The legislative session re-started last week, continuing the work from a couple months ago and with a few new challenges ahead. The legislative session looks much different than it did when we paused. Now, committee meetings are held in the Senate chamber instead of committee rooms, to allow for social distancing, and members of the public wishing to speak on bills will do so from the Senate gallery instead of coming to the committee meeting rooms. Our clerks that typically come in to help keep us on schedule and organized, remain at home, ensuring a limited number of people in the Senate chamber and making sure we can work with distance in between each of our desks.
When the session was suspended, we still had a number of bills to get through a legislative deadline in order to be considered throughout the rest of the year. Now, we are taking that deadline and shortening it into a few days of work, while also debating bills on a wide range of issues.
Since we had been preparing for the reopening of the session for some time, we were able to begin debating bills almost immediately. Last week we had over 30 bills on our schedule for debate, dealing with a wide range of issues. The House did the same. Bill topics ranged from expanding ethanol usage, to clarifying the law regarding the sale of hemp products, to protecting money in the veterans trust fund. I presented a bill giving the public defender quicker access to information found in arrest warrants, if the defendant is already in custody. We passed the Felon Voter amendment out of the Judiciary Committee. It is now eligible for debate on the floor.
When we suspended the legislative session in March, there was a lot unknown about how the coronavirus would affect our state and how it would affect our budget. Recently, we received an updated estimate on the effect on our state’s budget. The estimate for our general fund revenue next year been has decreased by $360 million.
Throughout the last several weeks, even though we were not at the capitol, we continued our work to ensure when we did come back, we would be ready. While we work on a responsible budget we know the state can afford, we will also be working to make sure the priorities we have been working on since the first day of session make it to the governor’s desk for her signature.
We are getting closer to an agreement on the total state spending for the fiscal year that starts July 1. As you know, for the past several years, we have been passing conservative, responsible, and sustainable budgets, working to rein in government spending and using taxpayer money efficiently and effectively. Now is not the time to abandon those principles. Much like Iowa families have had to cut spending as a consequence of the coronavirus, the government should also be budgeting cautiously, looking at where dollars are really needed, and ensuring the most necessary functions of government are funded for the Iowans.
As always please feel free to contact me with your ideas or concerns.