At the beginning of this year, I urged my colleagues in this chamber to find bold solutions to the problems facing our state. The following weeks were busy with subcommittees, committees and floor debate, as we worked to pass legislation to work on those issues.
In January the unemployment rate was well below three percent and one of the lowest in the country. Iowa had more job openings than unemployed people looking for work. To address that problem the Senate passed bills to address the workforce shortage in our state, whether it was finding ways to bring more people who are able to work into the workforce, building on the governor’s Future Ready Iowa program, or lowering barriers to work in some professions. We worked to expand broadband and continued working on the Empower Rural Iowa initiative.
Early in session the legislature approved almost $100 million in new funding for K-12 schools, including money for per pupil equity and transportation equity among our state’s school districts. We passed legislation to help teachers facing violent students in the classroom, and give them tools to keep themselves and other students safe while they are teaching. We passed legislation to put victims first, and legislation to protect life.
However, the end of this year’s session looked very different from what we thought it would, and vastly different from all years prior. In January, nobody could have predicted the session would take a 10-week break, restart in June with no clerks or pages, and see subcommittee meetings held in the Senate Chamber in the name of public health.
Several months ago we didn’t know how a pandemic would affect our state. We never heard of the virus, the information about it changed almost daily, and the uncertainty was significant. What I do know is this: Iowans all across the state are doing the best they can to help each other, and Iowans are working to get our state back up and running for everyone.
Iowans are no stranger to hardship. Our country has seen civil war, the Great Depression, and been victim to terrorism. The agricultural economy, so vital to our state, has seen ups and downs and more uncertainty year to year than most other industries. Iowa now has record high unemployment in our state. In efforts to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus, many restaurants, shops and stores had to shut their doors. Unfortunately, some of those doors were shut permanently.
But Iowans always rise to the challenge. Many went out to support local businesses in their area, to help keep their neighbors afloat. I read story after story of Iowans packing up meals for kids and families in the area, and people who worked day after day to make masks for health care workers and other essential people in the workforce. Businesses across the state altered their day-to-day practices to help keep employees safe and support them to the best of their abilities. Even in hard times, Iowans are there to help each other and support one another.
Too many Iowans have lost their jobs, have had hours cut, or been forced to shut down the businesses they worked their whole lives to build. The path to recovery starts now. I believe we can get back to where our economy was, and keep moving forward to get Iowans back to work. The coronavirus will not last forever, but the actions we took this week will help put our state back on a path to prosperity.
That work started by implementing reliable and sustainable funding for the essential aspects of state government. This budget will keep the promise of nearly $100 million in new funding for K-12 education. Keeping that promise is exactly what I mean when I say our budget is reliable and sustainable. In the face of a dramatic economic downturn, this chamber made the tough choice and budgeted in the same manner Iowa families budget.
The Senate also included important legal protections to ensure job creators, churches, schools, and cities could reopen their facilities with confidence. In order to restart this economy effectively, all those entities need to know they can put forth a good faith effort to maintaining public health and be protected from a career-ending lawsuit. The last thing a small business in this state needs, after being wounded by the coronavirus, is to be killed off by a lawsuit from someone claiming they could possibly have contracted the virus in their facility.
Finally, we took big, important steps to improve the relationship between law enforcement and minorities in this state. Justice is a fundamental aspect of our government and when it is denied to an individual or a group, it is incumbent upon the elected leaders to take steps to improve the application of laws and justice.
As we finish this legislative session, I look back on the work we done and the decisions we made and I believe implemented important policies to help this state recover from the economic shocks of the coronavirus. But our work is not done. I look forward to working on issues to continue to rebuild the Iowa in the next legislative session