2016 Legislative Session: Opening Day Remarks

House Democratic Leader Mark Smith

Welcome back to all of you. And let me first say congratulations to you Madam Speaker and Leader Hagenow. I look forward to working with both of you this session.

Last year, a member of this body used a quote from George Santayana that was attributed to someone else. Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The preamble to what Santayana said is also very important: “Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness.”

We have made great changes by being the people of Iowa. We were the first to rule against the enslavement of our brothers and sisters of African descent. We barely broke Iowa’s sod for farming when we built country schools. We were the first state to allow people of color to own land and therefore it was legal for the first people of our land to purchase 80 acres in Tama County and to bring their people together.

One of the few amendments to our constitution added two words wherever the term “men” appeared by adding “and women.” The strength of our constitution on equal protection allowed us to recognize the love between two people that results in marriage is not limited to just people of the opposite sex.

Will we be consistent with the progressive history of our great state? To do so, we must bridge the gap between liberty and rights through laws that honor both. We must make this a state worthy of its children.

House Democrats believe every family and every child in Iowa deserves a fair shot to achieve the American Dream.

Today, too many families are working hard with one, two, or even three jobs, but still not getting ahead. Their wages simply aren’t keeping up with rising costs for food, medicine, and child care.

Our challenge this year is to ease the burden on working families in Iowa.

We can start by renewing of our commitment to public education. It means we make the top priority of Iowans – our public schools – the top priority of this body again.

No more delays. No more vetoes.  No more schemes.  No more games.

Public schools must come first again.

We can also help working families by making college and job training more affordable. Iowans should be able to get the skills necessary to land a good job without being in massive debt after graduation. With a workforce shortage on the horizon, the reality is we need every Iowan to get some skills or training after high school to make sure we have enough workers to fill the jobs in our growing economy. We should also work together to provide continuing education and job retraining when needed.

House Democrats will work this year to expand early childhood education, protect kids from bullying, raise the minimum wage, and make sure women earn equal pay for equal work. We pledge our cooperation with the majority party to encourage more investment in small businesses and entrepreneurs, create good jobs, and expand renewable energy. All of those ideas will give working families a boost and help us re-build the middle class.

Finally, this body cannot ignore the Governor’s Medicaid mess.

Since the Governor announced his privatization effort last year, there has been confusion, misinformation, scandals, and too many lawsuits. The rush to privatize Medicaid has caused outright fear among the most vulnerable Iowans. These are people who count on us to have their best interests at heart.

As lawmakers, we have an obligation to oversee this transition and make sure no Iowan falls through the cracks. I know each of you has received letters, emails, and phone calls with questions about Medicaid. I also know the Governor has not been able to provide many answers to those questions.

I ask that we work together in a bi-partisan manner, like we’ve done on other health care issues, to resolve this mess that is filling our providers with uncertainty and putting too many vulnerable Iowans at risk

So, the 2016 session begins, Madam Speaker. We commit to move bi-partisan legislation as quickly as possible. We also commit to our responsibility as the minority party: to fight strongly and intelligently for the things we feel are correct and beneficial for the good, hard-working people of Iowa, to remember the past, to retain and expand the gains we have made for Iowans and above all to honor liberty and the rights of people.

Thank you, Madam Speaker.