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New Iowa House Speaker Talks 2020 Legislative Priorities

house republican leaders
Katarina Sostaric
Rep. Pat Grassley, right, speaks to reporters in October 2019 after House Republicans selected him to be the new speaker.

Rep. Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, is set to officially become speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives after the legislature gavels in January 13.

In an interview with Iowa Public Radio, he said House Republicans want to focus on addressing the state’s workforce shortage. And he said one avenue they are considering is removing what is known as the “cliff effect” for government child care assistance.

“Which basically is if you reach a certain level of income, you lose all of your benefits,” Grassley said. “We would like to see a way to try to ease people off of some these programs, and hopefully encourage advancement in a career or other career opportunities.”

Grassley said he also wants to do more to encourage development of workforce housing across the state.

The top Republican in the Iowa Senate also wants to get more Iowans into the workforce, but he has said he wants to do that by adding new eligibility requirements for food and health care assistance.

Grassley said he would encourage House Republicans to work with senators to “find out where those reasonable solutions are.”

“Maybe there’s some specific things that we can identify, to try to help work people off some of these programs, because I think that should be one of our goals to do that,” Grassley said. “But we also need to give them a pathway to try to achieve that.”

Democrats have said Senate Republicans proposed changes to public assistance programs that are “mean-spirited” and have been struck down by courts in other states.

Tax policy

Responding to questions about an ongoing conversation centered on raising the state sales tax, partially to fund a natural resources initiative, Grassley echoed other top Republicans at the statehouse in saying it would have to be combined with tax cuts in other areas.

“There’s so many moving parts,” Grassley said. “I just caution everyone that this is going to take time. It’s not something that we should rush towards.”

Grassley added if the lawmakers choose to raise the sales tax to fund Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy (IWILL), House Republicans will want to change the formula designation how that money is spent.

Grassley did not say if he would support speeding up implementation of the 2018 Iowa income tax cuts. He said lawmakers “need to be very responsible” with tax policy and ensure that the state can fulfill budget commitments, and he said he wants to take “every opportunity we have to return the money to Iowans.”

Restoring voting rights to Iowans with felony convictions

In early 2019, House Republicans passed Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposed constitutional amendment that would automatically restore voting rights to people with felony convictions who complete their sentence. They did so with the understanding that they would work on a separate law to add some more restrictions to that, such as barring people convicted of murder and rape from automatic voting rights restoration.

Senate Republicans did not pass the constitutional amendment, and it is unclear if they will insist on putting those restrictions into the Iowa Constitution, rather than in Iowa law.

Grassley said House Republicans may be willing to consider something different from what they already passed.

“I don’t want anyone in the public to think that just because we passed the bill the way we passed it, that it’s that or nothing,” Grassley said. “We’re willing to work with everyone else to see where we can find some common ground on that issue.”

Gov. Reynolds said she wants to the constitutional amendment to move forward in the form already passed by the House.

Gun policy

Grassley said he does not want to pass any gun-related bills in 2020 that would jeopardize the chances of adding gun rights language to the Iowa Constitution.

Iowa Public Radio asked him if House Republicans want to pass a bill from last session that would allow gun owners to have a firearm on some school and work property.

“Any piece of legislation that we were to consider or not consider, we don’t want to jeopardize the constitutional amendment that we have already begun work on that needs to pass our general assembly,” Grassley said.

The House and Senate passed a gun rights constitutional amendment last session. Both would again have to pass it after the 2020 election to get it on the ballot for a vote of the people.

Opponents say the proposal goes further than the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and they say it could be used to undermine Iowa’s existing gun control policies.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter