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Iowa Senate minority leader talks priorities for 2023 session

zach wahls
Zach Wahls via facebook
Iowa Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls

The top Democrat in the Iowa Senate said stopping attempts to divert public school money to private schools should be a priority in the next legislative session, along with addressing rising prices and providing more job training opportunities.

Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, said he expects the Republican majority in the Senate to once again pass a version of the governor’s school choice plan. It would give public school funds to some students to pay for private school tuition.

Wahls said Democrats will try to push back on that by going into communities to discuss education issues.

“Just to listen about the challenges that are facing these school districts and to try to understand, is this going to fix any of the problems in your local school district? Based on the conversations we’ve had already, the answer is no,” Wahls said. “And if anything, it’s actually an existential threat, especially in the smaller towns and rural communities.”

Wahls said it’s not clear if House Republicans will approve the state-funded scholarships for students to go to private schools.

Several Republican House members opposed it for the past two years because of concerns about how it would affect rural schools. A bigger GOP majority and a lot of new House members could change that in the next session.

Wahls responds to new GOP super-majority

Democrats lost Senate seats in the November election. In 2023, the Iowa Senate will have 34 Republicans and 16 Democrats. Last session, the split was 32-18.

Wahls said the new Republican super-majoritymeans all Republicans will have to be in agreement to confirm the governor’s appointments to state agencies and commissions.

Those votes require at least two-thirds of senators to agree, and Republicans won two-thirds of the seats in November. Senate Democrats have lost their ability to reject nominees.

Wahls said Democrats used that power “judiciously” and approved most of Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds’ appointees.

“But now, in order to get these folks confirmed, any individual Republican senator has that leverage over the rest of the caucus,” Wahls said. “And so that’ll be an interesting dynamic to watch play out on their side of the aisle.”

He said Senate Democrats will continue to try to influence policy discussions where they can, with a focus on the needs of middle class Iowans.

Wahls said Iowa Democrats as a whole should investigate what made them lose so many races in November when Democrats in most other states were more successful. He said Senate Democrats’ path back to the majority will involve connecting Republican policies to issues Iowans are facing in their communities.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter