When I came home after the 2021 legislative session a few weeks ago, I drove around the many cities that make up my Senate district. I saw progress on derecho clean-up, main street work in Marion, new businesses in Hiawatha and growing restaurant crowds in Cedar Rapids.
Seeing all this work and optimism at home, made the memories of the divisive legislative session seem a bit more distant.
The legislative session certainly had its ups and downs. There are always bills on which both parties agree, many on which we don’t agree and some that will live another day. Through it all, we had a layer of fear about the pandemic that hovered over all of our work.
Democrats in the House and Senate had a plan this session called Build Back Better. Our plan would have positioned Iowa for long-term economic growth and helped working families, small businesses, schools, and our dedicated health care workers recover.
Unfortunately, the Majority party didn’t agree with us. Here’s what happened.
The first bill out of the gate in the Senate was to bring back the death penalty, instead of addressing issues around the pandemic and making sure that we focused on vaccinating the state and have potential plans for booster shots or the next round of vaccinations.
The House sent several bills to the Senate that included various ways that could make child care affordable for Iowans and build a structure that would keep this sustainable, but the Senate GOP leadership rejected most of those House bills.
I voted in favor of a tax-cutting bill that was sent from the Senate to the House. It eliminated tax triggers and repealed the inheritance tax. But that bill, with another, was amended together in the House and sent back with a section that cut backfill to cities and (in turn) will most likely raise property taxes on homeowners.
Instead of supporting Iowans who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, Republicans toyed with their assistance which was a lifeline for many, many families. GOP leadership also took potential funds from public schools and gave it to the development of charter schools.
There was also legislation that made our state unwelcoming by pushing for bills that discriminate, ostracizing kids who are struggling, and banning diversity education.
Instead of accountability and transparency, the Majority made deals behind closed doors. While Minority legislators tried to review bills with very little time before a vote, Majority leadership made it hard – at times impossible – for the free press and state citizens to read and understand what was being passed.
As I have written in past columns, one of the most egregious bills this session was SF413, the elections bill.
The notion of democracy is built on participating in an elections process that has fidelity. Elections should be fair and accessible. The new elections law does not widen the opportunity to vote, it puts guardrails around that notion.
Under the new law, there is a list of restrictions placed on absentee voting, including the turnaround time for ballot requests, absentee ballot collection, absentee drop off and postmarks.
The Secretary of State has already enacted one of the changes by moving voters from active to inactive status, if those voters have not voted in a previous general election. More than 294,000 voters who didn’t vote in 2020, have received notice they are inactive voters. They will not be purged from the system if they vote or update their registrations over the next four years.
There were several bills that received bi-partisan support which included expanding access to emergency medical services, protections to prevent sexual abuse, increasing funding for job training at our community colleges and expanding broadband across Iowa communities.
I supported a bill that would increase $1M for Iowa state parks and voiced my concern, that while $1M seems like a lot of money, it only scratches the surface when state parks in Eastern Iowa are trying to clean up from the derecho and increase the tree canopy.
Thank you to all the people who took time to call, email or write to me during the 2021 session. I like to hear from constituents, because it shows you want to participate in the Democratic process.
As always, if you would like to contact me, please send an email to: Liz.Mathis@legis.iowa.gov