Eastern Iowa legislators eager to begin 2020 legislative session

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - The 2020 Iowa legislative session begins Monday morning, the start of 100 days in which state senators and representatives will propose, debate and vote on new Iowa laws.

The 2020 Iowa legislative session begins Jan. 13, 2020. (RANDY DIRCKS/KCRG)

For the fourth straight year, Republicans have a “trifecta,” in which the party controls a majority in both the House and Senate while a governor of the same party is in office.

“It’s just an exciting time,” said Senator Dan Zumbach, a Republican from Delaware County. “We’ve done a lot of good things the last few years, and the economy is healthy, and we’re ready to add on to that.”

Zumbach, a farmer by trade and the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, is looking to see a bill passed that clarifies the consequences for people who don’t take care of their animals.

“Whether it’s companion animals or livestock, we want to make sure that we have laws in place to where what happens in those arenas when someone fails to do things right, there’s an appropriate consequence,” he said.

Zumbach also aims to secure funding for a new children’s mental health program that was passed last year.

“So we want to ward off a lot of problems in the elementary-school arena, right up to folks that have been in business for a long time or been around a long time, to help those that are in need,” he said.

Meanwhile, Democrats in both the House and the Senate expect challenges as the minority party.

But Representative Tracy Ehlert of Cedar Rapids still hopes to push forward legislation related to early childhood education and childcare in her second year in the legislature.

“For safety of children, more transparency for families looking for childcare programs, hopefully, more incentives for parents because, as we know, it costs a lot of money to send children to childcare, and then also addressing the workforce, the early ed workforce and making sure they’re getting compensated fairly too,” she said.

Ehlert, who works in early childhood education, introduced a bill last year that would allow childcare providers to take in more kids than they would normally be allowed to during emergencies, like snow days.

It picked up some traction in 2019, and she’s hopeful of more support for it this year.

“We had a lot of families writing us, saying, ‘I’m about to get fired. I’m going to lose my job because I don’t have care,’” Ehlert said. “And we already know there’s a shortage anyways, so for them to just find a backup is not always reasonable either because there really is no backup right now with the childcare crisis.”

Ehlert is also working to add Krabbe disease, an inherited nervous system disorder, to the newborn screening panel.

“I have a family here in House District 70 that it affects, and then there’s multiple families across Iowa that have been contacting us as well,” she said.

The legislature will have to decide what to do with a surplus of more than $200 million remaining from last year’s budget.

Zumbach said the surplus is an opportunity to examine taxes and see if the state’s tax rates match what the state government needs to accomplish.

Ehlert said she believes the money should go toward education, and that Iowa needs to put more into K-12 education than last year’s 2.1% budget increase.