2009 Iowa legislative session underway

The Iowa House and Senate convened this morning at about 10 o’clock.  By 10:30 a.m. the decrees of the Secretary of State has been read and members are now signing documents which confirm their status as legit members of the Iowa General Assembly. About 10 minutes later, House Speaker Pat Murphy pulled a “Pelosi” — inviting any children in the House chamber to come to the speaker’s rostrum and be photographed/videotaped with him as he banged the gavel for the first time in 2009.

Two federal lawmakers — U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley & Congressman Leonard Boswell are at the statehouse this morning for opening day festivities.  Grassey’s grandson is a member of the House.

Leaders in the House & Senate deliver opening day speeches.  Staff for all but one legislative leader have forwarded the texts of those speeches to reporters. Those texts are copied below.

Opening statement from Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal

“Thank you Mr. President.

“This session will be a challenge.

“While Iowa’s economy and our state budget are in far better financial shape than those of most states, the state of the nation’s economy is not good and it is not getting better

“We Iowans had little to do with the mismanagement, greed, and financial carelessness that have put the U.S. in what is generally agreed to be the worst economic situation since the Great Depression.

“While we share little of the blame, we will continue to share the national pain.  Iowa families are losing the jobs they depend on.  Iowa small businesses are seeing sales fall.  Many Iowa homeowners are facing foreclosure. Iowans are wondering how bad things will get.

“Our greatest challenge, perhaps, is to lead our state through these tough times without sabotaging the commitments we’ve made on economic growth, health care and education.

“Perhaps our greatest challenge is to help our communities rebuild after last year’s floods and tornados devastated communities across Iowa.  Places like Cedar Rapids, the economic engine of eastern Iowa, and small towns like Parkersburg, Oakville and Waverly.

“We need to help Iowa communities rebuild their infrastructure.

“We need to help small businesses reestablish themselves.

“We need to help homeowners make decisions so they can move on with their lives.

“Addressing these challenges during a national recession won’t be easy.  In my 26 years in the Legislature, I’ve never seen such a tough situation.

“Our resources are limited.  We will say “no” to many good ideas.  We are going to disappoint some people and frustrate others.

“If your idea of being an elected official involves being loved by everyone, the next few months will be pretty rough.

“With that said, I guess now is the perfect time to welcome the new members of the Senate to the chamber.

“Given what I’ve just said, you may be wondering if you made a mistake.

“Well, you most assuredly did not.  Here’s why.

“While our state’s economy is struggling right now, I’m certain these hard times won’t last.  And when things begin to brighten, it will be easier for everyone to see that Iowa’s renewable energy economy is a shining example of where the world economy is headed.

“The shift away from fossil fuels is going to be the big story of this century.  Limited supplies, increasing costs, foreign entanglements and global warning mean that the world’s economies must move away from fossil fuels.

“You can argue about how quickly this fundamental change will occur but you can’t claim that it won’t happen.

“Here in Iowa, we are at the epicenter of the change the world is looking for.

“Iowa consumes about 1.6 billion gallons of fuel a year.  A decade ago, almost all of that fuel was imported, much of it from unstable countries.  Today, Iowa PRODUCES over three billion gallons of fuel a year.

“And Iowa’s bio-fuel industry and researchers at our universities are hard at work developing new ways to create fuel, including cellulosic ethanol.

“Iowa is the nation’s leader in wind energy production on a per capita basis.  Hundreds of wind turbines are being built.  Graduates from the wind technology center at Iowa Lakes Community College have their pick of jobs from around the world.

“By the year 2010, as much as 18 percent of the electricity used in Iowa will come from wind energy.   Compare that to the much talked about 20/25 proposals by other states, state which aim to reach 20% renewable energy consumption by the year 2025.

“We are years ahead of every other state in the union.  President-elect Obama says he wants the United States to be energy independent in 10 years.  Iowa is leading the way.  No wonder he chose Governor Tom Vilsack to be the new Secretary of Agriculture.

