By Sen. Amy Sinclair
One of the first things we did during our fifth week in the Senate was pass our education funding bills, Senate File 2164 and Senate File 2142. These bills together mean approximately $90 million in increased funding for Iowa schools. We are confident this amount is sustainable and responsible, allowing us to prioritize K-12 education and ensure money remains to fund other priorities, like public safety and easing the tax burden on Iowans.
Senate File 2164 was the transportation and per pupil equity bill. The passage of this bill continues to close the gap in equalizing the amount of funding the state sends per student to different districts. It also completes our promise to Iowa schools to level the playing field when it comes to costs associated with transporting students to school. This policy has been a priority several years, and I’m proud we were able to deliver fully on that promise. This bill is now on its way to Governor Reynolds for her signature.
The Senate also moved forward a bill regarding the restoration of voting rights for felons. This bill, Senate File 2129, is separate from the constitutional amendment that has been proposed and would only apply if the constitutional amendment is adopted. The bill clarifies the felons eligible to automatically have their voting rights restored upon the discharge of a sentence. Under this bill, most people would still have their voting rights restored and it only requires a person to complete any parole, probation, special sentence, and pay all victim restitution. This does not include courts costs, fines or fees. It creates exemptions for automatic restoration of voting rights for those who have committed crimes like murder and rape. These people would still need to contact the governor’s office to have their voting rights restored.
Lastly, the Senate also debated a constitutional amendment, SJR 2001, for the protection of life. This will allow the people of Iowa, not unelected judges, to decide how Iowa regulates abortion.
Next week is our first legislative deadline of the year, meaning priority legislation, with the exception of bills in Appropriations, Government Oversight, and Ways and Means, must be moved out of committee by next Friday.
Expanding the Workforce, Encouraging Work
Unemployment in Iowa has been below 3 percent for more than two years. This news is great for Iowans looking for work and it is a validation of the economic policies implemented during that time. However, the low unemployment rate is one of the primary concerns noted by employers looking to fill positions in their businesses.
In an effort to address the need for a larger workforce in Iowa, Senate Republicans have offered two new bills designed to increase the number of Iowans in the workforce, ensure welfare programs exist for those truly in need, and protect the taxpayers who fund those programs.
Senate Study Bill (SSB) 3068 directs the Department of Human Services (DHS) to contract with a third-party vendor to provide real time verification of eligibility for all welfare programs. In 2019, DHS was fined $1.8 million for an eligibility error rate of 10 percent, well above the 6.8 percent national average. SSB 3068 aims to solve this problem by using private sector technology to immediately identify and verify eligibility of individuals requesting welfare. By utilizing real-time data sources, it will improve the error rate and productivity in the department.
Another bill, SSB 3158, implements work requirements for able-bodied recipients of taxpayer-funded health care. It also updates state law to conform to the change in work requirements for food assistance required by the US Department of Agriculture.
Work requirements for food assistance have a track record of success. According to the Wall Street Journal, in 2015 Wisconsin saw 25,000 people enter the job market after the implementation of work requirements for their food assistance program. While Iowa has maintained work requirements for many years, adhering to the federal policy expanding those requirements should produce growth in the workforce.
The general goals of these reforms are to increase the workforce and continue to expand Iowa’s economy. The specific goal is to improve lives, one family at a time, by encouraging them to experience the inherent dignity and rewards of hard work.
Staying in touch
As we work further into the session, your input becomes increasingly important because everything we do as a General Assembly affects you personally. You can email me at email@example.com to voice your support or concerns on upcoming legislation.
Also, meet with me in your area to talk to me about issues important to you.
On Friday, March 6, I will be in the following areas at the following times:
Farm Bureau Meeting Room, Corydon, at 8 a.m.
Mosaic Meeting Room, Chariton, at 10 a.m.
Lakeside Casino, Osceola, at 12 p.m.
Community Center Meeting Room, Leon, at 2 p.m.