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Senate Democratic Leader Petersen’s 2018 Opening Day Address

Senate Democratic Leader Petersen’s 2018 Opening Day Address

Good morning!

Welcome everyone.  A special welcome to the pages, new clerks and staff. Welcome to Iowa’s newest senator, Jim Carlin from Sioux City.

I also want to recognize two of our colleagues who have announced they are retiring from the Senate after this session.

Senator Bob Dvorksy of Coralville was first elected to the Iowa House in 1986 and to the Senate in a special election in 1994. Senator Dvorsky still has plenty of work to do this session but I want to take this opportunity to thank him for his service to the people of Johnson County and surrounding counties.

Second, I want to acknowledge, Senator Wally Horn of Cedar Rapids, who is returning to the Capitol today for his 46th and final year in the Iowa Legislature. Congratulations, Wally, on making history as Iowa’s longest continuously serving state legislator ever!

I love being part of Iowa’s part-time, citizen legislature.  We are fortunate to spend most of the year in our districts – close to the people we represent.

Senate Democrats have been meeting with Iowans.  We’ve heard what’s on their minds and weighing on their hearts.  And we’re ready to get to work on their behalf.

Iowans want their leaders to work together, to lead with civility, and to make good things happen for the people of our state.

Governor Reynolds, Senate Republicans, House Republicans and House Democrats: Senate Democrats look forward to working with you on real solutions to real problems.

Last session, the Legislature did a lot of bad things to good people.

That was a mistake, but it has been a wake up call for Iowans.

As I travel this state, I see more energy than I’ve ever seen before.

Iowans are paying close attention to what their legislators are saying back home…and how they are voting at the statehouse.

It’s great to see so many Iowans engaged in what we are doing at the capitol and holding us accountable for our votes.

Iowans – I hope you will continue reaching out to your legislators, attending meetings at the Capitol, signing up for our newsletters, following us on Facebook and Twitter, and attending our local legislative forums this session.

Let us know what you think about what’s going on here.  When you do, it makes a difference!

I am proud to be part of the Senate Democratic team.  Our priorities are focused on helping Iowans get ahead in life.

We believe that no matter where you live, you should have access to:

  • Better-paying jobs with decent benefits;
  • Strong public schools;
  • Great cultural and recreational opportunities; and
  • Affordable and accessible health care

Iowans want us to focus on issues that matter to their everyday lives – and ditch the extreme policy agenda items that give our state a bad reputation.

Let’s focus on helping Iowans increase their pay.

Senate Democrats know that earning a decent paycheck means more than just money to Iowa families.

It means financial stability and family stability.

A good paycheck with decent benefits helps keep families together.

It puts food on the table.

It produces opportunities for our children and for our future.

Iowans working full-time hours deserve paychecks that can support their families.

We can’t afford policies that make Iowa just another low-wage state.

Senate Democrats will work to increase family incomes and help more Iowans get better-paying jobs.

Iowa can do that if we:

  • Invest in our community colleges
  • Support apprenticeship and job-training programs that help Iowans get ahead
  • Invest in safe roads, water and other important community infrastructure
  • Make sure Iowa families have affordable and safe housing
  • Help Iowa companies succeed – especially employers providing good-paying jobs in our small communities.

Our state has a growing number of older Iowans, many of whom live alone.

Let’s make Iowa the state that’s known for taking great care of its older population – helping them stay connected to their communities and helping them live happy, healthy and safe lives in their homes for as long as possible.

That starts by protecting Iowans’ retirement accounts.

  • Senate Democrats believe every Iowan should be able to retire with dignity. We will oppose any effort to dismantle or weaken the retirement security of Iowans.
  • We must also do everything possible to protect seniors from financial exploitation, neglect and abuse.

Senate Democrats know Iowans want safe drinking water and waterways where we can swim, fish and go boating.

We don’t have 10,000 lakes, but we certainly could make Iowa the “Clean Water State” if we open our minds and open the doors to allow all Iowans to come to the table.

Let’s start the conversation with a message that unifies us instead of tearing us apart. No matter where you live in Iowa, the water coming out of your faucet must be safe to drink.

Safe drinking water is a public health issue.  It’s an economic issue.  It is an issue affecting all of us.  And the solution should involve all of us too.

That means it is time to stop the Republican closed-door “working group” meetings that shut out health officials, shut out environmental experts, and block bipartisan dialogue.

This summer, Senator Rita Hart held a water quality summit in DeWitt.  Senator Hart’s meeting included Republicans and Democrats, farmers and city folks, everyone who was interested, including members of the media. Senator Hart and other Democratic legislators have good ideas.  We are ready to help craft a bipartisan solution.

