I had the chance to tour the Kirkwood Regional Center in Coralville on December 2. This partnership between Kirkwood Community College and the University of Iowa offers traditional college programming as well as high-tech career training, assessment and placement exams, and certification programs. Students develop the latest technical skills on cutting edge equipment at the Kirkwood Regional Center in Coralville. It may be one part of their overall education and training plan, but for many, it leads to immediate employment in well-paying jobs.
On October 6, I toured Cedar Valley Techworks in Waterloo with some of my Senate colleagues. We saw a 3D printer in action, making components for a variety of industries throughout the U.S. The students who train on this equipment are in immediate demand for well-paying high-tech jobs.
I had the chance to tour the Tyson Pepperoni Plant on September 23 with other Pottawattamie County officials. This tour and other like it are hosted by the Chamber/Growth Alliance, and give us a chance to learn about some of the employers and manufacturers who are creating local jobs and growing our economy.
I was on hand June 26 when Governor Branstad signed into law a bill we passed this year to accelerate solar energy growth in Iowa. HF 645, which won unanimous approval in the Senate, increases Iowa’s solar energy tax credits and adds production tax credits for utility solar projects. Solar energy is already working for thousands of businesses, farmers and homeowners across our state. That’s good for the environment and our economy. Since the Legislature first passed solar energy tax credits in 2012, the credits have helped more than 1,200 projects leverage more than $50 million in solar investments and create nearly 1,000 jobs. The new legislation adds $500,000 to Iowa’s solar energy tax credits, bringing the total to $5 million per year. It also makes utilities eligible for production tax credits for solar power projects.
Senate President Pam Jochum and I meeting with members of the Statehouse press corps during the final days of the 2015 session. It's an honor to serve and represent the people of Pottawattamie County.
On April 30, many legislators wore pink to show support for teachers who received pink slips because House Republicans had refused to compromise on adequate funding for schools for this fall. Senate Democrats are committed to increasing student achievement and improving teacher quality. You can help by encouraging legislators to compromise on funding that will give local schools the resources they need to avoid teacher layoffs, larger class sizes and cuts to course offerings and extracurricular activities.
On Wednesday, schoolchildren rallied on the east steps of the Iowa Capitol in support of timely and adequate funding for our local schools. A good education prepares our students for the jobs and training they need to build a thriving Iowa economy.
I had the honor of participating this year’s Pioneer Lawmakers event in Des Moines. The Pioneer Lawmakers designation recognizes those who’ve participated in Iowa’s legislative process over the course of many years. These individuals have helped shape our state, and we thank them for their service and dedication to making Iowa a great place to live.
This year’s “Awards for Excellence in History” recognize individuals, organizations and communities that have made outstanding contributions to the study and practice of Iowa history. The William J. Wagner Award recognizes the historic preservation project that best exemplifies the use of the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation of Historic Buildings. The award is named for William J. Wagner, Iowa’s first preservation architect – renowned for major projects including the Madison County Courthouse, the Marshall County Courthouse and Terrace Hill. Congratulations to award recipient Jim Royer of J. Development Company for his work on the Abraham Lincoln High School Gymnasium in Council Bluffs. Pictured are Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Director Mary Cownie (left), Rep. Mary Ann Hanusa (fourth from left) and Gov. Terry Branstad (right) with Jim Royer (second from right) and the Abraham Lincoln High School Gymnasium rehabilitation project team duri
On Monday, the Senate passed a resolution honoring the University of Northern Iowa’s men’s basketball team for their outstanding season. Coach Ben Jacobson led the team to its highest national rankings, highest ever NCAA Tournament seed and a Missouri Valley Conference Championship. The Panthers represented the State of Iowa with great skill and character throughout the season. On hand for the event was UNI President Bill Rudd.
On Tuesday, the Iowa Senate passed Senate Resolution 24 honoring Dr. Sally Mason, president of the University of Iowa. Dr. Mason is retiring on August 1.
