N'West Iowa lawmakers 2020 session

Left to right: Sen. Zach Whiting (R-Spirit Lake); Sen. Randy Feenstra (R-Hull); Rep. John Wills (R-Spirit Lake); Rep. Dan Huseman (R-Aurelia); Rep. Skyler Wheeler (R-Orange City).

REGIONAL—The coronavirus pandemic threw a wrench into the second session of the 88th General Assembly of the Iowa Legislature but did not prevent lawmakers from doing their work entirely.

Each chamber of the Legislature adjourned March 16-June 3 because of the pandemic.

During the adjournment, lawmakers communicated with each other over e-mail and conference calls conducted over the phone and video chat programs.

The two-and-a-half-month recess meant lawmakers spent 75 days in session at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines.

The session ended Sunday, June 14.

The 99 bills the Legislature passed include:

  • A law that would increase the growth for K-12 public education funding to 2.3 percent, an increase from last year’s 2.06 percent of growth. Ten dollars per pupil also was added to the state’s per-pupil funding formula.
  • A law that would limit the use of chokeholds by police officers; give the Iowa attorney general greater leeway in prosecuting officers whose actions result in the death of another person; require greater scrutiny of out-of-state officers applying to work for Iowa law enforcement agencies; and require law enforcement agencies to provide annual de-escalation and bias prevention training.
  • A law that allows behavioral health services provided over telehealth to be implemented in school settings.
  • A law that would restore voting rights to certain people convicted of felonies.

SEN. ZACH WHITING

Zach Whiting

Age: 32

Residence: Spirit Lake

Party: Republican

Area: District 1 — Lyon, Osceola, Dickinson, Clay and Palo Alto counties

Experience: Second year in the Senate

Committees: Judiciary, state government, government oversight, transportation, administrative rules review, administration and regulation appropriations subcommittee, tax credit review committee, human rights board and vice chair of labor and business relations.

E-mail: zach.whiting@legis.iowa.gov

Phone: 512-281-3371

HOW DID THE TEMPORARY CLOSURE OF THE LEGISLATURE IMPACT HOW IT APPROACHED ITS WORK WHEN IT RECONVENED?

It had a significant impact on how we approached our work. The biggest priority was the budget to continue to fund government operations past August. However, the Senate had a number of policy bills we wanted to push on.

We had very little staff presence in the chamber. No pages or clerks. Social distancing and wearing masks were encouraged. Our first week back, we held an abbreviated funnel week with each standing committee holding one meeting inside the Senate chamber. It was at once interesting, odd and surreal.

HOW DID YOU STAY BUSY DURING THAT TIME? DID YOU OR YOUR COLLEAGUES COMMUNICATE REMOTELY TO CONTINUE WORKING ON LEGISLATION?

I was engaged all day, every day during the interim. I spent countless hours on the phone and e-mailing with constituents navigating the post-COVID world. I watched nearly every one of the governor’s news conferences, conferred regularly with her office and my Senate colleagues and staff. I remained engaged with members of the House, lobby and agencies to make sure the legislation that was “paused” didn’t fall through the cracks. I also communicated with many individuals that the governor appointed to boards and commissions, and the Senate confirmed those individuals when we returned.

HOW DID THE LEGISLATURE SEEK TO PROTECT IOWA’S ECONOMY IN LIGHT OF THE PANDEMIC?

What started as a public health emergency quickly turned into an economic emergency. Thousands of Iowans lost their jobs; businesses closed their doors, some will never open again; and the unemployment rate is north of 10 percent.

The most important action the Legislature took to safeguard the economy was passing a COVID liability bill that I floor managed. The bill allows business and other premises to open up, act in substantial compliance with guidelines and not have to worry about frivolous litigation. It also provides safeguards for health-care providers. It does not shield bad actors, however. Those that act recklessly or with malice or intent can still be held liable.

WHAT WERE SOME OF YOUR MAIN POLICY PRIORITIES FOR THIS SESSION AND WHAT ACTION DID THE LEGISLATURE TAKE ON THEM?

Two of my top personal priorities were constitutionalizing victims’ rights and additional tax reform. Both of those hit a snag because of the coronavirus pause. However, I remain committed to tackling both next year.

THE LEGISLATURE PASSED A K-12 EDUCATION BILL THAT WOULD INCREASE FUNDING FOR THE 2020-21 ACADEMIC YEAR. HOW WILL THIS BENEFIT IOWA’S SCHOOLS, ESPECIALLY IN N’WEST IOWA?

