House Speaker Pat Grassley

Iowa Press | Episode
Jan 13, 2023 | 27 min

There are 64 Republicans serving in the Iowa House this year. We'll talk about the GOP agenda with House Speaker Pat Grassley (R-New Hartford) on this edition of Iowa Press.


Kay Henderson There are 64 Republicans serving in the Iowa House this year. We'll talk about the GOP agenda with House Speaker Pat Grassley on this edition of Iowa Press.

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Announcer 1 For decades, Iowa Press has brought you political leaders and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond celebrating 50 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS. This is the Friday, January 13th edition of Iowa Press. From the House chamber in the Iowa capital. Here is Kay Henderson.

Kay Henderson On this edition of Iowa Press. We are coming to you live from the Iowa House of Representatives. It's been quite a week. Governor Kim Reynolds, Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Susan Christiansen. Iowa National Guard. Adjutant General Ben Corell all delivered major speeches from this venue on this weekend's Iowa Press. Our guest is House Speaker Pat Grassley, a Republican from New Hartford.

Kay Henderson Starting your 17th year in the Iowa House and your fourth as House speaker. Welcome back to the program.

Pat Grassley Glad to be with you. And thanks for joining us here in the Capitol.

Kay Henderson Thanks for having us. Also here is Erin Murphy, the Des Moines bureau chief for the Gazette in Cedar Rapids.

Erin Murphy So, Mr. Speaker, Governor Reynolds, in her condition of the state address unveiled her plan for education savings accounts, the financial assistance for students who wish to attend private schools. In Iowa, we've been waiting to hear this, expecting to hear it. Governor Reynolds campaigned on it. Is this bill is this proposal which is new, this year? It's a little different.

Erin Murphy It's a bigger. Is it a slam dunk in your caucus? Is this bill your expectation that it will pass?

Pat Grassley And I think you touched on something that's so important where the dynamic has fundamentally changed since last session. There's been an election has been this issue has been out there. Candidates for the House all across the state were very successful and almost all of them at least campaign is this part of their campaign strategy and their platform moving forward.

Pat Grassley And so the governor, I think, has taken input from Iowans and also from our caucus members. Some of the things that I've been saying that I think is reflected in this proposal that we're seeing, for example, making sure that we can support public education as well as private. This is obviously a huge shift within the state. But I think we can do it in a way where we can support both.

Pat Grassley I think that's why the governor made some changes to when you look at what enrollments look like and headcounts for each schools and maybe leaving some of the money in the school districts, that's a big change. That wasn't in some of the bills last time. So I point to that as an example. Also adding pieces in there that would have really focused on flexibility for school districts and how they fund.

Pat Grassley They have so many funds that are siloed, that have no flexibility. The governor wants to see those being made available, more for teacher salaries, for current and for attracting teachers into the profession and the school districts.

Kay Henderson Well, for people who haven't seen it or read it, let's just briefly discuss some of the details that you've you mentioned there. The governor is proposing educational savings accounts into which for the next school year there would be 70 $600 deposited. That's equal to what the state spends per pupil for students in public K-through-12 schools. And then this 1200 dollars that you mentioned is money that would stay in the public school district representing each student who is enrolled in a private school in that district, correct?

Pat Grassley Yes. So currently under the current. So this is actually a change and I think in a beneficial way to the public school system. Currently that 1200 dollars of some of those categorical funds just goes away if a student leaves for a private education. Under this proposal, they would actually stay within the school district. And so that's a change not only in this bill, but it would actually be a change from current practices, which is one more piece, I think, that makes it attractive because again, the goal is we can have a public and a private education system that are very strong.

Pat Grassley And I think that's just one of the examples, along with the flexibility that has been laid out, trying to make sure that this has a very broad level of support.

Erin Murphy And again, because, Governor, this is the third year Governor Reynolds has presented not this specific proposal, but a school choice proposal. In previous years, your caucus, House Republicans were the group that it couldn't get passed. Are there the votes in House Republicans this year to pass this bill.

Pat Grassley With 24 new members? I don't ever make a prediction, but I think between making a committee where it assures that there will be a vote in the House. The answer to that question at this point in time is I feel confident we'll have the support, but there's going to be a vote in the House. Either way, Iowans are going to get to see where their legislator stands on this issue.

Pat Grassley Part of why we've made some changes in the committee functions or the committee makeups as well to assure that that the process did not stop this from being at least voted on in the House.

Erin Murphy And one of the reasons it didn't pass in previous years was concerns from specifically rural legislators. There was worries in rural school districts about how this would impact their schools. Has that been alleviated in any way with this bill? Does that 1200 dollars that you were just referring to, is that designed to ease those concerns?

