Governor Kim Reynolds (2019-02-08)

Feb 8, 2019  | 27 min  | Ep 4624 | Podcast | Transcript



The 2019 Iowa legislative session began nearly a month ago and key bills may sail through to the Governor's desk. But where does Governor Kim Reynolds stand on these issues? The Governor joins us on this edition of Iowa Press.


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For decades Iowa Press has brought you politicians and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Now celebrating more than 40 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS, this is the Friday, February 8 edition of Iowa Press. Here is David Yepsen.  


Yepsen: When Iowa republicans earned a conservative trifecta in the 2016 elections they made quick work of longtime party agenda items during the 2017 legislative session. Some bills sailed through republican-controlled chambers to then Governor Terry Branstad's desk in less than 10 days. Now, in 2019, republicans still control the House, the Senate and the Governorship, with Governor Kim Reynolds just beginning her first full term in office and already multiple issues seem poised to make their way to her desk with comparable speed. Joining us to discuss the session is Governor Reynolds. Governor, welcome back to Iowa Press. Good to have you again.

Reynolds: It's a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.

Yepsen: Also joining the conversation are Iowa reporters James Lynch, Political Writer for the Gazette and Kay Henderson is News Director for Radio Iowa.

Henderson: Governor, most every Iowan has a cell phone, even the kids. There is a bill working its way through the legislature that would require hands-free driving. Is that something you support?

Reynolds: Well, I would take a look at it. I was actually in the legislature when we took the first step to make it a secondary offense, texting while driving, and we took the next step I think last year or the year before. So that's something that I would definitely be willing to take a look at. As I always say, I'd like to see it in its final form before I weigh in. But anybody that drives down 235 or the Interstate we see people on their phone and it's extremely dangerous and we want to do everything we can to reduce the number of road fatalities and that seems like a practical thing to do.

Henderson: It seems as if they're talking about even taking away someone's driver's license for a time if they're involved in a serious accident.

Reynolds: I mean, I'd have to take a look at it, Kay, But that's, again, part of the process and this will give Iowans an opportunity to weigh in. But it is a distraction, it is dangerous, we want to do everything that we can to reduce the number of road fatalities and that seems like not an unreasonable thing to expect.

Yepsen: James?

Lynch: This week the State Appeal Board approved more than $4 million in settlement for some Iowa Finance Authority employees who said they were sexually harassed by the director you appointed. And the question comes up, should taxpayers be on the hook for those settlements, paying out settlements of $4 million for bad behavior?

Reynolds: Well, it's a complicated legal process and there's a lot of things that go into whether they can or should be held accountable. I'm not a lawyer, that's why we have Attorney General Miller and the AG's Office representing us on this issue. So we'll be consulting with them when the settlement is finalized. But, you know, I understand Iowans' frustration. It is not unreasonable I think that we should hold those back actors accountable. But sometimes it's just not that simple, there are reasons you can or shouldn't or can't and that's why we have representation and we'll defer to what they recommend.

Yepsen: Is there some way, Governor, you could have the state pay it as you described but then have a claw back provision where the state can go after the bad actors to get some of this money back?

Reynolds: Well, again, it sounds simple and that sounds reasonable but that's just not always the case. And I'm not a lawyer. So that's why you bring in the legal expertise to represent you and I'm proud to have Attorney General Miller representing us, the state, in this case. And we've asked the IFA board to pay back the general fund. I thought actually in doing that, that would be a way to minimize the impact on the general fund that we use to pay for education and Medicaid and law enforcement. And so that was a step that we took to try to minimize that. But, again, we'll let the, the legal team will decide what and how we can move forward on that.

Lynch: Would you support legislation, Governor, to make it easier to claw back those settlements?

Reynolds: I'm not going to speculate on legislation. Again, there's reasons that they do that. I'm not a lawyer, I don't know what they're looking at. That's why we hire the expertise that we do and I feel confident in my representation that I have.

Henderson: Earlier this week you expressed support for an amendment to Iowa's Constitution that would make it clear the Constitution doesn't convey abortion rights or secure funding for organizations like Planned Parenthood that perform abortions. Do you think Iowans would pass that if it's on the ballot?

