The 2013 legislative session began on Monday, January 14 with speeches pledging bipartisanship from leadership in the House and Senate. Speaker of the House Kraig Paulsen’s speech focused on taxes and economic growth, stressing fiscal responsibility and job creation. The Speaker outlined a plan to balance the state’s budget, cut commercial property taxes, and return unused tax dollars from this year’s budget surplus (Democrats refer to this amount as the “budget surplus,” and Republicans call it the “ending balance”) to Iowa’s taxpayers. In the Senate, Majority Leader Mike Gronstal had a singular message: address Iowa’s skills shortage.
On Tuesday, the Governor’s Condition of the State address promised three reform initiatives: property tax, education, and health care. On property tax, the Governor promised to fully fund the Homestead and Elderly and Disabled Tax Credits. His plan would also change the school finance formula to eliminate allowable growth and instead fund schools 100% through state money. On the local level, the Governor plans to tie all classes of property together in one combined rollback, lower the cap on valuation growth from 4 percent to 2 percent, and roll back commercial and industrial valuations from 100 percent to 80 percent over a four year period. His plan includes backfill funding for one hundred percent of the loss in revenue to local governments.
The Governor’s education reform plan would implement a new teacher leadership and compensation system, raising the starting salary for Iowa’s teachers to $35,000, paying top teachers more for mentoring, and creating five new career pathways for teachers. The Teach Iowa Initiative, which reimburses top students who teach in Iowa for five years, will also be expanded. The plan also implements a new “seal” program to identify and recognize high school students who are college- and career-ready.
Tuition repayment is also a part of the Governor’s health care reform plan, with $2 million to launch the Rural Physician Loan Repayment Program to primary care physicians and expand it to include emergency and OB/GYN physicians and $2 million to support medical residency programs in Iowa.
The Governor proposed modest tort reform focused solely on medical malpractice lawsuits. His proposal includes the requirement for a “Certificate of Merit” from all expert witnesses and a cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases.
Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady gave his State of the Judiciary address on Wednesday. The Chief Justice called for increased funding of the state’s judiciary system, including an expansion of juvenile court services, continuing the transition to an electronic court filing system, and the creation of a separate complex business litigation docket. Cady stressed that an increase in funding would increase efficiency in the justice system.
The first week also gave the new legislators a chance to pick their seats and find their parking spaces. There are 37 new faces in the legislature this year, with 25 new members in the House and 12 in the Senate. This legislature also ties the record number of women elected at 35, with 25 in the House and 10 in the Senate. While the first week is largely organizational, there were over 150 bills, study bills and resolutions filed. Subcommittees were assigned to many of the bills and the first sub-committees meetings were held the week of January 21st, beginning the real substantive work of the session.