DES MOINES, Iowa — Gov. Kim Reynolds highlighted a range of priorities in her Condition of the State speech to Iowa lawmakers last week, but recent history shows those ideas can easily morph or be tossed as members of her party weigh in.
Republicans have indicated strong support for several proposals Reynolds brought up in her Jan. 9 speech — reducing taxes, expanding workforce opportunities and enacting a voluntary water quality program. But topics not discussed or only briefly mentioned could rise to the top of the legislative agenda.
When former GOP Gov. Terry Branstad delivered his Condition of the State speech last year to the new Republican-controlled Legislature, several issues were missing that later dominated the 2017 session: Eliminating most collective bargaining rights for public workers; reducing workers’ compensation benefits; requiring voter identification at the polls; and banning local counties from raising the minimum hourly wage.
Republicans say lawmakers have different priorities than the governor.
“When you get 100 different representatives and 50 different senators that put ideas through this process, sometimes the legislative priorities end up a little bit different than the governor’s,” said Rep. Chip Baltimore, a Boone Republican.
Baltimore is trying to get GOP lawmakers to agree on a bill offering voluntary approaches to cleaning Iowa’s polluted waterways. Reynolds didn’t specify in her speech what she wants in such legislation, but noted it is the first bill she wants to sign into law.
Branstad prioritized water quality in his speech last year, too. He didn’t end up signing a bill.
Republican lawmakers have made clear they plan to pitch a range of bills this session that touch on several social issues, like adding restrictions on abortion, reinstating the death penalty and revamping immigration enforcement. While Reynolds noted her anti-abortion stance in her address, she didn’t say if she would support legislation seeking to ban the procedure, a move that could plunge the state into litigation that could reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
Last year, the Senate approved a bill that would add penalties to communities that didn’t comply with federal immigration enforcement. The House didn’t take up the legislation but it’s alive for debate this session.
Although Reynolds didn’t mention the immigration bill in her Condition of the State speech, she previously indicated support for the proposal.
Ricardo Corona, of the nonprofit American Friends Service Committee, which supports immigrant rights, said many immigrants are worried but fear arrest and deportation if they attend rallies protesting such legislation. Corona said Reynolds’ exclusion of immigration in her speech wasn’t necessarily comforting.
“All we can do is prepare for the worst,” he said.
Rep. Walt Rogers, a Cedar Falls Republican, has long supported policies that would redirect public education funding to individual students so they can use the money for options like private school. Reynolds said in her address she supports so-called school choice, though she proposed allowing parents to use tax-free college saving accounts to pay for K-12 tuition.
“I didn’t take that speech as a hard and fast, set in stone, roadmap for where we’re going to go,” Rogers said. “I took it as, ‘This is a possibility. This is where she would like to see things.’ It doesn’t mean underneath all that, we can’t do some other things that are more in line with what some of our personal passions are.”
Democratic legislators said Reynolds’ speech ignored future budget cuts to departments that they believe will change government more than any policy bill. With lower-than-expected revenue projections, Reynolds has proposed cutting at least $19 million from the current $7.2 billion budget. That’s on top of agency cuts last session. Lawmakers are also weighing how to repay about $144 million in borrowing from reserve funds.
“In this speech, I think she just artfully dodged all the difficult issues that she’s confronted, she is confronting and she will have to confront going forward,” said Sen. Matt McCoy, a Des Moines Democrat.
Branstad’s speech last January did have items that came to fruition, like removing state funding for Planned Parenthood. That required Republicans to give up federal money to exclude family planning money for abortion providers. Federal and state money doesn’t pay for abortions in Iowa. Branstad also achieved a priority to better regulate texting while driving.
Sen. Brad Zaun, an Urbandale Republican who supports a bill to reinstate the death penalty, which was abolished in 1965, said GOP lawmakers share most priorities with Reynolds but they’ll always have their own ideas. He said last session was unique because it was first time the GOP had secured a trifecta of legislative control in nearly 20 years.
Zaun offered a prediction: “This year, I can assure you, is not going to be as controversial as last year.”