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The 89th General Assembly is underway! I was sworn in (for my second term) with my colleagues on Monday, January 11th in the House Chamber, and after some ceremonious pictures and lunch with our families, we quickly undertook the seat assignment part of the new assembly. I took the chance to move to a front-row aisle seat.

On Tuesday committees started meeting for the first time. I again have a new chairmanship as I take over as Chair of Economic Growth. We met briefly to discuss committee rules and introduce myself, the Ranking Member and my Vice Chair. We will start assigning bills next week. Some good news on the Economic Growth front, last month the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) Board approved awards for two companies, which will assist in the creation of 284 jobs and result in more than $85 million in new capital investment for the state. The projects are located in Cedar Rapids and Dubuque.

That evening, we heard the Condition of the State from our Governor, Kim Reynolds. She laid out her priorities and discussed what we’d all been through in the tumultuous year that 2020 was. A high point for me was her aggressive proposal to spend a total of 450 million over the next few years to build out our broadband coverage across the state, concentrating the money on last mile and rural Iowa issues with connectivity.

The Governor’s overall plan for state spending in fiscal year 2022 proposes to spend $8.1141 billion, which would be an increase of 3.70 percent over her revised FY 2021 budget. Governor Reynolds’s budget spends 98.31 percent of the on-going revenue in the General Fund ($8.2533 billion).

Some other highlights in her proposal include addressing mental health funding. Under her budget plan the mental health regions would receive $15 million from the state in Fiscal Year 2022 and $30 million in Fiscal Year 2023 to expand access and implement the mental health reforms and service expansions that have been enacted over the past three years. Medicaid for In Fiscal Year 2022, the state will spend $1.4815 billion from the General Fund on the regular Medicaid program and the Health and Wellness program. This amount would have been significantly higher, if not for the enhanced federal Medicaid match rate states are receiving in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The Governor’s budget provides increases reimbursement rates for nursing homes ($10 million), home and community-based services’ providers ($8 million) and psychiatric medical institutes for children ($3.9 million).

For Supplemental State Aid for Schools the Governor is proposing that Iowa’s education system would receive $26.3 million in additional money during FY 2022. The majority of this amount – $20.8 million – would be provided to school districts through a 2.5 percent increase in Supplemental State Aid for Schools and school transportation funding. The Governor also is proposing an additional $2.5 million to implement provisions of last year’s classroom behavior bill. Also included in her budget is $3 million to provide educational savings accounts for students who are currently attending failing schools.

On Wednesday, we heard the Condition of the Judiciary from our Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Committees continued to meet and again, two more new committees for me. Education and Information Technology. On education there are some long tenured members having served 20 plus years on that committee, so it will be enlightening what experience they can bring to each meeting.

The IT committee is a brand new committee that leadership wanted to create to separate the increasing broadband and corresponding tech bills to go in order to free up the already busy Commerce committee. Ready or not, the increased use of broadband internet is here to stay. Many Iowans, especially in rural areas, still do not have access to reliable broadband internet. Last year, we worked on a number of ways to close the gap of Iowans without access to broadband internet. This newly created committee will continue to focus on ensuring broadband access to all Iowans and looks forward to working with the governor and senate on this common goal.

On Thursday, we heard the Condition of the Guard from Major General Ben Corell. Subcommittees on bills assigned early in the week began to meet and move the process along. Friday is a the day legislators get to be back in their districts (although I am every evening since I live close enough) to attend to their jobs, businesses, errands and coffees etc.

Now for a bit on what the Legislature is doing to prevent the spread of COVID at the Capitol. We are taking precautions to mitigate concerns about COVID while maintaining transparency and continuing to do our jobs on behalf of the people of Iowa. On the House floor we are wearing masks, unless we are properly distanced or speaking at our microphone. I know many, including myself, have removed the mask for pictures, again properly distanced or with my wife, and I just can’t distance myself from her. We are live-streaming committee and subcommittee meetings, utilizing bigger spaces so we can properly distance during those meetings. Clerks are limited or not even coming onto the House floor to do their work. There are many looking to weaponize the pandemic in order to torpedo the session, but there is work to do and Iowans are counting on us to show up and do our jobs, and that is what I intend to do.

I’ve also been asked if we are safe with upcoming protests at our Nation’s and State’s Capitols. Safety precautions are taken every day at our Capitol, regardless of the circumstances, and when necessary, law enforcement is increased when the Iowa State Patrol deems it necessary. When violence first erupted this past summer and then post-election spilled over into the new year with the violence at our Nation’s Capitol, I refrained from posting about it, not because I didn’t have opinions and thoughts on it, but because such posts don’t often age well. Journalists and politicians rush to judgment, brought on by overreaction and mountains of misinformation by our national and global media. Then there’s the onslaught of party faithful keyboard warriors on social media, who speak from on high with the overconfidence of being safely in their homes rousing each other in their echo chambers, seemingly taking on the world, but unfortunately you need to climb out of your basement to effect change. The real heroes are our law enforcement, healthcare workers and Veterans… the small business owners that have been kneecapped by this pandemic and its ensuing regulations, trying to continue to put food on the table.

My thoughts on what has become this unfortunate and unforgettable normal of anger, hatred and violence across our country and online, are eloquently summarized by a voice silenced far too soon, and who we all will honor on Monday: “Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. I am not unmindful of the fact that violence often brings about momentary results. Nations have frequently won their independence in battle. But in spite of temporary victories, violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones. Violence is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding: it seeks to annihilate rather than convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends up defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.” – Martin Luther King Jr. – Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1964

Author: Ray Sorensen