Earlier this session, we increased education spending by nearly $100 million. Importantly, we worked to close the gap on per pupil and transportation equity, which are critically important to rural districts which are disparately impacted with higher relative transportation costs.

THE LEGISLATURE UNANIMOUSLY PASSED A POLICE REFORM BILL. WHY DO YOU THINK IT IS IMPORTANT TO SEE THOSE CHANGES MADE?

The police reform bill was an important and timely piece of legislation. I think it was appropriate and reasonable in light of what’s happening in the world after the death of George Floyd. The bill would give the attorney general increased investigatory powers, limit the use of chokeholds, limit the ability of “bad cops” to hop from force to force and provide for additional law enforcement training. But I want to be clear: The attacks and smearing of our great law enforcement officers is a troubling trend. Every profession and industry has a few bad apples. However, the idea of defunding or disbanding the police is frankly ridiculous. I think it is important that law enforcement, community members and policymakers across the state come together to have a robust discussion on how we can improve rather than scrap the system as it exists.

WERE THERE ANY BILLS THAT DID NOT ADVANCE WHICH YOU WOULD LIKE TO HAVE SEEN PASSED? IF SO, WHAT WERE THEY?

There were many, but the two that most stand out to me are victims’ rights and tax reform. The Senate began the process of amending the constitution to provide greater protection to the rights of crime victims, but it did not advance in the House. Furthermore, before the coronavirus wreaked havoc on the economy, the Legislature was considering additional tax reform to fund water quality, mental health as well as income and property tax reductions.

DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER REFLECTIONS ON HOW THE SESSION WENT?

Between a pandemic that changed how and when we met, to protests and a greater police presence at the Capitol, the 2020 legislative session was surreal. One thing that I wasn’t prepared for was the fact that several of my colleagues retired and some may not win re-election. I really enjoyed the people I work with, but even more, the people for whom I work. It is an honor to represent the great people of Senate District 1.

SEN. RANDY FEENSTRA

Randy Feenstra

Randy Feenstra

Age: 51

Residence: Hull

Party: Republican

Area: District 2 — O’Brien, Sioux and Cherokee counties and the eastern most townships of Plymouth County

Experience: Eleventh year in the Senate

Committees: Commerce, state government, rules and administration, ways and means, capital projects committee, legislative council and streamlined sales and use tax agreement governing board.

E-mail: randy.feenstra@legis.iowa.gov

Phone: 515-281-3371

Cellphone: 712-441-2554

HOW DID THE TEMPORARY CLOSURE OF THE LEGISLATURE IMPACT HOW IT APPROACHED ITS WORK WHEN IT RECONVENED?

The big issue was the lack of revenue coming into the state once we returned. Income tax payments were delayed, and the sales tax saw a dramatic dip. This affected how the Legislature moved forward with the budget. The most critical piece of the budget was the fiscal position the state was in before the coronavirus. Iowa had nearly a billion dollars in reserves. Iowa was one of the only states in the nation with this fiscal preparedness! Iowa has been very responsible, and our government should not bail out other states for being irresponsible. Iowa passed a status quo budget, meaning very little got cut.

HOW DID YOU STAY BUSY DURING THAT TIME? DID YOU OR YOUR COLLEAGUES COMMUNICATE REMOTELY TO CONTINUE WORKING ON LEGISLATION?

As legislators, we had weekly Zoom calls with our committee chairs on the bills that were being worked on and policy that still needed to be crafted. We worked via e-mail with legislative services on drafting new policies for bills.

HOW DID THE LEGISLATURE SEEK TO PROTECT IOWA’S ECONOMY IN LIGHT OF THE PANDEMIC?

Based on the fiscal conservative approach the Republican majority has taken over the years, the Legislature was able to fund all the state commitments, including $100 million of new money going to K-12 education. We are in a solid position to have reduced revenue coming in, yet not having to go into debt to pay bills.

WHAT WERE SOME OF YOUR MAIN POLICY PRIORITIES FOR THIS SESSION AND WHAT ACTION DID THE LEGISLATURE TAKE ON THEM?

1) I wanted to get passed the pro-life amendment that would put the question on the ballot for all Iowans to vote on whether every Iowan should be afforded the right to live. The bill was passed in the Senate but did not get brought up in the House. The legislature did pass a 24-hour waiting period on abortions. 2) I wanted to move the standard of E10 at the pump to having all stations sell E15 instead of E10. This bill was achieved. It will push more ethanol in the state. 3) I wanted to make sure the stimulus money was nontaxable. The Legislature completed this. 4) The goal was to create reduced regulations for businesses when it came to licensing. This bill was passed to help Iowa businesses. 5) I wanted to remove the inheritance tax and pension tax from Iowa’s tax code. Due to the economic slowdown, these bills got tabled.

