Another busy week at the Capitol. A lot of debate this week mostly bipartisan bills that will help Iowans, but a few of the bills this week will have negative consequences for Iowans.
A bill that would’ve benefited Iowa workers out of labor that was going to be a bipartisan yes vote- had a last-minute amendment put on it with the governor’s unemployment restructuring language. This bill now hurts our working Iowans if they are to lose their job at no fault of their own. They will no longer have 26 weeks of earned benefits to help them pay bills and put food on the table for their families while looking for a comparable work. This bill will now force Iowans to take low paid wages, in positions they are overqualified for -which will prevent them from being able to continue to look for work that better suits their skills and family needs.
What does this bill do?
- Shortens potential benefit weeks from 26 to 16 (cuts nearly 40% of available weeks). This makes it much more difficult for an Iowa worker to find a comparable job, with comparable pay.
- Lowers the number of extension benefit weeks if your employer goes out of business. So those who lose their job because of their employer going out business lose weeks of unemployment that would allow for them to find new work.
The Democrats offered many amendments found to be not Germaine that would have been a real workforce development -and economic development plan for Iowa. Our amendments would have drawn people back to Iowa to work. Our bills put our working people in a position to be treated as professionals. Yes we have a worker shortage- but the Governor's plan will hurt Iowans-with some of the policies that we’re putting into place are going to continue to drain our workers right out of the state.
- Forces workers to take a job that pays less than your previous job after week 2. Ultimately this bill is forcing workers into low wage positions causing more hardship on their families.
We need policies in place that attract workers not detract workers. This bill being one of the most harsh for unemployment across the country, is very likely going to detract from our state and the people who might be willing to come here to work. Workers need to know that if they are unemployed due to no fault of their own that they will have a safety net so that they can look for work that provides the same monetary value as the one that they left.
The bills had me up on my feet debating often this week.
The ban the box amendment that I proposed instead of the unemployment reform bill, as well as my closing statements on the amended bill for unemployment is below:
Berkley came to the Capitol on “National Puppy Day” she is always welcomed by pages, clerks, and representatives. Tonight the Sergeant at arms also got in to see her.
If you haven’t completed the legislative survey- from March 9th in the Gazette and the Penny Saver, please take the time to do it today. The link is attached below. This is a survey to gather information about our constituent’s thoughts on legislation. If you could please fill that out and on line, or you can fill out the form from the paper if you still have it and send it in.
Focusing on the Priorities of Iowans
Budget Process Begins
As lawmakers begin formulating the state budget, House Democrats are listening and focusing on the priorities of Iowans, including emphasis on strong public schools, support for Iowan families, and expanded access to healthcare and childcare.
While not all of the budget details have yet been released, debate continues and has been largely dominated by divisive issues brought up by majority party lawmakers.
According to a new Des Moines Register poll, most Iowans are opposed to many of the bills being considered by Republican lawmakers this session, including vouchers for private schools, jailing teachers, and cutting unemployment benefits to Iowans out of work for no fault of their own.
Other budget priorities offered by Democratic lawmakers this session raise wages, build more affordable housing, create good paying jobs, protect our natural resources, and keep workers at Iowa’s correctional facilities safe.
Budget Projections for 2023 and Beyond
Earlier this month, Iowa’s budget experts, the Revenue Estimating Committee (REC), predicted a steep decline in state revenues for the upcoming year after hundreds of millions in new tax giveaways to corporations and millionaires were signed into law March 1st.
For Fiscal Year 2023, the REC estimates dropped by $54.3 million from December of last year. For Fiscal Year 2024, projected growth in revenues is down 2.1 percent, which will leave the state with $193.4 million less in the state’s budget.
Iowans Oppose Cutting Unemployment Benefits
Even with a majority of Iowans opposed, Republican lawmakers in the Iowa House passed a bill this week to permanently cut 10-weeks of unemployment benefits for struggling Iowans. According to a recent Iowa Poll, most Iowans are opposed to the cuts.
Last spring, Governor Reynolds abruptly ended federal unemployment benefits for Iowans who were laid off or forced to stay home to care for family members or children during the pandemic. While the Governor claimed that unemployment benefits kept unemployed Iowans from looking for jobs, it did not make a difference or fix Iowa’s workforce shortage.
An additional provision within the bill mandates that folks on unemployment accept a job, even if the offered wage is significantly less than the wage they were making and will not cover all their expenses.
During debate, majority party lawmakers said the bill will solve Iowa’s workforce shortage. According to research previous cuts to unemployment programs pushed few people back to work and fueled a cut in household spending.
Many Iowans have expressed concerns that the bill will only further hurt Iowans who have been laid off, keep wages low, and make Iowa an unwelcoming state.
Anniversary of Correctional Officer Deaths Causes Push for Worker Safety
One year after the tragic events in the Anamosa State Penitentiary that led to the deaths of two Iowans, legislation was introduced that will improve safety for Iowa’s correctional workers. On March 23, 2021, nurse Lorena Schulte and correctional officer Robert McFarland were both murdered, and dental assistant Lorie Matthes was held against her will by an inmate while on duty in Anamosa. This was the first time an inmate had killed a worker since 1972.
House Democrats are spearheading legislation that would provide the Department of Corrections (DOC) with the resources needed to keep workers safe, in hopes of preventing tragedies in the future. The Lorena Schulte and Lorie Matthes Act and Robert McFarland Act will keep more employees safe, give them bargaining rights, and pay surviving spouse and children health insurance after a fatality.
