WATERLOO — Democratic state lawmakers from Black Hawk County spent much of a recent legislative forum bemoaning the work of majority Republican lawmakers, who hold both chambers and the governor’s office in Iowa.
“The legislative session was one that I’ve never experienced in my lifetime serving as a legislator: very disappointing, very sad,” said Rep. Bob Kressig during the virtual forum Thursday.
Rep. Timi Brown-Powers called it “horrid.”
“This session was an attack on education, it was an attack on workers, it was an attack on women’s rights. It was just this really negative attack on Iowans,” she said.
There were a few bright spots: Rep. Dave Williams mentioned the broadband bill, which will allocate $100 million in grants to internet providers to upgrade networks. Brown-Powers noted she was happy to see a long-sought bill allowing food banks to purchase equipment tax-free finally pass, as well as a telehealth bill she said would especially help rural and mental health providers.
Sen. Bill Dotzler said he supported a butchery bill that helped small meat lockers upgrade technology and training, as well as increased oversight of pesticide and herbicide applications. Sen. Eric Giddens said he appreciated that the Legislature removed the statute of limitations for criminal charges for child sex abuse victims.
But they had a longer list of disappointments.
Rep. Ras Smith said he was surprised to see Republicans try to increase diversity with teacher education grants for Black teachers, but said majority legislators seemed to be speaking “out of both sides of their mouths.”
“The way you increase diversity is, you don’t threaten to ban the 1619 curriculum. You don’t threaten to get rid of tenure, and you don’t ban things like voluntary diversity plans that only a handful of districts use,” Smith said.
Brown-Powers said ending the property tax backfill and giving the state control of mental health funding was “robbing Peter to pay Paul” in terms of residents’ tax burden.
“The whole point of taking away the backfill and funding mental health through the state was to reduce people’s taxes; however, by doing that, each city is going to be losing their backfill as well,” she said. Waterloo has noted the city will have to raise property taxes to make up for the loss. “I’m very concerned about the outcome of that.”
Smith and Dotzler both lamented a bill Smith said would “shorten the early voting window by a third.” Dotzler said the law will make him a felon if he takes his own mother’s absentee ballot to the mailbox.
“This is beyond the pale, and this is a coordinated effort nationally,” Smith said. “It’s scary what happens if their plan comes to fruition.”
The Rev. Mary Robinson asked about the so-called Back the Blue bill, which Democrats claimed criminalizes protesters’ First Amendment rights.
“I think it was terrible in terms of where we should be heading for our democracy,” Williams said.
Democrats also fear Republicans plan to bring up bills that didn’t pass next year, including restrictions on transgender Iowans using the restroom or playing sports, banning tenure or teaching about racism, expanding access to guns and restricting access to abortion.
“If you think you saw it all bad this year, you’re wrong, because it’s going to continue,” Dotzler said.
House minority Leader Todd Prichard announced he would step down last week.
Regardless of leadership, legislators said they need to educate voters, organize and fundraise locally, and reach out to different constituencies if they hope to regain majority status.
“What are we going to be building now to make sure that this does not repeat itself?” asked Smith.