THE LEGISLATURE PASSED A K-12 EDUCATION BILL THAT WOULD INCREASE FUNDING FOR THE 2020-21 ACADEMIC YEAR. HOW WILL THIS BENEFIT IOWA’S SCHOOLS, ESPECIALLY IN N’WEST IOWA?

The state of Iowa kept its promise to fund K-12 education. This is crucial to our students and education. Iowa is putting in nearly $100 million to keep Iowa’s education one of the top in the nation. The state also helped with transportation dollars and property tax equity between districts. This is vital for rural school’s sustainability.

THE LEGISLATURE UNANIMOUSLY PASSED A POLICE REFORM BILL. WHY DO YOU THINK IT IS IMPORTANT TO SEE THOSE CHANGES MADE?

The bill was to help police departments move bad actors off the force. It’s vital to have police protection, and I support their difficult line of work. Every day, they help promote safety in our community and stop corruption from occurring. They need to be thanked for what they do for each of us!

WERE THERE ANY BILLS THAT DID NOT ADVANCE WHICH YOU WOULD LIKE TO HAVE SEEN PASSED? IF SO, WHAT WERE THEY?

I noted this in an earlier question.

DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER REFLECTIONS ON HOW THE SESSION WENT?

The bottom line is to ensure job creators, schools, churches and hospitals can get back to opening with confidence and effectively get Iowa’s economy on the right track.

REP. JOHN WILLS

John Wills

John Wills

Age: 54

Residence: Spirit Lake

Party: Republican

Area: District 1 — Lyon and Osceola counties and the northern two-thirds of Dickinson County

Experience: Fifth year in the House, and Speaker Pro Tempore

Committees: Commerce, agriculture, Veterans Affairs, administration and rules, appropriations, watershed planning advisory council, legislative council, studies and chair of administration.

E-mail: john.wills@legis.iowa.gov

Cellphone: 712-330-9492

HOW DID THE TEMPORARY CLOSURE OF THE LEGISLATURE IMPACT HOW IT APPROACHED ITS WORK WHEN IT RECONVENED?

Legislators really had a chance to focus on the priorities and ensure when we came back, we were dealing with the hot-button issues of the day because we knew we wouldn’t be there for long.

HOW DID YOU STAY BUSY DURING THAT TIME? DID YOU OR YOUR COLLEAGUES COMMUNICATE REMOTELY TO CONTINUE WORKING ON LEGISLATION?

I resumed work on my job during the interim, but the House Republicans had numerous online video conferences and conference calls. In addition, a lot of one-on-one calls were made and constituents and lobbyists were in contact with me daily. I had no problem staying busy.

HOW DID THE LEGISLATURE SEEK TO PROTECT IOWA’S ECONOMY IN LIGHT OF THE PANDEMIC?

Myself and other legislators pushed to open society up as soon as we had met the goal of flattening the curve and preparing the hospitals to react to the pandemic. Once we had met those goals, it made little sense to keep things shut down. We must still be vigilant and safe, but our society is not something that can remain shut down indefinitely. I believe financial and societal issues can and will occur the longer our society is shut down and the riots that occurred are part of that equation. People are social, and when you take that society part away, regardless of if it is the economy or just interacting, then you will have repercussions.

WHAT WERE SOME OF YOUR MAIN POLICY PRIORITIES FOR THIS SESSION AND WHAT ACTION DID THE LEGISLATURE TAKE ON THEM?

I personally sponsored several pieces of legislation, such as nonresident youth hunting and others and was involved heavily with the Governor’s Invest Iowa Act. The Legislature passed several of my bills and sent them to the governor, and of course, Invest Iowa was a victim of COVID-19.

THE LEGISLATURE PASSED A K-12 EDUCATION BILL THAT WOULD INCREASE FUNDING FOR THE 2020-21 ACADEMIC YEAR. HOW WILL THIS BENEFIT IOWA’S SCHOOLS, ESPECIALLY IN N’WEST IOWA?

K-12 education has always been a priority of the Iowa House while I have been there. The two years that we had to reduce our budget, we did not cut K-12 education like we did the rest of the state government. We did that again: We provided a 2.1 percent increase to K-12 education in January and did not reduce that when the rest of the state was given a status quo budget. We must understand that K-12 education is 42 percent of our state budget — the largest individual part of our budget. It is being challenged by Medicaid, but currently it is still the largest, and so any change we make in K-12 education means a huge amount of dollars.