“I think all Iowans – whether Republicans or Democrats – will agree that President-elect Obama made a great choice in Tom Vilsack – our former Senate colleague – to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Yes, the national economic mess is a very big speed bump on our road forward but there is no doubt that Iowa’s long-term future is bright, perhaps brighter than it has ever been

“And so, I say today to you newly elected Senators, with all sincerity: “Welcome to the Iowa Senate!”

“Here in the Senate, we pride ourselves on working together, on listening to each other, on respecting each other’s ideas, and finding bipartisan solutions.

“Yes, the media like it when we fight.  And yes, our partisan supporters on both sides of the political aisle helped you and us run spirited campaigns last fall.

“We know that campaigns are about identifying differences.  But the trick to governing well is to set aside the differences of the campaigns and  focus on the common ground.

“I have yet to meet anyone who put forth the sort of effort you did to be elected simply to engage in partisan fights.

“Don’t let partisan passions lead you to forget that the Senate’s biggest accomplishments – the ones we’re most proud of—are usually overwhelmingly bipartisan.

“The legislation that made Iowa the world leader in renewable energy was bipartisan legislation.  The Iowa Power Fund and the earlier energy legislation were approved by large majorities composed of Democrats and Republicans.

“Last session’s votes on children’s health care, on the TIME21 transportation package, and the statewide school penny were all bipartisan.

“You are here because you want to move Iowa forward.

“You are here to help solve the problems your constituents face.

“Your constituents believe are no such things as Republican ideas and Democratic ideas.

“We need your ideas and your voice, regardless of party.  Please remember that my door is always open to you.”

Opening statement from Senate President Jack Kibbie

Good morning. I would like to welcome you all to opening day

of the First Session of the 83rd General Assembly.

We welcome nine new members to the Senate who have been

sent by their constituents at a difficult economic time in our nation’s

and state’s history. We need your best effort as we face a session

where our primary responsibility will be to craft a balanced budget

and position our selves for a brighter future.

As Senator Gronstal, Speaker Murphy and I told the press

last week, the word that will be most often said is “no”. While we

all will work to protect our priorities, we need to focus on those things

that help us look to the future. In the near term the nation faces pain,

but I am optimistic that the future for Iowa is bright. We have faced

economic downturns before and always come out the other side as

a stronger state. This time is no exception.

While the budget for FY 2010 will be our major objective, there

are a number of policy issues I hope we will address. First, we can no

longer put off the challenges to our transportation infrastructure. It is

vital that we begin to clear the backlog of projects that play a

significant role in future economic development. In my district my

constituents, Republicans and Democrats, all tell me that we need to get

to work and if the only impediment to that progress is money they are

willing to pay a few more cents at the pump. I support efforts that

result in a gas tax increase. Success in that endeavor will mean better

roads, jobs, and an economic boost to Iowa’s families and communities.

While there may be funds for these efforts as part of the federal

economic recovery package, we also need to act. It’s time to

declare war on the potholes and put people to work.

Second, we should not be afraid to address economic issues

that benefit Iowa’s working families. We need to always be aware of

the value of the labor performed every day in every part of our state.

Policies that enhance the economic security of workers make us

stronger. Iowa’s workers need jobs with good wages. Everyday I see

workers leaving the state because of low wages. We cannot afford to

export the talent and value those workers provide and we should not

fear passing Legislation that help workers bargain for a better future.

Third, we must have higher expectations for our young

people. We cannot continue to have so many young Iowans leave

high school without graduating. Without education, these Iowans face

an uncertain economic future. We need serious discussions about

raising the dropout age. We must have a greater sense of responsibility

to our students and greater focus on making school preparation for life.

Skills, vocational training, and a commitment to lifelong learning should

be the hallmarks of our educational system and we must do all we can

to make schools relevant to those students who see no value. They are

resources and we need to keep them involved and interested. At the

front end, we need to fulfill our commitment to our pre-school

initiative. It will pay long term dividends.

Lastly, on a more personal note, over 20 years ago legislators

came to Des Moines and saw the long term neglect of one of Iowa’s

premier resources, our State Capitol. They made a multi year, multi

million dollar commitment to long term restoration of this unique and

beautiful building. During the 2008 interim, restoration of the

President of the Senate’s Office was completed. While I occupy this

office, it is not mine. It belongs to the institution and the people of Iowa.