Reynolds: Well, I don't know. That's the whole purpose of going through that process. But let's just say I continue to be appalled by what I see playing out across this country. When you see what is happening in New York and Virginia and other states are looking at late-term abortion, aborting a baby that is in the birth canal, infanticide after a baby is born, talking about potentially murdering it, that is unconscionable, it's evil and I think that is what is driving some of the response that you're seeing. I am pro-life. I'm a mom of three. I'm a grandmother of ten babies. And I think it's just unconscionable that we even as a society today are entertaining and talking about aborting babies in the third trimester. And so this is a step that we can put that in front of Iowans. But I'm never going to stop fighting for the unborn.

Yepsen: You could lose, excuse me, you could lose that referendum.

Reynolds: Well, but here's the deal, we'll go out and make the case. I don't think it's unreasonable the position that we put in place. Four of my ten grandchildren went to the NICU when they were born and as you're waiting for the doctors to tell you where they're at or what they're dealing with you walk the halls and there's picture after picture after picture of babies that were born weighing one pound that today are vibrant and healthy and having an amazing life. And so I think with technology and innovation that we have it is a reflection of the conversation that is taking place across this country and it is a reaction to the appalling things, the callousness in saying we're going to keep it comfortable, we're going to keep that baby comfortable while we decide if we end its life or not.

Yepsen: James?

Lynch: We hear from republicans that some of them went as far as they were comfortable going, perhaps even further with supporting the fetal heartbeat bill a year ago. The personhood bill hasn't really moved in the legislature either. Do you think there is support to get this constitutional amendment on the ballot?

Reynolds: Well, I don't know. It will go through the legislative process like it always does. And so it looks like there's a significant number of Senators that are supporting it. We'll see what happens in the House. But that's just part of the legislative process.

Yepsen: So you don't have a head count for what is in the House?

Reynolds: No, that's not my place. I really don't even have a role in this. I'm pro-life. I will never stop fighting on behalf of the unborn. When asked if this is something that I would support, I don't sign off on this, this has to pass two general assemblies and then go to the vote of the people.

Lynch: Is this potentially harmful to the GOP if it's on the ballot in four years, I guess, make it harder for republicans to run for re-election and run for office?

Reynolds: I think it's appalling that discussions that are taking place in this country today. When we talk about aborting a baby in the third trimester, ending a life after it's born, those kinds of conversations I don't believe the majority of Americans believe in. And so we'll see what happens and where this ends up.

Yepsen: Kay?

Henderson: Legislators are considering changes to the Judicial Nominating Commission makeup. Are you unhappy with the judges that have been forwarded to you from the existing makeup of the commission?

Reynolds: Well, I think we want to just make sure that this is a fair process and that all Iowans are represented. When we elect a Governor it is elected by the majority of Iowans. When we elect legislators they are elected by the majority of Iowans that represent their district. But right now the Judicial Nominating Commission, half of them members are made up of unelected and unaccountable lawyers. And so there is about 7,500 members of the Bar that are deciding what half of the commission should look like. And then in addition to that the chair, which could be the majority vote, is the Senior Judge. And they have kind of just an overwhelming, I don't know, oversight of the lawyers that are on the board because they potentially could practice in front of them. I'll give you an example. So right now it's about the best that it could be when you look at the existing setup. So I pick eight and then the lawyers from the Bar pick the other eight and then we have the Senior Judge that represents the final vote. So it's about as good as it could get right now. But if you go back to 2011 where we had nine judges, nine nominations sent to then Governor Branstad to fill the three Supreme Court Justices that had not been retained, so we had very qualified women that had submitted their names to be considered, women that served on the Court of Appeals and women that served as district court judges. Yet the only woman nominee that Governor Branstad received was a liberal law professor that had never practiced law in the state of Iowa and hadn't become a member of the Bar until the day that she was interviewed. And yet we had women that served on the Court of Appeals, we had women that were serving as district court judges that maybe had more of a conservative judicial philosophy that never made it through. That seems not just based on merit but seems political.

