This week’s action in the House revolved around two proposed constitutional amendments. The first, which we debated last night (1/27), came about as a result of an Iowa Supreme Court ruling that interpreted the language of the Iowa Constitution that there is an inherit right to abortion. The second, which we will debate today, would place a right to keep and bear arms in the Iowa Constitution, very similar to Second Amendment in the United States Bill of Rights.
As you can imagine, both of these proposals are controversial, mostly along partisan lines. A lot of the criticism last night revolved around the fact that we are doing these amendments early in the session. As some of the first action on the floor, it sets a highly adversarial tone for the rest of the session. Unfortunately, that tone was set on day one of the session when the minority leader accused Republicans of failing to condemn the violence that occurred in Washington D.C., on January 6th, despite the fact that it had been roundly criticized by Republicans all across the state. The other aspect of the timing of these actions is that everyone knows that they are on the agenda and will have to be dealt with sooner or later. Until they are, these amendments would be the 800-pound gorilla sitting in the corner of the room that everyone would be watching out of the corner of their eyes and thinking “When will he make a move?” While the atmosphere in the chamber will be tense for a few days, these actions will be off the table and no longer a cloud hanging over the House and everything that happens here.
The beauty and the genius in this process is that the people of the State of Iowa will be the final arbiter of these two issues. After these two proposed amendments pass, in two consecutive General Assemblies, they will be placed on the next general election ballot. The people of the state will make the final decision whether or not they will be amended to the Iowa Constitution. Regardless of which side of either issue that you might be on, you will have an opportunity to help determine the ultimate fate of these two proposals.
The final item that we will take up this week will be the Governor’s initiative that every K-12 student, in the state, have access to 100%, in-person, classroom, instruction. The bill will require that every school offer the option of 100%, in-person, instruction. Parents will have the option of sending their children to school on a normal schedule or they can stay with whatever hybrid option the school might be offering. Most schools in the state are offering 100%, in-person or something close to it. I have had only a handful of contacts from my district in regard to this issue and everyone seems to be comfortable with how our local districts are handling the situation. Statewide, parents are demanding that 100%, in-person, learning be an option. They are looking at statistics from across the nation of rising rates of suicide and depression amongst our school age population. This is one of those occasions where I, as your representative, must decide the best path.
Here are the two questions:
- Do we mandate an extra burden on our local school districts, all of whom are already doing an excellent job, in order to bring recalcitrant districts, some of which have had no in-person instruction this school year, into line?
- Do we do nothing and let some of the children in our state lose an entire year of schooling while being subject to the lack of socialization that is causing mental health issues and increased suicides?
Supplemental State Aid (SSA) to our K-12 school system will be at the top of the agenda next week. The Legislature is required by law to send SSA to the Governor within thirty days after she submits her budget. This allows our local districts to certify their budgets for the 21-22 school year by their deadlines. The whole process looks entirely different this year due to COVID-19. Because of homeschooling and a move to private schools, our public-school enrollment is down to over 6,000 students state-wide. We will have to determine how to handle districts with enrollment losses due to COVID-19 as well as try to project a year ahead when many of those students could come back into the public system.
The City of Storm Lake, host to our monthly forums, are still hoping to have in-person events at King’s Pointe in February and March. I look forward to seeing all of you there if it can be made to work.