Iowa 2019 legislative priorities

DES MOINES — When Iowa lawmakers passed a bill last year providing some long-term funding for water quality in the state, they said that the move was only a start and that more would be needed. But Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Kim Reynolds did not include it in their list of top priorities for the 2019 session.

Talking to reporters at a legislative forum Jan. 10, those leaders discussed the bill passed last year and the need to continue that funding, but they expressed no support for items such as the 3/8-cent sales tax for natural resources that was approved by voters in 2010.

“We’re not interested in a blanket raise of the sales tax,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny.

House Minority Leader Todd Pritchard, D-Charles City, said that water quality is a very important issue.

“Last year’s bill was a start in my mind,” Pritchard said. “We’ve got more work to do.”

When questioned, Whitver and House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, didn’t rule out more water quality legislation in 2019, but they also didn’t include the idea in their list of priorities for the session. Any sales tax increase would need to be tied to a larger tax package, they said.

Their list of priorities included items such as mental health spending, Medicaid improvements, job training, tax reform or cuts, and possible property tax changes.

Democratic leaders Pritchard and Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, said that as the minority, they won’t be setting the agenda but they hope lawmakers address issues such as health care and education. Peterson called for more oversight of the state’s privatization of Medicaid and changes to address specific problems in Medicaid, such as lack of reimbursements for some providers.

Legislative leaders also said they would be keeping an eye on how the federal government shutdown affects state government. One obvious issue is SNAP. Whitver said if the federal shutdown goes for an extended period, that need for food aid funding could impact the state budget.

Rural housing and rural broadband are also potential issues, lawmakers said.

One item that drew discussion was the Republican legislative support for changing the way judges in Iowa are chosen. Presently the state judicial nominating commission is made up of eight non-attorneys nominated by the governor, eight attorneys elected by other attorneys in the state, and the most senior member of the state Supreme Court other than the chief justice.

That was not an issue that Republicans ran on during the election, but Whitver and Gov. Reynolds both said they are interested in looking into that system. The present system is based on a state constitutional amendment passed in 1962.

“We have a model for selecting our judges,” Pritchard said. “I get very leery of these types of ideas. … I think this is a slippery slope.”

Gene Lucht is public affairs editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.