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Statehouse Republicans and Democrats focused on workforce challenges, Senate not allowing media on Chamber floor

Senate Republicans say the decision to limit journalists on the floor was made due to too few seats and a growing media base. Democrats are condemning the decision.

DES MOINES, Iowa — After the Iowa  House and Senate gaveled in Monday to begin the 2022 legislative session, both parties stressed the need to tackle the state's workforce crisis, access to child care and tax reform.

"We need to continue our tax reforms we started a few years ago and we think Iowa is in a great position to do so in fact we think this is the best position Iowa has ever been as a state fiscally," said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver.

His remarks also focused on making it easier for someone in Iowa to open and run a child care facility and emphasizing public assistance should be for those who truly need it.

On the other side of the aisle, Senate Democratic Leader Zach Wahls says his party's top issue is the workforce, but that Republicans are worsening the situation.

"We see help wanted signs in big cities and small towns alike and so our caucus is going to be laser-focused on fixing the Reynolds' workforce crisis and getting Iowans back to work," he said.

Gov. Kim Reynolds will unveil her top priorities for the session Tuesday at 6 p.m. during her Condition of the State address.

Additionally, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic was the first time media was not allowed on the Iowa Senate's Chamber floor. That decision was made to limit the number of people in close quarters within the chamber. 

The Iowa Senate voted to continue to keep media off the chamber floor in 2022.

"The media for the last 22 months has been in the gallery, they haven't been on the senate floor," Whitver said.

Whitver says the decision was made due to too few open seats and a growing media base. 

"There's only 12 to 14 seats on the Senate floor," Whitver said. "As you try to define who is media. Is it TV? Is it radio? Is it newspapers? Is it bloggers? Is it podcasters? There's a lot more people trying to access those 12 seats."

"In moving reporters off the floor, the Iowa Senate becomes one of only a handful of state legislative chambers across the country to limit access in this way, according to information from the National Conference on State Legislatures," a statement from the Iowa Capitol Press Association (ICPA) reads. "For more than 100 years, reporters have worked from the press work stations on the chamber floors in the Iowa House and Senate to cover the Legislature and the taxpayer-financed officials who make state laws."

Whitver says instead of the Senate trying to pick and choose exactly who should get those seats, it is providing alternate setups in the gallery.

"This session is going to be more transparent than any we've ever had," said Whitver. "Every subcommittee that happens in the senate will be online to watch, the media can stay at home and watch those."

Senate Democrats, however, are condemning this decision.

"Republicans removed media from the chamber without consulting Democrats," said Senate Democratic Leadder Zach Wahls."It is a continuation of the attacks on the first amendment that we saw from the republican party last year."

Wahls says reporters' access to the floor is critical to accurate reporting. 

"I'm absolutely worried there won't be as accurate reporting if reporters don't have access on the floor," said Wahls. We know that media access to policy makers is a core function of our lowercase D democratic politics."

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