Advocates talked with Sen. Chris Brase of Muscatine and me on March 19 about the availability of antidotes to combat life-threatening drug reactions. The group included (standing) Sue Van Camp, Rene Dickerson, Kim Brown, Peter Lamp, Carly Lamp, Melodi Taylor and Leah White; (sitting) Pete Lamp, Ethan Lamp and Kimber Hamm. Most of these folks have lost family members to a drug overdose, and now advocate for wider-spread use of Narcane, which can save a life in an overdose situation. Others in the group have seen lives saved by Narcane. Addiction is something many Iowa families must cope with. We can make it easier for them to help their loved ones, rather than facing the tragedy of losing a parent, child or spouse.
Melodi Taylor told me of the tragedy of losing her brother Andy to a drug overdose.
Senator Gronstal at the Conference Committee on Education Funding
Raising Iowa’s minimum wage is a top priority of the Iowa Catholic Conference. It has been seven years since Iowa’s minimum wage of $7.25 an hour has been increased. All but one of Iowa’s neighboring states has a higher minimum wage. On February 24, Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, Bishop Martin Amos of Davenport and Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines were at the Statehouse. Later that day, I was part of a bipartisan majority that voted to increase Iowa’s minimum wage to $8.75 an hour.
Brandon and Laura Brase joined Iowans from across the state who shared their struggles with cancer, epilepsy, Crohn’s Disease, PTSD and Multiple Sclerosis. They told legislators that Iowa's medical cannabis law approved with strong bipartisan support last year has yet to help a single person. Republicans and Democrats are working to fix that.
I enjoyed a visit to Rue Elementary last Friday. It gave me a chance to talk with teachers and staff about how school funding decisions in Des Moines are impacting their students’ classroom experience. This week, I was proud to vote for a 4 percent increase in state support for our local schools. It’ll give Rue first graders, pictured here, the education they need to compete and succeed.
Iowa Western Community College students met with me on January 29. Pictured from left: Clair Donelly (Columbus, NE), Sarah Saladen (Wood River, NE), Neftali Ilanas-Pereyra (Council Bluffs), Caleb Wilson (Missouri Valley), Amanda Ivey (Council Bluffs), Jesse Oswald (Housing Coordinator for IWCC) and Hakeem Wrimere (Cincinnati, OH).
I’m so proud of our Iowa Western Community College students, faculty and staff. In recent years, Democrats and Republicans have worked together successfully to help Iowans gain the skills businesses need through coursework and training at our community colleges. Iowans of all ages are taking advantage of these new opportunities. It is a “win-win” situation. Iowa businesses have the skilled workers needed to succeed and expand, and more Iowa families are joining the middle class thanks to high-wage, high-skill jobs.
We won’t be able to build a high-wage economy without maintaining and improving Iowa’s transportation system. This week leaders from Iowa’s road, railroad and air transportation industries made that point in meetings at the Iowa Statehouse.
The American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network works to reduce the number of Iowans who suffer from cancer. The Iowa members are particularly concerned about radon, a colorless, odorless radioactive gas often found in Iowa that can move into groundwater and the air in homes. Exposure to radon has passed second-hand smoke to become the second leading cause of lung cancer. The group supports efforts to reduce radon exposure through state-sponsored education and testing of homes, schools and businesses.
The final days of the 2014 session involved at lot of long hours on the Senate floor as legislators worked to finalize the state budget. In the end, we had many bipartisan successes. We built on efforts to provide greater economic security for Iowa families by standing up for workers and investing in skills training, job creation and the best educational opportunities from preschool through college.
Legislative efforts to encourage Iowa’s wind energy economy are helping create jobs across the state. Rob Hach (center) of Alta, Iowa, founded a company that had seven employees when the 2008 recession hit but has grown to a workforce of 33 today. Rob's company, Wind & Solar Specialists, works throughout the state to help individuals, farmers and businesses site, install and maintain wind turbines of various sizes. I talked with Rob and Roger Lutes (left), a Marshall County farmer working to launch a wind farm on his land, when they visited the Statehouse on April 16 for the Iowa Wind Energy Association’s legislative day (www.iowawindenergy.org).
