Lawmakers returned to Des Moines this week to begin the 2023 legislative session and there is no surprise that bolstering the state’s workforce will be the focus of the work they do this year at the Capitol.

Look for more attention to be paid to child care and housing. There will also be a focus on reforming the state’s property tax system, springboarding from individual and corporate income tax reform measures passed during the 2022 session. 

No matter the issue, expect it to be through the wide lens of how Iowa can attract more workers and retain the ones who are already here.

The Business Record spoke with legislators before the session started to learn what their priorities were for 2023. Responses are a compilation of interviews, email responses and comments made at pre-legislative public events.

Here is some of what they had to say. 

Iowa Minority House Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights

Konfrst said there is no “silver bullet fix” to the state’s workforce issue, but she’s concerned that some lawmakers will try to place too much emphasis on tax issues and not enough on issues like child care and housing.

“We are looking at it through one lens, which is tax climate,” Konfrst said in an interview with the Business Record. “We’re not looking at it through the worker lens, which is what is life like when I go to work every day? And that includes all of those things we talk about: housing, child care, making the state a welcoming place for all, and quality public schools. All of those things that are critical to workforce issues.”

She said local communities need to retain control over their own property taxes, but that is only one piece of the housing puzzle.

“We also need to be looking at wages and what people can afford and what are the property taxes going toward? What community benefits exist and how are we working to ensure access to affordable housing?”

She said down payment assistance needs to be addressed, as well as the racial equity gap that exists in homeownership and lending practices.

“It’s working with partners in a public-private partnership to address the issue and raising the profile of that issue with private industry while also working to make buying a home easier, or renting a home easier,” Konfrst said. “We need to be looking at ways to incentivize people to remodel and revitalize blighted homes. We just need to be more holistic in our approach.”

Konfrst said more needs to be done to create greater access to quality child care, saying, “We need to do big things that can truly address this issue.
“We need to look at it from the business perspective and from the kid perspective and what’s best for kids,” she said.

Konfrst said incentives need to be created to help small businesses collaborate to create child care centers, or to provide more home-based centers. 
The state needs to look at ways to help families subsidize child care costs, and to increase child care worker pay,” she said.

“We need to look at ways to professionalize the industry, and make sure people are paid better and look at costs, and that involves looking at things big picture and from a statewide perspective,” Konfrst said.

She also has advocated for doing more to make sure Iowa is a welcoming place for all.

“To question the humanity of our fellow Iowans is not a luxury we have right now,” she said. “We need to acknowledge and recognize the humanity of each and every one of us so that our state can grow. The more we push people away, the more we’re going to struggle to find workers.”

Konfrst said education will also be a top priority for her this session, whether that is keeping public tax dollars in public schools or keeping decisions about a child’s education on the local level. She also called for more funding for the regents universities.

Konfrst also said more needs to be done to create access to mental health services in Iowa, including incentivizing providers to come to Iowa and doing more to retain more providers who are educated here.

She said reproductive freedom will be another top priority this session, ensuring women have access to the care they need.

“A state where women are treated as equal citizens and who get to make their own health care decisions is a pretty important determining factor for where people decide to live,” Konfrst said. 

Rep. Eddie Andrews, R-Des Moines

Andrews described issues such as property tax reform, child care and housing as “great concerns that will be tackled by both the House and Senate” in 2023.

“They’re also priorities of the governor, so there will certainly be a lot of focus on property tax reduction,” he said during an interview. “Of course, that’s a dance between a lot of local, county, school and state governments, and there’s a lot of coordination required between those entities.”

After taking action the last two years to reduce the child care “cliff effect” and trying to increase access to child care, Andrews said lawmakers need to go further in 2023.

“It’s not just the eligibility [for child care assistance], it’s also incentivizing businesses to expand offerings for child care. So that’s going to be revisited and we’ll be able to take a look at that earlier in the session rather than later,” he said.

Housing will be a priority and is an important cog in the wheel of developing the state’s workforce, Andrews said.

