Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds delivered her second Condition of the State address Tuesday, but it was her first after being elected to a full four-year term.
“My vision for the future of Iowa hasn’t changed,” Reynolds said. “But the future I see isn’t around the corner, or after the next election. The future is now. The time is now to deliver on the promises we’ve made to Iowans looking for a way up.”
She called on lawmakers to help implement the vision she set forth in 2018, but it’s unclear how far they will go.
After two years of mid-year budget cuts, Reynolds is asking lawmakers for $20 million to fund the “Future Ready Iowa” workforce development plan she signed into law last year.
She wants the legislature to give local governments more funding flexibility to sustain mental health services. And she asked for more state money to continue developing services for adults, and start new ones for children.
“Creating a comprehensive children’s mental health system will take time,” Reynolds said. “But we can and must take action. The days of merely talking are over.”
Reynolds also focused on rural development and asked for $20 million over the next two years for broadband infrastructure, and requested more workforce housing tax credits for rural areas.
She called for a 2.3 percent increase in per-student funding for K-12 schools. Last year, lawmakers approved a 1 percent bump.
After the speech, House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, said Democrats can likely find common ground on many of Reynolds’ priorities, but her budget requests in some areas aren’t enough. He said the state has been dramatically underfunding public education.
“If we’re not giving a proper amount of aid at the state level to local districts, then they’re having to jump through hoops to fund themselves,” Prichard said. “It’s really becoming a burden shift from the state to the property taxpayers in those districts.”
Reynolds also requested an extra $11 million for school transportation, and $3 million dollars to train K-12 teachers to recognize signs of mental illness.
But lawmakers will need to weigh in first.
“The budget is certainly in a much better position than it was last year,” said Senate President Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines. “But again we’re going to have to look at the totality of all the other proposals that are in front of us and balance that with all the other spending priorities that we have.”
Restoring voting rights for Iowans with felony convictions
Reynolds called on lawmakers to start the process of amending the constitution to automatically restore voting rights to Iowans with felony convictions. They are currently blocked from voting for the rest of their lives, unless they successfully petition the governor for reinstatement and satisfy other requirements.
“Through the power of clemency, the governor can restore those rights. And I’ve done that 88 times since taking office,” Reynolds said. “But I don’t believe that voting rights should be forever stripped, and I don’t believe restoration should be in the hands of a single person.”
Reynolds could change this with an executive order. The amendment she’s proposing would go to a vote of the people in 2022 at the earliest if it’s approved by two consecutive general assemblies.
Top Republican lawmakers say they’ll look at the governor’s proposal when it’s released.
“I want to understand better everything that’s involved with that,” said House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake. “I think it’s important that at least we address restitution in some way. These crimes have victims. And the governor talked about victims’ rights as well.”
The state ACLU director said in a statement black Iowans are disproportionately affected by the voting rights restriction because of racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
Iowa-Nebraska NAACP President Betty C. Andrews said she commends the governor for supporting a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights. But she thinks Reynolds should issue an executive order to grant those rights in the meantime.
“Because that is a few years down the line, most likely, based on the timing for when that can happen,” Andrews said. “But absolutely, it is essential. And it’s also embarrassing that Iowa is now one of only two states that don’t allow felon voting.”
It remains to be seen if the legislature, controlled by members of the governor’s own political party, will move forward with Reynolds’ budget and policy priorities.