Members from the League of Women Voters talked with Senate President Pam Jochum and me about the "50/50 in 2020" initiative. By 2020, the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, they hope women will have fifty percent representation in the Iowa House and Senate.
On April 7, the Iowa Senate approved an Education Budget that freezes tuition for a second year at Iowa’s public universities, provides an $8 million increase to our community colleges and increases state investment in helping children learn to read. Prior to the vote, I reviewed the legislation with staffer Bridget Godes and Senate Education Budget Chair Brian Schoenjahn, a retired high school teacher from Arlington.
Olympic speed skater Blake Skjellerup of New Zealand gave a keynote speech at the Iowa Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth this week. The conference attracted nearly 1,000 Iowans from across the state to discuss diversity, equality and social justice in our communities. Blake and Nate Monson, director of Iowa Safe Schools, met with Senator Jochum and me to share their stories. I believe that all students deserve a safe and supportive learning environment, free of bullying, harassment and discrimination.
Parents of Iowa children who suffer from repeated, life-threatening seizures were at the Statehouse to advocate for appropriate treatment. A medicine made from cannabis, the scientific name for marijuana, has produced dramatically positive results in these cases. The medicine is legal in 20 states but not in Iowa. Last month, the National Epilepsy Foundation issued a statement saying that “an end to seizures should not be determined by one’s zip code.” Iowa is seriously considering making medical cannabis available through a restricted, responsible, medically supervised approach. April Stump talked with me about the health care needs of her daughter Quinne.
On March 20, the Senate approved Senate Resolution 109, reaffirming Iowa's close relationship with Taiwan and our support for Taiwan in the international community. When it comes to buying Iowa products, Taiwan is the Iowa’s 16th largest customer. Counsel General Baushuan Ger and his staff were on hand for the resolution, and he spoke briefly to the chamber.
Senators Beall and Jochum and I were happy to welcome back former Senate President Jack Kibbie and his wife, Kay. Former Senator Kibbie was recognized by education and community leaders for his work in setting up Iowa’s community colleges. Pictured, from left: Senator Jochum, Cindy Schulte of Iowa Valley Community College, Dave Palmer of Iowa Association of Community College Trustees (IACCT), Steve Ovel of Kirkwood Community College, Senator Beall, Kay and Jack Kibbie, I and MJ Dolan, executive director of IACCT.
Nereida Castro is among hundreds of Iowans who have lost their hard-earned money due to wage theft. She talked with Sen. Tom Courtney and me about what she has been through. Iowa workers and honest Iowa employers suffer when bad actors short paychecks, confiscate tips, misclassify workers, take unauthorized deductions and fail to pay overtime. Ultimately, Iowa workers are cheated out of more than $600 million a year.
Abby and Emily joined me for lunch. Capitol Project is a four-day program for sophomores and juniors who are interested in government and want to learn more about our democratic process. Find out more at http://sos.iowa.gov/youth/capitolproject.
Abby Brickley and Emily Sieleman, students at Lewis Central High School in Council Bluffs, were at the Statehouse for Capitol Project.
Canadian Counsel General Jamshed Merchant and a delegation from Canada visited the Statehouse as a part of the first annual Canada Day in Iowa. Canada is one of Iowa's major international trade partners. The cross-border exchange has helped create Iowa jobs and grow our state's economy.
Andrew Pittz, from Saw Mill Hollow family farm outside Missouri Valley, and Lindsey Grote-Rodgers and Sarah Nelson, from Hy-Vee in Council Bluffs, told me about Hy-Vee's One Step mission: To offer customers a selection of everyday products and donate a portion of those proceeds to relevant, worthy causes. One Step Community Garden Grants are awarded to organizations whose core focus teaches those in need about health and nutrition through the process of planting, tending and harvesting their own fruits and vegetables. Grants may be awarded for program materials (seeds, plants, supplies) and for general operating support for garden upgrades. Learn more at www.hy-vee.com/company/sustainability/one-step.aspx.
