Republicans not giving up efforts to defund Planned Parenthood in Iowa

 photo 83faedd6-fba0-4fa6-b5d7-44081776b279_zps5aocw69m.png

Iowa’s social conservatives have suffered several setbacks lately in their crusade against Planned Parenthood. The Iowa Supreme Court unanimously struck down an administrative rule that would have banned the use of telemedicine for medical abortions in several Planned Parenthood clinics. Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller informed a large group of Republican lawmakers that his office has neither "jurisdiction over transfers of fetal tissue" nor the "authority to investigate or demand information about the transfer of fetal tissue." (Not that it mattered, since Planned Parenthood clinics in Iowa have never participated in fetal tissue donation programs.)

Governor Terry Branstad, who has always opposed abortion rights, acknowledged two weeks ago that "we cannot defund Planned Parenthood," because a review of Planned Parenthood’s contracts with the state revealed that the health care provider has not "violated their responsibilities under the grants that they have received" for family planning services. An official review also confirmed no taxpayer money goes toward abortion services at Planned Parenthood clinics in Iowa.

During this year’s legislative session, Republicans successfully pushed for ultrasound requirements for women seeking abortions, but the final adopted language on ultrasounds did not add any new roadblocks or delays to the process of getting an abortion in Iowa.

Advocacy groups like Bob Vander Plaats’ FAMiLY Leader organization continue to pressure Branstad to keep his 2010 campaign promise to end Planned Parenthood’s state funding. Last week, Iowa House Republicans indicated that they plan to continue their "deliberate and unwavering battle" for the "pro-life" agenda.

Here’s how efforts to defund Planned Parenthood are likely to play out during next year’s Iowa legislative session. What happens after that depends mostly on whether the 2016 general election changes the balance of power at the statehouse.

Continue Reading...

Weekend open thread: Iowa Wing Ding edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

More than twenty Iowa Democratic county committees put on a great “Wing Ding” in Clear Lake Friday night. The Surf Ballroom was packed to capacity, thanks to appearances by four of the five Democratic presidential hopefuls. Despite a fairly long list of speakers including candidates for U.S. House and Senate and State Senator Amanda Ragan, who was receiving an award, the Wing Ding amazingly finished ahead of schedule. I enclose below my take on all the speeches.

For those following the saga of three former Ron Paul campaign operatives, recently indicted for their role in making illegal payments to then State Senator Kent Sorenson: Russ Choma covered the prosecutors’ latest court filing for Mother Jones. Prosecutors allege the operatives “were prepared to leak documents to harm Sorenson in 2012 if they couldn’t obtain his endorsement for Ron Paul.” An attorney for Jesse Benton acknowledged that in late 2011, his client “threatened to expose Mr. Sorenson, believing that Mr. Sorenson was trying to blackmail the 2012 RP Campaign, if Mr. Sorenson did not make up his mind on whether to commit to the Ron Paul Campaign.” But the lawyer said Benton did not follow through on what he described as “a knee-jerk, emotional reaction.” Of course, there would have been no reason to carry out the threat after Sorenson agreed to take the money in exchange for switching his allegiance to Paul.

Continue Reading...

A close look at the status of abortion regulations in Iowa

Anti-abortion activists suffered a setback last month when the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously ruled unconstitutional the state ban on using telemedicine for medical abortions. But the health and human services budget for the fiscal year that began on July 1 contained two provisions sought by those who want to reduce the number of abortions performed in Iowa.

The first part of this post examines new language in the Iowa Code related to ultrasounds for women seeking abortions. Who was closer to the mark: Iowa Right to Life, which hailed the “HUGE life-saving victory” as the anti-choice movement’s biggest legislative success in two decades? Or Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which countered that the ultrasound language would neither change the standard of care at their clinics nor “directly impact a woman’s access to abortion”?

Next, the post addresses language lawmakers first adopted in 2013 and renewed in the just-passed human services budget, which allows the Iowa governor to determine whether Medicaid should reimburse for abortion services. No other state has a similar provision.