Let’s work together to bring both clean water and new job opportunities to Iowans.  Let’s make the first bill the governor signs meaningful, not a waste of ink.

Senate Democrats believe in investing in our children and grandchildren.  They are Iowa’s future.

It’s time to make Iowa’s public schools #1 again.  That means responsibly investing in them.  It means backing our teachers and all the professionals who show up for our children in Iowa classrooms every school day, teaching and preparing our kids for the future.

Let’s help young families send their kids to safe, quality childcare settings they can afford.  With strong early childhood and preschool programs, we can get those kids off to a great start in school and in life.

Iowa children deserve a mental health system that will take care of them when they need it.  Fifty percent of mental illnesses begin before a child reaches adulthood, yet Iowa still has no children’s mental health system in place.

No parent in this state should have to bury their child because we failed to make mental health services a priority.

And let’s recognize that brain health conditions need treatment just like other health conditions.  A prison sentence is not treatment.  We can and must do better by all Iowans living with mental health conditions.

Speaking of health – this Legislature should act immediately to let Congress know that Iowa’s children, our future, deserve health insurance.

What does it say about our country when Congress can’t even come together to pay for our children’s health insurance program?

Finally, to the babies and children in our state who are not living in safe home environments – we must fix our child welfare system.  Iowans were appalled when state leaders remained silent as they saw story after story of abuse unfold around our state.

Not only do we need to protect our children, but we also need to invest in Iowans to grow our economy.

You can’t cut your way to prosperity.

The best ideas for our state come from the people we represent.  Let’s push for home-grown ideas — not failed ideas from Kansas and other states.

  • Let’s start by spreading the sunshine with more homegrown energy – solar, wind, and biofuels.
  • Local energy means more local jobs and money. Local energy means energy independence and doing our part to stop climate change.
  • Wind and solar energy support more than 7,000 Iowa jobs and nearly 300 Iowa businesses. Ethanol and biodiesel support thousands more jobs and generate wealth for Iowa farmers.
  • Let’s give all Iowans access to high-speed internet so they can connect to each other, to the world and have tools at their fingertips to create entrepreneurial ventures in towns across our state.
  • Let’s build more home-grown talent: We can create an Iowa where more of our children and grandchildren will CHOOSE to live, work and raise their families close to home. Too many of the Legislature’s decisions last year told younger Iowans that they just don’t have a future in our state.
  • Let’s put more resources into our small towns and rural areas: Imagine if the state had taken the $20 million it used to lure Apple – a multi-billion dollar company – to the Des Moines Metro area and instead invested it in Main Street companies and job-creation initiatives in our smaller counties and communities.

Funding our priorities will take work and discipline.  Our state budget is in a mess. Iowa taxpayers deserve smarter budgeting practices from Republican leaders.

Too many Iowa families are now paying the price for a state government that is failing to provide essential services and safety net programs for its citizens.

Republicans call the budget cuts “belt tightening” and “finding efficiencies.”

But, in reality, these budget cuts are painful and irresponsible.  Not only are they hurting Iowans, they will end up costing Iowa taxpayers more.

Iowans didn’t vote to stop providing Iowa children with hearing aids.  Iowans didn’t vote to take away the specialized food and formula program to help babies born with genetic disorders, but these programs were cut back to zero under the Republican budget.  Millions of dollars were cut from autism services and mental health services for our children.  And we know more painful cuts are being proposed by the Reynolds Administration as “COST CONTAINMENTS” – like cutting new moms off of health insurance and cutting in-home and group care for Iowans with disabilities.

These cuts are bad for Iowa.  Iowans don’t want our state to be like Kansas.

In Kansas, Republican legislators were forced to abandon their reckless tax cuts because they failed to deliver the promised increases in jobs and income. It would be irresponsible for Iowa to go down that road. Iowans want us to make wise choices to improve our state. We can’t afford to repeat the mistakes of others.

Senate Democrats believe making smart decisions with Iowa taxpayer dollars will save money in the long-run.

Senate Democrats believe any efforts to reform and cuts taxes must follow these guiding principles:

  • Iowa’s tax code should be more transparent so everyone can see Iowa’s true competitiveness.
  • Taxes should be fair for all Iowans.
  • Any changes should take into account our current budget situation.
  • Corporate tax credits should be examined.
  • Changes should be developed with everyone’s input.