Former State Senator Maggie Tinsman from Bettendorf championed the fight to help families and children during her long career in the Iowa Legislature. As a Republican, Senator Tinsman often worked with Democrats to make smart investments in communities that paid off in better schools, higher-skilled workers and a stronger social safety net.
U.S. Senator Tom Harkin visited the Iowa Statehouse this week. Senator Harkin is retiring after a distinguished career helping Iowans through his work in the U.S. Senate. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment was the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Working with the first President Bush, Senator Harkin won bipartisan support for this landmark civil rights legislation.
It was an honor to welcome to the chamber former Congressman Leonard Boswell and Bob Myers, CEO of Casey's General Stores. The two will co-chair Home Base Iowa, an effort to attract and employ more veterans. Learn more about it at www.homebaseiowa.org.
On the first day of session, I addressed the Senate in my role as Majority Leader. I encouraged the Senate to keep the focus on expanding the middle class. I drew attention to three Iowans who seized the opportunity to move up in life thanks to a little help from the state of Iowa. One of them was Jade Johnson of Council Bluffs. After years working late nights as a bartender, Jade recently completed the Certified Medical Coding Class at Iowa Western Community College—thanks in part to the GAP tuition assistance program the Legislature funded last year. At her new job, Jade earns more to support her family, and she is there with her kids at night when they go to bed and on the weekends.
We also had a chance to look at operations at ISU's Vet Diagnostic Lab during our visit to campus.
I toured the Iowa State University small animal hospital with ISU President Leath and Vet Dean Nolan on September 25.
It was an honor to be recognized for efforts to provide quality long term services and support for Iowa’s frail and elderly citizens. The Iowa Health Care Association and Iowa Center for Assisted Living presented their “Outstanding Service Award” on September 28 during a statewide convention of more than 1,000 long term services and supports administrators, owners, nurses, and dietary, activity, environmental and social services staff. Pictured from left: Association Chair Tom Swanson, I and Association Vice-President Bill Nutty.
I congratulated Senator Amanda Ragan of Mason City and Representative Linda Upmeyer of Clear Lake after the Governor signed the Iowa Health & Wellness Plan into law Thursday in Mason City. Ragan, a Democrat, and Upmeyer, a Republican, worked across party lines to make affordable health care available to tens of thousands of low-income working Iowans. The Iowa Health & Wellness Plan is part of a larger Health & Human Services Budget bill, Senate File 446. Pictured, from left: Ragan, I and Upmeyer.
I participated in the bill signing ceremony June 12 that made official the largest tax cut in Iowa history. The event took place at Hawkeye Ready-Mix in Hiawatha. With Senate File 295, legislators put together a tax cut package that is big, bold and good for every employer in the state of Iowa. Because of our bipartisan efforts, we approved landmark legislation that will help every Main Street business in our state, expand Iowa’s middle class, and send a strong message that Iowa is open for business in 2013 and beyond.
Representatives of Easter Seals were at the Statehouse this week to share their efforts to assist children and adults with autism and other disabilities and special needs. Pictured, from left: Rep. Rob Bacon, Tracy Keninger, Angie Huslebus, I and Sherri Nielsen.
As the legislative session came to a close, lawmakers worked to reach compromises on education reform, healthcare and property tax cuts that will expand Iowa’s middle class. These are big issues that I discussed with Senator Amanda Ragan, chair of the Human Resources Committee.
Leaders of Iowa Ducks Unlimited stopped by my office recently to thank me for helping approve better hunting opportunities, expanded outdoor recreation and the state’s biggest-ever effort to improve water quality. Mike Shannon (left), the group’s Regional Biologist, and Randy Munson (right), the state-elect chair, presented me with their 2012 Public Policy Award.
The Consul General of Turkey in Chicago, Fatih Yildiz, paid a diplomatic visit to the Senate on Tuesday. He was born in Ankara and has worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affair since 1994. Yildiz spoke about the excellent relationship between Turkey and Iowa, and invited everyone to a Turkish reception later that day. From left: Senate President Pam Jochum, His Excellency Fatih Yildiz, I and Senator Daryl Beall, vice-chair of the International Relations Committee.
