Amid pomp and circumstance and Republican celebration, the 87th General Assembly of the Iowa Legislature convened in Des Moines today for the 2017 legislative session. The new Republican majority promises significant conservative change on a number of fronts. Minority Democrats say get ready for a fight.
The house and Senate gaveled in nearly simultaneously at 10 a.m for a day dominated by traditional opening speeches expressing hopes of working together to get things done.
But Republican House Speaker Linda Upmeyer (R-Clear Lake) says make no mistake: It’s a different world at the capitol.
“This isn't your typical first day of school,” Upmeyer said. “Things have changed here bigly.”
Upmeyer spoke at a fundraising breakfast where the GOP celebrated its 2016 victory, which clears the way for legislation that’s been blocked by a Democratic-controlled Senate for years.
Republicans promise a pro-business agenda.
“We will work to unleash the power of business and industry and free our economy from the grip of government,” said Rep. Chris Hagenow (R-Windsor Heights) who leads the Republicans 59 seat majority in the House.
“One of the greatest hindrances to entrepreneurship and economic growth is overregulation and overtaxation,” Hagenow said. “Each and every dollar we touch in this place belongs to the people.”
Hagenow says not only will the GOP be stewards of Iowans’ money, but they will leave more of it in their pockets.
Senator Bill Dix (R-Shell Rock) leads the new 29-20 Republican majority in the Senate.
He says there’s one answer for the problems the state confronts.
“The solution quite simply is growth, growth, growth,” Dix said.
But beyond their pro-business goals, Republicans may now promote a conservative agenda that could include abortion restrictions, collective bargaining changes, and new requirements for voters.
New Senate minority leader Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids) says there are a lot more serious problems facing the state than those conservative priorities.
“What we can not do is ignore these real problems in favor of fake problems,” Hogg said.
Hogg wants the two parties to work together to ban texting while driving to make Iowa roads safer, and increase the state’s minimum wage.
House minority leader Mark Smith (D-Marshalltown) said his party will not stand idly by while the GOP scales back women’s rights, voters’ rights, and workers’ rights.
“If you decide to take those divisive issues up this year be prepared for a fight,” Smith said.
Governor Branstad said he was even more excited than usual about opening day.
“This could be a historic session,” he said.
Branstad looks back at the years of Democratic control in the Senate. He savors the election results, after all the Democratic criticism of him.
“They spent a whole lot of time attacking me and my administration,” Branstad said. “Not one Republican lost. Six Democratic senators lost.”
Branstad says the first task at hand for lawmakers will not be easy. Job one will be cutting $100 million from this year’s state budget to make up for a shortfall in expected tax receipts.
“We want to pass it as soon as we can,” Hagenow said, “because each day we wait, we aren't realizing some of the savings that are in that bill."
The governor will make his budget recommendations on Tuesday when he delivers what will be his last Condition of the State Speech to a joint session of the House and Senate.