The Iowa Legislature convened this week for a new session. We wish them well.
Legislative sessions are never easy, nor are they as simple as they sometimes appear from the outside. Crafting a good law is difficult. It takes time, considerable effort and, in the best instances, cooperative spirits from those involved. Here’s what we hope legislators will take a look at this season.
There has already been talk of steps to change Iowa’s approach to felons’ rights, particularly voting. As we wrote previously, this is an issue well worth the time for legislators. Iowa is one of only two states that permanently bar felons from the ballot box unless their rights are specifically restored by the governor. It’s time to change that.
The path back to voting for felons is one that will involve strong feelings on both sides in Des Moines. It’s worth the debate, though. Our editorial board supports some form of gradual restoration, a process by which people who have fully discharged their sentences may once again have their rights restored. Not all felonies are equal. Treating them as such is a mistake.
Iowa’s lawmakers also need to take a hard look at school funding, both in terms of the state’s local school districts and the regents’ schools. Funding has largely been flat for several years, with allowable growth strictly limited.
That may be a necessary step at times, but there cannot help but be a corrosive effect when allowable growth is lower than inflation. Iowa’s reputation for educational excellence was earned through decades of achievements, and that included funding from the legislature. It’s time to ensure that legacy continues for the coming generations, and fund the schools at a level that will let them excel.
There is talk that sports gambling may be on legislators’ agendas in this session. While it’s an interesting area in light of changes at the national level, we would suggest that the Legislature take its time and act carefully. There are other issues Iowans see as greater priorities, and there is absolutely no need to rush on this one.
We hope legislators old and new alike take the time to get to know one another. Politics is often conducted at a level that would rightly embarrass a second grader, but it doesn’t have to be that way. It is much more difficult to hurl invective over a policy disagreement when you know your opponent at a personal level. Take the time to do so, and take some of the heat out of the debates.
The learning curve in government is steep. More than one legislator over the years has compared it to drinking from a fire hose. The sessions can be that way, too. Once the ball starts rolling, once committee meetings and deadlines start stacking up, there’s a lot to handle.
Our area has several new people representing it. We want to particularly wish them good luck. You are southeast Iowa’s voice, chosen by the people who live here to represent us in front of the state. You are given a unique trust.
Make us proud. Let us say, even if we don’t agree with your stances, that we are proud to have people like you as our representatives. Make your decisions with all the wisdom you possess. Act in a manner so that you elevate your offices, and the people you represent.
Good luck. It’s going to be a busy year.