Partnership calls for legislative action on broadband, justice reform, water quality

By: - December 10, 2020 11:50 am

A state program is designed to help small businesses run by women and minorities. Show is Winterset’s town square. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The Greater Des Moines Partnership’s legislative goals for the 2021 session include some familiar quality-of-life initiatives, but ones that have been made even more relevant by the lifestyle disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, a top staffer said. 

“All of our top legislative priorities really are aimed at supporting inclusive economic recovery,” said Andrea Woodard, the Partnership’s senior vice president of government relations and public policy. “We think all of them aid in our community and state recovering and addressing a lot of the issues that were exacerbated by the global pandemic.”

The priorities also follow three short-term goals the Partnership developed as the metro dealt with the spread of COVID-19. “Those are keeping businesses in business, keeping people working and keeping the community healthy,” Woodard said.  

The priorities include: 

  • Expanding access to affordable broadband service across the state. Business groups and government advisory panels have called for improving service, especially in rural areas, as crucial to the state’s efforts to increase the population and add to the skilled workforce. A shortage of workers also is regularly cited by the Iowa Business Council and other organizations as a key impediment to development in Iowa.
  • Expanding access to affordable child care, working to eliminate rules that take away government aid to parents who take part-time jobs, and encouraging public-private partnerships to increase child care options.
  • Justice reform. The Partnership supports the recommendations of a panel assembled by Gov. Kim Reynolds. Because of high-profile cases of black Americans dying at the hands of police in cases spread across the country, “We are elevating beyond just an effort to address talent needs for the community,” Woodard said. The Partnership, in addition to supporting Reynolds’ initiative, will back “further efforts to create a more equitable environment for all Iowans,” Woodard said.
  • Community placemaking. “What are we doing to invest on our communities, our Main Streets, our local economies? Creative placemaking and community development is one way that we can do that,” Woodard said.
  • Invest in Iowa Act. Reynolds’ proposal to use a sales-tax increase to pay for outdoor recreation and conservation efforts and to replace property taxes that now support county mental health services is expected to be back next session in some form. After her GOP colleagues in the House and Senate balked at the tax increase and the pandemic took hold in the state, Reynolds temporarily shelved the plan last session, but said she would revive it later. Woodard said the spread of COVID-19 brought a surge in outdoor recreation, which was safer than hanging out in bars or dining at restaurants during the pandemic. Invest in Iowa would help improve offerings in Iowa, which ranks among the bottom few states in public land and has chronic water quality issues addressed by a Partnership panel in 2016. Business groups have pushed for more outdoor attractions, like the Des Moines riverside skate park expected to open in the spring in Des Moines near the site of a proposed whitewater course in the Des Moines River.

Support for mental health programs also has become more important during the stress of the pandemic, Woodard added.

The Partnership is calling for a “large-scale investment program” along the lines of Vision Iowa to help communities pursue improvements that will attract families and encourage them to stay in Iowa.

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Perry Beeman
Perry Beeman

Senior reporter Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.

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