The 2009 Iowa Legislature opened this week with the traditional speeches and ceremonies. On Monday, we took the oath of office for the 83rd General Assembly. In the House, it was a record year with six African-Americans taking office. There are also 25 women serving, just a few shy of the record set two years ago. On Tuesday, Governor Culver gave the Condition of the State to a special joint convention of the House and Senate. Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Marsha Ternus gave the Condition of the Judiciary to another joint convention on Wednesday. After hearing from legislative leaders and visiting with my colleagues from around the state, it’s clear we all share the same priorities this year – rebuilding our communities after the devastating storms last summer, helping Iowans through these tough economic times, and balancing the state budget. While there will certainly be differences among us this year, I know there is much more that unites us than divides us.
In his Condition of the State, Governor Culver outlined his plan for rebuilding Iowa. It addresses the two biggest challenges facing our state today – rebuilding communities after the devastating floods last summer and giving our economy a boost by creating good-paying jobs. Governor Culver urged us to be bold and take quick action to help the people still struggling today. He proposed using $43 million from the Economic Emergency Fund and I agree we should provide immediate assistance to Iowans, especially those families and non-profits who don’t qualify for other state or federal assistance. Given the widespread destruction of homes and businesses in 85 counties across Iowa, this is clearly the appropriate time to use those emergency funds. With $620 million in our reserve accounts, his plan also leaves us with a healthy balance as we weather this national economic recession. The Governor also proposed a $700 million Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Investment package that does not raise any taxes – income, sales or any other. It is financed with existing state gambling revenues that the Legislature typically uses for one-time infrastructure projects. His package will address critical unmet infrastructure needs across our state like rail, trails, sewer treatment facilities, utility grids, and more. In light of today’s difficult economic times, the Governor’s plan will also create thousands of good-paying jobs to help give our economy a boost. While the national recession has hit the state budget as well, we will work with Governor Culver and Republicans to ensure the state budget is balanced before we adjourn.
The Rebuild Iowa Committee met for the first time this week. It is a new committee created this year by the Speaker to ensure the Iowa House has one experienced team of representatives coordinating all our recovery efforts, including short-term recovery assistance and long-term disaster planning. Their top priority is to build consensus on the Governor’s request for $43 million in immediate assistance. We know we must act quickly, but we will work diligently to ensure taxpayer dollars are used effectively and efficiently.
This week three of my committees met, Public Safety, Environmental Protection, and Local Government. The first meeting typically, is the approval of meeting rules, members introduce themselves to one another, and we discuss what the agenda will be for the committee. Each caucus then meets and discusses individual member’s priorities for this session. Environmental Protection plans to focus on air and water quality and the long-term strategies for the state regarding the 2008 natural disasters. Public Safety discussed the 2000 ft. rule regarding sex offenders and the possibility of making some changes to that law. Local Government discussions focused on road funding, mental health services funding, and state funding for emergency management.
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