On April 23, Becky Corbett, the regional coordinator for the Eastern Iowa Educational Foundation of Foreign Study, visited the Statehouse with students from Germany, Norway and Denmark. I enjoyed helping them learn a little about how state government works here in Iowa.
On Wednesday morning I spoke out on the Senate floor to encourage legislators to focus on our common ground and compromise.
High school is such an important time in a person’s life. It's where we discover what we are good at and possibly what we want to do with our lives. On Thursday, a group of students from Thomas Jefferson High School in Council Bluffs visited me in my office at the Statehouse. We talked about their interests and what they want to do after they graduate.
One of my highest priorities this session is to take steps to improve the skills of Iowa’s workforce. On March 27, I talked with a few students at Iowa Western Community College who are working to improve their own skills. Congratulations on continuing your education, and go Reivers!
Dan Gable has one of the most accomplished athletic and coaching careers in the history of wrestling. As a wrestler for Iowa State University, he lost only one match during his entire time in college and went on to win a Gold Medal in the 1972 Olympics without allowing a competitor to score a single point on him during the entire tournament. He went on to coach at the University of Iowa, where his teams won 15 NCAA titles. On March 21, he joined us in the Senate Chamber for a resolution protesting the International Olympic Committee’s decision to end wrestling.
On Wednesday, members of the Legislature had the honor of meeting an Irish member of the national Parliament, Deputy Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy. Senator Daryl Beall, pictured with us here, introduced her in the Senate. She will be the guest of honor during Saint Patrick’s Day activities in Emmetsburg.
Council Bluffs resident Tom Madsen visited with me at the Statehouse in his capacity as President-Elect of the University of Northern Iowa student body. Congratulations Tom!
Iowa Jobs for America’s Graduates is an organization that helps high school students graduate, prepare for college and find financial aid. On Tuesday, I met with a number of high school students in the program, it was a pleasure to get their perspective on the education system and jobs outlook.
The goal of the League of United Latin American Citizens is to advance the economic condition, educational influence, housing and health of the Hispanic population in the United States. They support expanding Medicaid in Iowa since this move would mean an additional 150,000 Iowans would have health insurance. On Tuesday, the group visited the Statehouse, and I talked with Mary E. Campos of Des Moines.
Friends from Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs visited with me in my office on Feb. 28.
During Health Sciences Day at the Capitol. Senators Beall and Schoenjahn and I talked with the dean of the University of Iowa College of Dentistry, David Johnson.
On Feb. 27, a group of concerned citizens from the Council Bluffs area visited the Statehouse. Representative Mark Brandenburg and I greeted them and hosted a discussion about expanding Medicaid, something I strongly support because it would insure more people and cost the state less than the current system.
I joined Senate President Pam Jochum and Senate Appropriations Chair Bob Dvorsky to present to the news media the fiscally responsible budget Senate Democrats are crafting to grow Iowa's middle class.
Guidance counselors are an essential part of any learning environment, helping students make the adjustment from grade to grade and teaching students how to appropriately deal with conflict. On Feb. 20, I met with Carla Hartenhoff, guidance counselor at Jefferson High School in Council Bluffs, to discuss her role in Iowa's education system.
On Feb. 20, a group of Council Bluffs citizens joined me in my office, including Barbara Morrison and George Gillespie.
Senator Gronstal speaking with Senator Sodders in theSenate Chamber Monday.
Speaking with realtors from the Council Bluffs area when they visited the Statehouse recently.
Speaking with realtors from the Council Bluffs area when they6 visited the Statehouse recently.
Beth Morrissette, Executive Director of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Network in Pottawattamie County, Nancy Schulze, Vice-President of Iowa Professional Services for Heartland Family Service, and Mary O'Neill, Behavioral Health Director of Heartland Family Service visited the Statehouse to tell members of the Judiciary Committee about mental health services in southwest Iowa.
