Iowa lawmakers begin session amid GOP vows of major change
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Republican leaders on Monday kicked off the new session of the Iowa Legislature with a promise to make major changes to the workings of state government, though the party with new majorities in both chambers remained mum about specific details on plans to cut taxes, restrict abortion and limit the ability of public workers to bargain for health insurance.
Separately, a newly announced bill that would require Iowa voters to show identification at election booths received criticism from university students who argued it would disenfranchise them because it prohibits them from using school-issued IDs to vote.
Republicans used ceremonial opening remarks to highlight their plans to energize Iowa's economy in part through changes to how the state taxes people and businesses. They did not specify how they would achieve any tax cuts despite a roughly $110 million budget shortfall in the state's $7.3 billion budget. There's also no surplus dollars in the budget that begins in July.
"With hard work and diligence, we are determined to make our time here of great consequence to the future of the state of Iowa," said House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow, R-Windsor Heights. "Our time is now."
The dynamic of complete GOP majority in the Iowa Capitol - both chambers and the governor's office are Republican for the first time in nearly 20 years - is expected to sweep in a broad range of conservative legislation to the state. Outgoing Gov. Terry Branstad has indicated plans to sign legislation before he resigns to become the next U.S. ambassador to China.
Democrats indicated they would resist controversial legislation, but the party will have little power to stop it. Republicans have a 59-40 majority in the House and a 29-20 majority in the Senate.
"In recent weeks, I've read reports of your agenda to take away women's rights, voting rights and worker's rights," said House Minority Leader Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown. "If you decide to take those divisive issues up this year, be prepared for a fight."
Progressive groups also gathered at the Capitol's rotunda to address their concerns on possible legislation, including the proposed voter identification requirement by Iowa Secretary of State Pate.
"This is an all-out assault on our fundamental right to vote," said Nathan Blake, a representative of the Asia & Latino Coalition and the League of United Latin American Citizens.
The bill would require state-approved forms of ID on Election Day and other changes to Iowa's voting system. Pate is seeking $1 million for the effort, though his office has released limited information about projected costs. New state-issued IDs would come at a cost of $4 each, but it would be free to voters, according to Pate's spokesman.
GOP leaders say such a bill would maintain voter integrity, though there is little evidence of fraudulent voting in the state.
A draft of the bill is not available yet, but Pate confirmed it would prohibit college students from using school-issued identification to vote. Student government leaders at Iowa's three public universities issued a statement Sunday criticizing the move and the cost.
"We hope that our state legislators will listen to our concerns and vote against any legislation that would misuse state funds and severely limit the ability for college students to exercise their right to vote," according to the statement.
Pate said in a statement that students had received misleading and inaccurate information about the bill. He emphasized all voter-eligible students would continue to be able to vote and noted the offer of free voter ID cards.
"College students will be treated just like every other Iowan. Nothing changes for them, and no eligible voter will be excluded. Anyone who says otherwise is playing partisan games and is not interested in election integrity," he said.