The View from Here, from Dennis Guth, District 4 State Senator
CONTACT: District 4 Sen. Dennis Guth, R-Klemme, will serve as chair of Administration and Regulation Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees the budget process for a number of state departments, including Administrative Services, Governor’s Office, Secretary of State, and Treasurer. Also, he remains the co-chair of the Administration and Regulations appropriations subcommittee, which includes a place on the full Appropriations Committee. He’s also on the Labor Committee, Local Government Committee, and this year on the State Government Committee. You can reach him at email@example.com, 515-281-3371 in Des Moines, or at 641-430-0424.
Feb. 26, 2021
The seventh week of the session was incredibly busy as bills are coming out of subcommittee and going through full committee. There are far more subcommittees than full committees since most bills have a subcommittee. When bills have passed subcommittee, they go to full committee where the one Democrat and the two Republican members on the subcommittee explain the bill and the public response to it to their caucuses. This process takes significant time as Republicans and Democrats discuss what they like and dislike and decide how to vote. Friday next week is the first funnel, or deadline for bills to make it through committees to be eligible for debate by the whole Senate. After the funnel there are a lot fewer bills and we can study each one more closely.
One of the bills passed by the Education Committee this week was SSB 1205. The intention of this bill is to protect the freedom of speech and other First Amendment rights at our state universities and public schools. All three state universities were challenged with violations of free speech and a lack of diverse opinions during the past year or so. The bill requires that university and public school employees understand freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Colleges and universities are supposed to be a place where all points of view are heard and honest discussion is encouraged. This is essential for training students to think critically and act on truth, not hearsay.
The integrity of our elections has been on everyone’s mind since November, and we are seeking to improve confidence in Iowa’s process. The improvements we’ve made in election laws over the last three years gave Iowa one of the cleanest elections in the nation. Those improvements were things like requiring ID to vote or request an absentee ballot. There were many claims that these attempts to keep our elections secure would suppress the vote. However, the number of people voting in our elections just keeps on setting records.
Senate File 413 continues to improve election simplicity and security. It makes petitioning to run for office the same for state elections as for federal office, it brings our days for voting early and returning our ballot to the national average, and standardizes the time polls close.
Some county auditors expressed concern over this bill because it also would punish auditors for not complying with our election laws. It does not punish auditors who make a mistake, only those who openly defy state election laws. Intentional violation would result in a fine up to $10,000 and an investigation by the Secretary of State. Our goal is to make it easy to vote, but hard to cheat.
Senate file 389 provided lively debate on the floor this week. It would provide a way to immediately verify the residency, income, assets, and citizenship required for eligibility for federal aid programs. By incorporating electronic means we can save time and money as well as preserve resources for those who truly qualify.
Some opponents of the bill asserted that allowing individuals to fraudulently receive food assistance would be good for the local economy. I fail to see how taking money from hardworking Iowans and giving it to those who do not qualify for a federal program strengthens the economy. The bill passed 30-18 on a party line vote.
Several important bills must be passed out of committees this week to beat the funnel. A couple that I wish to see qualify for advancement are the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (SF 436) and prohibiting mandatory vaccination (SF 193).
I am having a townhall meeting in Algona on Feb. 27 at 10:00 at the at City Hall. The next will be in Belmond on March 12 at 10:30 at the City Hall. It will be made available via Zoom for those who do not wish to attend in person.
A parting thought. The problem today is not that people of faith are forcing their beliefs on others; it is that government is seeking to force a secular mindset on people of faith.
Feb. 19, 2021
Feb. 12, 2021
This week, the Senate passed Senate File 269, approving additional education funding for the next school year. This bill allocates $45.2 million more dollars for K-12 education in the fall. The bill appropriates money for the usual annual increase in funding as well as $65/pupil for the special costs incurred in this very unusual year. It also continues to equalize the amount per pupil across all districts and increases the funding for equalizing transportation costs.