Democrats Focus on Passing Cybersecurity Legislation
In light of recent global events, the risk of cybersecurity attacks by Russia has increased. Federal agencies such as the National Security Agency, FBI, and Homeland Security are well-equipped to deal with Russian cyberwarfare. However, cities and states find themselves at an increased risk. Hackers tend to attack vital infrastructure that suffers from downtime such as transportation, hospitals, and the gas or oil industry.
This week, House Democrats are working together to pass legislation focusing on strengthening the state’s cybersecurity. House File 2555 creates a cybersecurity simulation training center (CySim) at Iowa State University. CySim will both conduct and sponsor research and activities that enable businesses, state agencies, political subdivisions, and students and educators the ability to mitigate cyber threats and attacks. The bill also allows cybersecurity training exercises, developing case studies, and coordinating cybersecurity workforce development. The bill passed the Iowa House with bipartisan support.
As current events unfold, Iowa House Democrats urge Iowans to be aware and protect oneself by shielding up with multi-factor authentication use on all online accounts; updating antivirus and malware software on all devices; use strong and unique passwords for each account; think before clicking on attachments or files; and be cautious about shared online information.
Continued Historically Low Funding of REAP
The popular program, REAP, known as the Resource Enhancement and Protection Fund, was once again funded at its lowest level for the 6th straight year. The $12 million allocation from the Iowa House majority party, is part of the annual funding in House File 2560 for the Department of Natural Resources and Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (DNR) voted on this week in the Iowa House.
The REAP program is authorized to receive $20 million annually, but funding is often lowered by Republicans charged with setting the budget. REAP was established to invest in the enhancement and protection of Iowa’s natural and cultural resources. The funding is specifically targeted to provide more public land, or open spaces, county conservation, soil and water enhancement, city open spaces and parks, public land management of conservation land, habitat and facilities, historical resources, and roadside vegetation.
The DNR annually holds REAP assemblies to gather input from the public on the program. This includes identifying local projects for REAP funding and discussing changes to REAP policies and programs. During 2023, 18 REAP Assemblies will be conducted across the state. For additional information, see: iowadnr.gov/Conservation/REAP/REAP-Public-Participation/REAP-Regional-Assemblies.
More Iowa News
YEAR OF THE IOWA ROAD TRIP: Warmer weather is on the horizon and Iowans are starting to plan their summer road trips. Help support Iowa’s booming tourism industry by vacationing in Iowa. Travel Iowa offers six digital passports for people to use to explore distilleries, wineries, breweries, state parks, Iowa’s scenic byways, and Iowa farms. Win prizes for visiting attractions when using the passports. The spring/summer edition of Travel Iowa is available online or a free print version of the magazine can be ordered. Visit traveliowa.com to plan your next trip!
TRAINING FUNDS ANNOUNCED FOR TEACHERS IN COMPUTER SCIENCE: Over $500,000 has been awarded to teachers for professional development training in computer science. The awards, through the Iowa Department of Education, will go to 136 school districts and nonpublic schools. In 2017, Senate File 274 established the fund to pay for teacher professional development, including training to teach specific computer science courses and earning in-depth university endorsements to teach computer science. Training that prepares educators to teach computer science in the next six to 12 months is a priority. Recipients will report their progress after the 2021-22 school year. A list of the 136 rural, suburban and urban school districts, nonpublic schools and Area Education Agencies receiving awards is available on the Iowa Department of Education's website.
AFFORDABLE CARE ACT TURNS 12: This week marks the 12th anniversary of President Obama signing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) into law. Since 2010, the ACA has extended insurance coverage to more than 30 million uninsured Americans and made health care affordable for more lower-and-middle income Americans. Since March 23, 2010, there have been at least 70 GOP-led attempts to repeal, modify, or curb ACA protections and coverage. Despite these failed attempts, the ACA still stands. To date, the ACA’s most popular provisions include pre-existing condition protections and allowing young adults 26 and younger to remain on their parents’ insurance plan. Currently 1.3 million Iowans have a pre-existing condition and nearly 227,000 Iowans could lose their health coverage if the ACA was overturned. During special enrollment periods, Iowa’s enrollment numbers have doubled from 2019 to 2021. Last year, Congress passed and President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan, which expands ACA subsidies to cover more middle-class families during 2021 and 2022. During this time, Iowans will not have to pay more than 8.5 percent of their income for an ACA marketplace silver plan and individuals below 150 percent of the poverty level will pay no premium cost. Happy 12th Birthday, ACA!ilver plan and individuals below 150 percent of the poverty level will pay no premium cost. Happy 12th Birthday, ACA!
I am honored to represent all of you in house district 68 for this last session as well as those of you in my future senate district 37.
I thank you for your support as your State Representative, and I look forward to your continued support as I work to become your new State Senator after the current session.
I understand there are some who have a different opinion about the legislation and choices made on the floor, but I hope to keep communication lines open for all to continue to share their concerns with me.
It is my plan, as always, to work with everyone in the state house to better my district and the state. I look forward to bipartisan efforts that I know we will have to move Iowa forward.
Please follow my Facebook page for updates on what’s happening around the district. I will do my best to kept events listed there over the coming months.
Go to the link below and like my legislative page to keep up to date:
As your representative, I am available throughout the year for questions, concerns, and suggestions. Please contact me if you have any concerns, questions, or comments:
It is truly an honor to serve you and I am looking forward to what the future brings as I run for senate in SD37 in 2022.