2015 Legislative Session: Closing Day Remarks

House Democratic Leader Mark Smith

Today, we end the 2015 session of the Iowa General Assembly and return to our homes and to our communities.

Last January, I quoted Willa Cather in my opening remarks when she said, “Some things are learned in the calm and some things are learned in the storm.” This session has, as I predicted, had both learning experiences.

The main question on everyone’s mind at the end of every session is always: “what will this session be known for?”

The answer is simple: shortchanging our kids in the school funding crisis that carried on for 477 days.

For weeks, then months, the Republican majority in this chamber refused to resolve the school funding crisis.

Despite pleas from teachers, parents, administrators and even students, Republicans in the House stopped listening and refused to compromise time and time again on school funding.

You think the crisis has been resolved today, but the damage has already been done and it still isn’t over.

You frustrated superintendents trying to plan for the future and angered school board members who had their hands tied while you refused to compromise for over a year.

You’ve managed to demoralize a whole generation of educators now asking themselves, “Why did I do this?”

I fear you’ve also convinced the best and brightest young Iowans to avoid the education profession all together.

Given the gridlock and record low school funding despite our strong economy, Iowa educators no longer believe that this body values their work in public education.

It will take years to rebuild trust with our educators on the front lines every day.

I sincerely hope that Republicans in this chamber have learned something in the education “storm” that has hung over the capitol every day this session because it carries on next year.

When we meet again on January 11, 2016, you will already be 333 days late on school funding for the following year. We should immediately work to rebuild trust with our educators by passing a 4% increase in supplemental state aid for our schools.

When we began this session, Democrats promised to work together to strengthen Iowa’s working families and re-vitalize rural Iowa.

To that end, we made some modest progress.

We helped re-vitalize rural Iowa by expanding broadband to un-served areas and encouraged new development in rural communities. We also passed a bill to add more value to the crops of Iowa farmers and create renewable energy jobs.

More of Iowa’s working families will benefit from child care assistance and Iowa seniors in nursing homes will benefit from additional advocates to ensure they receive the best care possible. We also worked together to protect victim of domestic abuse and expanding training to stop human trafficking.

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However, House Republicans also turned back several ideas offered by Democrats to help working families:

–        House Republicans denied 216,000 hardworking Iowans a raise by not raising the minimum wage

–        House Republicans withheld life changing medicine to sick Iowans by refusing to even debate medical cannabis

–        House Republicans didn’t protect workers from wage theft or develop a paid sick leave plan for workers

–        House Republicans refused to pass a bi-partisan anti-bullying bill offered by their own Republican Governor

In comparison to previous legislative sessions, this one does not measure up.

We will leave here today. Leave behind this beautiful chamber, our time honored desks, and we will leave an empty room for the next several months. I like the Jewish tradition of when to members of that faith meet, they say to each other: “Same time next year, in Jerusalem.” Meaning their hope that the Jewish people will return and be together.

As we leave here today, I say, “Same time next year, in Iowa.”

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.