THE LEGISLATURE UNANIMOUSLY PASSED A POLICE REFORM BILL. WHY DO YOU THINK IT IS IMPORTANT TO SEE THOSE CHANGES MADE?

First and foremost, the justice reform bill — it was renamed by newspapers because our name was justice reform — is good policy. The bill had support from law enforcement groups from across the state and made good sense. The protesters, not the rioters, were asking for these things in a peaceful manner, and since they made good sense, it was a no-brainer. I wholeheartedly supported this legislation and how it moved through the House. It was telling when the governor arrived in the House chamber to watch the debate of the bill. This was a priority of all three — the House, the Senate and the governor — and passed unanimously in the House and the Senate.

WERE THERE ANY BILLS THAT DID NOT ADVANCE WHICH YOU WOULD LIKE TO HAVE SEEN PASSED? IF SO, WHAT WERE THEY?

I had several bills and two resolutions that were left off due to timing and level of importance that I will bring back in January and work hard to see passed. I still think the governor’s Invest Iowa Act has a lot of merit and hope that we can move forward with something like that in the future. It is a bold step and a lot of moving parts that include tax relief and changes to funding streams.

DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER REFLECTIONS ON HOW THE SESSION WENT?

It was a crazy and unprecedented year. I look forward to normal this upcoming year. I think the repercussions of what we did will last a lifetime and we are just seeing the unintended consequences of COVID-19. We will be dealing with COVID-19 in future sessions and trying to fix the issues that are just starting to come to light.

REP. DAN HUSEMAN

Dan Huseman

Longtime Rep. Dan Huseman (R-Aurelia) announced Tuesday he will not seek re-election for another term in 2020. He has served in the Iowa House of Representatives since first elected in 1994. 

Age: 67

Residence: Aurelia

Party: Republican

Area: District 3 — O’Brien and Cherokee counties, eastern Plymouth County and eastern Sioux County

Experience: 26th year in the House

Committees: Economic growth, transportation, transportation, infrastructure and capital appropriations subcommittee, vice chair of the labor committee, assistant majority leader.

E-mail: dan.huseman@legis.iowa.gov

Home phone: 712-434-5880

HOW DID THE TEMPORARY CLOSURE OF THE LEGISLATURE IMPACT HOW IT APPROACHED ITS WORK WHEN IT RECONVENED?

When we returned to the Capitol, we had a limited agenda which included passing a budget. We practiced social distancing, used lots of hand sanitizer, limited outside exposure as much as possible and had protective gear available. Most legislators had their temperatures taken when we entered the building. Things were different. but we made it work.

HOW DID YOU STAY BUSY DURING THAT TIME? DID YOU OR YOUR COLLEAGUES COMMUNICATE REMOTELY TO CONTINUE WORKING ON LEGISLATION?

During the session pause, I did the same things most people did. I pretty much sheltered in place just to be safe. We had numerous conference calls and there were several working groups that focused on legislation which needed to get passed when we returned.

HOW DID THE LEGISLATURE SEEK TO PROTECT IOWA’S ECONOMY IN LIGHT OF THE PANDEMIC?

It was truly difficult to shut down parts of the economy, but I believe the governor acted appropriately because of the uncertainty of the situation. We gave her flexibility to do what was necessary while we paused our session. The department of economic development and workforce development did a good job of implementing the programs we have to deal with issues such as unemployment and keeping the economy going as best we could. The federal government also provided stimulus funds to individuals and businesses to help out.

WHAT WERE SOME OF YOUR MAIN POLICY PRIORITIES FOR THIS SESSION AND WHAT ACTION DID THE LEGISLATURE TAKE ON THEM?

I was hoping we could do a few things to help with child care in Iowa and find a steady funding stream for mental health services. We were working on those issues before we paused and were not able to get them across the finish line when we returned.

THE LEGISLATURE PASSED A K-12 EDUCATION BILL THAT WOULD INCREASE FUNDING FOR THE 2020-21 ACADEMIC YEAR. HOW WILL THIS BENEFIT IOWA’S SCHOOLS, ESPECIALLY IN N’WEST IOWA?

Earlier in the session, we approved funding for K-12 schools and we were committed to fulfilling that promise when we returned. I am glad we did because most of state government will operate with the same amount of money that was appropriated last year.

THE LEGISLATURE UNANIMOUSLY PASSED A POLICE REFORM BILL. WHY DO YOU THINK IT IS IMPORTANT TO SEE THOSE CHANGES MADE?

We passed a police reform bill which deals with several issues, including chokeholds, hiring practices and officer training. These are good policies and are pretty much what police departments are already doing.