Yepsen: Are rural Iowans at a disadvantage in this? I've heard some complain that --

Reynolds: I have said that also, the process, because it's really hard. They have to get a certain number of signatures, I believe it's 50, I'm not a hundred percent sure on the number. And you can't have one person sign two forms. And so if you're practicing law in a small rural town it's really hard to get the number of signatures that you need to be considered to be a part of the commission.

Yepsen: And presumably a lawyer in Des Moines or Cedar Rapids would have --

Reynolds: Yes, would just have access to, yeah.

Yepsen: James?

Lynch: Based on voter registration the current commissions are about two-thirds republicans, one-third either democrats or no party. So what is the problem you're trying to fix here? It sounds like --

Reynolds: It's about as good as it gets and we want to make sure that all Iowans are represented, not just like a special interest group or the legal, the lawyers, they are the ones that are about 7,500 Iowans that are members of the Bar are selecting the individuals that will represent them on the commission. And they're not elected by the public. And I think this is an opportunity to make sure that we're taking all Iowans into account. And if you’re elected then I would think the people that you're nominating would reflect the majority of the individuals that elect you. And it also makes sure that the minority voice is heard as well. So from the bill, half, or four, would be selected by majority leadership and four would be selected by the minority leadership. And so that still maintains that the minority has a voice in the process.

Yepsen: Governor, we have way too many questions.

Lynch: I was just going to ask, why has this come up now? Why wasn't this a campaign issue for you?

Reynolds: Well, you don't talk about everything. I talked about continuing to move Iowa in the right direction. I talked about building on the success that we've seen.

Lynch: But you didn't talk about changing the judicial nominating process.

Reynolds: Well, no, but I can't foresee every single legislative thing that's going to come up.

Lynch: So this isn't your priority.

Reynolds: No, but I support taking a look at it. I support modernizing the system. I support making sure that they are accountable to the public. And we have an opportunity to make sure that we have a system in place -- it's not always going to be a republican sitting in the Governor's chair and I think this will really take into account that balance that we're looking for.

Yepsen: On another subject, something you did campaign on was to improve mental health services in Iowa. Where are we? How soon before centers open? How soon before we start seeing some results? Everybody seems to be wanting to do something about mental health in Iowa.

Reynolds: We're making really good progress. I'm glad that bill passed unanimously last year, especially in a very divisive political environment that we often find ourselves in.

Yepsen: But are we going to see centers opening?

Reynolds: You are already seeing centers, they're already moving in that direction. We want to make sure and I said when we were running that we can sustain and fund the policy that we passed last year. I talked about that in the Condition of the State. It is happening. You're going to see probably two or three access centers hopefully launch this year. It takes time. We're going to see what used to be core plus services now become the services that all Iowans can expect to receive. But one of the things I'm really proud about, when we talk about barriers is there is no children's mental health system. And if the bill doesn't drop this week it will be dropping next week that will create the structure and governance of a children's mental health system that will align with the adult mental health system and that's critically important because the sooner that we identify children that are struggling with mental illness the sooner we can get them the help that we need and help them be healthy and happy and have every opportunity to have a quality of life here in Iowa. And I believe, again, this is an opportunity for all parties to work together, all legislators to get this passed.

Lynch: How are you going to pay for this? It's going to be expensive to open centers, deliver these services. Is there a plan?

Reynolds: For the adult?

Lynch: For both.

Reynolds: Well, yes there is, and there will be and that is part of what I tasked the board with. I created the Mental Health Children's Board through an executive order. I asked them to talk about what the structure and governance would look like and then how we would sustain it moving forward. With the adult mental health system we have the regions that are in place, they have fund balances. I have asked the legislature to remove the spend down requirements that they implemented a couple of years ago. I've asked them to increase the carryover balances so that they can be thoughtful about how they implement the initiatives that were in the bill. I put an additional $11 million into the budget over the next two years that will help pay for that. And we need to continue to look for other options. But that will go a long ways.

