Thursday, May 20, 2021

The 2021 Iowa Legislature has adjourned for the year

(Radio Iowa) - The Iowa legislature made a few final decisions on a more than $8 billion state budget plan and voted to prohibit cities, counties and schools from having mask mandates, then adjourned the 2021 session shortly before midnight. Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver of Ankeny says the legislature's biggest achievement is the GOP tax plan that passed earlier this week, cutting taxes by an estimated $1 billion over eight years.

"We got that generational tax bill done. That's a really good day for Iowa," Whitver says.

Governor Kim Reynolds is emphasizing the part of the plan that ends a county property tax levy and shifts responsibility for the mental health system to the state.

"I'm really excited about it," Reynolds says. "It's the right thing to do and it is the final piece to mental health reform that we've been working on since 2017."

Whitver says the plan also gets rid of the inheritance tax and ensures income tax cuts go into effect in 2023.

"We're fortunate as a state that we're in a good position that we can make investments where investments are needed and we are also able to cut taxes," Whitver says. "There's not a lot of states in the country that can do that."

Democrats like House Minority Leader Todd Prichard of Charles City say the session was a disappointment because Republicans had plenty of options, but failed to provide state assistance to Iowans suffering because of the pandemic.

"The just lack of concern for the plight of Iowans, I don't have words for it. I'm just sad. It's a heavy heart," Prichard says. "...And we've politicized the mask."

House Speaker Pat Grassley of New Hartford, the top Republican in the House, says rather than a focus on dollars and cents, the GOP focused on pandemic policies Iowans were seeking.

"Getting the kids back in school was one of the biggest things that we heard about," Grassley says.

Requiring schools to offer five-days-a-week, in-the-classroom instruction was among the first votes Republican lawmakers took this year. Senate Democratic Leader Zach Wahls (like "walls") of Coralville says Republicans focused on divisive issues like election law changes and abortion policy.

"Pouring gasoline on the flames of division that are alight in this country, rather than working with Democrats to try and turn the temperature down, Republicans have turned the thermostat way, way up," Wahls says.

The legislative session lasted 129 days. Intense negotiations among Republicans over the tax plan lasted for over a month, but Grassley says it wasn't because of a philosophical rift between House and Senate Republicans.

"Any time there's an opportunity to return that money to the taxpayer, I mean, we're Republicans," Grassley says. "That's some of the foundations of our party."

Grassley says in the end, the governor provided key assurances about how the state would run mental health system, so House Republicans dropped their opposition to having the state take on another social program. Spending on the state prison system was among the legislature's major budget decisions after two Anamosa prison employees were killed in March by two inmates attempting to escape. Whitver and Senate Republicans initially proposed a $4 million increase in the budget for prisons, but then agreed to the $20 million House Republicans proposed.

"I said probably a month ago we're going to work with corrections to see what kind of investment they need to make sure that our workers are safe and we think that is a good start," Whitver says. "We don't know if they'll use all of that this year, but we want to make sure the money is available for them to make those investments, if needed."

Several high-profile bills failed to pass the legislature this year, including the governor's proposed Iowa renewable fuels standard. Reynolds says she'll ask representatives of gasoline retailers and the biofuels industry to negotiate over the summer and fall and find a compromise that boosts the use of ethanol and biodiesel.

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