The Iowa Senate also passed SJR 2 out of committee. This is an amendment to the Iowa Constitution stating that Iowa’s highest state law is neutral on the issue of abortion. One of the reasons the issue of abortion is so volatile is because so much policy around it has been decided by unelected judges instead of by the people through their elected leaders. People who believe the unborn child is a baby entitled to the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, feel they have limited recourse on issues like public funding of abortion and late term procedures.
In Iowa, four unelected members of the Iowa Supreme Court heard a challenge to the state’s law requiring a 72-hour waiting period before an abortion could be performed and created a constitutional right to an abortion. This was done with no foundation other than the opinion of those four judges who stated we are no longer bound to the beliefs of our founders. Many Iowans rejected not only this policy but also the process by which it was implemented.
The process for amending the Iowa Constitution is both difficult and deliberate. The exact same language must pass both chambers of the Iowa Legislature in consecutive General Assemblies, notice must be made of the proposed amendment between General Assemblies, and the people of Iowa must ratify that proposed language in a statewide election. That process is the appropriate way to amend the constitution precisely because that method is how the constitution itself prescribes an amendment be made. It is a process full of public involvement and accountability. Ultimately, every Iowa voter has a say over changes to the constitution instead of only four unelected people in a courtroom in Des Moines.
This amendment will likely be debated on the floor later this session. It will be an early step to amending the Iowa Constitution in the way prescribed by law and not by judicial fiat. With the eventual adoption of this language, policy on abortion will be determined by the people of Iowa through their elected representatives and not through unelected judges.
SF 193 is a bill I authored that prohibits government or employers from mandating the Covid-19 vaccine. It is scheduled for subcommittee on Feb 16 at 3:00. There are a considerable number of medical associations that oppose this idea, but I have heard from plenty of nurses and doctors that support it. Polls have shown that at least a third of all healthcare workers do not want to take the vaccine. There have been reports of serious adverse effects and even deaths from the vaccine. When there are such serious consequences, we must make vaccination a choice made by people who are fully informed of the risks and limits of the vaccine. In my opinion the push for mandatory vaccination is far more political than medical. I was excited to learn that this same legislation is being considered in 29 states at this time. I look forward to seeing this advanced in the legislature.
One of the most important parts of my job is to seek the truth and determine how that affects my actions. I hope that is your goal as well. “A lie has speed but truth has endurance.” –Edgar J. Mohn
Feb. 8, 2021
In the fourth week of the legislative session we continued working in subcommittees, where every bill begins with input from the public. The use of electronic means to include people from across Iowa seems to be working well. We also moved several of the ideas that made it through subcommittee to their full committees, where more legislators take a look at an issue and there is opportunity to amend, reject or pass each idea. Finally, we have more bills eligible for floor debate, where the entire Senate gets to hear arguments on both sides of each bill and decide if it should be sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
One of the bills we passed this week was Senate File 231, which would allow a young person with a special minor’s driver’s permit to help transport motor vehicles from farm to farm. The permit is limited to teenager’s living or working on a farm operating between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. Currently, these teenagers can drive a tractor or combine between farms, but cannot drive a pickup between farms. I know that when I was a teenager, I’d much rather drive a pickup down the road behind a combine than be in the combine dealing with traffic. This legislation makes sense to me and should make life a little easier for hard-working farm families.
K-12 funding has been proposed at an increase of $45.2 million dollars for next year. Much of state funding is connected to the number of students enrolled in the district. Because of the coronavirus, K-12 enrolment decreased by around 6,000 students since last year. Some families chose to keep their students home because of health concerns or frustration with inconsistency and uncertainty surrounding school schedules this year.
Increasing state aid in order to make up for the decrease in enrollment does not make sense this year since it would skew numbers that could change significantly next year. So SSB 1159 provides a one-time increase of $65 per pupil on top of the regular increase in State Supplemental Aid. Another nearly $10 million goes to equalizing per pupil and transportation inequities.
This proposal to increase funding of public schools by $45.2 million helps schools during these uncertain times and allows the state to make promises for funding that it can keep next fall.
As we move along with vaccinations for Covid-19 I have heard from many who are eagerly awaiting their opportunity to receive this vaccine. I also hear from those that have concerns over this vaccine so quickly rushed to the public. This last week I filed SF 193 which would prohibit government or employers from mandating a covid-19 vaccine for employees or students. A person could not be discriminated against because they do or do not get the vaccination. This would include insurance companies not being able to discriminate on this basis.
