House Speaker/Sen

Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley, left, and state Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, speak Jan. 4 at a legislative forum sponsored by the Iowa Capitol Press Association.

Lawmakers returned to Des Moines Monday for the 2022 legislative session, and Republicans – who hold the House, Senate and the governor’s office – have their to-do list in order.

GOP leadership last week highlighted solving workforce shortages, cutting income taxes and prioritizing parents in education as major goals for the upcoming session.

“We are well-positioned to overcome any new challenges that 2022 decides to throw at us,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said. “I am hoping that none of those challenges begin with the word ‘unprecedented.’”

Democrats, meanwhile, proposed alternate solutions for addressing the workforce and emphasized that tax cuts should target low- and middle-income Iowans.

Here are some of the issues lawmakers addressed:

Income taxes

Lowering income taxes is high priority, but lawmakers may not eliminate it outright.

Republican leaders agreed Iowa needs to keep cutting taxes, especially as the state reported a record-high surplus last year.

“We need to get those tax dollars back in (taxpayer) hands,” said House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford.

On the chopping block: Iowa’s income tax, which Republicans argue is making the state less competitive. But leaders stopped short of recommending an immediate elimination of the state’s income tax, emphasizing the change would need to be sustainable over time.

“We are looking at lowering rates for Iowans, for those individual income taxpayers who pay the bulk of the bill when it comes to income tax,” said Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton. “I don’t think that this is a process that happens overnight.”

Democrats emphasized that tax cuts should be targeted to middle class Iowans.

“I think it’s time to focus those tax cuts on Iowa’s working and middle-class people who have been left out before,” Konfrst said.

Reynolds declined to give details on her tax cut proposal, but she said she was “excited about where we’re at.” She said the tax cuts would need to be fiscally responsible and able to be maintained long-term.

Reynolds will debut her tax policy next week, ahead of the Condition of the State address.

Parent choice               cornerstone for            education policy

Education has been a flash point in Iowa politics, sparking debates on mask wearing, book banning and charter schooling. At the center is a common thread, Republicans say: a need to give parents more choices and control in their children’s education.

Sinclair, chair of the Senate Education Committee, said creating a “Parents’ Bill of Rights” was a top priority this session. She said the legislation would create more transparency in schools and get parents more involved in schools.

Reynolds promised similar transparency for parents in response to controversy about inappropriate books in school libraries.

“Parents need to know what books are in the library to give them a chance to weigh in,” Reynolds said. “They need to know what curriculum is in the syllabus… I think you’re going to see parents that are engaged and paying attention.”

Job training, child care access proposed workforce solutions

Reynolds also promised a comprehensive legislative proposal to grow and strengthen Iowa’s workforce. She raised concerns that two-thirds of the people on unemployment were between 25 and 54 years old. She emphasized the importance of workforce training programs and access to child care to get people back to work.

“We need to incentivize work, not pay people to stay home,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds raised the possibility of streamlining existing workforce programs in the state.

Sinclair echoed Reynolds, telling reporters that increased training and child care access were priorities to grow the teacher workforce in Iowa.

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst suggested affordable housing and better wages as other salves to the workforce crisis.

Republican leaders     cautious on employer vaccine mandates

Members of the House State Government Committee debuted a proposal to prohibit employers from requiring their employees to be vaccinated. It’s been a contentious issue in recent months, even after lawmakers passed a bill in October to provide broad exemptions to employer mandates.

But Republican leaders urged caution on the new proposal. The U.S. Supreme Court is set to consider the legality of several federal vaccine mandates, and Reynolds argued the state should wait to implement new laws on the issue.

“I look for (the Supreme Court) and I anticipate that they would put forward their ruling in a timely manner,” Reynolds said.

Grassley and Sinclair did not comment specifically on the proposal. Grassley said the Legislature should be prepared to act following a court decision.

“We already acted, like we said, and made sure we addressed as much as we could when it came to the exemptions,” he said, pointing to the October law. “But I also think that the Legislature shouldn’t try to get in front and complicate these court cases.”

Grassley noted that employer vaccine mandates could be a contributor to the workforce issues in Iowa.

“This is just one more thing that is damaging our state and the ability for folks to enter the workforce or stay in the workforce,” he said.

Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, shot back that unvaccinated employees who are hospitalized for COVID-19 also present a workforce issue.

“We need to spend our energy focusing on getting Iowans to get the vaccine that has been proven safe and effective,” she said.

Abortion policy waiting on court decisions

Leaders also said state abortion laws could wait until the Supreme Court rules on the Texas abortion law, or until the Iowa Supreme Court makes a decision on waiting periods.

“I think that, as a pro-life legislator, I’m standing ready to do what’s best for Iowans, but I also think that it’s incumbent upon us not to get ahead of ourselves in these conversations,” Sinclair said.

Governor to propose racial profiling changes

In 2021, Reynolds proposed a sweeping “Back the Blue” Act that included new data collection requirements for police departments to ban racial profiling. Several parts of that legislation passed, including enhanced penalties for rioters and additional protections for police officers, but the racial profiling proposal was removed from the final bill.

Reynolds said she would again propose legislation to ban racial profiling.

Grassley said he would be open to conversations on the issue.