DES MOINES — In her first Condition of the State speech, Gov. Kim Reynolds offered a vision of an Iowa “overflowing with opportunity” while also calling for an end to the “destructive force” of sexual harassment.
“It must stop,” Reynolds said, adding praise for women who have found the courage to speak out about the “stain on our culture.” That would seem to include a former staffer to the Republican caucus who won a $1.75 million lawsuit settlement last year that involved claims of sexual harassment. Reynolds once was a part of that caucus.
Sexual harassment is not a partisan issue that can be stopped by legislation, Reynolds said early in her speech to a joint session of the Iowa House and Senate Tuesday morning.
“You cannot legislate kindness or respect or morality,” Reynolds said. “The solution starts with every individual, man or woman,” including elected officials who should serve as role models.
“What we do here matters. Iowans are watching. We can’t change behavior everywhere, but we have an obligation to lead and, as long as I am governor, we’re going to,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds, 58, who became the state’s first female governor in late May when Gov. Terry Branstad resigned to become ambassador to China, laid out an agenda for tax reform that includes ending federal deductibility — tax filers deducting federal taxes paid on their state returns, an initiative to expand broadband access in rural Iowa, a public-private effort to increase the number of Iowans with 21st century workplace skills, a plan to expand mental health services and combat the growing problems of opioid abuse.
Reynolds also maintained her commitment to privatized management of Medicaid, but admitted mistakes have been made in the transition from a state-run program.
Addressing the controversial transition from a state-run Medicaid program to a privatized approach similar to 39 other states, Reynolds said it was “a change that needed to be made” to stem the rising cost of providing health services to more than 600,000 low-income Iowans, many of them children or elderly.
She conceded the projected savings this year of $47 million is far less than estimated when Branstad made the change nearly two years ago. However, Michael Randol, the state Department of Human Services director she hired “has the passion, and — most importantly — the compassion to make this work” and the state’s new Medicaid director has the experience “to get things turned around.”
Randol led Kansas’s privately managed Medicaid program for five years.
On tax reform, Reynolds said reducing rates and ending federal deductibility will make Iowa’s tax code more competitive. Iowa is one of only three states that allow taxpayers to deduct their federal taxes.
“While that might sound like a good thing, right now it’s not,” she said explaining that if Iowans’ federal taxes go down as a result of congressional tax reform, their state taxes will increase. “And it often punishes those who we want to help the most” — working-class families, farmers and small business owners.
But “this is not the year,” to reduce corporate taxes, Reynolds said. She will instead create a bipartisan task force to analyze tax credits.
Reynolds promised to include money in her budget to train every new doctor to identify and treat a patient with a mental health challenge, and asked mental health stakeholders to help create a long-term and sustainable funding structure to establish residential access centers to provide short-term care for Iowans with a mental health crisis.
“Creating a mental health system is complex and it won’t be solved overnight,” she said, “but no parent, child, friend or neighbor should suffer in silence when it comes to mental health.”
She also plans to:
- Increase use of the Prescription Monitoring Program to prevent addicts from getting addictive painkillers from multiple places, enhance intervention for Iowans addicted to opioids, and expand medicated assisted treatment.
- Increase of $54 million in education funding, which is more than $10 million above the current finding level.
- Expand 529 college savings plans to allow the vehicle to be used for K-12 private education to offer “families the option to teach their values, beliefs, and viewpoints to their children.”
- Promote investment and connect rural Iowa by expanding broadband capabilities.
- Partner with the private sector to expand education and training opportunities for Iowa workers who lack necessary skills.