For the first time in Iowa his tenure, State Senator Randy Feenstra (R-Hull) and his fellow Republicans control the Iowa Senate.
You might say the GOP can legislate like it’s 1998.
OK, so the Republicans also had control of the House, Senate and governor’s office in 1997 too, but seven doesn’t rhyme with legislate.
Either way, it’s been a while.
“I’m really excited,” Feenstra, who was reelected to his third term representing Iowa Senate District 2, said. “However, you have to manage expectations and understand that it’s serious – you have to lead. With that comes with responsibility. When you’re not in the majority you can throw bills out there and know they’ll never go anywhere. Now you can’t do that – everything you do and say you are responsible for and could have ramifications for the state.”
A little less than one year ago, Feenstra’s frustration with being in the minority party was evident on his blog as he wrote: “The state’s entire political system is rigged in such a way that the minority party has NO control of what gets debated and what gets passed.”
Now Feenstra says his party intends to change the rules so that any bill that has the support of 26 members will get a chance.
“It was rigged for the Democrat party,” Feenstra said. “We’re going to change things a little bit. Last year (former Sen. Mike) Gronstal had his way – he could decide what bills he wanted to bring up. We have a different situation this year. We’ll change the rules to simply say if there are 26 who want to bring a bill to the flor then it’s something we’ll do. We’re going to pass that rule right away.”
The change should strengthen attempts at bipartisanship.
“We’ll work at collaborating with Democrats,” Feenstra noted. “If they have a great idea; let’s run with it. Let’s not let good policy sit on the sidelines.”
If history is any indicator, expect drastic economic change. Twenty years ago the GOP passed an across-the-board 10 percent income tax reduction in 1997. In 1998 various gruops received an additional $85 million in tax reductions.
It was also at this time when the legislature passed a ban on same-sex marriage, a ban on partial-birth abortions and a requirement for notifying a family member before a young woman could have an abortion.
For now the GOP is focused on getting a few things done right away.
Feenstra said he expects to see a business deregulation bill, a pro-life bill, a federal coupling bill and a funding bill that will get the budget back to neutral right away.
As the session goes he expects the senate to look at comprehensive tax reform, dive deeper into pro-life issues and strengthen religious liberty.
“You have to pick and choose a little bit. We also have to look at how we can limit regulation and how we can bring back local control to our schools,” he said. “Those are broad things, but we have to figure out how we can create policy to do some of those things.”
Another issue in desperate need of attention seems to be IPERS, the pension plan for public employees in Iowa.
“I think we’re looking at a possibility of saying should employees pay a little more into the system right now,” Feenstra said. “Even on health insurance – should there be a buy-in for public employees on health insurance? My feeling is it’s a good idea. That’s what the private sector does and it just allows a person to think twice before they go to a clinic.”
The ramifications of the next two years aren’t lost on the GOP Senate.
“The next two years are really significant,” Feenstra added. “We don’t worry about 2018 now – we worry about doing the stuff we want to do today that we’ve waited eight years to do.”