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2021 Iowa Legislature: Republicans maintain control, top priorities and what happened last session

The 2020 legislative session ended abruptly due to COVID-19, but resumed nearly three months later. Here's what both parties hope to accomplish in 2021.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa's 89th General Assembly will begin the 2021 legislative session on Monday, Jan. 11 with both Democrats and Republicans ready to start on their priorities for the year.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to be top of mind, but lawmakers, their staff and the general public won't be required to wear face masks while inside the Capitol. 

What happened in the 2020 session? 

The 2020 legislative session ended abruptly due to the pandemic before lawmakers were able to accomplish much. 

The Capitol began screening everyone's health before entering the building. Ultimately, the session was suspended on April 9 through April 30.

Session reconvened on June 3, and lawmakers hit the ground running by passing a budget totaling around $7.8 billion. Democrats argued the budget didn't support the health care infrastructure the state needs. 

RELATED: The Iowa Legislature takes COVID-19 precautions, how to protect your mental health during a pandemic

RELATED: State lawmakers negotiating budget for upcoming fiscal year

Republicans passed protections for companies and health care facilities from novel coronavirus lawsuits, limiting who can file civil suits and raising the bar for what makes a business liable in virus exposure. 

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill that requires a 24-hour wait period for an abortion after a woman visits her physician on June 29, which is on hold pending a lawsuit filed in state court.

A similar law was struck down in 2018. 

Some bipartisan issues made their way through both chambers, including racial justice reforms following George Floyd protests throughout the country. 

RELATED: Senate committee passes resolution regarding felon voting rights in Iowa

Legislators considered a constitutional amendment for felon voting rights, but before much could come of it, Reynolds signed an Executive Order on the issue.

Another piece of legislation that passed with bipartisan support was the animal cruelty law. Lawmakers debated over the law for years. 

The new law expands penalties for hurting companion animals but doesn't impact livestock. 

Republicans expand majority in both statehouse chambers

The Republican trifecta will remain intact for the 2021 legislative session.

Democrats had the potential to flip the House in their favor but ultimately came up short on Election Day

Republicans expanded their majority in the House to 59-41 and have 33 of 50 spots in the Senate. 

RELATED: Republicans expand majority in Iowa Legislature

What's on tap for 2021 session?

Reynolds spoke with reporters at the Capitol Thursday afternoon, where she said she is going to pause her Invest in Iowa initiative

"We won't be proposing that again this year. But we'll always continue to work with the Legislature," Reynolds said. "And we are always looking for ways that we can help hardworking Iowans keep more of their hard-earned money."

The governor will give her Condition of the State address next Tuesday, Jan. 12 at 6 p.m.

Monday's first order of business will likely focus on recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Both Democrats and Republicans agree the economy needs to be put first. 

Speaker of the Iowa House Pat Grassley, R- New Hartford, said there has been talk of providing relief to small businesses, but he doesn't know to what extent.

"Without us getting all together to have those specific conversations, I can't tell you what that would like, but they are going on internally with our members," Grassley said.

Senate Republicans also want relief for small businesses, but view tax reform as the solution to ultimately stimulate the economy, create new jobs and get people back into the workforce.

"Lower the tax burden on hard-working Iowans. When we lower the income tax rate, it helps every single Iowan and almost all the businesses," said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R- Ankeny. 

Iowa House Assistant Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst agreed. 

"We need to be aggressive to get small businesses, schools, and health care workers to get, you know, to recover over the next several years. So, COVID is going to be the lens through which we see most things as we head into session," Konfrst, D-West Des Moines said. 

Lawmakers are in charge of balancing the budget each session. Despite 2020 being tough on Iowans, it hasn't had much of an impact on the budget. 

A surplus still exists. 

"We've prepared for tough times," Whitver said. "Heading into the pandemic we were projected to have a $500 million surplus...still we ended last year with a $300 million surplus."

Republicans are feeling confident in their work to shore up a sound budget in 2021, but Grassley also expects state organizations to target the money.

"I think we're going to have more requests on the budget than what we've ever had," Grassley said. "We all know that there's requests coming from all over, rightfully so in a lot of cases."

And House Democrats agree Iowa is in good fiscal shape. 

"So I'm not concerned about getting to a balanced budget," Konfrst said. "We do have budget surplus dollars that are available to make up some of that difference and to help address the needs that we have."

Whitver believes Iowa's surplus allows the state to make investments where needed, like mental health. 

In fact, mental health and child care are two top priorities mentioned by all lawmakers Local 5 spoke with. 

Konfrst said she child care is an area ripe for both Democrats and Republicans to work together. 

"We also all agree child care needs to be addressed sooner rather than later in Iowa. We have child care issues across the state and I'm happy to hear Republicans talking about those issues," Konfrst said. 

"And so we do feel there's room for a lot of common ground going into this session."

Grassley agreed, saying, "Child care is a huge issue. I think before COVID it was a big issue and I think it's really been exacerbated by COVID."

Senate Democrats were unable to speak with Local 5 for an interview. 

Reynolds wants to require schools to have an option for in-person learning as the pandemic continues, and Grassley is in favor. 

Konfrst agreed kids should be in school, but questions remain on how to get that done. 

"One of the things our caucus is going to talk a lot about is parental choice," Konfrst said. "And I think that's something that's been lost in all of this conversation is parental and student choice."

"We actually all agree that kids need to be back in school. it's just a matter of how we get that done," Grassley said. 

Grassley clarified that what's being discussed doesn't require parents to send their children back into school buildings, but rather requires school districts to offer the choice to do so.

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