Finally, I offer some thoughts on an odd feature of anti-abortion activism in the Iowa legislature. State Senate Republicans advocate more for restrictions on abortion rights and access than do GOP representatives in the House, even though “pro-choice” Democrats control the upper chamber, while all 57 members of the House majority caucus are nominally “pro-life.” Iowa House leaders have not been eager to put abortion bills on the agenda. This year, rank-and-file House Republicans didn’t even introduce, let alone make a serious attempt to pass, companion bills to most of the abortion-related legislation their counterparts filed in the state Senate.

Continue Reading...

Iowa Senate, House approve gas tax increase

A bill that would raise Iowa’s gasoline tax by 10 cents a gallon is on its way to Governor Terry Branstad’s desk after approval today by both chambers in the Iowa legislature. The Iowa Senate passed Senate File 257 this morning by 28 votes to 21. Sixteen Democrats and twelve Republicans voted for the bill, while ten Democrats and eleven Republicans opposed it. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal had reportedly insisted on at least half the GOP caucus supporting a gas tax increase as a condition for bringing the bill to the floor.

A few hours later, the Iowa House took up the Senate bill (rather than the bill that cleared two House committees last week). Thirty Republicans and 23 Democrats voted yes, while 26 Republicans and 20 Democrats voted no.

Only two state legislators missed today’s votes: Republican State Senator Mark Chelgren and Republican State Representative Chip Baltimore. Baltimore voted against the House version of this bill in committee last week, while Chelgren doesn’t serve on the committees that approved the bill in the Senate. Chelgren appears to have been absent for all of today’s votes, while Baltimore was at the Capitol but left the chamber when the gas tax bill came up. Speaking to reporters later, he tried to make a virtue out of his absence: “I refuse to legitimize either the bill or the process with a vote.” Weak sauce from a guy who is widely expected to seek higher office someday.

Conservative groups are urging Branstad to veto Senate File 257, but that seems unlikely, given the governor’s recent comments on road funding. Branstad’s spokesman said today that the governor will carefully review the final bill before deciding whether to sign it.  

After the jump I’ve enclosed the roll call votes in both chambers, as well as Senate Transportation Committee Chair Tod Bowman’s opening remarks this morning, which summarize key points in Senate File 257.

Final note: several of the “no” votes came from lawmakers who may face competitive re-election campaigns in 2016. Those include Democrats Chris Brase (Senate district 46), Steve Sodders (Senate district 36), and Mary Jo Wilhelm (Senate district 26), and Republicans Dennis Guth (Senate district 4) and Amy Sinclair (Senate district 14).

Continue Reading...

Who's who in the Iowa Senate for 2015

The Iowa legislature’s 2015 session begins today. Democrats maintained their 26 to 24 majority in the upper chamber. After the jump I’ve posted details on the Iowa Senate majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing Senate committees. Where relevant, I’ve noted changes from the previous committee assignments. Click here for a similar post on the new Iowa House.

I’ve also enclosed below details on the tenure of all 50 Iowa senators. The experience gap between the caucuses is striking, even more so since three of the longest-serving GOP state senators retired in 2014. Only seven of the 24 Republicans have served in either the state House or Senate for more than four years, whereas nineteen of the 26 Democrats have more than four years of legislative service. Only four of the 24 Senate Republicans have ten or more years of experience in the Iowa legislature, compared to seventeen of the 26 Democrats. No current Iowa Senate Republican has more than 20 years legislative experience, whereas six Democrats do.

Just seven of the 50 senators are women, down from ten women in the chamber two years ago. The Democratic caucus includes 20 men and six women; the Republican caucus 23 men and one woman.

All current Iowa senators are white. To my knowledge, no African-American has ever served in the Iowa Senate. CORRECTION: Bleeding Heartland reader northwest points out that I forgot Tom Mann, who represented part of Des Moines in the Iowa Senate during the 1980s.

No Latino has ever served in the Iowa House or Senate; Nathan Blake fell 18 votes short of becoming the first in 2014. No Asian-American has served in the state Senate since Swati Dandekar resigned in 2011.

Some non-political trivia: the 50 state senators include three Marks, three Bills, three Richards (who go by Rich, Rick, and Dick), two Mikes, two Toms, two Joes, and two men named Charles (one goes by Chaz).  

Continue Reading...
View More...