Pat Grassley I think there's two fold to that. Number one, that 1200 is a big I mean, that's a new concept completely to this conversation. Hasn't been in any of the other bills. But I think also the flexibility piece allowing school districts to take some of these categorical is like teach leadership, which is a good program for some school districts.

Pat Grassley But in rural Iowa, it may not be the right program to have for some of those school districts. So I think what I've been told in my conversations, I represent a fairly rural district is just give us the ability to compete. I think you're seeing some of those pieces out there and there's gonna be other pieces of legislation to do that as well.

Pat Grassley But in this bill, I think you're seeing some of that flexibility open up for our school districts.

Kay Henderson So in years one and two and the governor's plan, these state funded education savings accounts would be only for people who are lower income in the third year would be for every parent who sends a child to private school. Is that going to fly in the house?

Pat Grassley So I think if we're serious about making this so it's open to all of Iowans, which I think that is what this this conversation has been about. If you watch the governor through the campaign, a lot of our candidates, this this conversation was about affording access to all Iowans when it comes to the issue of choice in education.

Pat Grassley So I think it's while it is broader, I think that's where we are within the conversation. Some people were actually a little they didn't like it. It didn't go far enough as well in some of those conversations last session. So I think it broadens up what the plan looks like and I think fits what has been discussed over the last six months leading into the election now in the session.

Kay Henderson There are 42 counties in Iowa that don't have a private school in their county. What do you say to residents there who say, I don't have access to this, it's not fair?

Pat Grassley Well, I think, first of all, I don't think that there will be negative impacts. I agree that there are some situations where you may not have those choices. But I also think that there may, if this is as successful and as popular as some think that it may be. I think you also may have opportunities. All the schools that exist today, accredited schools aren't the only ones that may exist moving forward.

Pat Grassley We've already seen expansion of current private school systems we have without a program like this. So there may be more of those create being created around around the state from a program like this.

Kay Henderson What should you say to convince a rural Iowan who says in your three, why should I be giving state tax dollars to parents who are wealthy, who are sending their children to Dowling Catholic High School in Des Moines?

Pat Grassley And I think if you look at the budget, former appropriations chair and I'm going to try not to get into the weeds there, but if you look at what we do in the budget, there's a lot of things that we fund within the budget that don't necessarily fit within every single district. But I think the more important pieces we are opening up, giving that opportunity, and that doesn't mean there are some rural counties that have very strong private school systems, too.

Pat Grassley So I don't think it's necessarily just an urban versus rural. And I understand that there may not be as many, but I think as this moves forward, I think you're going to see more opportunities for those things to be happening within these smaller communities. If that need is out there and that one is out there again, at the end of the day, this is all about the parents and what they're looking for in an education for their kids.

Pat Grassley And so maybe there is going to be that need in some of these rural areas that they currently just don't have the ability to make it work right now.

Erin Murphy Governor Reynolds proposal did not include homeschool families. Our House Republicans okay with the bill as it is. Are they going to want to amend that proposal to include homeschool?

Pat Grassley I think right now the governor's really proposed a bill that's very comprehensive nature, but also has assurances that you're dealing with the accredited school systems that currently exist. It fits more of what we've been talking about the last few years. While the bill has changed some of the fundamentals and it they've tried to stay somewhat consistent, it looks like to me that being one of them.

Pat Grassley So I think that at this point in time, I think that that it's going to be looking more like it does right now than maybe those further expansions to that.

Erin Murphy And we talked to Senator Jack Whitford, your colleague on the Senate side, the Senate majority leader there, and he said that he believes that this bill could be passed within a couple of weeks, by the end of this month. Is that a timeline that you're comfortable with?

Pat Grassley You guys know, I don't make predictions, but obviously if there's the support there, this being the number one issue that the governor laid out, we're going to obviously want to move. But in the House, we're going to continue to follow the committee process, follow the all the things that are tied, do with the calendars and things and move.

Pat Grassley But if the if and when the support is there as it moves forward, we're obviously going to want to take action.

Kay Henderson In this venue. On Tuesday night, the governor gave a speech in which she did bring up the abortion issue, and she called on legislators to increase spending on pregnancy resource centers. These are run by non-governmental agencies, entities, rather. And she said that these groups should be able to counsel poor parents on the father's side, including teenagers who are involved in an unwanted pregnancy.

Kay Henderson Is that something that you're going to endorse?

Pat Grassley Yeah, I think that I think that if we're serious about protecting life, that that doesn't just end to birth. So I think that the governor putting that out there is something I think that is something we definitely need to be looking at. You know, we've taken she talked about how we've taken some action last year with the moms program.

