2016 Legislative Session: Closing Day Remarks from House Democratic Leader Mark Smith
Thank you, Madam Speaker. And thank you to Majority Leader Hagenow as well. It has been a privilege working with both of you this year.
I first want to express my extreme gratitude to the House Democratic Staff: Joe, Anna, Dave, Zeke, Bill, Rachelle, Joe, Brian, Kelsey, Dean & Jake. Thanks for your hard work on behalf of myself and our caucus. And thanks to all the staff here in the Legislature who work behind the scenes every day to keep this place running.
I also want to thank members of my caucus for the honor of serving of as your leader again this year. I could not be more proud of the work we did this session standing up for what we believe every day.
The question that always should be on our minds as we leave here is whether or not Iowa is better because of our efforts.
First, the good news. There were a few areas where we worked together this year. We approved a bi-partisan bill to create new jobs and grow the biochemical industry. We revamped our career and job training program to make sure our kids are ready for the jobs of tomorrow and worked to expand Iowa’s renewable energy industry. There was bipartisan support to help veterans, protect the privacy of women, and stop human trafficking. I’m also extremely proud of this body for finally taking a step on sentencing reform this year.
However, for the first time in my career, I believe this session may be known for what we didn’t do, instead of what we did.
I believe this body could have and should have done more to ease the burden on the hard working families in Iowa. From education, to life-saving medicine, to raising wages, to pay equity, the message most Iowans got this year was: wait another year.
For the last six years, Republicans in this chamber have broken state law and shortchanged our public schools. Unable to keep up with their rising costs, it means our public schools are being forced to raise class sizes, cut teachers, and even raise property taxes next year all while our state budget is experiencing 4% growth.
In Davenport, they are closing a school and reducing 24 teachers and staff. Cedar Rapids is eliminating 12 high school teachers and Charles City is losing a math teacher and a first grade teacher.
Now, I know many Republicans in this chamber disagree with my assessment on public schools. So, I humbly ask you to go visit your public schools when you leave here today and see what’s happening in your own backyard. Listen to your school leaders. Ask them what the impact years of delays and anemic state funding has had on the kids in their district.
House Democrats strongly believe public schools should be the top priority of this body again. But Iowa kids will have to wait another year.
This body also fell short in higher education this session. Instead of keeping higher education affordable for working families, Republicans in this chamber increased tuition at our three public universities and community colleges. Democrats believe Iowans should be able to get the skills necessary to land a good job without being in massive debt after graduation.
But Iowa students who need affordable college will have to wait another year.
When it came to improving the lives of Iowans, this body also missed multiple opportunities to make a difference.
With $4 billion and health care for 560,000 Iowans on the line, this body should have supported meaningful oversight of the Medicaid privatization mess. It’s our job to hold the Governor and private companies accountable while making sure we can fix any problems that arise quickly next session. But Iowans on Medicaid struggling in the transition will have to wait another year.
Republicans blocked a comprehensive bill offered by Democrats this year to make medical cannabis available to Iowans suffering from conditions like epilepsy, MS, cancer, intractable pain, and glaucoma. House Democrats believe Iowans in pain have suffered long enough, but they’ll have to wait another year.
The majority party delivered the same message to thousands of Iowans on a host other issues as well.
The kid bullied in school will have to wait another year.
The woman earning less than the man next to her doing the same job will have to wait another year.
Iowans who want clean lakes, rivers, and streams will have to wait another year.
The mom trying to raise her family on minimum wage will have to wait another year.
When the 2017 session begins next January, I hope we’ll be able to send a different message to Iowans: your wait is over.