Senate Democrats heard from U.S. Congressman Bruce Braley of Waterloo this week. Rep. Braley is working at the federal level to do more to get radon, a colorless, odorless radioactive gas, out of our kids’ classrooms. Iowa is one the states most affected by radon exposure, a known cause of lung cancer.
Tuesday, January 29, was my birthday, so the clerks gave me a nice surprise!
Senator Gronstal speaking on the Senate floor on Tuesday, January 29
Democratic Leaders in the Iowa Senate took questions from reporters about the Senate Democratic proposal to increase state investment in school children without increasing taxes. Pictured from left: House Democratic Leader Kevin McCarthy of Des Moines, I and Senate President Pam Jochum of Dubuque.
This week I talked with Dr. Richard Deming, the medical director of Mercy Cancer Center, and a volunteer for the American Cancer Society - Cancer Action Network. ACS CAN is working to reduce Iowans’ exposure to radon, a natural, odorless, radioactive gas that can move into groundwater and homes. Exposure to radon can cause cancer, and it is a significant problem in Iowa.
I spoke with Governor Terry Branstad at a Wednesday reception. We were joined by Senator Daryl Beall of Fort Dodge.
Pictured after Chief Justice Mark Cady's State of the Judiciary message, Senator Daryl Beall of Fort Dodge and I commended him for making such a remarkable presentation.
I was interviewed by Dean Borg of Iowa Public Television following the Governor's Condition of the State address on January 15.
My family was on hand to share the first day of the 2013 session.
I took the oath of office and again signed my name in the official register of the members of the Iowa Senate on Monday, January 14th, the first day of the 2013 session of the Iowa Legislature. It is a great honor and I will do my best.
A research project by Leah Willadsen of Council Bluffs was selected for inclusion in the 7th Annual Iowa “Research in the Capitol” exposition on April 4. Willadsen, the daughter of Council Bluffs residents Patricia and Pete Willadsen, and her ISU classmate, Brandon Alvarado, discussed their work with me.
After Governor Branstad described his proposals before a joint session of the Iowa Legislature, I talked with the news media in the well of the House. I expressed my belief that Iowa can and must to more to expand and strengthen our state’s middle class.
One of my duties as Senate Majority Leader is to serve as the floor leader during joint meetings of the Iowa House and Senate. On Wednesday, the Iowa House and Senate met to listen to the Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, Justice Mark Cady, deliver his “State of the Judiciary” address. Justice Cady called for action against human trafficking and for a lessening of racial disparities in the Iowa court system.
On Tuesday, January 11, the Reverend Katie Russell of Broadway Christian Church in Council Bluffs was my guest at the Iowa State. Reverend Russell delivered the opening prayer in the Senate Chambers. Her comments were much appreciated. At this link, you can watch and hear what she had to say, http://bit.ly/1J47a03. Reverend Russell begins speaking at 9:04 AM.
Five-year-old Lily Frelund let me ride in her bus to show support for safe routes for Iowa kids walking and biking the school. Lilly’s visit to the Statehouse was organized by the Iowa members of the American Heart Association. Safe and convenient opportunities for kids to bike and walk to school have been found to help fight childhood obesity. In addition, encouraging physical activity helps improve academic performance and reduces healthcare costs. You can learn more at www.healthieriowa.com.
The Statehouse was filled with veterans and their supporters on January 20. After official ceremonies honoring their service, former servicemen and servicewomen from across the state met with legislators. I talked with Jim O’Keefe, a 26 year veteran of the U.S. Navy who currently lives in Elk Horn. Jim now helps veterans learn to create art. When ready, their ideas are produced using cutting edge technology and sold. All the proceeds go to the veteran. You can learn more about this project at www.newcenturyartguild.org.
On January 13, I talked with Justice Mark Cady, Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, after he delivered the annual “State of the Judiciary” address. In his remarks, Justice Cady called for action against human trafficking and for a reduction of racial disparities in the Iowa court system.
