Opening Day 2024 – Year 2
90th General Assembly
Monday, January 8th, marked the Opening Day of the 2024 session of the 90th General Assembly in Iowa. Mother Nature decided to celebrate with us and we were blessed with bookend Winter Weather Warnings and a promised follow through of Severe Snowstorms that made for a precarious drive home from Des Moines. The snow continues to fall as I write this today.
The first week back in session is typically filled with speeches from leadership in our Iowa government and with many organizational tasks to prepare for the work we will accomplish this year. This first week was no different. We heard speeches from Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, Senate President Amy Sinclair, and Governor Reynolds. We also heard from the adjutant general of the Iowa National Guard, Major General Stephen Osborn, and Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court Susan Christensen. After hearing these speeches I’m confident that this year will be just as busy as previous years as we legislate for the people of Iowa. I’m also proud to report that in my eagerness to get to work, I chaired the first and only two subcommittee meetings in the Senate this week. I look forward to sharing these important topics with you in the future.
Always Looking for Ways to Improve
Education in Iowa
One new topic for the legislature this year is our Area Education Agencies (AEAs). Before session, my understanding was that we were going to evaluate the AEAs. Now hearing the Governor speak about it during her State of the State speech Tuesday evening, it appears that this is a priority for her and that it may be more involved than I had originally thought. Legislators have not had discussion in great length about this as of yet, but I’m sure there will be many opportunities for conversation and for building understanding as we consider ways to improve learning for our students in Iowa. Originally, AEAs were created specifically to help special education students in their school districts. It was a system created decades ago and it has not been revisited since. Currently, schools are required to give the funding they have dedicated to special education to the AEAs and there isn’t much oversight.
As we are always focused on how we can improve education for Iowa students, AEAs are one of the areas that deserves a look, especially since it has not been carefully reviewed before. We have noticed that over the years, more and more money has been spent on administration and other programs instead of services for special education students, and we want to ensure that the funds that school districts are handing over are being used to best help our students. Despite claims you may hear from others, special education students will not lose their support. Our goal is only to improve this system and bring it back to its original goal – helping the students who need it the most.
Taxes Continue to be Discussed
Tax cuts will continue to be a big topic of conversation again this year. We have passed several tax reform packages over the last few years, and we continue to see economic growth in our state. We want to make sure this growth continues and will be looking at ways to make this happen.
Legislative Receptions Begin
One way that constituent groups are able to visit with legislators during session is through their ability to host legislative receptions in the afternoons and evenings. It is sometimes hard for legislators to have a conversation with groups during the day at the capitol as we are often called to meetings or have important work that we are doing within the chamber. Attendance at these receptions is of course voluntary and legislators aren’t usually able to attend them all, but it does provide time for uninterrupted conversations to listen to concerns and sometimes receive a heartfelt thanks for work well done. The Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives started off the session with a welcome back reception on Tuesday evening. Pictured below are members of the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives with Representative Taylor Collins and Senator Lofgren.
Iowa Courts Protect Our Farms
With focus around the state being on session getting underway, an underreported news item this week might have gone unnoticed by many. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the agricultural trespass laws passed in 2019 and 2021 were constitutional and could be enforced in Iowa.
As you may already know, radical anti-agriculture activists, typically from extreme left-wing areas like San Francisco and Portland, work constantly to undermine production agriculture. These extremists invade Iowa, gain access to Iowa farms in shady ways, and try to create a false narrative about Iowa farmers.
These actions are a threat to Iowa farmers and the Iowa economy in many ways. Trespassing on Iowa farms carries the risk of spreading infectious diseases from farm to farm. Damage to reputations, buildings, machinery, and other property also frequently occurs during these invasions and is often the very goal of these intrusions on farmers.
Previously, activist judges ruled similar versions of these common-sense laws prohibiting trespass and sneaky, hidden surveillance violated the First Amendment rights of the extremists. The Iowa Legislature responded with new laws in both 2019 and 2021 to address the issues raised by the court and still ensure the invasion of our farms was illegal and could successfully be prosecuted by law enforcement.
Agriculture is the backbone and lifeblood of Iowa’s economy. It is part of our heritage, our culture, and who we are as Iowans. The successful legal defense of these Iowa laws is vital to continued success of the industry. Iowa family farmers and those involved in production agriculture can celebrate a big win this week in the defense of their property and livelihoods!