I invite you all to stop in and see the transformation. I would especially

like to recognize the work of Dick Labertew and Mark Lundberg

who are the restoration painters who work for the Legislature.

They did an outstanding job. I would invite you to stop by the office and

see the results.

In conclusion, as we begin this difficult session, I look forward

to working with you all and to a successful year. We have many

challenges but they present us with unique opportunities as well.

Let’s get to work.

Thank you

Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley’s Opening Day Remarks

Thank you Mr. President.

Friends and colleagues:

This is my 9th first day of a legislative session since being elected.  Like many of you I have served in the majority, the minority, and even the eventful co-majority status this body briefly possessed.

Today, however, is the first time I address this body as the leader for the Senate Republicans.  Despite working with many of you over the years and traveling overseas with my good friends Senators Black and Beall I do feel compelled to give a brief personal background.

In the late 70s I was living in Corydon, Iowa and serving as the executive for a light manufacturing company that custom made garment bags for small town clothing stores.  We were a good little company but independent men’s clothing stores were going out of business and consequently sales for our garment bags were falling.  About this time the owner of the company pulled me into his office stated he was retiring and could no longer face the challenges ahead.

Some of you aren’t old enough to remember this but interest rates during this time were hovering at 20% plus and inflation was around 13% a year. This was a period of time when we were in the height of Jimmy Carter’s “misery index” (unemployment rate plus inflation rate—22%) a burgeoning farm crisis, and a general malaise had settled over Iowa and the rest of the country.  Even some of the major political and economic figures of the day indicated we, as Americans, would have to learn to live with less – that the next generation of Americans could not be guaranteed a future better than their parents.

I believed differently.  And, in accordance with my farm upbringing I saw this as a challenge to overcome.  I leveraged everything I owned.  I borrowed as much money as I could and purchased the plant.  I bet my young family’s future I could make it work.

Where many saw a shrinking marketplace, I saw the opportunity to develop a new business model and laid out an aggressive plan to sell new products into new markets.  With clearly defined goals, a cohesive strategy, and lot of hard work we began to turn the company around.

Ten years later, we had tripled the size of the company employing a couple hundred people working shifts in 3 different plants.  And, I’m pleased to say during those lean years in southern Iowa my company gave a lot people paychecks when no one else was hiring.

Today, our country and state face many of same challenges we did not so long ago.  Rampant job loss and layoffs, financial uncertainty, and that word “malaise” has drifted back into the national vocabulary.  And unfortunately, it may get worse before it gets better.

Many of us from both parties have been here before and over the course of next few months we’ll work together with the goal of returning stability in an unstable time.

Senate Republicans will offer solutions and advice for our friends in the majority.  And our offerings will come from a pretty simple notion that I believe we have lost sight of in recent years.  I believe it is time we re-establish the notion that it is Iowans who run government and not the other way around.

Elected officials have an oversight duty, a responsibility to see that no arm of government becomes disconnected and larger than the people’s wishes.  We must reign in government spending and restore the public trust.  Iowans give their taxes and trust to state government; their taxes to pay for those specific government services deemed necessary and their trust that those dollars will be spent judiciously.  On both fronts we have room to improve.

In order to ensure our government’s size and scope remains in a comfortable balance with its citizens Republicans will call for greater transparency and accountability.  Additionally, economic opportunity is the great equalizer in a free society.  It is economic opportunity that turns a dream into a business.

It was a dream that David Vredenburg, a good southern Iowa boy, had in the 1930s. Months after the worst day on Wall Street, Mr. Vredenburg and a friend opened a small general store.  They opened a store at a time when the only thing more scare than money was hope.  As unemployment began ramping up to one quarter of the population and a different bank closed every day the southern Iowa dreamer kept working.  Today, as you know, Mr. Vredenburg’s legacy that began as a depression-era general store has become 220 Hy-Vee stores across the Midwest and boasts 55,000 thankful employees.

Republicans believe time has come for state government to stop creating and erecting barriers for job creators and we should turn the corner and begin eliminating government-imposed barriers so future David Vredenburgs can fully realize their dreams.  Let this be the legislative session where job creators around the world view Iowa as a place to grow.