When I shared this with a community college student government body, I had a student ask how this would enable us to end the pandemic. I reminded him that this is not the first health challenge that we have faced and none of those in the past were ended with such a mandate. The instructor contacted me the next day remarking at the discussion they had after meeting with me. He was surprised at how universal the support was for mandated vaccination, yet how little they knew about the risks or potential rewards. This gave him opportunity to discuss self-government and having input into the laws and rules that we must obey. They were encouraged to think for themselves rather than just follow the herd.
That is always my goal, especially when I have the opportunity to talk to young people. I want Iowans to understand that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was written to secure freedom from government coercion. That is the foundation of our system of government. It has resulted in the most liberty and prosperity for its citizens that the world has ever known.
Feb. 1, 2021
We worked very hard to accomplish as much as we can during the third week of the legislative session. Since education is such an important part of our work each year, we began debate with half of our bills relating to K-12 education.
We passed SF 160 which requires schools to offer a full-time, in-person option if parents select it. While some students do just fine with online education, many do not. It is important to serve all students as well as we can.
We also advanced SF 130 which would allow temporarily for a school board member to receive compensation in excess of $6,000 for employment as a substitute teacher, food service worker, or a bus driver. Many districts have been faced with staffing problems due to quarantining and school board members have been stepping in to help. Current law prohibits them from receiving more than $6,000 in any given year. We are striving to provide flexibility in these difficult times.
We also passed SF 159 which is the governor’s effort to increase student achievement and prepare Iowa students to compete in the global economy. Our schools have a history of comparing well among the 50 states. This bill seeks to offer help to parents whose children are enrolled in the 34 schools who are determined to be failing by a standard of either the state or federal government. In some of those districts, students are not even allowed to open enroll. This bill will remove barriers to open enrollment and provide state dollars to follow the student to any accredited school the parent chooses. This will not reduce the amount of money allocated to public schools; a small portion of that money going to failing schools may follow the students opting out. It is limited to students entering Kindergarten in the current year, not all 13 grades. This bill will likely change as it bounces between the House and Senate.
Thursday, we had very lively debate over adding the right to keep and bear arms to the Iowa Constitution. Iowa is one of only a few states that do not have these rights ensured in their state constitution. The state of Iowa recognizes this is a fundamental right of individuals and any restriction of this right must be subject to “strict scrutiny.” Strict scrutiny is the highest standard we have, insuring government must show a “compelling government interest” before interfering, and they must do so in the least restrictive way. We passed this bill last year also, so once it is approved by both chambers it is eligible to be placed on the ballot at the next general election. At that time the people of Iowa will have their say as to whether or not this is added to the state constitution.
On Monday Feb. 1 another amendment to the Iowa constitution will be in subcommittee in the Iowa Senate. SJR 2 states there is no right to abortion in Iowa’s constitution. If it passes, and I expect it will, this will be the first year of its journey to being added to Iowa’s constitution. It must be passed again in the next general assembly in 2023-24, then be placed on the ballot at the next general election in 2024. This amendment does not prohibit abortion, but it does tell the courts no right to abortion is in our state constitution. This will allow legislation on this subject to stand without being struck down by an activist court.
Jan. 22, 2021
Week two of the 2021 legislative session was filled with subcommittee meetings. Subcommittees are the first step in writing a new law and the public is able to participate at that point. This year we are encouraging public testimony electronically. Usually two Republican members of the subcommittee will meet in one room while the Democrat member is in another room. They are linked together via a Zoom connection to each other and the public. Senate pages, who are high school students, have found a new function at the Capitol as they manage our online meetings. While I miss meeting with citizens personally to hear their opinions, this does allow Iowans who do not have the opportunity to drive to Des Moines to participate from the comfort of their home.
If you are interested in a bill, please visit the legislative website, www.legis.iowa.gov, to find information on how to join these subcommittees.
This is a great way to utilize technology to maintain public transparency and still move forward with this legislative session in a responsible manner.
