SUNDAY TALK: Upmeyer on the Legislative Week

We’ve wrapped up another week at the Statehouse and it was great to see many people from the district this week.  If you are traveling to the Capitol during the legislative session, please reach out and let me know.  I’d love to meet with you or your group and chat!

The Capitol and your Representatives were very busy in Des Moines this week!  With lots of work in subcommittee and committee, I’d like to cover two topics in this week’s newsletter:  Education funding and our judicial selection process.

Early this week, the House and Senate announced agreement on a K-12 funding package for the 2019-20 school year.  This package will provide Iowa school districts with an additional $89.3 million in new funding next year.   Within that number is an $7.8 million in additional funding to reduce transportation costs (on top of last year’s $11.2 million commitment) and $2.9 million to continue reducing the district cost per pupil inequity by another $5 per student that we began last session.

This plan provides schools with a significant amount of new resources to meet the growing needs of their students.

This package will bring yearly investment in our K-12 system to more than $3.3 billion, an increase of $865 million since the 2011-12 school year.

These bills have been through subcommittee and committee and will likely be debated early next week, fulfilling our obligation to set school funding within the first 30 days of session.  This will provide local school boards and administrators with the time they need to set their budgets for the upcoming school year.

Also this week, the Judiciary Committee introduced a bill to reform Iowa’s judicial selection process.  These reforms will provide much needed transparency and accountability to Iowa’s merit-based nomination system.

Under current law, nominating commissions interview candidates for open judge positions and recommend the three most highly-qualified people for the Governor to pick from.  These commissions are made up of Governor appointees and attorneys who are elected by other attorneys.  The commissions are chaired by the senior-most judge or justice who is not the chief.

Under our proposed reforms, the Governor would continue to select half the members of the commissions.  However, rather than attorneys electing each other to the commissions, legislative leaders from both parties would appoint the other half of commission members.  Elected officials are accountable to the people of Iowa while a small group of attorneys are not.

We continue to believe that attorneys should be a key part of these commissions because we understand the value of their expertise.  Attorneys bring an important perspective to these discussions and we value their input.  Our changes would still require that at least half the members of the commissions be attorneys; we are simply changing how the attorneys on the commissions are chosen.

Additionally, judges already on the bench will no longer chair commissions.  When a judge serves as Chair, they are often viewed as an authority figure and their opinion can weigh heavier than others.  This change remove any sort perceived undue influence during the selection process.

Our reforms will bring some much needed transparency and accountability to our system while also preserving Iowa’s merit-based selection process.  These changes will strengthen our judicial selection process and help ensure that only the most qualified candidates become judges.

This legislation was just introduced and is at the beginning of the process.  We are keeping an open mind on any sort of improvements that could be made to the bill to make it even better for Iowans.  I will provide updates on this topic in a future newsletter as it moves through the process.

With session underway, please feel free to reach out and share your thoughts on legislation or let me know if you need assistance dealing with a state agency or department.  I can be reached by email at Linda.Upmeyer@legis.iowa.gov or by phone at (515) 281-3521.