A number of new faces will appear in the 2013 legislative session, but divided government will remain. A Republican will continue to occupy the governor's office, Democrats will still narrowly lead the Senate (26-24) and Republicans will stay in control of the House of Representatives, although by a slimmer margin, 53-47, not the 60-40 margin they enjoyed last year.
And some carryover issues will also reappear, such as providing a skilled work force for Iowa's employers, redesigning mental health services, reforming and funding education, providing commercial property tax relief, fixing our deteriorating infrastructure, assisting and improving Iowa's middle class and Main Street businesses, helping our elderly and veterans, incentivizing and improving economic development, improving Iowa's environment and water quality.
If the past is any predictor, Iowa legislators will introduce about 1,200 bills and pass about 10 percent of them and send them to the governor for his signature or veto.
Before I address specific issues and likely legislation - the Product - I want to say something about another P word - the Process. Iowa is known as a squeaky clean state politically. We have very little voter fraud, a low amount of public corruption (although any amount is too much), and we have the best systems of legislative reapportionment and judicial appointment and retention.
As a student, teacher and practitioner of government, politics and public service, I demonstrate two other P words - Pride and Passion. I am proud to be an Iowan and am honored and humbled to be your voice, your advocate and your senator. However, I am truly saddened by something I observed a few times during the last session of the Legislature - lack of civility. I had never before witnessed a senator reject the Senate president's call for order and continue to spew hate-filled verbiage over the sound of the banging gavel.
Politics is sometimes a contact sport, is frequently played by passionate and emotional players, often has winners and losers (although we should look for everyone being victors, most notably the people of Iowa), and is inherently competitive. But I believe public service is a calling similar to a calling to ministry, and politics is an honorable profession. Politics provides a forum for people who disagree to find solutions and agreement - and we should do so in an agreeable and civil manner. For my part, I pledge to my constituents and my colleagues that I will continue to work in a bipartisan, collaborative, cooperative and civil manner.
Increase skilled work force
Iowa does not have a worker shortage. We have a skilled worker shortage. And Iowa's community colleges are superbly suited to provide a skilled work force for Iowa's businesses. Iowa Central Community College President Dan Kinney, Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal and I hosted a forum at Iowa Central on Nov. 28, 2012, to address the worker shortage.
We must expand the "Kibbie Grants" (named after my friend and mentor, former Sen. Jack Kibbie, who wrote the original legislation creating Iowa's community college system in 1965 and is called the "Father of Iowa's Community Colleges," and who, to my surprise and delight, participated in the forum). These grants help support students in our career education and technical education programs. Skilled workers are in high demand around the state and especially for the growing North Central Ag Industrial Park west of Fort Dodge.
Increasing adult literacy has been a passion of mine since I was a newspaper publisher back in the 1980s, so I was concerned when Ann Waynar, adult literacy coordinator at Iowa Central, noted that Iowa is the only state without direct state support for adult reading programs. She said the Legislature should invest in programs that help improve workers' reading skills. I was pleased when Sen. Gronstal said, "Daryl, that's something we should do." I don't need a greener light than that to proceed ahead.
Invest in Iowa's future
We must invest in Iowa's infrastructure. That means our crumbling, deteriorating physical infrastructure that includes our highways, roads and bridges, but also our communications infrastructure such as broadband.
I am often asked if the Legislature will increase the Road Use Fund (which I prefer to call a user's fee) which has not been increased since 1988. I've constantly supported such an increase to complete the four-lane Highway 20 project and fix our city streets and county roads and bridges. But it will not happen without a bipartisan support. To Highway 20 advocates, I say please tell the governor and Republican legislators to support the Time 21 proposal. I'll be there.
Obviously our children are the most important component of Iowa's future. Quality education must be relevant, rigorous, accessible and affordable to all Iowa students attending early childhood schools, K-12, community colleges and private and public universities. The governor is expected to propose a number of education reforms that the Legislature will consider and no doubt improve. We must improve student achievement and increase teacher quality.
We must also invest in Iowa's economic future, but also measure how we're currently doing the job. My preferences are to help Iowa's Main Street businesses and expand renewable energy. I want to make sure we help small businesses create jobs. I believe the current administration is freely providing tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to companies, some of which would have located in Iowa anyway, at the expense of Iowa's home-grown businesses.
