There has been a flurry of activity at the Statehouse since the Legislature adjourned just over one month ago. Then Governor Terry Branstad worked diligently to conclude action on all of the remaining bills passed by the Legislature prior to his confirmation as the Ambassador to China by the U.S. Senate.
It is quite humbling when you look at all the significant pieces of legislation we accomplished during the 2017 Session. On opening day I challenged my colleagues to dream big, act bold and think about the next generation of Iowans, instead of the next election. I am very proud of the accomplishments and witnessing them become law with Governor Branstad’s signature. Just in the first 12 days of May, the Governor signed our life bill, our voter integrity bill, legalization of fireworks bill, criminal sentencing reform bill, a new first-time home buyer program bill, medical malpractice reform bill and the state budget bills into law.
On top of that, there has been plenty of work going on behind the scenes for the last several weeks. The Governor and Lt. Governor’s staffs have been working on the transition of a new era – the Governor Reynolds Administration. It was an honor and a privilege to be present Wednesday to witness history. After having the honor of being the longest-serving governor in U.S. history (8,169 days), Governor Branstad resigned his post and was sworn in as the next Ambassador to China. Shortly thereafter, Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds was sworn in as the 43rd Governor of our great state.
Governor Reynolds outlined the priorities of her Administration Wednesday in her first remarks to Iowans as Governor. She laid out a plan to Build a Better Iowa by making Iowa more competitive through tax reform.She also stressed a desire to develop the most innovative energy policy in the country. Training Iowans for the jobs of tomorrow and educating our children for the knowledge economy round out her priorities.
The priorities Governor Reynolds laid out are similar to mine and definitely something I support. Senate Republicans worked hard to lay the foundation for that this session by approving workers compensation reforms, reducing burdensome regulations on small businesses, decreasing frivolous lawsuits and creating uniform employment laws. We made advances in empowering our local school districts and creating funding mechanisms to help give administrators and school boards more control on how to direct that spending.
Our new Governor also stressed a need for tax reform – yes please. Since my election in 2011 to the Iowa Senate, I have made repeated calls for tax reform. This is something I will continue to push strongly for until it becomes a reality. I mentioned many of our achievements passed in 2017, we were hopeful tax reform would be among them, but given the need to address budget shortfalls this did not happen this year.
I look forward to next session in January to advance our priorities like tax reform, but in the meantime I look forward to continuing to work closely with Governor Reynolds.
There is one last topic that has been in the news I would like to discuss. There have been numerous stories reported on Governor Reynolds’ ability to appoint a new lieutenant governor. It has been more than 40 years since a sitting governor in Iowa resigned the post. This fact has created significant speculation on whether the new governor would be able to appoint a lieutenant governor. Attorney General Tom Miller has offered two differing opinions on this matter, and I would like to say his last decision was wrong.
When Governor Reynolds assumed office Wednesday, it should come with all the powers and duties of the office. Those duties include filling a vacancy, in this case the office of the lieutenant governor. The attorney general decided to put partisan politics into play by saying she did not have the authority to do so, which created confusion and uncertainty. The Attorney General opinion states Governor Reynolds would hold both offices, which is prohibited and defies common sense.
Under the Attorney General’s opinion and Governor Reynolds decision to appoint an acting Lieutenant Governor, the President of the Senate becomes first in the line of succession to Governor. As the current Senate President, I believe Iowans deserve clarity on this issue. It is important we address a Governor’s ability to appoint a lieutenant governor in situations such as these to avoid confusion in the future. As the person most affected by this decision, I plan to offer a constitutional amendment to provide clarity should this situation arise in the future. While the amendment process takes several years, I believe we can get the process started when the Legislature returns in January.