Pat Grassley And there's you know, she's had talked about further expansions like you're touching on. So from my perspective, I think that's definitely something that the House should engage in.

Erin Murphy Republican leaders yourself, Senator Lott for Governor Reynolds were very consistent coming into this session, saying that you wish to wait until the Iowa Supreme Court rules on a case that would involve a potential abortion regulation. Law in this state would lower the threshold from 20 weeks to roughly six. You've now had a chance to meet with your new members.

Erin Murphy You said, as you mentioned, there's a lot of new members in the legislature this year. You've had some caucus meetings. Is your caucus willing to wait for that Supreme Court?

Pat Grassley I actually think we're getting some really good feedback. And I think now, granted, there may be bills filed. We all know, I mean, obviously, 150 bill is building. There's going to be bills filed. But I think we're in a really good position within our caucus understanding. And when we're having these conversations, we know that we're going to get one chance to do this the right way, whatever that may look like when we get to that point.

Pat Grassley But let's not get out in front of this court system. I was in a very unique position with the judge that we have right now compared to a lot of other states. So while other states are dealing with this, I was in as a unique position. So and some would say maybe not a good, unique position, but we are in a unique position.

Pat Grassley So when we get the opportunity to act on it, I think we want to know what the court standard is and then move from there.

Kay Henderson One of the things that the Governor did not mention in her speech was taxes. A year ago, she came out and used the speech as the venue to unveil a proposed income tax cut. Does that undercut your effort and other Republicans effort to come up with some sort of property tax reform?

Pat Grassley I don't think so. You you've seen us this week with house file one from in the House will be property tax reform. So I don't think it really undermines that conversation. Obviously, school choice was the driving factor as far as the number one issue, in my opinion, that came from the speech, from what we're trying to work on.

Pat Grassley When it comes to property tax relief is really our bill does a few things that would try to provide relief. But at the same time, we're really trying to change the narrative. Whenever people always ask, Why don't you do more with property tax? It's a very hard and complicated system. Try to change a lot of government entities within the layers.

Pat Grassley What we're really trying to change is certainty for the government taxing authority, the taxing agents, whoever that is, and trying to shift that to the property tax payer. That's what our proposal is really trying to do, is make sure that there's certainty for the taxpayer in the system. And it seems like to me in all of our debates on property tax in the past, that was not what was really the driving factor.

Kay Henderson What about a freeze on property taxes?

Pat Grassley Well, our bill would put a limitation on the assessment growth, which I really think still gives counties, if there's a need to be, to do something, if they can justify that. But under the current system, you have counties that are collecting further revenue without ever increasing the tax rate. And I think that you're hearing from a lot of Iowans and and specifically a lot of Iowans on fixed incomes, especially, that are in a position where they can't afford double digit increases, whether it's R assessment or actual property tax value.

Pat Grassley And so those are the kind of things that we're trying to address yet still provide some level of flexibility, but the certainty has to exist for the taxpayer.

Erin Murphy And you mentioned that part of your plan includes capping assessments, and that was one that local leaders had expressed concern with. Tell us a little bit more. First of all, how long would that what's the timeline on that? And and what is your response to local leaders who say this will hamstring us?

Pat Grassley Well, again, I think. Right. I think the way you just ask the question is the reason why we have never really done enough on property tax is because our first places, we always look at how does this impact government? When I'm meeting with people across the state that's seeing double digit increases and they've made no improvements to their property.

Pat Grassley Our proposal would cabinet 3% growth in your assessment in perpetuity unless you were to make some improvements? I mean, similar the way it is now. So if you improve the property, obviously that changes it. But if you've lived in your home for 30 years and maybe replaced the carpet twice and painted the cabinets, why should you be seeing a 12% increase on your property tax?

Pat Grassley And part of and so what I would say is, yes, I understand that this may not be the way we've always talked about this, but I think we're at a point where we need to start talking about it differently and say, okay, what about that person on a fixed income who can't afford this? Those are the kind of people in this conversation we're really trying to push as the driver versus just the government entity piece in hand.

Erin Murphy I'm going to continue to focus on that because of the folks that I've talked to and the concerns I've heard and I know that you're right that landowners property owners have concerns as well. Representatives for county governments talked about that. What this might do and suggested if we're going to do something that constrains property tax revenue, can the state allow us to find other sources of revenue, especially in services that they provide on behalf of the states like licensing, providing driver's licenses and marriage license, that sort of thing, and titling at the local level.

Erin Murphy Are you open to that discussion?

