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The Elbert Files: Prolific lawmakers


As I write this, the Iowa General Assembly is still in session but is far enough along that I feel confident in predicting it will be remembered as one of the most prolific ever.

The credit goes to Republicans, who won big victories last fall. They now control the Iowa House, Senate, the governor’s office and every other significant office in Iowa, except state auditor. 

Unlike many of their predecessors, these Republicans are not shy about flexing their muscles. Since the first of the year, they’ve written new rules for what can and cannot be taught in public schools, which bathrooms children can use, and have outlawed previously acceptable medical treatments.  

They also created significant incentives for families to abandon public schools and enroll their children in private ones, a move that is sure to have an impact on the social and cultural texture of Iowa for years to come. 

At the request of Gov. Kim Reynolds, lawmakers also reorganized state government in record time with little public input. They are also rewriting tax laws with little public input and despite heated opposition from cities and local school boards, which suddenly find themselves facing significant new challenges with less money. 

Lawmakers expanded the powers of Republican Gov. Reynolds and the newly elected attorney general, Republican Brenna Bird, while seeking to limit the power of State Auditor Rob Sand, a Democrat.

Iowa’s dramatic shift to one-party rule flies in the face of long-standing, bipartisan efforts to find solutions to education, economic development, public safety and other statewide issues.

Whether it will continue or be rolled back is for voters to decide in 2024. 

In the meantime, it’s worth noting some of the issues that never made it to the starting gate at the Statehouse.

You don’t need to be a close observer of the General Assembly to realize the Republican majority has little interest in environmental issues. 

Iowa’s waters – our streams, rivers and lakes – have been contaminated with agricultural runoff to the point that it is now easier to find places where it is no longer safe to swim than it is to find safe swimming sites. 

Instead of attempting to regulate Iowa’s abundance of agricultural waste, lawmakers today are more likely to debate measures that prevent local officials from enacting laws and rules aimed at protecting the land, water and air.

Instead of recognizing the damage done by carbon-based fuels, like coal, oil and ethanol, and limiting their use, Iowa’s lawmakers work to extend their use by supporting pipelines that carry harmful waste to neighboring states with little concern for the additional hazards pipelines create.  

Health care is another subject that has failed to capture meaningful attention from Iowa lawmakers, even after a new study shows an alarming increase in cancer in Iowa that is not duplicated in other states.

Could it be that we aren’t removing enough farm chemicals from the water we drink? Or that Iowans are older, more overweight and do more binge drinking than other Americans?

No one knows the answers to those questions. Nor, apparently, is there much interest among lawmakers in finding out.

Could there be a nutrition solution? If we ate better, might our health improve?  

But that won’t happen. Not while lawmakers want to limit the amount and quality of food available to low-income families. Nor when Iowa’s largest nonprofit food pantry has unrealistic expectations that limit distribution of off-market food. 

Of course, it does not help that Reynolds is so philosophically opposed to federal spending that she has turned back hundreds of millions of dollars in federal COVID aid.

By some estimates, she has turned down more than $200 million of federal assistance in the past year – money that could have been used for early childhood education ($30 million), to keep Iowa Wesleyan University open ($12 million), to help Iowa schools recover from COVID ($95 million), for emergency rental assistance ($89 million) and to plan for climate change ($3 million).

While the governor and Republican lawmakers are prolific micromanagers, they do little to address the state’s most serious problems.


Dave Elbert

Dave Elbert is a columnist for Business Record.

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