CEDAR RAPIDS — Redrawing Iowa’s legislative and congressional election boundaries is the No. 1 priority when legislators meet again in an Oct. 28 special session, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Thursday at the annual Iowa Ideas conference, and more relief for Iowa taxpayers will top the agenda when lawmakers convene next year for their regular session.
One day earlier, the governor threw into the special session mix the issue of prohibiting workplace COVID-19 vaccine mandates. But top GOP legislators said Thursday the issue probably would be considered only “if the right solution is ready” when they return to the Capitol later this month.
“The Biden administration’s vaccine mandate is an alarming level of federal government overreach,” said House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford. “But we want to do it right, and ensure our solution will protect Iowans’ personal freedoms without unintended consequences. When we have a solution, we will move forward.”
Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said his 32-member caucus shares concerns about “unending federal overreach,” but “finding the right path to resist this invasion of federal law, while not creating more burdens for employers, will take time. If the right solution is ready for the upcoming special session, it may be considered.”
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The Republican governor, appearing in Cedar Rapids for a wide-ranging interview as part of The Gazette’s Iowa Ideas conference, said conversations about a legal response to workplace vaccine requirements are ongoing but won’t detract or distract from the redistricting issue. Lawmakers earlier rejected a set of elections maps drawn by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, and are coming back this month to consider a second version.
“That’s the No. 1 focus, and we’ll see where they go from there,” Reynolds said.
Much of the governor’s focus the past 18 months has been on pandemic-related issues, and she credited efforts to keep Iowans working and to reopen businesses ahead of many other states with helping put state government in a position where it has a $1.24 billion surplus and $800 million in reserves.
In hindsight, Reynolds said, she would have not closed Iowa’s schools early in the spring semester of 2020 had more been known then about the coronavirus pandemic, which peaked in Iowa last November.
But “we were in uncharted territory, there wasn’t a playbook” and seemingly each week the information was changing, she said.
“I tried to be balanced and really take into account what we knew, look at the data and make decisions from that, but in hindsight I wouldn’t have had to do that,” referring to closing schools. “I just think our children are going to be dealing with this for quite some time. It’s been tough.”
On the prospects for tax cuts in the next legislative session, given Iowa’s surplus position, the governor said, “We’re over-collecting, and we need to return that back to the taxpayers.”
Reynolds said another issue her administration is working on is the resettlement of Afghan refugees who fled when the Taliban took control. She said up to 700 refugees may settle in Iowa, so state officials are working on housing issues and lining up businesses that can assess the Afghans’ skills and make hiring decisions.
“We’ve only had just a couple of families that have come in to date,” but “we anticipate that increasing,” she said. “We stand ready to work with them and welcome them to the state.”
To watch the interview with Reynolds, go to youtube.com/watch?v=kSsaGTEQT4g.
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