Claire Weidman is a Council Bluffs native, who is in her second year at the University of Iowa. She’s on track to receive degrees in both Pharmacy and Public Health. Her parents, Bob and Madonna Weidman, are also pharmacists in Council Bluffs. Claire shared concerns that Iowans, specifically in rural areas, may struggle to access local care with the pending changes to Medicaid.
On Wednesday, legislators learned how Iowa Western Community College works with local businesses to help students and Iowa’s economy. College President Dan Kinney (right) said that students in the “Design Tech” program use state-of-the-art software to build a virtual product, test it and plan for production. Fred Lisle (left), president of Lisle Corporation in Clarinda, explained how he helped fund the college classes to train the skilled workers his business needs to grow. Also pictured is Jay Miller of Workvia, an Ames-based company that makes the software.
Deborah Reed is director of the Iowa Reading Research Center, where the mission is to study how to best achieve strong literacy skills among Iowa students. I shared time talking to Deborah with Phil Wise, a policy advisor at the Iowa Department of Education.
Several Iowa success stories in the making recently visited the Statehouse. These students come from Iowa Western Community College. Our investments in community college students bring great returns. Community colleges work with local businesses in need of skilled workers. They also work with high schools to help students graduate with college credit.
The Iowa Senate followed the law this week by approving a 4 percent increase in basic state aid to K12 schools for 2017-18. For more than 20 years, Iowa’s law has put local school funding first when developing the state budget for the next fiscal year. That way, school officials know 18 months in advance how much money they’ll have to keep the lights on, gas up the buses, purchase up-to-date textbooks, pay employees and cover other basics. The struggle to provide sufficient and timely funding has put local schools in a bind in recent years.
Joe Enriquez Henry, National Vice President of the League of United Latin American Citizens, talked with me about the challenges and importance of active civic participation in our state, and how Iowa communities benefit from the work and entrepreneurship of Latin American citizens. LULAC is the largest and oldest Hispanic organization in the United States.
Bishop R. Walker Nickless of the Diocese of Sioux City was at the Statehouse with the Iowa Catholic Conference, which supports an increase in the minimum wage and other measures to help Iowa’s working families.
On Wednesday, I met with students from TRiO at Iowa Western Community College. The organization helps low-income and first-generation students become academic successes. The students had a variety of questions on topics ranging from Iowa’s mental health system to how legislative decisions can encourage growth in Council Bluffs.
Leadership Council Bluffs is a program by the Council Bluffs Chamber of Commerce that helps develop local leaders with an emphasis on community. On Wednesday, they had an especially busy day meeting with government leaders at every level. After visiting the Pottawattamie County Court House and the Council Bluffs City Hall, they jumped on a bus and came to Des Moines. I talked with them along with Senator Tom Shipley of Nodaway, Representative Greg Forristall of Macedonia, and Representative Charlie McConkey of Council Bluffs.
These students from Thomas Jefferson High School in Council Bluffs are members of iJAG, a group that mentors and engages students at the highest risk for dropping out of school. The students shared what they have learned and accomplished while a part of iJAG, from making resumes to participating in job shadows.
Council Bluffs Superintendent Martha Buckner and Bloomer Principal Casey Moran talked with me about school funding and updated me on what’s happening in our local schools.
When accidents happen, members of Iowa’s Emergency Medical Services Association respond, including Austin Bird of Davenport. Improving communication among all first responders, including fire and ambulance services, while they are in the field is an important topic of discussion at the Statehouse.
Saint Albert’s students from Council Bluffs were among hundreds of students and parents who traveled to Des Moines on March 1 for a School Choice Celebration.
As a proud Saint Albert’s alum, I welcomed current students to the Capitol for the 10-year anniversary of the School Tuition Organization Tax Credit, which provides more educational options for Iowa families.
The entire Saint Albert’s contingent.
Barb Morrison (left) is CEO of Connections Area Agency on Aging in Council Bluffs. Iowa’s Area Agencies on Aging provide comprehensive, coordinated and cost-effective services to promote long, healthy lives.
