At the end of my first full session as State Senator representing Cedar Falls, Hudson, and southwest Waterloo, here’s my report on selected highlights of this year’s session: three good decisions, three bad decisions, and three decisions put off until next year.
The good list starts with the bipartisan legislation on policing. A new state law now bans most police chokeholds, prevents officers fired for misconduct from being rehired in Iowa, allows the Iowa Attorney General to investigate potential police misconduct resulting in a death, and mandates annual training in anti-bias and de-escalation. Iowans demanded these changes, and I was proud that the legislature acted swiftly to enact these reforms.
Number two on the good list is the radical transformation of last year’s anti-solar energy proposal into smart legislation that will make solar installations more affordable for homeowners, businesses, and farmers, and will provide more certainty for growth of the solar industry. Renewable energy is good for the environment and for the Iowa economy, and we need more good policy like this to continue to support its development.
The third positive policy is that the state of Iowa will no longer require a racially biased exam to enter UNI’s teacher prep program. Removing this unnecessary barrier will help our local school districts diversify their teacher workforces through programs like Teach Waterloo, which helps paraprofessionals become teachers. Teacher candidates will now be judged by what they’ve learned in the program, and not by a standardized test taken before they even begin the program.
Now, the misguided decisions. First and foremost, Iowa elections don’t need to be “fixed.” So, at the top of my bad list is new legislation that I opposed which makes it harder for Iowans to vote by mail. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to be making it easier for people to vote safely by mail, not harder. Second on my bad list is legislative interference with women’s reproductive healthcare. Those very personal decisions should be made by women in consultation with their physicians, and not by politicians. And number three is the $8 million cut to our three state universities, including UNI. The State has the resources to support the universities during this difficult time, but legislative leaders chose not to use them.
So, what was left on the table for next year? Number one has to be the failure to respond to the financial damage COVID-19 is doing in Iowa to children’s mental health, childcare, hospitals, and other critical sectors of our economy. Second is the restoration of voting rights to ex-offenders who have completed their sentences. On our journey toward a more perfect union, it is shameful that the legislature ignored this opportunity to right a systemic wrong that has disproportionately impacted black and brown people in our community.
And lastly, as Ranking Member of the Senate Transportation Committee, one of my top priorities was to support our public safety professionals in their call for a law banning the handheld use of cellphones while driving. My hope is that we will take up this commonsense legislation quickly when we reconvene the General Assembly next year.
The 2020 legislative session is over but my job serving our community continues. If you have a question or an issue that I can be helpful with, please let me know. My phone number is 319-230-0578 and my email address is Eric.Giddens@legis.iowa.gov.