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.
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.
My family was on hand to share the first day of the 2013 session.
I was interviewed by Dean Borg of Iowa Public Television following the Governor's Condition of the State address on January 15.
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 spoke with Governor Terry Branstad at a Wednesday reception. We were joined by Senator Daryl Beall of Fort Dodge.
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.
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.
Senator Gronstal speaking on the Senate floor on Tuesday, January 29
Tuesday, January 29, was my birthday, so the clerks gave me a nice surprise!
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.
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.
Speaking with realtors from the Council Bluffs area when they6 visited the Statehouse recently.
Speaking with realtors from the Council Bluffs area when they visited the Statehouse recently.
Senator Gronstal speaking with Senator Sodders in theSenate Chamber Monday.
On Feb. 20, a group of Council Bluffs citizens joined me in my office, including Barbara Morrison and George Gillespie.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Friends from Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs visited with me in my office on Feb. 28.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
On Wednesday morning I spoke out on the Senate floor to encourage legislators to focus on our common ground and compromise.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 toured the Iowa State University small animal hospital with ISU President Leath and Vet Dean Nolan on September 25.
We also had a chance to look at operations at ISU's Vet Diagnostic Lab during our visit to campus.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Abby Brickley and Emily Sieleman, students at Lewis Central High School in Council Bluffs, were at the Statehouse for Capitol Project.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Senator Gronstal at the Conference Committee on Education Funding
Melodi Taylor told me of the tragedy of losing her brother Andy to a drug overdose.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.