A shameful end to the most destructive Iowa legislative session of my lifetime

The Iowa House and Senate adjourned for the year around 7:15 am on Saturday, after staying up all night while Republican leaders tried to hammer out last-minute deals on medical cannabis and water quality funding.

The medical cannabis compromise passed with bipartisan majorities in both chambers, but I’m not convinced the revised House File 524 will be an improvement on letting the current extremely limited law expire on July 1. The bill senators approved last Monday by 45 votes to five would have provided some relief to thousands of Iowans suffering from nearly 20 medical conditions. House Republican leaders refused to take it up for reasons Speaker Linda Upmeyer and House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow never articulated.

The new bill thrown together during the all-nighter theoretically covers nine conditions, but as Senator Joe Bolkcom explained in a video I’ve enclosed below, the only form of cannabis allowed (cannabidiol) will not be effective to treat eight of those. Although few if any Iowans will be helped, Republicans can now claim to have done something on the issue and will consequently face less pressure to pass a meaningful medical cannabis bill during the 2018 legislative session.

Republicans shut down the 30-year-old Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, which supported research on farming practices that could preserve our soil and water resources. But on Friday night, they gave up on doing anything serious to clean up our waterways, 750 of which are impaired, according to the latest data released by the Department of Natural Resources. CORRECTION: More recent DNR data indicate Iowa “contains 608 waterbodies with a total of 818 impairments.” (Some waterways have more than one impaired segment.) On the opening day of this year’s session, Hagenow promised “significant new resources to water quality efforts.” Why not come back next week and keep working until they find some way forward?

I’ll tell you why: lawmakers’ per diems ran out on April 18. Heaven forbid Republicans should work a few more days with no pay to address our state’s most serious pollution problem. Incidentally, this crowd just passed an education budget that will force thousands of students to go deeper in debt. They voted earlier this year to cut wages for tens of thousands of Iowans living paycheck to paycheck in counties that had raised the minimum wage. These “public servants” also handed more than 150,000 public workers an effective pay cut by taking away their ability to collectively bargain over benefits packages. As if that weren’t enough, they made sure many Iowans who get hurt on the job will be denied access to the workers’ compensation system or will get a small fraction of the benefits they would previously have received for debilitating shoulder injuries.

Lives will be ruined by some of the laws Republicans are touting as historic accomplishments.

Even worse, lives will likely end prematurely because of cuts in the health and human services budget to a wide range of programs, from elder abuse to chronic conditions to smoking cessation to Department of Human Services field operations. I enclose below a Democratic staff analysis of its provisions. During House and Senate floor debates, Republican floor managers offered lame excuses about the tight budget, which doesn’t allow us to allocate as much money as we’d like to this or that line item. Naturally, they found an extra $3 million for a new family planning program that will exclude Planned Parenthood as a provider.

Different Republican lawmakers used the same excuses to justify big cuts to victims assistance grants in the justice systems budget. That choice will leave thousands of Iowans–mostly women–without support next year after going through horrific assaults or ongoing abuse.

Despite some big talk from House Appropriations Committee Chair Pat Grassley, Republicans didn’t even try to rein in business tax credits, which have been the state’s fastest-growing expenses in recent years. The budget crunch is real and may get worse. But no one forced Republicans to inflict 100 percent of the belt-tightening on those who rely on public services.

More analysis of the 2017 legislative session is coming to Bleeding Heartland in the near future. All posts about this year’s work in the Iowa House and Senate are archived here. The Des Moines Register’s William Petroski and Brianne Pfannenstiel summarized some of the important bills that passed this year.

After the jump you’ll find Bolkcom’s commentary on the medical cannabis bill that offers “false hope” to Iowans “who have begged us to help,” along with closing remarks on the session from House Minority Leader Mark Smith and Senate Minority Leader Rob Hogg.

Continue Reading...

KWWL won't correct error-filled story on Stand Your Ground

Generally accepted journalism guidelines call for acknowledging mistakes in news reports, setting the record straight quickly, and doing so “in a way that encourages people who consumed the faulty information to know the truth.” The Online News Association’s “Build Your Own Ethics Code” project lists “promptly correct errors” among a short list of “fundamentals” that “should apply to all journalists.” The Radio Television Digital News Association’s code of ethics states, “Ethical journalism requires owning errors, correcting them promptly and giving corrections as much prominence as the error itself had.”

KWWL, the NBC affiliate in Waterloo, doesn’t hold its reporters to that standard.

Continue Reading...

Branstad nominees held accountable for violating women's constitutional rights

Iowa Senate Democrats held two members of the Iowa Board of Medicine accountable yesterday for hasty action in 2013 to approve an anti-abortion rule that had no scientific basis and was later found unconstitutional by a unanimous Iowa Supreme Court.

Iowa Board of Medicine Chair Diane Clark and fellow board member Dr. Hamed Tewfik became the first (and probably the only) nominees for state boards or commissions to be rejected by the Iowa Senate this year. Republicans are predictably denouncing the vote as “petty partisan politics.” But senators have confirmed without dissent the overwhelming majority of more than 200 people Governor Terry Branstad selected.

Clark and Tewfik have only themselves to blame for losing their prestigious positions.

Continue Reading...

Collective bargaining changes bring new challenges and opportunities

Randy Richardson explains how Iowa’s new collective bargaining law is affecting contract negotiations for teachers. -promoted by desmoinesdem

A lot has been written about the changes Republican lawmakers pushed through on collective bargaining for public employees. The original law, adopted during the term of a Republican governor and approved by a bipartisan vote, has been in existence for over forty years. I became a chief negotiator for our local education association during my second year as a teacher (1977) and remained active in bargaining until my retirement in 2016.

As a former teacher I can appreciate the trauma these changes have brought about for educators. Unfortunately the general public, who has likely not participated in the bargaining process, may find some of these changes hard to understand.

Continue Reading...

Iowa wildflower Wednesday returns: Downy yellow violet

Iowa didn’t experience much severe winter weather this year, but the political climate was harsher than at any other time in living memory. After writing up too much bad news these past few months, I’m glad to revive Bleeding Heartland’s weekly wildflower series. Click here for the full archive of posts featuring more than 140 native plants and a few plants of European origin that are now widespread here.

Downy yellow violet (Viola pubescens) is native to all of North America east of the Rocky Mountains. In Iowa, you may see it near homes as well as in wooded areas. Except where noted below, I took most of the enclosed pictures not far from our house in Windsor Heights. However, most violets I see in people’s yards are purple or the white color variation of that flower, the common blue violet. Less often, you may find striped white violet, a separate species.

According to John Pearson of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Viola pubescens are the only yellow violets native to our state. The Minnesota Wildflowers site has botanically accurate descriptions of the foliage, flowers, and seeds. Common yellow violet or smooth yellow violet are alternate names for this plant.

Continue Reading...

With Hensley out, who will business interests run against Josh Mandelbaum?

Christine Hensley will not seek re-election to the Des Moines City Council this year, she announced today in an interview with the Business Record. The 24-year incumbent told Perry Beeman, “I’ve got a tremendous amount done, and it’s time for me to look at the next chapter and figure out what I’m going to do.” Hensley discussed spending “a little more time with family” and didn’t mention her challenger Josh Mandelbaum, though his capacity to run an effective campaign likely factored into her retirement plans.

The race for Des Moines City Council Ward 3 was shaping up to be a focal point for central Iowa progressives. Mandelbaum has raised more $110,000 in less than a month as a candidate, his campaign told Iowa Starting Line today. More than 150 people have volunteered to help spread the word.

While winning an open seat is usually easier than beating an entrenched incumbent, no one should celebrate victory too soon. Republicans and business groups will surely recruit and heavily promote someone to run in Hensley’s place. Proxies of the Iowa Farm Bureau have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on television and radio advertising bashing the Des Moines Water Works during the last two years, so I anticipate a well-funded smear campaign against Mandelbaum. Countering that message will require a strong grassroots effort. City council races are usually low-turnout affairs, so a few thousand people will decide the outcome. You can sign up to volunteer here.

Democrats outnumber Republicans in the west-side and south-side neighborhoods that are part of ward 3 (a map is at the end of this post). That reality, along with Mandelbaum’s early start and big fundraising, may deter other potential candidates. But some ambitious person with business connections will step up. Any speculation about who might enter the Des Moines City Council race is welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Mandelbaum released the following statement on today’s news.

I want to thank Councilwoman Hensley for serving her community for 24 years. While Councilwoman Hensley and I have our disagreements, we should all honor and respect the work that all of our civil servants do every day to make our community stronger.This race was and still is about representing the interests, values, and concerns of the residents of Des Moines. I will continue to champion clean water, strong neighborhoods with strong public schools, and investing in people through policies that support decent wages. I also want to thank my supporters. The outpouring of support throughout the community in the month since we have announced has made it clear that Des Moines is ready for a progressive voice on the City Council. With your continued support, we will be prepared to fight outside special interests that have been attacking champions of clean water like what the so-called Partnership for Clean Water has done to Bill Stowe and the Des Moines Water Works. This election will still be a fight to be won even if it’s not the original one we anticipated when we announced one month ago. This campaign has just begun and I look forward to continued conversations with residents throughout the third ward as I keep running vigorously all the way through Nov. 7th, 2017. Thank you again-

According to Jason Frerichs of the Progressive Voices of Iowa blog, he has interviewed another Democrat planning to run for city council in this ward. Will update once that person’s identity is known.

P.S.- Hensley’s decision to stand with the Farm Bureau against her local water utility was a political mistake as well as a betrayal of her constituents. And it was all for nothing, because despite lobbying by groups including the city of Des Moines, the plan to dismantle the Water Works stalled in the Iowa House and won’t be attached to an appropriations bill this year. Since the Water Works lawsuit against three northwest Iowa counties will not move forward, state lawmakers will have little reason to pursue this goal during the 2018 legislative session either.

P.P.S.- If outgoing Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett seeks the Republican nomination for governor in 2018, as I expect him to do, Hensley will be a leading contender for the lieutenant governor spot on his ticket.

Continue Reading...
View More...