Reynolds expresses frustration over immigration debate

Michael Crumb Editor
During a visit with the Ames Tribune on Friday, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds discussed issues ranging from workforce development and immigration, mental health services, education and the controversy revolving around Congressman Steve King. Photo by Lyn Keren/Ames Tribune

Gov. Kim Reynolds said she supports comprehensive immigration reform and expressed frustration over the inability of national leaders to find a compromise on the issue.

“There’s no reason they can’t do it,” Reynolds said during an interview with the Ames Tribune on Friday. “It’s just ridiculous. I think not only Iowans, but the American people, are sick and tired of it.”

Reynolds said blame rests on both parties.

“They equally share — so come on — do the right thing and find some common ground to start,” she said. “It’s there. I believe it’s there. I just find it very disheartening.”

She said she believes a compromise could include restoring protections and certainty to DACA students while doing more to secure the border. She said that could include expanding a physical barrier, such as a wall, although she said in some areas, a wall would not be appropriate. She said that should also include greater use of technology.

She also said the immigration system needs to be easier to navigate.

“We need a work visa program that is simpler and really meets the needs of where we need them, but it’s not right now.” Reynolds said. “The whole immigration system is complicated, expensive and it takes too long, and there’s an opportunity to fix it, and I think they should.”

Reynolds said improving border security will also reduce the amount of drugs and human trafficking that move through Iowa.

Reynolds touched on immigration as part of a discussion over the need to fill jobs being created across the state. Her comments followed the release of the Iowa Business Council’s economic dashboard report earlier in the week. In that report, business leaders included a recommendation for immigration reform as one way to draw workers to Iowa.

She said other programs already in place, such as Future Ready Iowa, which calls for 70 percent of Iowans in the workforce to have training and education beyond high school, and Homebase Iowa, which helps military veterans find work, are helping. But Reynolds said Iowa needs to do a better job of marketing itself across the country, promoting its low cost of living, affordable housing costs and short commutes, among other advantages she said Iowa has to offer.

Reynolds also spoke about mental health, education, restoring voting rights to convicted felons, the fetal heartbeat bill which was overturned by a Polk County judge recently, and the controversy surrounding Congressman Steve King.

Mental health care

Reynolds said she plans to introduce a bill this week that addresses improvements needed in mental health services for children in Iowa.

“The first thing we need to do (is) create the structure and oversight piece of it,” she said. “That’s what the majority of my bill will do that will align with the adult mental health system.”

She said the state has the infrastructure in place for the adult mental health system “so it wouldn’t make any sense at all not to align it with that.

“I really believe once we get it established and see start to see what it looks like, much like we did with the development of the adult mental health system, at some point they will be one, because it should be one continuation,” Reynolds said. “When you think about the adult system, it’s in their best interest to really work with these young kids sooner rather than later and start to identify maybe what those mental illnesses are and get them treatment, and that could have an unbelievable impact later in the life.”

She said another component of her bill will be to “buy down” the wait list for children and families seeking treatment.

According to Reynolds, starting in 2016, $4 million was budgeted for a public partnership with Mercy Health Network, Broadlawns Medical Center and Unity Point, which after four years will more than double the number of mental health practitioners in Iowa.

Another partnership has been entered into with Des Moines University to train primary physicians to recognize early signs of mental health issues, which Reynolds said will help, especially in rural Iowa. Money has also been in put in the budget this year for the University of Iowa to train physician assistants and for four mental health professionals in rural Iowa.

Restoring voting rights to convicted felons

Last week, Reynolds introduced a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights to felons after they have completed their sentences. It’s a departure from her predecessor, Gov. Terry Branstad, who had stripped the rights after they had been restored earlier. Reynolds’ proposals has received strong support from the ACLU and other groups.

“I don’t believe somebody should forever lose their voting rights if they have fulfilled their sentence, which means probation and parole, and they’ve made restitution, and I don’t believe one person should be responsible for granting that because whoever is sitting in this chair, it goes back and forth,” Reynolds said. “I think this is the process we should use. It makes it permanent. I believe it’s the right thing to do. Iowans believe in redemption. I have been the recipient of second chances and received a lot of grace, and I feel obligated to pass that on.”

The proposed amendment passed out of subcommittee in the House last week and will go to full committee soon, she said.

She acknowledged there is work to do to get it passed so it can go to a public vote to amend the state constitution to make the change permanent.

Meanwhile, steps are being taken to streamline the process, such as removing fees and reducing paperwork to make it easier for people to have voting rights restored.

K-12 education

Reynolds has proposed 2.3 percent growth in funding for local schools, with $89.5 million in new funding for the state’s public schools. She said despite tight budgets the past two years, no cuts were made to public school funding, although she acknowledged schools didn’t get as much new funding as they would have liked.

She’s asked for another $1 million this year in STEM (Science, Technology, Education and Math) programs, which she said are making a difference with increased scores in math, science and reading. There’s $3 million to help train teachers to recognize early signs of mental health issues, and additional money for transportation among other things.

Reynolds said cuts made in prior years’ budgets to other areas of the budget are now allowing greater investment this year in education.

Fetal heartbeat bill

A Polk County judge recently overturned a law passed by the Legislature last year and signed by Reynolds that would ban abortions after a heartbeat is detected. Many argued the bill would effectively ban abortion in Iowa.

Reynolds said she was disappointed in the judge’s decision and is working with her team on what their next step is. She has 30 days to appeal the judge’s ruling.

“We’re still taking a look at that and what makes the most sense for us,” she said.

Steve King

Reynolds said maybe the time has come for someone else to step in and represent in the interests of the residents of Iowa’s 4th Congressional District.

King came under fire again last month after he was quoted in a New York Times article, saying, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive? Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”

The next day, he defended himself, issuing a statement in which he tried to walk back his comments.

He said he was not an advocate for “white nationalism and white supremacy.”

“I want to make one thing abundantly clear: I reject those labels and the evil ideology they define,” he wrote.

The comments were not the first in a long-list of controversial statements King has made during his time in Washington; but they led to him being recently stripped of his congressional committee assignments.

Reynolds, who said she has not talked to King since the November election, said she hopes King is doing “some serious reflection,” and needs to decide what his future is.

“You should never lose sight of the people you represent,” she said.

While Reynolds has questioned King’s future and suggested she won’t support him in 2020, on Friday she said it’s up to the voters of Iowa’s 4th District to decide.

“It’s appropriate for you all to weigh in, but it’s not appropriate for me, that’s a decision he has to make,” Reynolds said.