We should pass legislation that requires more American-made goods be used when building and repairing Iowa's roads, bridges, schools, water systems and other major public projects. We should do more to help Iowa small businesses sell products and services to the state of Iowa by enabling them to match competing out-of-state bids if their bid is within 5 percent of the lowest bidder. Our tax dollars should not reward companies that move jobs overseas or foreign manufacturers that ignore worker safety and environmental standards.
Improving water quality is a perennial, but critical issue in Iowa. The Iowa Department of Agriculture, DNR and Iowa State University have developed a strategy for reducing nutrient pollution in our rivers, lakes and streams. These ideas won't make a difference unless they are put into action, which will require us to reverse the pattern of cuts to funding for soil and water conservation programs.
Improve the health of Iowans
The Legislature will be presented with a number of health issues, including opportunities to redesign our mental health delivery system, create an insurance exchange, and expand Medicaid programs to 123,000 Iowans while saving taxpayers millions of dollars and protecting Iowa hospitals that will otherwise lose $220 million in federal payments.
Many mental health consumers have largely been neglected in the United States which is tragic. The recent mass shootings in our nation are also heartbreaking. Two killings occurred in Iowa, Keokuk County Deputy Sheriff Eric Stein in April 2011 and Aplington-Parkersburg football coach Ed Thomas in June 2010, both murdered by people with a history of mental illness. It will also be tragic if the Iowa Legislature does not improve Iowans' access to mental health services.
Many of you remember my efforts to help kids living with autism like my grandson Drew. We passed Drew's Law, which ironically does not cover the law's namesake, Drew Beall. Last year with bipartisan support, the Senate voted 43-7 to expand eligibility. It died in the House. Since then I've been working with House Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Dave Heaton, R-Mount Pleasant, to pass meaningful and comprehensive autism legislation.
Relieve commercial property taxpayers
Commercial property tax relief was elusive last year. All four caucuses and the governor advocated some form of reducing commercial property taxes, citing their adverse effect on recruitment and expansion of businesses in Iowa. The reform that will garner bipartisan and bicameral support in the upcoming session will protect local governments from the revenue reductions caused by lowering rates on commercial property and provide money to fully fund local tax credits, and not merely shift the burden to residential property taxpayers.
Help our veterans
Too many of our veterans serve their country and come home to high unemployment, PTSD, substance abuse problems and suicide. This is unacceptable. We must improve and expand services to our veterans and their families, including a "Hire a Hero" program.
Raise the minimum wage
In 2007, I voted to increase the state's minimum wage to $7.25 an hour. It was a bipartisan victory for thousands of Iowa working families. It is time to raise the minimum wage again. An estimated 332,000 Iowans would see direct or indirect benefits from an increase in the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.80 per hour by July 2014, according a new analysis by the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project. Families simply cannot afford to live on the current minimum wage that is about $15,080 for a full-time, year-round worker.
Resist the temptation to fritter away our budget surplus
We have nearly a billion dollars in the bank, making Iowa the envy of nearly every other state in the Union. That didn't just happen. The Legislature has consistently balanced the budget without raising taxes and we must continue to do so. Record farm income has helped immensely, but as Iowans we know we can't bank on that every year - there will be subsequent lean years.
We must not use these surplus dollars to merely fund the general budget expenditures and ongoing annual expenses. Philosophically I am not opposed, however, to investing some of the funds to address one-time extraordinary expenses such as the deteriorating infrastructure and capital needs. Creating and expanding job training would be an appropriate investment. Finally, we could use the funds to reduce commercial property taxes.
I will continue to balance the budget without raising taxes, expand Iowa's middle class and expand access to affordable health care for more Iowans. As always, I seek your input and suggestions. Please share your views with me. I am honored and humbled to be your senator.
During the 2013 legislative session, which is scheduled to start tomorrow and adjourn May 3, Sen. Beall can be contacted via email at email@example.com or via the Senate switchboard at (515) 281-3371. You may reach him at his home phone number on weekends at 573-7889.
Beall was elected in 2002 and re-elected in 2006 and 2010. He represents the people of Calhoun, Humboldt, Pocahontas and most of Webster counties. He chairs the Veterans Affairs Committee and International Relations Committee. He is vice chair of the Transportation (policy) Committee and vice chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Budget (appropriations) Subcommittee. Beall is a member of the Education Committee, the Commerce Committee and the Agriculture Committee. He is a commissioner with the Education Commission of the States, an interstate compact.