Iowans are proud of our education heritage and while we have committed billions of dollars in advancing education we continue to experience stagnant growth in student achievement.  Rather than continue to chase the latest fads in education which have proven ineffective, I believe parents, students, employers, and community leaders want students to master the fundamentals of reading writing, math, science, and American history.

Finally, I believe we can turn this state around.  If we reign-in government spending and restore the public’s trust by truly having a government that’s responsive and seeks to help create jobs rather than eliminate them.  We can turn this state around.

And, if our education system is one that sets standards and encourages both students and teachers to achieve high goals and adequately prepare and reward them for the global marketplace.  We can turn this state around.  Then, finally if we have a job creation environment that no longer erects barriers but encourages Iowa ingenuity I believe in short time Iowa can be a dramatically different place.

Thank you.

House Republican Leader Kraig Paulsen delivered opening remarks to the Iowa House of Representatives today.  The following are his remarks, as prepared for delivery:

Thank you Mr. Speaker; Mr. Speaker, Ladies & Gentlemen of the House, Friends and Families.

On behalf of House Republicans, welcome to the 83rd General Assembly.  Congratulations to the new members of the House.  It is a very special task you are about to begin and it is also one of the most rewarding experiences you will have in your life.  My one piece of advice – you get as much out of this as you put in – I suggest you go all in.  I hope each day you serve will be as exciting as this first one.

As many of you know, Rep. Royd Chambers of Sheldon serves not only this state as a representative, but also our country, in the Air National Guard.  At the beginning of this year, Rep. Chambers was deployed overseas and will likely not be joining us this session.  Like all those who serve, the work Royd is doing is important and I know you share my pride and appreciation for his efforts in protecting us from those who seek to do us harm.  There are those who are called to something even greater than themselves, those who make it possible for us to come and do the people’s work—and I would ask you to join me in keeping Royd and the other brave men and women who are serving our country in your thoughts and prayers.

There is work that needs to be done in this house as well.

Everywhere you look there are reports and messages about economic uncertainty – both at home and in the workplace.

We, in this session, will be facing difficult and sometimes painful decisions.  But they are certainly no more difficult or painful than the decisions that Iowa’s families and taxpayers are making everyday.  We must remember that state government is not the only entity facing uncertainty.  With that in mind, we must protect families and taxpayers – not ask them to dig deeper in their own pockets to solve a budget problem that this Legislature created for itself.

Since it is impossible to move forward without first understanding your past, we need to remember something.  When the 82nd General Assembly closed its doors last May, we walked out of here $563 million in the red.  Today, due to the hardships and disasters of 2008, we walk in here $779 million in the red.  But let’s be clear about this.  The initial shortfall of $563 million was not caused by George W. Bush or Congressional Democrats as some have claimed, it was not caused by sliding stock markets or housing crunches.  It was caused by a lack of discipline and a failure of duties with Iowans’ dollars.  That being said, House Republicans are ready to look toward the future and craft solutions.

Mr. Speaker, this blame game serves no one well – so my pledge is this, as long as we are able to look forward and work towards solutions I have no interest in laying blame. However, if blame is continued to be misplaced, as Republicans believe it has in the last several weeks, I will continue to talk about the pork of the last two years – the 2,600 new state employees – the 17+% spending increases. Mr. Speaker, Republicans prefer to move on, I hope Democrats feel the same.

The first order of business should be a meaningful disaster relief bill that helps the thousands of Iowans who can’t sleep in their own home at night.

Republicans are ready to help draft a bill that creates substantive measures that permit our small businesses to get their doors back open faster and put Iowans back to work.

We must make sure we invest properly into rebuilding Iowa’s infrastructure.

This body has set aside dollars exactly for these purposes – we need to put these dollars to work.

I can assure you, Republicans will not shy away from any of these challenges.

Last year in his veto message on the collective bargaining bill, Gov. Culver stated the legislation, which rewrote Iowa’s collective bargaining law, could result in substantial tax increases and that it was not in the best interest of the taxpayer.  Republicans believe that the governor used the right test on that day.

