2022 Opening Day Speech by Senate Democratic Leader Zach Wahls

        Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen of the Senate, staff, members of the press, members of the public, and everyone watching at home, welcome to the 2022 legislative session.          Our session should be laser-focused on the Reynolds Workforce Crisis. All of us see and are overwhelmed by the ‘Help ...

        Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen of the Senate, staff, members of the press, members of the public, and everyone watching at home, welcome to the 2022 legislative session.

         Our session should be laser-focused on the Reynolds Workforce Crisis. All of us see and are overwhelmed by the ‘Help Wanted’ signs we see in our districts — the reduced hours, the limited service, and even shuttered businesses. In my district, businesses in towns like Tipton, suburban communities like Coralville, and big cities like Iowa City, are all struggling because of the Reynolds Workforce Crisis. In countless meetings, business and community leaders bring up workforce as not just their top priority, but as priorities one, two, three, four, and five. The good news is that we all agree — Democrats and Republicans alike — that workforce is the most important issue facing our state.      

         Let’s start with the facts: Today, on January 10, 2022, there are fewer Iowans in the workforce than there were a decade ago. At the same time, nationally, there are nearly ten million more Americans who have entered the workforce nationwide. We all know there is a labor shortage in America – but the problem is significantly worse in Iowa. Why is that? As Republican leaders gladly tell us, they have been in full control of our state government since 2017. And Republicans are now promising us more of the same — that hasn’t worked. We’ve been told it will be more of the GOP Greatest Hits this session: more attacks on LGBTQ Iowans, more gasoline on the culture war fire, and more attacks on the first amendment. Just last week, Senate Republicans announced they are banning members of the media from the floor of the Senate chamber – continuing Republican attacks on the First Amendment from last year.

         If Republican proposals worked, talented, younger Americans would be flocking to live and work in Iowa, and our population would be growing across the state. Is this happening? We all know the answer. Governor Reynolds and Iowa Republicans have not made Iowa a place where more people want to live, work, raise a family, or start a business. And now — Republicans want to double down on the same policies that have already brought devastating consequences to Iowa. The facts are clear: Iowa is on the wrong track. And we’re seeing these impacts in our schools, in our health care system, and especially in our rural communities.

         In our schools, just last week, students in Davenport couldn’t get to school because there weren’t enough bus drivers. In Mason City – and in other districts across the state – schools are increasing class sizes because they don’t have enough teachers and substitutes to cover their classes. Every week there is a new story about a school that unexpectedly closed because they didn’t have enough staff.

         The Reynolds Workforce Crisis is contributing directly to the crisis we’re seeing in our public education, which is creating massive uncertainty for Iowa students and parents. Across Iowa, the coronavirus has disrupted learning – both in-person learning and virtual learning – and we know both students and parents have experienced unprecedented, untold stress. Iowa’s education crisis isn’t happening because of critical race theory or books Republicans are trying to ban — it’s happening because of the extreme, anti-public education policies enacted by Governor Reynolds and this Republican legislature that are driving teachers out of Iowa. It’s happening because Iowa Republicans do not value the work of our hardworking public educators. Iowa’s public-school teachers are underpaid, underappreciated, forced to work in unsafe conditions and because of Republican attacks on collective bargaining, they are unable to negotiate over workplace safety. Governor Reynolds turned down $95 million in federal funds to make our schools safer for teachers, staff, and students. Why? This decision is inexplicable. It shouldn’t be a surprise that we are struggling to find enough teachers to teach our kids – Republican policies are driving teachers out of Iowa.

         The Reynolds Workforce Crisis is also severely impacting Iowa’s health care system. Our hospitals and ICUs are filled to the brink with COVID patients, over 80% of whom are unvaccinated. Iowans are still

getting sick, and Iowans are still dying from COVID. To keep our schools and economy open, and to protect our health care system, we need every Iowan to get fully vaccinated. That’s how we’ll defeat COVID once and for all and finally get back to normal. Until then, we will continue to see too many stories like that of Dale Weeks, a retired superintendent from Seymour, who died of a non-COVID disease that would have been treatable if there had been an open bed for him a major medical center — but there wasn’t. As his daughter told the Des Moines Register quote “It’s infuriating that people who are not vaccinated are clogging it up,” end-quote. Our state failed Dale Weeks, after Dale spent his life serving our state. But COVID is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the crisis in our health care system.

         Because of the Reynolds Workforce Crisis, Iowans are paying more for lower quality health care. The Reynolds Workforce Crisis — and as a recent report demonstrated, the privatization of Medicaid — are both driving up health care costs for all Iowans. And yet, Republicans have no plan to reverse course on Managed Care. Hopefully, Governor Reynolds will include health care workers in her forthcoming workforce plan.

         And as challenging as these struggles are in urban Iowa, we all know that our small town and rural communities are bearing the brunt of this crisis. The numbers speak for themselves. 2020 census data showed that two-thirds of Iowa counties lost population from 2010 to 2020. Rural Iowans are currently dying at a rate twice as fast as Iowans living in urban areas. Too few rural Iowans don’t have access to basic necessities like clean drinking water and reliable Internet access. Thankfully, President Biden and Representative Axne passed the American Rescue Plan and the historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, which have allowed our state to invest

over $500 million in rural broadband. But President Biden’s leadership may not be enough to overcome the Reynolds Workforce Crisis and the Republican policies that are hollowing out rural Iowa.

         Senate Democrats are focused on recruiting more Iowans, younger Iowans, and better-paid Iowans to our state.

·      We believe Iowa needs to end the divisive culture wars that pit Iowans against Iowans and instead bring our state together.

·        We need to make Iowa an inclusive and welcoming place to get our state growing again.

·      We need comprehensive tax reform that closes loopholes and attracts new investment instead of alienating new employers.

·      We need to expand apprenticeships, career training, and technical education by investing in our higher education system.

·        Fully fund our public schools so our students attend the best public schools in the country instead of trying to privatize and consolidate Iowa schools with a vouchers program that uses public dollars for private schools.

·      Stop talking about making childcare more affordable throughout Iowa and pass overdue legislation to fix Iowa’s broken childcare system and guarantee access to free, universal Pre-K programs.

·        Invest in more affordable housing and help more Iowans become homeowners and finally fix Iowa’s broken laws affecting Iowans who own and live in manufactured homes.

Senate Democrats are guided by Iowa values. We believe hard work deserves fair pay, every Iowan deserves to be treated fairly, and we all do better when we all do better. We believe every Iowan wants their family to be happy, safe, healthy, and nearby. That’s what Democrats are fighting for. We need to bring economic opportunity back to every corner of the state – from our big cities to small towns, our suburban communities to our rural farms.

         Democrats are ready and eager to find bipartisan solutions to the problems Iowans face. Let’s stop pouring gasoline on the divisive culture war and focus on getting our state back to work. Let’s work together for our neighbors, our communities, and the future of our great state. Let’s improve the lives of Iowans and get Iowa back on the right track.

         Thank you, Mr. President.