As week 4 of the 2019 legislative session comes to an end, I can report that the House and Senate have reached agreement on a K-12 education funding package. HSB 110, which would reform the judicial nominating process, passed sub-committee; HJR 3, which proposes to amend the Iowa Constitution by establishing 2nd Amendment rights also moved forward; and budget hearings continued as we work to make wise use of taxpayer money while meeting Iowa’s priorities. I have also assigned an important bill to sub-committee that seeks to protect one of our most sacred rights.
The funding package agreed to for K-12 education includes $89.3 million in new funding. $7.8 million is proposed to help reduce transportation costs for rural schools so more money can be kept in the classroom. We have also agreed to $2.9 million to reduce a cost per pupil gap that has existed in the school formula since the 1970s. House Republicans have continued to make funding for K-12 schools a top priority, with an increase of over $765 million since 2011. Funding for schools has increased at nearly triple the rate of inflation, and we have passed reforms to give increased flexibility to our school districts. Education funding will top $3.3 billion in FY20. I believe we must continue to find ways to improve education that have nothing to do with funding. We must continue to give more control of our schools to our local school boards and teachers and get government off their backs. Good citizenship and education begin in the home and must be continued in the classroom, as students learn American exceptionalism and the STEM skills needed for the jobs of tomorrow.
As Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, I advanced HSB 110, which seeks to reform the judicial nomination process. Currently, commissions select nominees for District and Supreme Court vacancies and present them to the Governor, who must select from the commission’s recommendations. Half of the members of the commissions that make these recommendations are appointed by the Governor and must be approved by a super-majority of the Senate. The other half are selected by members of the bar, who elect other members of the bar with no additional oversight.
The goal is to bring more accountability to Iowa’s merit-based judicial selection process by placing the authority to select commissioners with the elected representatives of the people, from both political parties, as opposed to lawyers selecting other lawyers, with no oversight or accountability.
Attorneys would continue to be a vital part of the process, but they would no longer select one another for commissions without oversight. Why is this change important? Because it gives voice to the people through their elected representatives. The process for selection of judges and justices will always be political, because that is how our system works. Lawyers have political beliefs, belong to political parties and no doubt vote for commissioners based on those beliefs. With this understanding the question becomes which method of selection for commissioners gives voice to the people? Unelected and unaccountable attorneys, or elected representatives of the people? I believe the voice of the people would be much greater were the selections to the commissions made by those elected by the people, and accountable to them every election cycle. This legislation will no doubt be amended and improved as it goes through the committee process and is a work in progress. I welcome your thoughts and perspective.
HJR3 recognizes 2nd Amendment rights by amending the Iowa Constitution. It must pass two General Assemblies before going before the people for the final decision. Iowa is one of only six states that does not have this sacred right enshrined in their constitutions, and Republicans believe this must be rectified as soon as possible.
Budget hearings have begun, as we seek to drill down and find ways to create efficiencies and save money. Today the Justice Systems Appropriations Committee I serve on heard from Attorney General Tom Miller. I have asked his office to provide me with detailed analysis on how much taxpayer money is being spent on the myriad of lawsuits he has joined with other states that do not always seem to represent Iowa’s best interests. Instead, these lawsuits often seem to be politically motivated, and Iowans’ hard-earned money should not be wasted in this way.
Finally, I have been made aware of accounts from students that free speech is under assault on college campuses in Iowa. I intend to meet with these students and hear their first-hand accounts. Meanwhile, the Judiciary Committee will consider legislation to address this issue.