Joe McGovern, president of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, and Marian Riggs Gelb, Public Policy Director, told me about the organization’s work with private property owners and public agencies to protect and restore Iowa’s land, water and wildlife. INHF has protected areas in 94 of Iowa’s 99 counties, many of which have become part of our parks and wildlife areas.
Four-year-old Kaitlyn Haakenson has epilepsy. In 2015, Kaitlyn had 75 to 150 seizures a day and couldn’t walk, talk or control her hands. Since beginning treatments with hemp oil, her seizures have stopped, she can walk and talk, and her total medications have dropped by five. Kaitlyn’s parents traveled to Des Moines from their home in Davenport to urge legislators to give Iowans the same access to medical cannabis that most other Americans already have.
Girl Scouts from Troop 191 in Sioux City joined others from across Iowa at the Statehouse, where they had lunch with legislators and talked with us about their activities in their communities.
Iowans from around the state are urging the Iowa House to debate legislation that would legalize the use of medicines made from cannabis. Four out of five Iowans believe residents of our state should have controlled access to these medicines. April Stumpf, whose daughter Quinn suffers from severe epilepsy, is an advocate for using medicines made from cannabis to treat seizures. Last year, a bipartisan majority of the Iowa Senate voted to create a regulated, medically controlled system to provided help to Iowans with specific diseases and conditions.
Members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Midlands spent Wednesday at the Iowa Statehouse, where they toured the Capitol and provided a lunch to legislators and the public. The Boys & Girls Clubs provide young people with a safe place to learn, grow and develop character. Each of the members attending was invited because of exemplary grades and attendance. Pictured with me, from left: Sheyenne Arduc of Carter Lake, Alice Christensen of Carter Lake, Vanessa Richards of Council Bluffs, Aiden Flynn of Council Bluffs and Mason Rocha of Council Bluff.
Council Bluffs native Jeremy Vogeat attends the University of Iowa. He was among the students, teachers and researchers from UI who filled the Statehouse on April 5. The University does great things for our state, nation and the world – from training future teachers, writers and pharmacists to performing innovative and life-saving research.
Congratulations to two Pizza King employees who received the 2016 Stars of Hospitality award from the Iowa Restaurant Association. To receive the recognition, restaurant employees must work in the same establishment for 20+ years. Pizza King server Vasili Fountas and cook Steve Bartelt have been at the Council Bluffs restaurant for more than two decades. Their awards were presented by Iowa Restaurant Association Chairman Matt Johnson, also of Council Bluffs.
House Speaker Linda Upmeyer and I talked with former State Rep. Chuck Soderberg. He now works with the Iowa Association of Electrical Cooperatives. Iowa’s electric cooperatives provide Iowans with safe, reliable and affordable power that improves our quality of life and makes Iowa a great place to invest.
More wind energy jobs for Iowans are coming to our state with the announcement that MidAmerican is making a big investment.
Joining Senator Jochum and me in the Senate Chamber were the Senate Democrat Caucus Staff interns for the 2016 session. These interns assist our caucus staff with communications, video and photos. Pictured with us, from left: Amir Suljic, Kelsi Wolever, Michelle Johnson, Jacquelyn Bell and Rob Uniacke.
There was lots of debate this week as bills bounce between the House and Senate. Legislators often have different ideas, but getting them to the Governor always requires bipartisan support. To wrap up the 2016 session, we have to focus on common ground.
Iowa has had a sister-state relationship with Taiwan since 1989. It contributes to strong bilateral trade, educational and cultural exchanges, and tourism. Calvin Ho and of the Taipei Economic & Cultural Office in Chicago joined us in the Iowa Senate to discuss ways we can continue to strengthen the ties between Iowa and Taiwan.
As the 2016 legislative session nears its end, I’m pushing for stronger consumer protections for Medicaid recipients under the state’s newly privatized system. In March, Republican and Democratic Senators voted for tough Medicaid oversight, including more independent, state-funded advocates to help families denied care. I discussed my concerns with Senator Amanda Ragan of Mason City. She chairs the Health & Human Services Budget and is a powerful advocate for Iowans when it comes to health care.