Statehouse leaders detail priorities ahead of 2019 session

    Iowa House and Senate leadership meet with reporters ahead of the 2019 session Thursday, January 10. (Photo: Caroline Cummings)<p>{/p}

    Just days away from the 2019 session, top lawmakers at the statehouse Thursday hinted at what's to come for state policy, including boosting workforce programs and Iowa's mental health system.

    “Iowans expect their leaders here at the capitol in Des Moines and in Washington, D.C. to do the people’s work,"said Rep. Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, said at legislative forum hosted by the Associated Press Thursday. Prichard leads Iowa House Democrats in the legislature, where Republicans control both chambers as well as the governor's mansion.

    Republicans say they want to further advance policy that boosts Iowa's economy, like fully funding the "Future Ready Iowa" program aimed at training and educating Iowa's workforce for skilled jobs in the state. They also want to build on mental health care reform by finding sustainable funding for the adult system and building a children's program. Lawmakers unanimously passed sweeping mental health reform in 2018 and Gov. Kim Reynolds assembled a state board to look at children's mental health policy for this session.

    Mental health---like water quality and other issues---is a work in progress, said the top Senate Republican Jack Whitver.

    "You never solve the problem---you always want to work to continue to make it better," said Whitver, a Republican from Ankeny. "So after the legislation last year, that’s what we’re going to continue to do try to find more ways to make it better but also make sure what was passed last year is implemented properly.”

    Whitver also said a way to solve Iowa's workforce problem is looking at work requirements for people on Medicaid.

    "[Another to way address workforce] is to get people who are in our safety net programs ---who are able-bodied and aren't working--- into the workforce," Whitver said. "We have jobs available. Our economy needs those people."

    Democrats' power is diminished since they're in the minority; however, they say that won't stop them from fighting for what they believe is right for the state. Prichard and Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, who leads the Senate Democrats, said education and health care are top priorities for this year.

    “We need to quit pushing students to the back of the line," Petersen said, criticizing Republicans for funding education at a rate that "doesn't keep up with the rate of inflation." Iowa's Regents universities saw funding cuts last year, which Democrats contend runs at odds with Republicans' goal of building Iowa's economy with a strong workforce.

    “The funding for our Regents and our community colleges that is an important because it’s an economic development tool," Prichard said.

    Governor Kim Reynolds signaled that criminal justice reforms will be part of her policy proposals, which she'll outline during her Condition of the State address Tuesday, January 15. All statehouse leaders at the forum Thursday hinted that could be another issue for bipartisan work this year.

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