Pat Grassley Well, I think that as we're having these conversations and and so we're obviously open to all conversations when it comes to the bill that we filed isn't going to be necessarily any of the final products. However, whatever the bill looks like, it will put taxpayers first in the system. And I would say the system we have right now, counties continue to continue to bring in more revenue.

Pat Grassley And a lot of cases are not taking votes to raise revenue through levy rates or any tax increases, which I'm not here to advocate tax increases by any means. But it shouldn't be that a county every year can go to say, look at us. We took in all that. We didn't raise your taxes, yet you have all this new revenue.

Pat Grassley That system doesn't seem to be working the way it should be. An unelected assessor is bringing in more revenue, not a vote of the elected supervisors who can be held accountable.

Kay Henderson One other component of the governor's 2023 legislative agenda is tort reform, placing a $1 million cap on noneconomic damages and medical malpractise lawsuits that was discussed in the House last year but didn't come to four. What has changed?

Pat Grassley Well, I think whenever I'm asked what has changed question the fact that we're at 64 members now, 24 of them being new to our caucus, I think is the obvious one. But you're continuing to see across the state pressure put upon especially our rural health care system and not just rural, but in a lot of our districts are rural and the rural health care system, this being one of the components that we continue to hear from our providers in those areas.

Pat Grassley And I think it's getting the point where to avoid situations where you have these health care deserts, we have to be willing to look at things like this that are a part of that solution. So I think between the election, the new members and just continuing to see the rise in these these claims coming towards individuals after health care providers as well as the access to health care, I think all of those are kind of creating a perfect storm.

Kay Henderson The hospital and Keokuk closed in 2022, and the governor made a proposal about trying to figure out how to encourage OB-GYNs in rural Iowa, how do you address the real dire shortage of delivery services in rural Iowa?

Pat Grassley Well, actually, one of our bills that we filed this week would address the situation that happened down in southeastern Iowa, making sure that because they have an emergency room, that they're at least as some access of care with the higher reimbursement rates. But some of the things that we've been really focusing on is the provider side. I think too often we get caught up just in the dollars and cents, which obviously that's important.

Pat Grassley But if we don't have OB-GYNs, if we don't have psychiatrist, if we don't have these professionals, nurses, all these things in these fields, we can have all the facilities we want, but we have to have the people to provide the services. So in a lot of these instances, we've been really focusing on that side, trying to get these people out into the state.

Pat Grassley And quite frankly, a lot of the a lot of them into rural Iowa as well, to see if you get them there, they do their residency there, then hopefully they would stay in a setting like that.

Erin Murphy The House Republicans this week unveiled their top legislative priorities, the first bills filed. You mentioned the property tax one a couple of them in there deal with K-12 education policy and specifically dealing with LGBTQ students. And we wanted to ask you about both of those. The first one prohibits the instruction of sexual orientation, gender identity, other similar things in K through three students up to third grade.

Erin Murphy Critics of bills similar to this. In other states, it's become known as the don't say gay bill. They say that it has the maybe unintended consequence of of stopping educators from talking about these issues at all in the classroom. What's your response to those?

Pat Grassley So on the bills that we filed this week, and I think you've seen this, I mean, it goes to it goes to school choice. It goes back to the last several years of the policies that we've been focused focusing on as a caucus are going to put parents in the driver's seat. I think two of the bills that were filed this week, as far as part of our priorities, they do that and that's what we're trying to encourage with this.

Pat Grassley We believe whether it's gender identity or these policies you're talking about in the case of three. Those are the kind of conversations that need to be having, have that need to be happening among students and parents. The public school system is not the place for this to be happening. It needs to be about empowering the parents. And that's really what we're doing with a lot of these policies.

Erin Murphy So so when we hear that and then the other bill is parents would be known would be required to be notified if a student wants to be referred to as a different gender, their gender identification. And Governor Reynolds says often parents along the lines of what you just said, parents are the first person, the best person to know how to handle their children.

Erin Murphy The reality, though, is there are maybe rare occasions, but real and unfortunate, rare occasions where parents don't handle this kinds of news well from their children. And that's why educators try to create safe spaces in their schools for young children to talk about these things with them and not have to worry about it getting back home to where it may put them in danger.

Erin Murphy We know that data shows that suicide rates are higher in these types of students. What about the concerns of those people that this they in a very real way could put some LGBTQ students in danger?

Pat Grassley I don't think our caucus our caucus is going to always take the position that government isn't necessarily the solution and the answer for a situation like this. As I was listening to your question, I'm thinking to myself, we cannot look to the school system to be the one that is the one providing these types of supports. These have to happen through whatever level of support and families, family supports that these people are going to have.

Pat Grassley I just our caucus is not going to be in a position where we're going to be able to say, let's turn to government to be the solution here.

