Lawmakers return to Des Moines on Monday for the 2022 legislative session, and Republicans – who hold the House, Senate and governor’s office – have their to-do list in order.
The GOP leadership on Tuesday highlighted addressing labor shortages, cutting income taxes and prioritizing parents in education as major goals for the next session.
“We are well positioned to overcome any new challenges 2022 sets out for us,” Governor Kim Reynolds said. “I hope none of these challenges start with the word ‘unprecedented’.”
Democrats, meanwhile, offered alternative solutions to tackle the workforce and stressed that tax cuts should target low- and middle-income Iowans.
Here are some of the questions addressed by lawmakers:
Cutting income taxes is a high priority, but lawmakers can’t eliminate it completely
Republican leaders have agreed that Iowa must continue to cut taxes, especially since the state reported a record surplus last year.
“We have to put these taxes back into (the taxpayers’) hands,” said House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford.
On the chopping block: Iowa’s income tax, which Republicans say makes the state less competitive. But leaders refrained from recommending an immediate elimination of the state income tax, stressing that the change should be sustainable over time.
âWe are looking at lowering rates for the people of Iowa, for the individual income taxpayers who pay the bulk of the income tax bill,â said Senator Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton. “I don’t think this is an overnight process.”
Democrats stressed that the tax cuts should target middle-class Iowans.
âI think it’s time to focus these tax cuts on the workers and middle classes in Iowa who were left out before,â Konfrst said.
Reynolds declined to give details of her tax cut proposal, but said she was “excited to know where we are.” She said tax cuts should be fiscally responsible and able to be sustained over the long term.
Reynolds will outline his tax policy next week, ahead of the condition of the state speech.
Parents’ choice is the cornerstone of education policy
Education has been a flashpoint in Iowa politics, sparking debates over mask-wearing, banning books, and charter school. At the center is a common thread, say Republicans: the need to give parents more choice and control over their children’s education.
Sinclair, chair of the Senate Education Committee, said creating a “Parents Bill of Rights” was a top priority this session. She said the legislation would create more transparency in schools and involve parents more in schools.
Reynolds has promised similar transparency for parents in response to the controversy over inappropriate books in school libraries.
âParents need to know what books are in the library to give them a chance to weigh,â Reynolds said. âThey need to know what program is in the programâ¦ I think you’re going to see engaged and caring parents.
Vocational training, access to childcare offered as workforce solutions
Reynolds also pledged a comprehensive legislative proposal to grow and strengthen the Iowa workforce. She worried that two-thirds of those unemployed were between 25 and 54 years old. She stressed the importance of workforce training programs and access to child care to get people back to work.
âWe have to incentivize people to work, not pay people to stay home,â Reynolds said.
Reynolds raised the possibility of streamlining existing workforce programs in the state.
Sinclair echoed Reynolds, telling reporters that increasing education and access to child care were priorities for developing the teaching workforce in Iowa.
Minority Parliamentary Leader Jennifer Konfrst has suggested affordable housing and better wages as other remedies for the workforce crisis.
Republican leaders cautious about employer mandate changes on vaccines
Members of the House State Government Committee on Tuesday launched a proposal to ban employers from requiring their employees to be vaccinated. This has been a controversial issue in recent months, even after lawmakers passed a bill in October to provide broad exemptions to employer mandates.
But Republican leaders have called for caution on the new proposal. The U.S. Supreme Court is set to review the legality of several federal vaccine warrants, and Reynolds argued the state should wait to implement new laws on the matter.
âI am looking for (the Supreme Court) and I predict that they would render their decision in a timely manner,â Reynolds said.
Grassley and Sinclair did not specifically comment on Tuesday’s proposal. Grassley said the legislature should be ready to act following a court ruling.
“We have already acted, as we said, and made sure to address the exemptions as much as possible,” he said, pointing to the October law. “But I also think the legislature shouldn’t try to take the lead and complicate these court cases.”
Grassley noted that employer vaccination mandates could be contributing to workforce issues in Iowa.
“It is just one more thing that harms our condition and the ability of people to enter or stay in the workforce,” he said.
Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, countered that unvaccinated employees who are hospitalized with COVID-19 also present a workforce problem.
“We need to put our energy into focusing on getting the Iowiens to get the vaccine that has been shown to be safe and effective,” she said.
Abortion policy pending court decisions
Executives also said state abortion laws could wait until the Supreme Court rules on Texas abortion law, or until the Iowa Supreme Court rules on wait times.
âI think as a pro-life lawmaker I’m willing to do what’s best for the people of Iowa, but I also think it’s incumbent on us not to get ahead of these things. conversations, âSinclair said.
Governor to propose changes to racial profiling
In 2021, Reynolds proposed sweeping âBack the Blueâ law that included new data collection requirements for law enforcement agencies to ban racial profiling. Several parts of this legislation were passed, including stronger sentences for rioters and additional protections for police officers, but the racial profiling proposal was removed from the final bill.
Reynolds said she would again propose legislation banning racial profiling.
Grassley said he would be open to conversations on the matter.