2024 Iowa legislative session kicks off today

DES MOINES — The 2024 Iowa legislative session begins later this morning, with more tax cuts at the top of the majority party’s agenda.

Governor Kim Reynolds will outline her priorities during a speech at the Capitol on Tuesday night. Reynolds has been saying elimination of the state income tax is a long-term goal.  “We’re sitting on a pretty good surplus and we’ve got money there and we’re going to turn it back to Iowans,” Reynolds said in late November. “…We need to be more competitive.”

The state income tax is currently scheduled to shrink to one rate — of three-point-nine percent — for income tax payments due in 2027. Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver says expediting that tax cut is likely the first step lawmakers will take in the tax debate. “And then what comes next will probably be the main conversation of the session,” Whitver says.

House Speaker Pat Grassley says as discussion of eliminating the income tax begins, House Republicans will press to ensure the state can meet its spending commitments. “It’s going to be something that’s sustainable,” Grassley says. “Other states that have not passed sustainable tax policy, it’s backfired on them, so from the perspective of House Republicans, we want to get the money in the hands of Iowans, but at the same time making sure it’s a forward thinking vision.”

Democrats say Iowans have more immediate concerns that should be addressed by lawmakers, like the lack of child care slots and affordable housing. House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst says, “I’m pretty tired of watching Republicans govern by headline. I think it’s time we get down to business and we actually try to see what’s going to make a difference for Iowans.”

Senate Minority Leader Pam Jochum, a Democrat from Dubuque, says it’s time for lawmakers to get serious about investing in a mental health care system for children.  “We’ve had a problem for a long time. The pandemic has made it that much worse,” Jochum says. “We have seen more and more children with anxiety issues, behavioral health issues than we ever did before.”

Republicans have held both the House, Senate and governorship for the past seven years. Senator Whitver says aside from taxes, they’ve accomplished almost every other top policy item on the G-O-P agenda.  “We’re in a really great spot as a state. I think, frankly, we’re in the strongest position we’ve ever been as a state and so you don’t always need to invent new things to do,” Whitver says. “…We’ve checked off the major things that we want to do and let’s let the economy run like we’ve set it up to run.”

House Republicans are calling for tougher penalties for groups caught stealing from retailers — so-called smash and grab episodes — that have taken place in other states. Grassley says House Republicans also plan to review K-through-12 education standards, school discipline policies and teacher pay — and investigate whether out of state staffing agencies are over charging Iowa hospitals and nursing homes. “I don’t think just because we’ve done a lot of big things, we can now be all of a sudden like, ‘Well, here we are. Let’s take a time out,'” Grassley says. “I think that’s not why Iowans sent us here or will send us back.”

The House and Senate are scheduled to convene at 10 a.m.