Erin Murphy What would you say? Government. But we're talking about teachers, right? I mean, what's wrong with a teacher providing a safe space for for an average student?

Pat Grassley I can tell you right now, when it's being somebody that has kids in their elementary age, that doesn't one of them that would apply to this bill that we have, but not in there. I would not feel comfortable with that being the place in which they should feel the most level of comfort, or they should feel that that's the place that where they should go to have that level of support.

Pat Grassley I think that I will just tell you in my conversations within my district, that is not the message that we're receiving. And I think that's happening a lot of members of our caucus.

Kay Henderson There has been discussion in the past two years about alternative ways to license teachers. Will House Republicans pass one of those proposals in 2023?

Pat Grassley So right now we've tied, though we've tied them together because we think there's multiple ways in which you can go about this more of a traditional route through continuing your education. Remember, these are people that are going to have a level of that are going to be in these professions that maybe have decided they want to enter the classroom.

Pat Grassley And so there's going to be a bill I'm hoping that we can keep together where there's two pieces more of a traditional pathway, but a less traditional pathway. The objective being we hear all across the state, whether it's substitute teaching or full time teachers, that there is this need that continues to grow, not just in rural areas, even though it's we continue to point to, but all across the state where there is this need.

Pat Grassley So I think, again, a lot of the conversations we're going to have are going to be about trying different ways of doing things. Those teacher license licensure pieces would fall into that category.

Erin Murphy You have talked about funding for regions, universities and wanting to target some of that funding specifically for majors that put students on pathways to high demand jobs. That's the pushback that you sometimes hear from that is more broader. General education funding would be better. So so universities can guide their students to any degree that they choose. Why is your approach?

Erin Murphy Do you feel the way to go?

Pat Grassley Well, I think we're to a point in the state where I don't and I'm assuming most legislators do not go to a meeting in which with anyone that runs a business, employs anyone that does not talk about workforce, it happens at every single meeting I go to. And I think we're to the point where we, the community colleges, do a great job with with work training, partnering with businesses.

Pat Grassley But why should we not have the regions be part of that solution as well? They provide a lot of high quality products that that meet a lot of these demands, that these aren't professions and careers that legislatures saying we think it's these these are the ones that workforce development has identifying that exist at all of the schools. And we think if the taxpayers are going to be putting the kind of money we put into higher education, that we should have an expectation for them to be a partner in this solving this workforce situation that we find ourselves in the state.

Pat Grassley And honestly, it leads. It'll end. A lot of these careers are the ones that pay back higher. So you can in a lot of cases and hopefully with these scholarships graduate with much less debt and if you have it, pay it back much quicker. So I think it actually benefits the student as well and creates more competition for these schools to use these programs to say, hey, come, come to you and I come to Iowa, come to Iowa State.

Pat Grassley We provide this. We have a scholarship that the legislature is offering. And on top of that, we're also providing a piece of it that would incentivize them to stay in Iowa after they were to graduate, which is another piece of that conversation.

Kay Henderson We have about a minute left. Let's talk about the overall budget. It appears that there's a $2 billion surplus that's only going to grow larger. Why hang on to that money?

Pat Grassley Well, I think that you're going to again, it doesn't take much of it. It doesn't take much of the revenue estimate to change, to obviously take some of that revenue out of the state's coffers. Also, in some of the money we're talking about, we've committed to make sure that the tax cuts are going to work. We continue to fund things that the priorities, but also for us moving forward, there's there's going to be other priorities.

Pat Grassley Like I said, school choice is something we know we're going to have to invest further dollars into. But also, we've always been very prudent to make sure whatever commitments we make we can fully fund. So we don't want to spend right up to the edge. If there was to be a change in the economy or something that all of a sudden we're in a position where we can't fully fund them and it puts you know, it puts things like property tax reform on the table.

Pat Grassley When you do property tax reform, it's a dollar for dollar cost offset. And so it keeps ideas like that on the table by giving yourself flexibility.

Kay Henderson Well, I don't have any more flexibility because we are out of time. Thank you for joining us again on this edition of Iowa Press.

Pat Grassley Thank you, guys.

Kay Henderson As I mentioned earlier, it has been a big week in the Iowa House of Representatives. A lot of speeches were delivered here and you can watch them online at Iowa as well as the governor's inauguration happening on Friday morning for everyone here at Iowa PBS. Thanks for watching.

Announcer 1 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. Small businesses are the backbone of Iowa's communities, and they are backed by Iowa banks with advice, loans and financial services. Banks across Iowa are committed to showing small businesses the way to a stronger tomorrow.

Announcer 1 Learn more at Iowa bankers dot com.