Lynch: One of the ideas that we keep hearing legislators talk about is some sort of a grand bargain where they'll raise the sales tax to fund conservation, use some of it for mental health and some for property tax relief or income tax relief. Is this part of the mix for you?

Reynolds: It can be. I'm not ruling it out. I'm open to different suggestions. I know there's other ideas that are being looked at as well.

Lynch: Is there any part of that, that you support?

Reynolds: Well, no, I'm not going to take anything off the table. In my Condition of the State I laid out three things that they could do that in the interim would be very helpful. ISAC supports it. If you look at the people that the stakeholders that are involved with the mental health system they support it. But then we also, it's going to eventually take more and that's what we're discussing right now.

Henderson: You said this week that you will not comment on the sports betting debate that's going on in the legislature, not show your hand, if you will. How will legislators know if they've gone too far? Or do you plan to sign any bill they send you on this subject?

Reynolds: Well no, I have to see what it looks like in its final form. I said to you at the press conference the other day, I said I believe it needs to be regulated. People are participating in this and it's better if they're doing it that it be regulated. But there's a lot of issues right now with the wire act and where we're at with that, we have to see how that plays out. There's different ideas on who should be running it or who should be in charge of it. So this is what the legislative process is for. You brought up something that we'll see.

Henderson: The thing I brought up was are you comfortable with people attending a game of Iowa/Iowa State/UNI game and on their cell phone betting on the game they're watching?

Reynolds: Yeah, we need to talk about that. That's something that needs to go through, I wasn’t even aware of that to be honest. I'm working on other things while the legislature is bouncing back and forth. They had a very robust subcommittee meetings. I know that they're really trying to be purposeful about bringing all stakeholders together. We've also tried to meet with all stakeholders and just give them the opportunity to update me and our office so we kind of understand what the parameters are.

Yepsen: Governor, I told you we have way too many questions. Another one, Medicaid. Should there be a work requirement to people to collect Medicaid benefits?

Reynolds: So, when I get asked that question I'm really proud of the Future Ready Iowa Initiative which really works with Iowans to help get them the skill to help and then match them up with the jobs that are available. I was on the road last week and it's just incredible every time I get out in the state the growth that these businesses are experiencing and the projected significant growth going forward. So I want to try to use a carrot and get it done. But the bottom line is we really cannot afford to pay people who are able-bodied adults, who do not have any dependents, to stay home. But maybe a piece of that, if it goes that direction, is to say then they have to participate in the Future Ready Iowa Initiative, which is investing in them, which is helping them get the skills and which will help match them up with a job. So that, it could be a part of it. I'm trying to do the carrot approach. I want to work with people who are struggling to find work or who are working two or three jobs. There are a ton of jobs out there, these are great jobs, they have benefits and it is the biggest barrier to economic growth that we have in our state and every other state across this country, by the way, we're not unique.

Lynch: Governor, your Workforce Development Department has proposed that unemployed workers would have to wait, their first week benefit would be delayed until they have been unemployed for 26 weeks. Why should an unemployed worker have to wait 26 weeks to get their first week of benefits?

Reynolds: There was some issue with the timing involved and when it kicks in. And so, again, I think this is an opportunity for that to work its way through the legislature and see --

Lynch: Don't they need their benefits as soon as possible, not after six months?

Reynolds: Well, James, I can't remember the exact reasoning behind that. I know this is something that a lot of the businesses that have asked for, we want to make sure we're taking care of individuals. And so we'll see how this plays through the legislature and see where it ends up.

Henderson: Last fall you said that you hoped that the legislature passed a bill that would let women get birth control over the counter. Are you making a proposal to legislators? I know some legislators are reluctant from your own party.

Reynolds: Well, I think that bill should maybe drop today. So we're really close. We had a couple of, I think there was a couple of last minute tweaks. So, Kay, if it doesn't drop today it will first of next week. That's the same with that, the contraceptive bill, as well as the children's mental health piece of legislation, should both if they don't drop today should drop at the beginning of next week.

