WATERLOO — Iowa’s legislative session begins Monday, and all of Waterloo and Cedar Falls legislators are Democrats following the 2018 election. That puts them in the minority party as Republicans control the House, Senate and governor’s mansion.
Legislators Ras Smith, Timi Brown-Powers, Dave Williams and Bob Kressig are in the House, and Bill Dotzler and Jeff Danielson the Senate. They’ll have to look across the aisle to get things done in Des Moines.
The newest member of the delegation, Williams, will spend his first session at the Capitol.
“We have to keep at it,” Williams said. “When you’re in the minority you want to have across-the-aisle conversations, but the majority has the choice.”
Smith and Kressig plan to work to see the things Democrats and Republicans have in common are prioritized, like mental health. For legislators like Danielson, Dotzler and Kressig, working in the minority is old hat.
“I’ve always been effective in a bipartisan way,” Danielson said. “We’ve been effective in making sure that the Cedar Valley’s priorities have been met.”
Priorities for Cedar Valley lawmakers include everything from sports gambling to mental health care expansion.
Sports betting became legal after a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2018, and Iowa is one many states looking to adapt this legislative session.
“Iowans should know that we are free to do what we want to do when it comes to sports wagering,” Danielson said. “I’m all for it, and I’m hopeful that the House and the Senate see it that way and the governor will sign a bill.”
Smith wants to make sure sports betting won’t impact the NCAA games in Iowa.
“Iowa benefits greatly when we can bring teams here to play,” Smith said.
Another major discussion concerns legislation from 2013 that made deep cuts to commercial and industrial property taxes and promised state funding to “backfill” a large portion of the lost revenue that created for cities, counties and school districts.
All the Cedar Valley legislators want to continue to provide property tax backfill to local governments.
“It’s something the state needs to continue as a practice,” Smith said. “I think we made a promise to our counties, and they took that in stride and assumed we would hold up our end of the bargain.”
If the state discontinues the backfill it could impact Iowa’s relationship with its counties in the future, Smith said.
“I think a promise made should be a promise kept,” Danielson said. “Those cities and counties are our economic engines. They should be seen as partners. To pull the rug out from underneath those local property taxpayers would be wrong.”
Proposals were introduced during the last two legislative sessions to end the backfill over time.
“I’d like to see it stay,” Kressig said. “It was a commitment that made when the bill passed that we were going to keep this, and it’s probably the only way it would have ever passed.”
A common worry among legislators is a shortage of workers in Iowa.
Danielson wants to focus on “jobs, jobs, jobs” this coming session.
“We need to be thinking about the jobs of the future and making sure that we’re setting Iowa up for success in agriculture, technology and other areas,” Danielson said.