Some of the biggest mistakes of the 2017 session — anti-worker legislation, voter suppression and other extreme changes – were cooked up behind closed doors without any input from hard-working Iowans.

Iowans expect legislators to stand up for them.  When we know things are not going right, we need to have the backbone and courage to change course.

  • It’s time to call for an end to Governor Reynolds’ Medicaid privatization mess. Too many Iowans have suffered under it.
  • We must protect Iowans, our hospitals and our health care providers from the damage caused by Medicaid privatization, especially in smaller towns.
  • Iowa’s small towns, communities fighting for survival, cannot afford to lose more local doctors, nurse practitioners and health care providers.

Speaking of courage, I’m grateful to Kirstin Anderson and others who spoke out against the sexual harassment in the Iowa Senate Republican caucus.  Kirsten is one of the many women across our country who had the courage to stand up and demand respect and fairness in the workplace.

It is disgraceful that Kirsten endured sexual harassment and a toxic work environment by her Republican colleagues in this very chamber.  It is also disgraceful that Iowa taxpayers were forced to pay $1.75 million for the bad behavior of the Senate Republican Caucus.

The internal investigation that was conducted following the verdict revealed that many staffers are still afraid to report harassment at the Capitol. That is unacceptable.

But it’s not surprising when the only person fired in this whole scandal was the victim.

Retaliation against a whistle blower is grounds for termination in the Senate’s handbook, but it is clear that rule is being ignored.

There is a reckoning in our country on the issue of harassment in the workplace. The Iowa Senate has the choice: Do something serious to address this problem or be on the wrong side of history.

The Iowa Senate can no longer be a sanctuary for predatory behavior.

We are committed to making the Iowa Senate a safe and healthy work environment.

That’s why I reached out to Ambassador Mary Kramer to offer ideas for better protecting everyone at the Capitol.

I offer my cooperation because we all have a legal, moral and business imperative to address this serious problem.

Finally, as we kick off the 2018 legislative session, let’s stay focused on helping Iowans and leading with civility.

Thank you to my Iowa Senate Democratic colleagues and staff for their support. It is an honor to be part of a team of people who have such a heart for public service.  As a new leader, I promise to listen, to learn and to fight for bluer skies in Iowa’s future.


New Iowa health care disaster approaches: End of hawk-i

State of Iowa facing millions more in costs while kicking 44,000 children off health insurance

DES MOINES  –  Iowa’s outstanding health insurance for children is at risk due to the Congressional failure to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).  Without federal action, the state of Iowa faces millions more in costs even though 44,000 fewer children would be insured.

State Senator Nate Boulton of Des Moines, a board member for Iowa’s nationally praised hawk-i children’s health insurance program, called for “swift

, firm, united action” after the organization’s Monday board meeting.

“This crisis affects families in every county of this state.  This is an ‘all hands on deck’ moment for Iowa’s elected leaders,” said Boulton.  “In January, the Legislature should immediately approve a resolution officially requesting that Congress reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Then, we should all be urging Governor Reynolds to travel to D.C. to make that case to the House, the Senate, and President Trump.”

On September 30th, Congress failed to reauthorize CHIP for the first time in the nearly 30 years of the program’s existence.

There are two components to hawk-i, Iowa’s version of CHIP.  One covers the 16,000 Iowa kids enrolled in Medicaid expansion.  They are the lucky ones in that they will continue to have health insurance for at least the next two years.  However, without a federal reauthorization of CHIP funding, Iowa’s state budget will be required to cover the shortfall.  That will mean additional costs of $10 to $15 million per year to Iowa’s already troubled state budget.

Things are much worse for the 44,000 Iowa children enrolled in Iowa’s nationally-recognized hawk-i program.  Those children will lose their health insurance completely when funding runs out, something that is expected to happen this February.

“We need swift, firm, united action to prevent a children’s health care crisis in Iowa,” Boulton said. “It’s this simple: If CHIP isn’t reauthorized, 44,000 fewer children in our state will have access to the high quality health care hawk-i provides.”


Democrats call on Statehouse Republicans to ‘put Iowans back in control of Medicaid’

Iowa Senate News Release
For Immediate Release: December 15, 2017


DES MOINES — Iowa’s Democratic state legislators are asking Governor Kim Reynolds and Republican lawmakers to work together during the 2018 session to end Iowa’s failed Medicaid privatization experiment.

“We do our best work when we work in a bipartisan fashion” to expand access to affordable health care for many Iowans, Democratic legislators wrote in a letter emailed today to the Governor and every Republican lawmaker.

