(Des Moines) — Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds is proposing a multi-pronged approach to help lead the state down the road of economic recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During her annual Condition of the State Address to a joint session of the Legislature, Reynolds thanked the health care workers, essential workers and first responders who helped the state during the pandemic, as well as during the August derecho that slammed a large portion of Iowa. Reynolds says at this time last year, the state’s economy was soaring.
“We took a hit like everyone else, but we didn’t falter long,” said Reynolds. “Because of conservative budgeting practices, Iowa’s diverse economy, the decision to keep over 80% of our businesses open, and the tenacity of our people, Iowa isn’t facing a massive budget shortfall like many states.”
As part of her economic recovery plan, Reynolds is proposing a large investment in high-speed broadband to eliminate “internet deserts” that she says are present in one-third of Iowa counties.
“I’m done taking small steps and hoping for big change,” said Reynolds. “This is the time for bold action and leadership. Let’s plant a stake in the ground and declare that every part of Iowa will have affordable, high-speed broadband by 2025. We’ll get there by committing $450 million over that time period, which will leverage millions more in private investment, giving Iowa the biggest buildout of high-speed internet in the country.”
Additionally, Reynolds is proposing an investment in developing more child care options throughout the state and renewed calls for expanded on-the-job training opportunities. As expected, Reynolds also called on legislators to require school districts to offer a 100% in-person learning option for students.
“Tonight I am asking the legislature to immediately send a bill to my desk that gives parents the choice to send their child back to school full time,” said Reynolds. “We can’t wait any longer. Our kids can’t wait any longer.”
She also proposed making open enrollment an option for all families in the state and for the creation of education savings accounts for students in struggling districts.
Aside from the pandemic and natural disasters, Reynolds addressed the growing calls for racial equality around the country. She proposes a bill that would ban racial profiling, while also enacting stronger punishments for rioters who attack law enforcement.
“We should never be afraid to talk about ways to improve policing, but there will be no talk of defunding the police here,” said Reynolds. “Our men and women in blue will always have my respect, and I will always have their back.”
House Minority Leader Todd Prichard in the Democratic response, said that he feels there’s some common ground on combining racial disparities in policing with violence against police officers.
"We know that what makes police officers safer is that we have proper training, proper equipment and proper policing techniques," said Prichard. "This is something that we're very interested on. We think that really is a zero-sum game where we can make streets safer for the public and for our officers."
Prichard did criticize the governor’s call to require school districts to offer an in-person option for students. He says pandemic response is different in each community.
"It's not a one-size-fits-all approach," said Prichard. "What we're focused on as Democrats is we want to see schools return to 100% instruction Monday-Friday, who doesn't want to see that? That would be something that's great, but we want to make sure it's done safely. We want to make sure it's done in a way that protects children and students."
Reynolds broke with tradition in delivering the annual address in primetime. Generally, the speech is given on the second day of the legislative session in the morning. Reynolds says the unique challenges presented in 2020 meant that she wanted to speak directly with the people of the state.