Henderson: So do you envision women going to a pharmacist and showing an ID to get this in the same manner that you do when you're buying the best cold medicine that has the bad stuff in it?

Reynolds: Yeah, so there is an age limit, I think you have to be 18 or older. There is an assessment form that you have to fill out. You're required to visit a doctor every two years so you can get the prescription --

Yepsen: Excuse me, this wouldn't be a prescription then would it?

Reynolds: No, the way that we're doing it is similar to what we did with Naloxone. So it would be a standing order that would give the pharmacist the authority to prescribe. It's limited to the number but it's what the majority use. And so I think it's a really good place to start. We really based a lot of it off of the Utah bill and it actually passed in Utah with unanimous support. So in just a couple of areas where they have ran into some barriers we have tried to get in front of that and address it in the bill. So it's a good place to start. I think any time you drop legislation it doesn't mean you know that's potentially not where it will end up. But we've tried really hard to identify any problems that we might run into and we're going to be supporting it.

Lynch: It took almost 90 days to settle the outcome of a House race up in Northeast Iowa before the republican-controlled House seated the republican candidate. You have said you think the law is clear. But this problem suggests otherwise. And one of the things we learned is that in that district three different counties counted the ballots in three different ways. Shouldn't ballots be counted the same regardless of where you live in Iowa, standard, uniform? I think isn't that what people expect?

Reynolds: Well, I could encourage the legislature to take a look at it and see if there are ways to clarify. I think they felt this was the intent of the legislation and that they had filed the law. But if it's still unclear or there's ways that we can clarify that then the legislative process is the way to make that happen.

Yepsen: Since we're on politics, President Trump, job disapproval rating pretty high. There's a lot of pain in the farm community, farm bankruptcies are going up. How concerned are you as leader of your party that President Trump could be a liability in the 2020 elections?

Reynolds: Well, I'm proud of what is happening -- there's always areas that we're going to be working on and trade is one of them. But they've accepted some additional trades, we're working with the EU, we just had  them recognize soy as a potential for renewable fuel moving forward. KORUS has been renegotiated. We need Congress immediately not to play politics and ratify the USMCA. That is critical to Iowa so I'm counting on our congressional delegation to get out there and fight. But we have an economy that is growing, we have more Iowans working than at any other time in our history. As I talk to business and industry, I spend a lot of time out, I'm not just making it up, they've had five years of growth, many of them in the last three years have seen double digit growth. We have more women working today than ever before.

Yepsen: Farmers are hurting.

Reynolds: Well, but talk to them. I reached out again, I continue to reach out to our ag community, I keep in close contact. This will be a tough year if we don't get something done. Because we've had great yields that has been able to get us through some really tough times. But they also recognize we are making progress, we're opening up new markets. We should never stop doing that. We need to get something done with China. They put a pause on it to March so hopefully that means we're moving in the right direction.

Yepsen: Less than a minute, Kay.

Henderson: Iowa republicans will have a caucus on February 3, 2020. People have talked about Maryland Governor Larry Hogan challenging President Trump. Has Mr. Hogan talked to you?

Reynolds: No.

Henderson: Do you think that's a good idea?

Reynolds: Well, I'm going to support the President. He is the President so I'm going to support our President. And I haven't had anybody reach out to me.

Henderson: Do you think challengers are welcome here?

Reynolds: Well that's, hey, it's the Iowa Caucus. That's not for me to decide. You ask me who I would be supporting or if they reached out to me and Governor Hogan has not.

Yepsen: Governor, we're out of time.

Reynolds: Oh, that went so fast.

Yepsen: It always does. We've got a lot more questions. We'll have you back soon I hope.

Reynolds: Deal.

Yepsen: Thanks for being with us.

Reynolds: Thank you.

Yepsen: And thank you for joining us. We'll be back with another edition of Iowa Press next week at our regular times when we'll dive further into the issues surrounding proposed changes in the way Iowa picks judges. That's next week on Iowa Press. For all of us here at Iowa PBS, I'm David Yepsen. Thanks for joining us today.



Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are, there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks.

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