. Republicans maintained their “trifecta” with Governor Reynolds’ November victory and their retained majorities in the Iowa Senate and House. The Senate Republicans increased their caucus by three seats as they now have 32 members. The House Republicans saw their majority decrease, but still hold a 54-46 advantage.
On Tuesday, January 15th, Governor Kim Reynolds gave her Condition of the State address as Iowa’s first elected female governor. (Reynolds previously completed Governor Terry Branstad’s term after he was appointed Ambassador to China in 2017.) She focused heavily on STEM education, skills training, and rural development as key priorities this session. To that end, Gov. Reynolds called on lawmakers to add $20 million in funding to her Future Ready Iowa initiative approved by the legislature last year. The goal of the program is for 70 percent of Iowans to have college degrees or post-high school vocational training by 2025. She also asked the legislature to increase K-12 education funding by $93 million, including $1 million for STEM education.
On the rural development side, Gov. Reynolds announced the creation of the Center for Rural Revitalization within the Iowa Economic Development Authority. The new center will work in conjunction with the Iowa Rural Development Council to establish the Empower Rural Iowa initiative. A keystone of Reynolds’ development agenda is the expansion of broadband service statewide. She requested lawmakers appropriate $20 million over the next two years to make broadband accessible in rural communities. She said the state funding would help Iowa leverage another $120 million in private funds, which would spur job growth in the state’s small towns and encourage young people to settle there. Reynolds said she would also focus on expanding workforce housing in rural areas, and proposed doubling rural Iowa housing tax credits to $10 million.
Gov. Reynolds also cited criminal justice reform as an important agenda item for her administration. She asked the legislature to begin the process of amending the Iowa Constitution to automatically restore felon voting rights after they complete their sentences. Currently, only Iowa and Kentucky ban felons from voting for life. Reynolds further proposed lawmakers approve legislation that would grant legal protections to employers who hire people with criminal records. She also touted programs in Fort Dodge and Newton which offer inmates the opportunity for education and skills training to better prepare them to reenter society.
In his Condition of the Judiciary address Wednesday, January 15th, Chief Justice Mark Cady also focused heavily on technology. He requested a $7.2 million appropriations increase for the judicial branch, which would pay for additional courthouse staff statewide, increase judicial salaries, and allow for further technology funding. He said this investment could fund electronic search warrants, remote court reporting and interpreting, and court reminder text messages. Chief Justice Cady also noted that the court system is establishing a culture of “continuous improvement,” and has committed to submitting an annual report of where the judicial branch is succeeding and where it is falling short.