There’s still time for Iowa lawmakers to address real-world problems

April 5, 2021 8:00 am

The Iowa Legislature could still complete important bipartisan work this year. (Creative Commons photo via Pxhere)

At first, I thought it must be a typo:  A bill in the Iowa Senate moved out of subcommittee last week with the votes of far-right Republican Sen. Jim Carlin and Iowa City progressive Sen. Joe Bolkcom.

The bill, a measure aimed at protecting health-care professionals from surgical smoke, didn’t survive last week’s funnel deadline. Nevertheless, it’s a reminder that even in a hyper-ideological session like this year’s, lawmakers are doing some important bipartisan work.

Now that the three-quarters of this year’s session is over, it’s worth noting what many of the high-profile, bipartisan bills that are still alive have in common: They address actual, real-world problems that regular Iowans encounter in their everyday lives.

For example, Gov. Kim Reynolds’ priority proposal to expand high-speed broadband statewide. That’s a big-ticket item at $450 million over three years. But it’s receiving widespread bipartisan support because having fast, reliable internet service is a universally recognized need for everyone from school children to top employers.

Reynolds’ housing initiative has been similarly bipartisan. Businesses suffer if they can’t attract workers because communities have no suitable places to live, and individuals and families need quality homes they can afford.

The Iowa House has passed more than a half-dozen child care bills, most with widespread support, again addressing critical needs of both families and employers. The Senate isn’t on board with every idea, but House Speaker Pat Grassley has said he’ll press for more action this year.

A House bill would provide $3 million a year over the next three years for a much-needed “restore the outdoors” program to spruce up Iowa’s state parks and other outdoor facilities. Iowans have rediscovered their public spaces during the pandemic and the centennial of the state park system.

Lawmakers also left behind some bills that have received bipartisan support. Some of these bills would address actual problems in our state, including:

Restoring voting rights to felons:  This proposed constitutional amendment has been a priority of the governor’s and has received bipartisan support in the past. While the governor’s executive order has addressed the problem, it needs a permanent solution.

Prohibiting employers from entering into noncompete agreements with low-wage workers. There’s no reason a fast-food worker or retail clerk should be prevented from changing jobs for better wages or working conditions. The Senate passed Senate File 496 unanimously. The House should look for an opportunity to finish the job.

Expanding the state’s registry of direct-care workers is only one small step to help match this essential workforce with jobs. Iowa needs to do so much more to support those with whom we entrust the lives and wellbeing of our vulnerable loved ones.

Protecting owners of mobile and manufactured homes from predatory practices by park owners. Rep. Brian Lohse, R-Bondurant, has been trying for two years to help these folks and for the second year in a row, his fellow Republicans have been unwilling to address blatant abuses out of an absurd fear of “going too far,” whatever that means. Are they afraid some of these rapacious, out-of-state investment firms will decide it’s not worth doing business in Iowa after all?

There are several bills dealing with prescription drugs that have received bipartisan support, including allowing over-the-counter delivery of certain birth control medication, allowing pharmacists to dispense emergency extensions of certain prescriptions and capping at $100 the monthly out-of-pocket cost for insulin.

Lawmakers have plenty to do in the final weeks of the session, including the critical work of passing a state budget. The Republican majority has wasted too much time on bills aimed at making ideological points and winning campaign contributions. The rest of the session should be devoted to addressing real-world problems in a way all Iowans can get behind.

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Kathie Obradovich
Kathie Obradovich

Editor Kathie Obradovich has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, most recently as political columnist and opinion editor for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine. She is a leading voice on Iowa politics and makes regular appearances on state, national and international news programs. She has led national-award-winning coverage of the Iowa Caucuses and the Register’s Iowa Poll.