2020 Iowa Legislative Session: People & Priorities

January 11, 2020

By: Paula S. Dierenfeld, Katie Graham


The 88th Iowa General Assembly convenes January 13, 2020. The legislative session is scheduled to last 100 days. In an election year, conventional wisdom suggests legislators will be anxious to keep the session short. Legislative leaders and the governor are hinting at their priorities.


New Legislators & Leadership Changes

Iowa enters the 2020 legislative session with 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats in the House of Representatives. The Senate has 32 Republicans and 18 Democrats. The Republican trifecta, which includes Gov. Kim Reynolds (R), continues.


While 2019 had no general elections, the Iowa House of Representatives and Senate experienced a few noteworthy changes.

  • Ross Wilburn (D) ran unopposed to represent House District 46 (northwest Ames). He replaces Rep. Lisa Heddens (D) who resigned after being appointed to the Story County Board of Supervisors. Wilburn works at Iowa State University (ISU) as a diversity officer and associate program director for the Community and Economic Development program at the ISU Extension Office. He received over 97 percent of the vote.
  • Speaker Linda Upmeyer (R) announced that she would be stepping down as speaker and not running for re-election.
  • Pat Grassley (R), grandson of U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, was selected by House Republicans to be the new speaker.
  • Matt Winschitl (R) was selected as the new majority leader.
  • John Wills (R) was chosen as speaker pro tem.


Legislative Priorities: Tax Changes

Iowans voted in 2010 to approve a three-eighths of a cent sales tax increase to fund an environmental initiative known as Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy (IWILL). The legislature has never passed legislation to increase the sales tax.


Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver (R) has said a 1-cent sales tax increase may be included in a larger bill along with income tax cuts, which he says would have the net effect of being a tax reduction.


Sen. Janet Peterson (D) and Rep. Todd Prichard (D) are reported as saying that while they support improving Iowa’s water quality and providing funding for outdoor recreation, they have concerns about increasing the sales tax because it “hits low-income Iowans the hardest.” 


Legislative Priorities: Mental Health Funding

Gov. Kim Reynolds is meeting with stakeholders to seek a compromise on a 1-cent sales tax increase. If a compromise is possible, she’s discussing whether some of the increased revenue could be used for mental health funding.


In 2017, legislation made sweeping changes in Iowa’s adult mental health system. In the 2019 legislative session, a “first of its kind” comprehensive Children’s Mental Health System was created. The challenge now for policymakers is to find a stable, sustainable funding source to pay for mental health services. Whether it’s the sales tax or another funding source, legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle are saying mental health funding is priority.


Other Legislative Priorities

Among Iowa legislators’ lists of legislative priorities for the 2020 Iowa legislative session:

  • All have said they want to make addressing the state’s workforce shortage a priority. Rep. Grassley sees accessible and affordable child care as part of the solution.
  • Legislators have suggested the state’s housing issues must be tackled—both the shortage and affordability of housing.
  • Peterson has thrown youth vaping into the mix.
  • Reynolds is working on criminal justice reforms.
  • Democrats say they remain focused on fixing Medicaid managed care.
  • Whitver has mentioned adding a work requirement for public assistance programs such as Medicaid and food stamps.


The Nyemaster Goode Government Affairs team tracks and analyzes legislation as part of its full range of legislative services. At the statehouse, our public policy attorneys use experience, knowledge, and technical skills to achieve our clients’ goals.