“Both the House and Senate have different plans that we’re looking at,” he said. “We addressed part of it last session and we’re moving full steam ahead this session as well. We are reviewing the path we want to go down.”

Andrews has advocated for stronger incentives to bolster mental health care in Iowa.

“We’re making every effort to get more doctors here,” he said. “We expanded the psychiatric residence program at the University of Iowa so that we have more providers every single year now, and eventually that will help reduce waiting periods. We also added an incentive program to keep doctors here for five years. These aren’t quick fixes, but we are moving in the right direction.”

Andrews also said lawmakers will continue to look for ways to build on public-private partnerships to work with schools to “better prepare our students for the workforce.”

On the topic of inclusion, he said he views Iowa as being a “very welcoming state.”

“Speaking as an African American Republican, I can tell you I have multiple perspectives to view our state and people relate to me in various ways,” he said. “I think overall, Iowa has been a very welcoming state and even though we always have our differences, I think Iowa traditionally has always been welcoming.”

Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott, D-West Des Moines

Trone Garriott listed child care as one of her top priorities during the 2023 session.

“If we want to attract young families to your communities, if we want them to stay here, if we want them to be an active part of our workforce, we have to invest in child care,” she wrote in an email response.

But only creating more child care slots isn’t enough, Trone Garriott said.

“We need to ensure a safe, quality experience,” she wrote. “That means investing in the people who provide the care. They deserve good wages, great training and respect for their important work.”

Trone Garriott has also advocated for increased support for early childhood education in Iowa.

“In most of our state, public pre-k education is only a couple of hours, a couple of days each week. That’s really not feasible for working families,” she wrote. “And with a 6 to 1 return on investment, nothing compares to early childhood education as an investment in future workforce.” 

She called for increased investment in public education, saying it is “essential to a vibrant economy.”

“Our businesses are struggling to find enough workers who are prepared for the jobs we have available now,” she wrote. “We know that great public schools are a top consideration when considering a job or purchasing a home. Our public universities and technical schools are a tremendous asset for recruiting and training talent.”

Trone Garriott said the state needs to do a better job of working with local communities, businesses and organizations to address the housing issue.
“We can’t address this need unless we are working as partners,” she wrote. “Many of our municipalities are doing the work of planning; the state and our business community have an opportunity to join in their process. It will take all of us working together to address this need.”

On inclusion, Trone Garriott said the Legislature needs to “take its cues from the people of Iowa, not some national partisan agenda.”

“Unfortunately, legislators are not doing enough listening,” she wrote. “Legislation comes out of nowhere and rushes through the process with very little opportunity for the public to weigh in, and even less openness to make changes based on what the public has to say. This results in policy that harms our potential as a state. Our young people especially can see the disconnect. Too many in their frustration are looking for somewhere else to make a life.”

Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale

Senate majority leaders who were contacted for comment on their priorities for the 2023 session didn’t respond, but during the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Legislative Breakfast on Dec. 13, Senate President Pro Tem Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, said property tax reform and empowering parents would be top priorities in 2023.

He said giving parents more say about what’s taught in the classroom will be a priority during the 2023 session.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that the governor ran on giving parents more control over their children, especially from the perspective of what school that they want to send their kids to, rather than the ZIP code that they’re assigned to,” Zaun said. “So when I’m talking about that, I’m sure that we’re going to probably have a conversation about some of the sexually explicit materials that are being shared with our students. Now, we’re not going to throw teachers into jail. That’s not going to happen. But I think there should be an opportunity where the parents can weigh in on that important issue.”

He also said the Legislature will take a look at how it can help the Des Moines International Airport improvement project be completed.

Zaun also said the Legislature will continue to work on regulatory reform this year.

“We have 170 boards and commissions in the state of Iowa, and certainly from occupational licensing, there’s 40 different boards as well, and I think we’ll probably be looking at that,” he said during the panel discussion. “Another thing we’ll have a conversation about is the certificate of need requirements for health care. Certainly you have to be very careful about that. I think we’ve made some positive changes. We certainly need to make some more.”