Iowans can be proud of their strong record in K-12 education. Last year Iowa was number one in average ACT scores, number one in dual enrollment, and number one in high school graduation rate. It is generally agreed that for a significant number of students, not receiving in-person instruction causes their performance to suffer. Some districts have reported double the amount of students receiving a failing grade from previous years. Senate Study Bill 1064 addresses this problem by requiring schools to offer a 100% in-person option.
There is a waiver process if significant spikes of Covid-19 occur in the community or the school district is unable to adequately staff their classrooms.
The Center for Disease Control has stated that schools do not transmit the virus more rapidly than the larger population and transmission rates are significantly lower among elementary age students. Their study is consistent with those in other countries around the world. The report says, “CDC recommends that K-12 schools be the last settings to close after all other mitigation measures have been employed and the first to reopen when they can do so safely.” Parents and families with health concerns will still have the option for their children to learn remotely.
I was encouraged to learn that the “Life Amendment”, an amendment to Iowa’s constitution that states there is no right to abortion in our constitution, passed easily in the Iowa House Judiciary Committee. There were a number of people who testified in favor of the amendment and none who testified against it. I anticipate that this will quickly pass once it comes to the senate. Once it does, it must be passed again in the next General Assembly (2023-2024) and then be brought before the citizens of Iowa for a vote.
I have met some people who are overwhelmed by the alarming situation our country is facing right now. A thought that rings true to me was expressed by Gandalf, a character in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. He said:
“Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”
Our government functions best when people are self-governed and look to God for their standard. Christ taught us to love and do good deeds. Who better to teach this than one who willingly suffered, died on the cross for our sins, and resurrected from the dead in order to give us eternal life? Our part is to acknowledge and repent of our sins. I encourage you to look to God and join me in looking for those small acts of kindness that make our society better.
Jan. 15, 2021
The 2021 legislative session began on January 11 with some changes in protocol, but with the purpose of serving Iowans in a meaningful and transparent way. As I write this first newsletter of the session, I want to share with you the sense of purpose and hope that I encounter in the Capitol building.
During the first week of session we adopt the rules we will use to govern our actions in the Senate and we swear in senators who have been selected by the citizens of Iowa. This year we have eight new members, seven of whom are Republicans. As I get to know them and see the new perspectives and talents that they bring, I am encouraged that the problems facing us will be met with perseverance and commitment to the truth.
On Tuesday Governor Reynolds gave the annual Condition of the State address. She spoke of the determination of Iowans to meet every challenge that was thrown at them with a spirit of determination. We started 2020 in a very strong economy and low unemployment. Everything changed in an instant when we were faced with a worldwide health crisis. Then the devastation of derecho struck much of central Iowa. While we are gaining in the battle to protect people’s health and rebuilding damaged infrastructure, our economy and unemployment rate remain the envy of the nation.
I was especially impressed when the governor told us about a conversation she had with out of state utility workers who came to Iowa to help make repairs after the derecho storm destroyed so many power lines. They told her they had helped in recovery from hurricanes in the south that were not as destructive as the derecho was, yet were more impressed with Iowans' attitude. Iowans are resilient and care for their neighbors. The utility workers saw a sense of hope for the future that I think is one of Iowa’s biggest assets.
Governor Reynolds laid out initiatives for the legislature to work on including: improving access to high-speed broadband, education that trains Iowans for the jobs needed in Iowa, and more educational choice for Iowa students. The governor emphasized that we must focus on the future of Iowa children and committed to giving them the option of being back in the classroom full time.
The Senate Majority Leader also delivered a speech on his priorities for the year. Leader Jack Whitver said:
“This year we are focused on putting our state back on a path of success and prosperity after all these challenges. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan: the best recovery plan is a job. This recovery plan means sticking to those same principles guiding us for the last four years. It means freedom to work. It means continuing our work on tax reform, and putting more money back into the pockets of Iowans. It means ensuring the best education for Iowa students, in the classroom, where they learn best.”