But we also believe there is another meritorious test.  Does proposed legislation grow Iowa’s economy – does it create more jobs – does it encourage employers to invest in our workforce?  If it does pass the test we should press forward, if it does not, it must be set aside.

Mr. Speaker, Republicans believe many of the left-over high profile bills from last year do not pass this test. You should expect us to oppose Combined Corporate Reporting, property tax increases and any attempt to weaken or gut Iowa’s right to work law.  These proposals do not pass the test.  We must also bring more truth and transparency to our budget process and spending decisions.  Republicans believe that Iowans deserve to know what is happening with their tax dollars at all times.  Expect Republicans to dive into budgets and look for cost-saving measures.  We are committed to asking tough questions and shining light on the process to bring true accountability to the people’s House. We must examine how we spend each taxpayer dollar.

We will not support a budget that is balanced by adding to Iowa’s already overly burdensome taxes and this includes any attempt to eliminate the largest income tax deduction for nearly every middle class Iowan– federal deductibility.

Mr. Speaker, I recognize you may have preferred my comments be filled with less confrontational words.  But we have serious work to do.  As committed as I am and my caucus is to staying true to these principles we are also that committed to making sure this body and this general assembly are successful in moving Iowa forward.

We stand ready to do what needs to be done for:

–          A stronger, growing Iowa economy

–          Meaningful disaster relief for Iowa

–          A responsible budget.  And just as the governor has said, balanced without raising taxes

–          Affordable healthcare

–          Strong education – including stronger community colleges

–          A robust energy policy that protects those paying electric and gas bills and our natural resources

–          An open responsive state government

It’s a challenging, but exciting time for Iowa

Mr. Speaker, Republicans are ready to go to work.

Speech texts text for House Speaker Pat Murphy and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy are is not yet available.

UPDATE:  Opening Day Remarks by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker – ladies & gentlemen of the House.  Good morning.

Let me begin by congratulating all of you on your recent election.  And also, to Representatives Paulsen & Upmeyer on your new positions.  I very much look forward to working with both of you.

We have all heard a lot lately about the coming challenges we will face when dealing with this years budget – and there will be historic challenges indeed.

The State of Iowa is seeing various economic indicators – some of which we have not seen since 1933.  As the President-Elect has recently said, “Things may get worse before they get better” and thus far, traditional modes of dealing with this recession have not been successful.

With every challenge comes an opportunity, though.  As Joseph Campbell said, “At the darkest moment comes the light.”

Of the 46 states currently facing economic hardship, Iowa is in a better position than almost any other state to weather this economic storm.  We are one of only a few states that are now net exporters of energy – our investments in ethanol and wind development are beginning to bear fruit and these investments will continue to bring jobs to our state.  Our future looks bright.

If we work together this year we can meet these budget challenges…in a way that’s smarter and more efficient than we have done before; while continuing to provide the essential core services that Iowans expect us to provide and maintaining the progress we have made in education and health care.

To do this we must work in a bipartisan fashion – putting aside any hard feelings that may exist from the recent hard fought campaigns.  This body has always been most productive when we are working together and when there is meaningful input from all parties.  I believe, contrary to what some are saying – we can, and will, have a successful session.

Today, let’s commit to work together, all of us, in a truly bipartisan way to do what’s in the best interest of all Iowans.  Thank you very much.

UPDATE at 4:02 p.m.:  Opening Day Remarks by House Speaker Pat Murphy, D-Dubuque

We could not foresee the national recession that has been occurring and that we are currently in, and we could not have seen the national disasters that affected Iowa this past summer.  Iowa had record flooding in certain parts of the state.  We had tornadoes that did devastation to communities and took lives.  Our biggest challenge this year will be to deal with rebuilding Iowa communities hit by natural disasters.

We are working with the Governor to create a new standing legislative
committee: the Rebuild Iowa and Disaster Recovery Committee.  I have entrusted Representative Tom Schueller to chair that committee.  Tom has a very good background as a city councilman, a person who has worked for a large employer and who also owns a small business and works in construction and knows what real reconstruction is all about.

