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Iowa House Minority Leader talks 2023 legislative session priorities

house minority leader jennifer konfrst speaks in the Iowa House
Madeleine King
Iowa House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, gives her opening day speech in 2022.

The top Democrat in the Iowa House of Representatives said House Democrats will continue to pursue four key priorities they laid out ahead of the election: lowering costs for Iowans, investing in public schools, fighting attempts to restrict abortion and legalizing recreational marijuana.

“I think that under the lowering costs for Iowans one, we really need to highlight the importance of addressing child care in the state and addressing affordable housing,” said House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights. “Those are both things that don’t get a lot of attention, especially housing, but it is a critical need.”

Konfrst said House Democrats chose those priorities based on what gets broad support in polling.

But Democrats lost seats in the November election. They used to hold 40 of the 100 House seats, and they will have 36 seats in the next legislative session that begins in January. Republicans will continue to control the legislative agenda.

“We need to make sure that Iowa voters understand that Iowa Democrats are not D.C. Democrats, and we need to continue to remind them that the issues they care about are the issues we’re fighting for and pushing for,” Konfrst said.

She said Democrats can’t give up. Instead, she wants to reach more Iowans, listen to people and work in a bipartisan way to get things done.

The debate over creating state-funded scholarships for students to go to private schools is expected to take center stage again in the next session.

House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, recently announced the creation of the Education Reform Committee, which he will chair. House Republicans haven’t had the votes to pass Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposal for voucher-style scholarships for the past two years.

Konfrst said she expects that plan to go through the new committee in 2023 instead of the regular House Education Committee. She said she is a member of the new committee.

“I’m grateful that the committee exists because instead of getting lost in the chaos of all the other work that committees do, we can focus on this one and truly listen to what Iowans want about this,” Konfrst said. “Which by the way, they don’t want school vouchers.”

She said House Democrats want the state to prioritize investing more in public schools instead of sending money to private schools.

The use of eminent domain for three proposed carbon capture pipelines is also expected to be a major topic of discussion in the 2023 legislative session.

Konfrst said House Democrats are in “vigorous conversations” about the pipelines to determine if they’ll propose any legislation. This issue has not split along party lines, as many controversial issues do.

“We want to make sure we balance landowner rights with the opportunity for growth, and that we’re listening to everyone who should have a seat at the table,” she said.

The legislative session is scheduled to begin Jan. 9.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter