Iowa Legislature Talks 2016 Session, Celebrates Making History

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- The first woman speaker of the Iowa House was sworn in Monday.

It was first announced in August that Republican Linda Upmeyer would start on the first day of the 2016 legislative session.  Upmeyer said Monday that she’s ready to get to work and focused on education in Iowa.

"In each of the last five years, we have found a way to increase funding for schools. We will increase funding for schools again this year, however, we should recognize that the needs of our schools and students extend beyond the amount we increase their funding each year,” she said.

Upmeyer said there should be an expectation to broaden the conversation “to ways to provide for flexibility and innovation while retaining a focus on the students."

Upmeyer said there are $153 million additional dollars on the table to spend this year, but it doesn't mean lawmakers have to do so.

Last year, the legislature was supposed to have set school funding levels for this year, which will make it one of this session's biggest battles.

The House wants a 2-percent funding increase and the Senate wants a 4-percent increase. Last year, legislators agreed on a compromise to give schools more money, but Gov. Terry Branstad shocked many when he vetoed it.

Branstad is now proposing a plan to extend the local option sales tax for schools by 20 years. The first $410 million in revenue would go to schools. Anything above that would fund water quality efforts.

Despite the problems going into the 2016 session, lawmakers put time aside Monday to celebrate Upmeyer and history.

“The way she represents her constituents and the state of Iowa is worthy of both admiration and respect,” said Rep. Cecil Dolecheck.

“This is such a special, personal moment for our family. I think it will really take some time for me to fully appreciate following my father's footsteps into this chair,” Upmeyer said.

Upmeyer replaces the retired Kraig Paulsen and steps up to a seat once filled by her father, Delwyn Stromer, who served as Speaker from 1981-82.