WERE THERE ANY BILLS THAT DID NOT ADVANCE WHICH YOU WOULD LIKE TO HAVE SEEN PASSED? IF SO, WHAT WERE THEY?

I mentioned earlier that we were unable to pass child-care and mental health legislation. I know that the governor had some tax policy bills she wanted passed, but the virus put those proposals on hold until next year.

DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER REFLECTIONS ON HOW THE SESSION WENT?

Under the circumstances, I believe we had a successful session. As I am retiring from the Legislature, this was my last session. I want to thank everyone for their support and input over the years. It has been an honor to serve as your representative in Des Moines.

REP. SKYLER WHEELER

Skyler Wheeler

Skyler Wheeler

Age: 27

Residence: Orange City

Party: Republican

Area: District 4 — Sioux County, with the exception of Floyd, Lynn, Grant and Sheridan townships

Experience: Fourth year in the Iowa House

Committees: Education, Veteran’s Affairs, ways and means, economic development appropriations budget subcommittee, capital projects committee, Enhance Iowa board, Iowa Finance Authority and chair of economic growth.

E-mail: skyler.wheeler@legis.iowa.gov

Cellphone: 712-441-7444

HOW DID THE TEMPORARY CLOSURE OF THE LEGISLATURE IMPACT HOW IT APPROACHED ITS WORK WHEN IT RECONVENED?

It certainly challenged us to really prioritize what we needed to get done for Iowans. With a limited amount of time to spend on our work when we reconvened, we had to work hard and fast to get the things we believe Iowans and our great state needed the most at this time.

HOW DID YOU STAY BUSY DURING THAT TIME? DID YOU OR YOUR COLLEAGUES COMMUNICATE REMOTELY TO CONTINUE WORKING ON LEGISLATION?

I felt very busy during the suspension. I spent countless hours on the phone, e-mail and social media helping constituents navigate the proclamations coming from the governor’s office as well as assisting them with getting the financial help they needed and information about COVID-19 health data. House Republicans constantly communicated with each other and we also spent time talking with the governor’s office and Senate to figure out what our priorities would be when we reconvened.

HOW DID THE LEGISLATURE SEEK TO PROTECT IOWA’S ECONOMY IN LIGHT OF THE PANDEMIC?

We passed protections for businesses from frivolous lawsuits regarding COVID-19, ensured PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans were not taxed and continued to push the governor’s office to get us fully back open.

WHAT WERE SOME OF YOUR MAIN POLICY PRIORITIES FOR THIS SESSION AND WHAT ACTION DID THE LEGISLATURE TAKE ON THEM?

Life and guns are always toward the top of my list. We passed a 24-hour waiting period for abortions as well as protections for gun rights from cities and counties that seek to further restrict those freedoms. I was also very supportive of our efforts to expand broadband access and keep the state’s budget conservative.

THE LEGISLATURE PASSED A K-12 EDUCATION BILL THAT WOULD INCREASE FUNDING FOR THE 2020-21 ACADEMIC YEAR. HOW WILL THIS BENEFIT IOWA’S SCHOOLS, ESPECIALLY IN N’WEST IOWA?

Education is one of the biggest pieces of the state budget and the continual increase in funding shows that we take education very seriously in Des Moines.

THE LEGISLATURE UNANIMOUSLY PASSED A POLICE REFORM BILL. WHY DO YOU THINK IT IS IMPORTANT TO SEE THOSE CHANGES MADE?

The police reform bill was a good step to ensure that we still have law and order in our state while weeding out the bad law enforcement officers and restoring trust in their profession. We also passed the Blue Alert bill, which provides for an alert similar to that of the Amber Alert that notifies people if a law enforcement officer has been seriously injured, killed or gone missing in the line of duty and the suspect has not been apprehended.

I am proud of the 99.9 percent of our law enforcement that do a great job every day of protecting and helping our communities and am glad we can show some support for them at this time.

WERE THERE ANY BILLS THAT DID NOT ADVANCE WHICH YOU WOULD LIKE TO HAVE SEEN PASSED? IF SO, WHAT WERE THEY?

Every year there are countless bills I would have liked to have seen pass and others I wish didn’t. There are too many to note.

DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER REFLECTIONS ON HOW THE SESSION WENT?

I am thankful for the opportunity to serve, and although it wasn’t the smoothest session, I still feel that we were able to get some good things done for Iowans and kept the state’s budget conservative. We also continued to advance, in a smaller way, our campaign to end abortion in this state. Those are extremely important. I look forward to a 2021 session that hopefully runs smooth again.