From the Desk of Senator Giddens: What’s Your Top Priority in 2024?

State Sen. Eric Giddens (D-Cedar Falls)

In the early weeks of the legislative session we’ve seen lots of bills on a variety of divisive topics, many of which I disagree with outright or at the very least think should not be top priorities for the legislature.

These bills do not offer more opportunity, freedom, or accountability for Iowans. None of them take our state in a better direction.

So, here’s the question for Iowans: What should be the Iowa Legislature’s top priority this session?

As we approach a key deadline for considering and advancing bills through the legislative process, we want to hear from you. What’s the one thing above all others that lawmakers should focus on getting done for the people of Iowa?

Tell us what you think via the following link: https://actionnetwork.org/forms/what-should-be-the-iowa-legislatures-top-priority-this-session

More mental health

With access lagging across the state, Iowa can do more to support mental health in schools. That’s why I joined my colleagues in sponsoring Senate File 2082, which would expand Medicaid to cover mental health provided in school-based settings, regardless of formal diagnosis. It’s what our kids are asking for and need, and I’m glad to see all the advocacy organizations that have registered their support.

Union busting bill

This week, lawmakers held a subcommittee hearing on a union-busting bill that would give employers more power to weaken worker rights. Senate Study Bill 3158 would decertify a public-employee union if the public employer fails to file needed paperwork in a union recertification election. It’s unbelievable: under this bill, workers would be punished for something their employer failed to do. I support workers’ rights and oppose this bad bill.

Bipartisan preschool expansion

Senate File 2075 would fund a full-day preschool program for students whose household income is below 185% of the federal poverty level. Preschool is a critical jumpstart for all kids, and those in lower income households benefit from extended instruction most. This bill has passed the first legislative hurdle, and I look forward to it passing the Senate Education Committee and reaching the floor for a full Senate vote.

Public schools are waiting

State law requires lawmakers to set public school funding for the coming year in the first 30 days of the legislative session. Setting this number is critical for districts to know how much funding they’ll receive and set their budgets accordingly. But instead of getting this done, the majority party has introduced Senate Study Bill 3122, a bill that simply pushes lawmakers’ deadlines back. This is a big problem for schools, which are rushing to finalize budgets and begin preparing for the school year.

Protect your local library

Last year, voters in Pella rejected a partisan attempt to take over the local library. Now, there’s a bill in the Legislature to threaten every library in Iowa with that same politicization. Senate Study Bill 3168 would threaten funding an independent oversight of public libraries, weakening these critical community institutions. But here’s the good news: after public outcry this week, the bill was pulled from consideration and is now being rewritten. Contact legislators on the Local Government Committee and let them know you support your local library and oppose SSB 3168.

AI technology guardrails

Artificial intelligence is a growing and exciting development in the ever-changing technological landscape, but it also raises new legal questions and challenges. Bad actors are using AI technology to create explicit images of children, creating confusion and uncertainty over what’s legal and what isn’t. The Iowa Senate Technology Committee is considering Senate File 2136, which clarifies that AI-generated images of child abuse are illegal just as any other explicit image would be.

Fresh food grants

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s Growing Together Mini Grants will provide fresh produce and nutrition education to food pantries in our community this year. The grants allow master gardener volunteers to plant vegetable gardens and then donate what they grow to local food pantries, food banks and other food distribution sites. In 2023, the Growing Together projects donated over 103,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to 100 food pantries and distribution sites serving 82,000 Iowans.

In Tama County, the program will expand their current garden with new raised beds and encourage community members to “Grow a Row” to produce more vegetables for the South Tama Food Pantry and NE Tama Food Pantry. Clients at these pantry sites will have the opportunity to attend container gardening classes and “Spend Smart. Eat Smart.” recipe tasting.

State Senator Eric Giddens represents Iowa Senate District 38 including Cedar Falls, Hudson, Traer, Dysart, Evansdale, Elk Run Heights, Gilbertville, Washburn, LaPorte City and Mount Auburn. Contact Sen. Giddens at 319-230-0578 or eric.giddens@legis.iowa.gov.