- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 9, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Iowa Republicans have achieved their longtime goal of taking control of both the state House and Senate.

The GOP flipped several Senate seats Tuesday to erase a slim Democratic majority in the chamber that previously made Iowa one of a handful of states with a split-party legislature. Republicans maintained their House majority.

It’s the first time in roughly 20 years that the GOP has control of both chambers and the governor’s office, a development that’s expected to alter legislative priorities when state lawmakers return to the Capitol in January.

Gov. Terry Branstad said Wednesday he’s already met with Republican leadership. He declined to reveal specifics on what he might prioritize though he expressed general interest in tax reform. Here’s a look at what could be ahead:

WATER QUALITY

Water quality funding gained serious attention last legislative session amid a lawsuit by Des Moines Water Works that blamed upstream counties for polluted drinking water. Gov. Terry Branstad proposed to address the issue through use of an existing education fund, but that idea wasn’t supported by House Republicans. GOP leaders ultimately pitched a plan that would find other existing state dollars.

Senate Democrats challenged both proposals, arguing one pitted K-12 education spending against water quality and the other did not provide long-term sustainable funding.

Branstad this summer began floating around a revised version of his proposal. When asked in August if he had consulted Democratic leaders, he pointed out the possible November outcome.

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ABORTION

House Republicans have repeatedly passed legislation in recent years that would restrict abortion in Iowa and cut its state funding. Democrats in the Senate blocked those efforts each time.

Republican Rep. Walt Rogers of Cedar Falls has sponsored legislation in the past that would ban abortion in Iowa after 20 weeks. He said another attempt at passing similar legislation is likely. He also predicted another go at removing state dollars that go toward Planned Parenthood. None of the Medicaid funding given to the Iowa affiliate of Planned Parenthood goes toward abortions.

Rogers said he expects party leaders to meet soon to discuss policy issues.

“I think all those things that we’ve passed out of the House and have died in the Senate will be things that we want to talk about and potential legislation that we would want to push through,” he said.

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GUN LEGISLATION

Gun legislation received a spotlight during the 2015 legislative session after House Republicans voted in support of a measure that would expand gun access for a range of individuals, including minors who used handguns under the direct supervision of parents. The comprehensive bill failed to gain traction in the Senate that year, but the split Legislature ultimately passed components of the bill last legislative session by legalizing gun suppressors and allowing a person to carry a loaded firearm while operating or riding a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle.

The Iowa Firearms Coalition helped push some of those successes in 2016, and they have more priorities. Coalition President Barry Snell said the group wants to ensure Second Amendment rights are spelled out in the Iowa Constitution. They also want to pass the measure regarding minors.

Snell said he’s already engaged in early conversations with Republican lawmakers since Tuesday night. He said the calls he made were mostly congratulatory, “but the conversation eventually turned to legislation.”

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EDUCATION FUNDING

K-12 education funding has caused friction between Democrats and Republicans in the chambers for years, even holding up adjournment in the past. Democrats have argued that Republicans have not provided enough funding for Iowa schools, while GOP leaders have highlighted that more conservative spending on education is both sufficient and ensures other growing needs in the state budget - like higher education - can be addressed.

Without hurdles in the Senate, Republican leaders could quickly approve funding this year. Branstad didn’t reference education funding to reporters Wednesday, but he pointed out that state budget experts recently lowered Iowa’s revenue projections for the current fiscal year. He also added noted lower commodity prices for farmers. He predicted a “tight budgeting year” that will include “difficult decisions.”

“I’m very hopeful because we’ve been frugal and careful that we’re going to able to get through this,” he said.

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MINIMUM WAGE

It’s unclear what GOP majorities would mean for efforts to increase Iowa’s current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Branstad in October called for a single wage after several counties increased the minimum hourly pay. He declined at the time to provide a specific proposal, and the Iowa Democratic Party questioned the governor’s sincerity.

Republican lawmakers have resisted a statewide wage increase in the past amid arguments over its effect on small businesses, but it’s possible that could change following Branstad’s comments. It’s unclear if any proposal would match or go beyond $8.75, which Senate Democrats tried to pass in 2015. Some outside groups have lobbied for $15 an hour, but Branstad has questioned whether that’s realistic.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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