Iowa lawmakers convene amid calls for 'pro-growth agenda'

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Republicans who control the Iowa Legislature vowed Monday to continue building the state's workforce while reducing taxes and government dependence, the kind of reforms they say voters had in mind when returning them to power.

Both parties pledged bipartisanship as the legislative session opened but largely laid out priorities unlikely to foster much agreement.

"We will continue to be dedicated to our pro-growth agenda for Iowa — growth for our businesses, growth for our schools, and growth for our rural and urban areas," Republican Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver said.

Republican Senate President Charles Schneider said it's time to operate without harsh partisanship.

"The time for drawing contrasts is over," he said. "The time to govern has arrived."

Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen called on the Legislature to restore voting rights for felons and initiate automatic voter registration in Iowa.

"We should be doing all we can to make Iowa the number one voting state in the nation to go along with our status as the first caucus state in the nation," she said.

She advocated for full funding for job training programs and apprenticeships that help Iowa workers get better jobs and said it's time to raise the minimum wage.

"Let's quit sticking it to Iowa taxpayers to subsidize low-wage employers who don't pay enough for their employees to have a decent place to live and enough money to feed their families," she said.

She said lawmakers need to seek honest answers and accountability from the privatized Medicaid program, revise statute of limitations laws "that put the rights of serial predators ahead of survivors" and fully fund water quality initiatives and a mental health expansion program.

Republican Speaker of the House Linda Upmeyer said it's time for everyone to accept the state cannot go back to the old Medicaid system and must look forward to improve it as it exists today.

"Managed care is a strategy that more than 40 other states have used for years to improve health outcomes, create stability, and ensure sustainability of the program. There is no reason that we can't be successful as well," she said.

Upmeyer said another priority is Gov. Kim Reynolds' proposal on mental health care for children, which the governor plans to detail Tuesday in her Condition of the State address.

House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow said balancing the budget and helping employers in Iowa find enough skilled workers top his priorities list. He also said freedom for gun owners and the fight to protect unborn life continue remain important.

For the Democrats, House Minority Leader Todd Prichard said lawmakers for too long have "ignored the challenges Iowa families face today and focused on divisive issues, special interests, and the wealthy."

"We will work to expand access to health care for all Iowans, whether they are urban or rural, rich or poor. We will work to expand educational opportunity and job training for all Iowans, whether they are in the K-12 system, community colleges, universities, or advanced job training programs," he said.