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It appears that those of us in Senate District 19 survived the latest wintery blast fairly well. Many of my colleagues headed back to northern Iowa into the face of heavy, blowing snow. My calendar tells me that next week is the first funnel week in the Iowa legislature, so it’s time to put the blizzards to bed!

I fully understand that most people are simply going about their busy lives and don’t worry too much about our legislative calendar but there is a “method to the madness.” This first funnel deadline simply narrows down the list of bills that remain alive for this session by weeding out all bills that do not survive the committee process in either the House or the Senate.

This is my 11th year in the Iowa Senate but it feels much different than the first ten years. That’s because our daily legislative activities are driven primarily by our committee assignments. I remain on the Transportation Committee, the Agriculture Committee and the Natural Resources and Environment Committee as I have for a number of years, but at least 90% of my time is devoted now to chairing the Education Committee.

To review this year’s work in Education, we finished up the school choice bill the third week and the K-12 school funding the fourth week. The third and fourth major pieces of education legislation moved forward this week. The Education Committee this Wednesday moved forward on the K-12 School Flexibility bill (SSB 1076, now SF391). The bill includes several measures to ease regulations on schools and provide more opportunity and choice for local school districts, and was developed in close cooperation with school superintendents around the state. I personally met with eight of those superintendents this week to discuss this legislation, and other areas needing improvement that we can work on next year.

Also, on Thursday, I chaired the five-person subcommittee hearing on Governor Reynolds’s proposed Parental Rights and School Transparency Bill (SSB1145). This bill will be debated and voted on during next Wednesday’s Education Committee meeting. The bill is drawing a lot of comments from all sides on a number of fronts, but is driven largely by concerns of many parents around the state on what is being taught in some of our K-12 schools.

Most Iowa public schools remain committed to simply teaching our children so they can be successful in whatever path they choose after their school years. However, in a number of school districts, it’s apparent we need to put more guardrails in place to control the content (and intent) of some classroom activities. I don’t have the space here to delve into details, but I believe most Iowans are aware of some egregious examples of course-work content and/or book content many parents find objectionable. We have tried hard to be very thoughtful about crafting this legislation so that we achieve full transparency in the classroom while allowing our teachers and administrators to fully respond to the needs of our children.

This week I also met with veterinarians and vet technicians on Tuesday to discuss how we support Iowa veterinarians. Like many other challenges in rural Iowa, it’s becoming difficult to find enough large animal veterinarians to keep up with the workload.  We were reminded of the importance of the Rural Iowa Veterinarian Loan Repayment Program, which gives up to $60,000 dollars in student loan repayment to Iowa veterinarians. Recently graduated veterinarians or students in their last year of a veterinarian degree program become eligible for loan forgiveness by practicing veterinarian medicine in eligible areas. This program seeks to provide incentives to veterinarians to work in areas with a shortage in care.

Also, I met with officials from the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory on the Iowa State campus. I have long been a vocal supporter of the VDL, which is absolutely critical to support and protect our state and country’s agriculture industry and food supply. Phase 1 of a new facility is nearing completion and the state is committing $60 million towards the completion of Phase 2 to finish this new state-of-the-art diagnostic facility that is essential to support Iowa’s $32.5 billion livestock industry.  $40 million of this commitment is coming from federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), with the final $20 million coming from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund (RIIF) over the next two years.

A longstanding goal of Senate Republicans is to make government smaller and smarter by eliminating needless government obstacles and burdens on Iowans. We have spent the last several years working on ways to get rid of burdensome regulations and red tape. This week, the Senate State Government Committee passed Senate Study Bill 1123, the proposal put forward by Governor Kim Reynolds to improve the alignment of Iowa’s state government functions and departments.

The goal is to consolidate the 37 executive branch cabinet agencies into a total of 16 agencies. Currently, Iowa has more cabinet agencies than all of our neighboring states, with similar states to Iowa having 15 cabinet agencies. This reduction in cabinet agencies will bring departments with similar functions together in an effort to increase efficiencies and communications. For example, the bill will create a new department by merging the Iowa Insurance Division, Iowa Division of Banking, and the Iowa Division of Credit Unions to create the Iowa Department of Insurance and Financial Services. It also brings together the Iowa Lottery and Alcoholic Beverages Division under the Department of Revenue, and brings together the Board of Educational Examiners, College Student Aid Commission, STEM Advisory Council, specialized schools for the deaf and blind, and other education-related services under the Department of Education.

Author: Ken Rozenboom


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