“For the past 20 months, constituents of all ages have been bombarding Governor Reynolds and Republican and Democratic legislators with real problems caused by Medicaid privatization,” Democrats wrote. “There is clear evidence that Iowans have died as a result of life-sustaining services being cut off to extremely vulnerable individuals.”

The letter also stresses the “financial jeopardy” that Medicaid privatization has imposed on hospitals, nursing homes and other Iowa health care providers, especially in Iowa’s small towns and rural areas.

Democratic lawmakers noted that “privatization is not saving money for Iowa’s taxpayers, and it is not resulting in healthier Iowans. Under Medicaid privatization, the state of Iowa keeps giving the private, out-of-state companies more and more money, while giving Iowa taxpayers less and less.”

Medicaid is a health care safety net that is administered by the states and funded through a federal-state partnership. Roughly 70 percent of Medicaid expenses are for the care of our very poor elderly and severely disabled Iowans. In 2015, the Branstad/Reynolds Administration announced that the state employees running the program would be replaced by for-profit Medicaid managers.

Despite widespread opposition and repeated delays, large, out-of-state companies took over care of the majority of Iowans receiving Medicaid services on April 1, 2016. As of today, three of the four companies initially hired to manage the program have abandoned the project. When AmeriHealth Caritas quit the state last month, the health care of 215,000 Iowans was disrupted.

Governor Reynolds has promised that more managed care organizations are being recruited to replace those that left.

In today’s letter, Democratic lawmakers propose a different approach: “When Connecticut realized its privatized Medicaid was not working, state leaders made the decision to go back to a publicly managed Medicaid system. Connecticut is now seeing much better results with their new model. They are saving money and improving care.”

The letter concludes with this plea:

“More than ever before, we all know that privatized Medicaid is not working for Iowa. For the health and safety of so many, will you work with us to put Iowans back in control of Medicaid? We can and should do better for Iowans. Watching our health care system collapse is not an option.”



Iowans are still paying price of failed GOP policies

Iowa Senate News Release
For Immediate Release: December 11, 2017  


Statement on the updated revenue estimates by Senator Joe Bolkcom,
Ranking Member of Senate Appropriations Committee

“Economic prosperity and fiscal responsibility will only return to Iowa if Governor Reynolds and Republican legislators start working in a bipartisan way to make smarter investments in Iowa workers and their families.

“With complete control of the Iowa Capitol, Statehouse Republicans adopted a my-way-or-the-highway approach to budget and policy decisions during the 2017 session. This meant that they ignored the voices of working Iowans who were begging Statehouse Republicans to keep their two biggest campaign promises: Raise family incomes by 25 percent and create 200,000 new Iowa jobs.

“Governor Reynolds and legislative Republicans continue to break those big promises and working Iowans – especially those in smaller towns and rural areas – are paying the price.

“Senate Democrats remain ready to work with legislative Republicans and the Governor on a mid-course correction that will restore fiscal stability to our state budget by investing in successful job-creation initiatives and taking a serious look at out-of-control spending on tax credits.”

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“2018 session poses threat to Iowa retirees”

(Des Moines) Today two Iowa Statehouse leaders today expressed concern that the 2018 legislative session could bring sudden, unnecessary changes to Iowa’s pension system. The two said the changes would harm Iowa public employees and communities where they live.

“IPERS and Iowa’s other public pension plans are secure, strong, and sustainable. Some current legislative proposals to change IPERS could break the promise we have made to hard working Iowans since 1953,” said Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald. “The retirement contributions Iowa workers have made to these funds have been invested well and the benefits are reasonable. There is no need to make the type of changes Governor Reynolds and Senate Republicans are talking about.”

“Last year, Iowa made national news when state Republicans tore up long established collective bargaining laws in a little over a week,” said Senator Matt McCoy of Des Moines, a member of the Iowa Legislature’s Public Retirement Systems Committee and a nonvoting member of the IPERS Investment Board. “Legislation to blow up IPERS, Senate File 45, was introduced last year. It could be voted on during the 2018 session. Just last July, the Senate’s second ranking Republican, Senator Charles Schneider, brought in a right-wing think tank to tell Iowans to replace our successful, stable retirement systems like IPERS with more risky Wall Street-based schemes.”

Senate File 45 would begin to dismantle IPERS and other Iowa public retirement programs by preventing new Iowa workers from joining the programs on or after July 1, 2019. The existing retirement programs would be replaced by more risky defined contribution plans run by Wall Street traders instead of Iowa’s current non-profit managers.