Finally, I’d like to share with you my impressions of the new Chief Justice on the Iowa Supreme Court. Justice Susan Christensen delivered her State of the Judiciary report on Wednesday and told us a bit of her career leading up to her appointment to this court. I was impressed that she always put family before career, moving to four different colleges in four years for their benefit. That emphasis shows in her work as well. She shared a touching story of a young man that appeared before her over five years ago. He was struggling with a meth addiction and lost custody of his kids. He would try, but failed many times. Judge Christensen kept challenging him. Finally he got a good job with a large company and became active in a church. Today he has been clean for almost 3 years and has his family back. His company, with over 3,000 employees, has honored him for his faithful service and dedication to excellence. An amazing story! I look forward to seeing Iowa’s judicial system thrive under Chief Justice Christensen.
With all the unsettling things going on in our country and world today, I encourage Iowans to “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6&7
Jan. 8, 2021
The legislative session for 2021 begins on January 11 and promises to be unique in many ways. We will be gathering in person, but will have many adjustments to make to limit the number of people in one space and allow for social distancing.
After every election all the committee assignments are updated. I remain the co-chair of the Administration and Regulations appropriations subcommittee, which also means I have a place in the full Appropriations Committee. I am also on the Labor Committee, Local Government Committee, and this year I am also on the State Government Committee.
In almost any year, the first real business of the session is to set state aid for K-12 schools. Schools need to know what they are getting so they can set their budgets and since schools get nearly half of all state funds, we need to get that level set before working on other budgets. This year there is much demand to take a close look at allowing more parental choice in education. The good news is that Iowa’s revenue is healthy, thanks to actions taken in the last four years to reduce the growth of spending, implement sales tax on internet sales and stimulate business. Because of those actions, Iowa’s economy is rated as the most Covid-resistant of all fifty states. That is something to be proud of!
Speaking of Covid, I’m pretty sure there will be discussion about supporting struggling business sectors and limiting the governor’s emergency powers. As the Covid vaccines become available to more people, I feel it will be important to keep vaccination voluntary. With only two months of testing under these new vaccine technologies' belt, we have no information on long term safety or things like: infertility consequences, possibility to cause cancer, inducing new onset of chronic diseases, etc. Additionally, the vaccine was shown to possibly diminish symptoms for some, but has not yet been proven to stop transmission of the virus. Some may be concerned about the use of fetal tissue during development.
An issue we passed in the Senate last year but failed to pass in the House is the Life Amendment. This is an amendment to the Iowa Constitution stating that there is no right to abortion in the Iowa Constitution. It does not limit abortion itself, but it takes away the ability of the court to strike down legislation that limits abortion. A constitutional amendment must be passed in two separate General Assemblies and then come before the people for a vote. I expect this will pass fairly quickly this year due to the larger Republican majority in the House.
It seems our universities continue to have issues with restricting free speech on campus and even in the classroom. A university is supposed to be a place of learning and open debate. It is not a place to attempt to force students to comply with particular standards, rules and legalism. I like the statement by Dr. Everett Piper, president of a small university, which says, “This is not a day care. This is a university.” This should apply more broadly in our society as well. Forced unity is not really unity. That is a contradiction. If it’s forced, it’s compliance, not unity. When we require a unity of opinions, the result is tyranny. As a conservative, I expect to invest much time this session fighting for openness that provides for unity without mandating compliance.
I will be personally working to update our agricultural drainage laws that are getting quite aged. I will strive to remember that the purpose of these laws is to help facilitate improvements when all the private parties cannot agree. We have a real opportunity to improve both our water quality and the profitability of agriculture in the process.
I’ll also be working to protect animal owners when there is a charge brought against them that later turns out to be unfounded. Too often animals have already been destroyed and an innocent owner deprived of his property.
Finally, I have become aware that Iowa has money invested in Chinese companies that may not have our best interests in mind. I think we should have discussions about how appropriate that is for our security.
As I think back over this past year, with election fraud, Covid and the government’s reaction to it, I can easily agree with J.R. Tolkien’s Frodo (The Lord of the Rings): “I wish none of this had happened.” I find his friend Gandalf’s response helpful to my focus: “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
May God grant us wisdom and courage “for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14)