When we left last year we had an 82 million dollar projected ending balance.  That balance is gone, due in part to the recession and the flood.  The national recession really eroded those dollars, but we are still better off than most states.  We have approximately 620 million dollars sitting in our reserve accounts.  Along with that we have a triple A bond rating which means that, quite frankly, financial institutions view the management of the state budget in very good terms.

I appreciate Governor Culver’s actions to keep this year’s budget in balance, first through selective cuts and then across the board cuts to make sure that, as we come in here today, we are operating with a balanced budget for the current fiscal year.  But the Governor’s cuts are just a start.  We will need to get leaner and meaner as the year goes on.  Currently it is estimated that, for the current fiscal year, we will have between 30 and 40 million dollars less in annual revenue than we had last fiscal year.  I am sure that we will look at innovative ways to save money, innovative ways to improve state services and move the state forward. And, we need to act quickly.

It is my goal that the first bill we work on this year will address aid for disaster affected areas.  And we will expect the “RIO Committee,” as it is going to be called, to work in conjunction with the Appropriations and Ways and Means Committees to deal with spending issues related to disaster recovery.  Our goal is to have legislation on the Governor’s desk by the end of the month, to show that we are moving quickly to help those adversely impacted by natural disasters.

Last summer, House Democrats proposed a plan to secure Iowa’s economic future by promoting economic growth, creating jobs, and helping middle class families.  We want to continue these efforts by making Iowa a green state and creating programs and jobs that help promote alternative energy production and usage in Iowa.  A good example is Florida Power and Light, which is currently investing approximately 1.2 billion dollars in wind turbines in the state.   We need to continue to be the
renewable fuels leader among the 50 states.  Whether through ethanol, soy diesel or wind energy, we will push hard to promote renewable fuels.

We also need to continue to look at creating good paying jobs to help foster more economic opportunities for Iowans.

We need to also make sure that we maintain our commitment to health care.  Through Medicaid, Hawk-I, private insurance or other program, our goal is to continue to move toward health insurance coverage for every child in Iowa.

But we also need to reward hard work for those people that play by the rules.  We need to take aim at CEO’s that knowingly hire illegal immigrants and whose employment practices are tailored to avoid paying taxes and avoid treating workers fairly.

We also need to equip our children for the future.  That means that we need to continue our focus on early childhood, K-12 education and making higher education affordable.

I think we have a very good record over the previous two years.  The first bill we did two years ago raised the minimum wage for those people at the bottom end of the pay scale.  We also focused on small business health insurance reform so people in small businesses could have access to health care.  We also made sure that we focused on making Iowa a greener state and we need to continue that effort.

But, it won’t be easy.  The cupboard is almost bare.  It may not be our fault, but we need to deal with the issues before us and balance the budget before we adjourn.

If we put aside our differences, we can work together to move the state forward.  And if I may take this opportunity, I will lobby U.S. Senator Grassley who is sitting in the audience today to do everything he can, along with Senator Harkin, to work to make Tom Vilsack our next Secretary of Agriculture.  I think it will be very good for the state and very good for agriculture.

We need to grow the economy, create job opportunities, and make Iowa a green state.  We need to help Iowa recover and balance our budget.

Back in the 1960’s, Martin Luther King asked this country to create a society in which individuals are judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.  In eight days we will swear in a president, an African-American, for the first time in this country.
And if you look at what he talked about for the last twenty months, he expressed a unifying theme that reflected back to Dr. King’s remarks.

As he campaigned across Iowa and other states, President-elect Obama didn’t talk about a red America.  He didn’t talk about a blue America.
He didn’t talk about a white America.  He didn’t talk about a black America.  He talked about these United States of America.  And Americans have come together in ways that they haven’t in recent years.  His election, and the themes he stressed during the campaign, demonstrate that we have the ability to come together, to understand that we have differences, and to put those differences aside in a common effort to move the state forward.

Over these next one-hundred days that we are in session, hopefully we will be able find areas of agreement.  So that we can improve education, health care, and make government work better.  So that we don’t look at each other as Republicans or Democrats, or by the color red or the color blue.  Let’s see ourselves as Americans and Iowans and let’s say that our job is to do what we can to make Iowa and the United States a better place.

I thank you for your time.  Now we need to get to work and move this state forward.  Thank you.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.