In 2017, Governor Reynolds said several times that she supported a task force to propose changes to IPERS. She later dropped that idea but continued to express support for privatizing IPERS, including supporting the July meeting sponsored by Senator Schneider and the Reason Foundation

“Families, neighbors, and communities see the impact when money from IPERS is reinvested all throughout Iowa. These proposed changes, from the same legislators who earlier this year gutted collective bargaining rights for hardworking Iowans, could destabilize IPERS and negatively impact every community in Iowa,” said Treasurer Fitzgerald.

“Given how Republicans have been governing, every Iowan affected directly or indirectly by IPERS will be holding their breath until the 2018 session adjourns,” McCoy said.

On December 18, the Iowa Legislature’s “Public Retirement Systems Committee” will evaluates Iowa’s public retirement systems, including Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System (IPERS), the Municipal Fire and Police Retirement System of Iowa (Iowa Code chapter 411), the Department of Public Safety Peace Officers’ Retirement System (PORS), and the Judicial Retirement System.


Links to news reports on Governor Reynolds’ support for changing Iowa’s public retirement systems:

Reynolds: Iowa task force will study IPERS changes
Mason City Globe Gazette 1/26/17

Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds told a group in Scott County on Thursday a task force will be formed to study the possibility of long-term changes to IPERS, the retirement system for public employees in the state.

Branstad calls IPERS’ changes ‘prudent’ to shore up statewide pension fund
Des Moines Register, 3/27/17


Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, who are both Republicans, have said that commitments already made to state and local government workers will be honored, but a state task force will review possible long-term changes to Iowa public employees’ pension programs. Among key changes that will be studied will be whether to offer a 401(k)-style plan.

Reynolds backs IPERS study, but task force is dropped
Des Moines Register, July 18, 2017 https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/2017/07/18/reynolds-backs-ipers-study-but-task-force-dropped/487913001/

Reynolds noted that Sen. Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, is currently heading an interim committee’s study of Iowa’s public employees’ pension funds. The work is being conducted in cooperation with the Reason Foundation, a Los Angeles-based libertarian think tank.

“I support his efforts in doing that,” Reynolds said.

PDF of Senate File 45:

Senators call on Gov. Reynolds to extend sign-up period for Medicaid

Iowa Senate News Release
For Immediate Release: November 29, 2017


DES MOINES – Citing continuing turmoil for Iowa’s Medicaid recipients, two key State Senators today called on Governor Kim Reynolds to give a break to more than 200,000 Medicaid recipients who were denied a choice of Medicaid providers.

In a letter delivered this afternoon, Sen. Amanda Ragan of Mason City and Sen. Liz Mathis of Hiawatha called on the Governor to grant an additional 30 days for former AmeriHealth members to choose either UnitedHealthcare or the fee-for-service system. A 30-day extension would address the concerns of Iowans who did not have a choice of managed care organizations, which directly affects which doctors, hospitals and other health care providers they can see.

“We are writing to you today to express our grave concerns about Medicaid,” the Senators wrote in their letter. “The loss of AmeriHealth Caritas and the inability of Amerigroup to take new members leaves too many Iowans without choice.”

The Senators also point out that federal law requires Medicaid beneficiaries get a choice of managed care plans.

“It is a fundamental, legal requirement to offer Medicaid beneficiaries a choice of managed care plans. It is completely unfair to offer the fee-for-service system to only those members that were able to make a choice before November 16,” the Senators stated. “Due to the lack of timely notice, more than 200,000 Iowans are being assigned to United Healthcare, regardless of their preference.

“In the name of fairness and choice, we are requesting that you grant an additional 30 days for former AmeriHealth members to choose either UnitedHealthcare or the fee-for-service system.”

Senator Ragan is Ranking Member of the Health & Human Services Budget. Senator Mathis is Ranking Member on the Human Resources Committee.


Sen. Petersen to Senate Republicans: “Another partisan response to the serious problem of sexual harassment in the Iowa Capitol”

Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen responds to media reports about latest Senate Republican response to $1.75 million sexual harassment settlement:

 “This is another partisan response to the serious problem of sexual harassment in the Iowa Capitol. Senator Dix, Senator Whitver and other Senate Republicans still have not apologized to Kirsten Anderson for the sexual harassment she experienced and they refuse to acknowledge that she was fired for being a whistleblower.

“Because the only information we have about this new proposal is coming from the news media, it is hard to assess whether this will make the Legislature a safe and welcoming environment for all employees, whether Iowa taxpayers will be protected in the future, and whether the Legislature will take steps necessary to protect the rights of those who raise concerns about harassment.”

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