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All Iowans in House vote to block any mandatory labeling of GMOs in food

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 27, 2015 at 07:10:00 AM CDT

Late last week the U.S. House approved a bill to make it harder for consumers to find out whether food products contain genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). Although national polls have repeatedly shown that more than 90 percent of Americans believe foods with GMOs should be labeled, all four Iowans in the U.S. House voted for the misleadingly named "Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015." Opponents nicknamed the bill the "Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act" or the "Monsanto Protection Act."

Follow me after the jump for details on the bill's provisions, how the Iowans voted on amendments House Democrats offered during the floor debate, and a list of Iowa organizations and business that urged members of Congress either to support or reject this bill.  

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House rebuffs Obama on trade bill; how the Iowans voted

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jun 12, 2015 at 16:15:02 PM CDT

A rare visit to Capitol Hill by President Barack Obama wasn't enough to bring House Democrats on board with a crucial companion bill for "fast-track" trade authority today. The House rejected the trade adjustment assistance bill by a surprisingly wide margin of 126 to 302 (roll call). A few minutes later, House members narrowly approved the other part of the trade legislation by 219 votes to 211 (roll call). However, the fast-track package can't reach Obama's desk without both parts clearing the lower chamber. David Dayen explained the significance of the votes well at Salon. I've enclosed excerpts from his analysis below, but you should click through to read the whole piece. Dayen lays out several possible next steps for Congressional leaders who support giving Obama fast-track authority, with a view to approving a new Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

Splitting the trade bill into two House votes was a gambit to let the trade adjustment assistance language pass with primarily Democratic support, while the fast-track language passed with primarily Republican support. As Dayen describes, the concept has worked for decades but didn't pan out today. Only 40 Democrats fell in line with Obama, while 144 voted against the trade adjustment assistance provisions, including Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02). Representative Steve King (IA-04) also voted against the trade adjustment assistance language, even as Rod Blum (IA-01) and David Young (IA-03) were among the 86 Republicans to vote yes. All three Iowa Republicans were in the yes column on the subsequent vote for the fast-track language. Loebsack again voted no, as did all but 28 House Democrats. After the jump I've enclosed Blum's statement; I will update as needed with comments from the other Iowans in Congress.

Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst both supported the fast-track trade bill the U.S. Senate approved last month by 62 votes to 37 (roll call). They have consistently supported trade promotion authority for the president. In that Senate vote, Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Lindsey Graham voted for fast-track, while Rand Paul voted no, along with Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

In case you missed it, I highly recommend State Representative Chuck Isenhart's warning that the "Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement could threaten our ability to enforce state laws." Conservatives as well as progressives have reason to fear that outcome.

UPDATE: Added below more Iowa political reaction to these votes. House leaders will bring the trade adjustment assistance legislation up for another vote next week.

SECOND UPDATE: Added a statement from Monica Vernon, one of Blum's three Democratic challengers in IA-01. She opposes fast-track legislation.

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Iowa legislative state of play on raising the gas tax

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Feb 19, 2015 at 18:01:47 PM CST

Iowa House and Senate members have taken several steps toward raising the state gasoline tax for the first time since 1989. Follow me after the jump for details on where the legislation stands and the latest signals from the governor.

One big political question was answered today, as House Speaker Kraig Paulsen not only endorsed the gas tax bill but personally intervened to make sure it would clear the House Ways and Means Committee. His support may bring some reluctant House Republicans on board. Conservative advocacy groups such as Americans for Prosperity and Iowans for Tax Relief are pushing hard against any gas tax increase. Governor Terry Branstad or Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix appear ready to back this bill but may need to spend more political capital to get it passed.

Two important policy questions remain unanswered. First, what will be done to lessen the blow on low-income Iowans, who would be disproportionately affected by any increase in a regressive tax? Iowa's tax system is already stacked against people with lower incomes.

Second, will the gas tax hike turn out to be a giant bait and switch? From business groups to road builders to heavyweights in the agricultural sector, advocates of a tax increase cite the poor condition of many Iowa roads and bridges. However, to my knowledge the pending legislation would not guarantee that any new Road Use Tax Fund revenues from gasoline taxes or vehicle fees be spent on repairing torn-up roads or structurally deficient bridges. Unless "fix it first" language or a change to the funding formula is added to the bill, the lion's share of additional revenues from a gas tax hike could go toward building new roads or new lanes on existing roads, such as U.S. Highway 20 in northwest Iowa or any number of local "economic development" projects. If crumbling roads and bridges are used to justify a gas tax hike, lawmakers should stipulate that most of the new money raised would go toward existing infrastructure rather than new roads and lanes, which only increase future maintenance costs.  

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Iowa Farm Bureau: Voice of Hypocrisy and Big Business

by: Mark Langgin

Mon Dec 01, 2014 at 10:36:57 AM CST

(The facts about the Farm Bureau should be more widely known. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

(*Cross-Posted from Op-Ed by Mike Delaney, President of Citizens for a Healthy Iowa)

As the new year approaches, many of us resolve to better align our actions with our best selves, by supporting organizations that help to build healthier families and stronger communities, and seeking to make our world a better place. This week, against this backdrop, the Iowa Farm Bureau (IFB) hosts its annual convention in Des Moines.

(for the full report and background go to www.FarmBureauExposed.com

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Iowa Supreme Court rejects Farm Bureau's effort to nullify clean water rules (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jul 11, 2014 at 18:08:12 PM CDT

In a 4-3 split decision, the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed today a Polk County District Court ruling that dismissed a lawsuit seeking to nullify new state water quality rules.

The environmental community and groups representing big agribusiness have closely watched this case for years, because the "antidegradation" rules are an important step toward bringing Iowa into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act. Had this lawsuit succeeded, no strong water quality rules would have seen the light of day for the forseeable future in Iowa, because Governor Terry Branstad has packed the State Environmental Protection Commission with advocates for agribusiness.

Follow me after the jump for more background on the case and details about today's decision.

UPDATE: Added reaction from the Iowa Farm Bureau and the Iowa Environmental Council below. If there's a more hypocritical statewide organization than the Farm Bureau, I can't think what it could be.

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Iowa Citizens are not anti-ag. They are anti industrial ag.

by: rollingacresfarm

Mon Dec 16, 2013 at 10:55:57 AM CST

(Denise O'Brien, who was the Democratic nominee for Iowa secretary of agriculture in 2006, farms with her husband at Rolling Acres Farm in Cass County. She co-authored this post with staff from the non-profit Pesticide Action Network. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Below is a response to the article http://www.desmoinesregister.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2013312050037&nclick_check=1 that was published on December 5th. The piece was submitted but not published. It was written in collaboration with staff from Pesticide Action Network:

Contrary to Mr. Lehr’s inflammatory remarks to the recent Iowa Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting, the trend of Iowans paying attention to agricultural practices is a far cry from the state rejecting farming. Iowans have a deep appreciation for agriculture. They want what is best for food production, and for the state... A healthy dialog about farming practices isn’t something to fear – it can help make Iowa a healthier and more economically secure place to live. 

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Weekend open thread, with recent Iowa Supreme Court news

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Oct 13, 2013 at 13:30:00 PM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread.

I've been catching up on news related to the Iowa Supreme Court. On October 9 the seven justices heard oral arguments in two cases at the Fort Dodge Middle School auditorium. One of those cases was Iowa Farm Bureau, et al. v. Environmental Protection Commission, et al. Interest groups representing major water polluting industries in Iowa are seeking to overturn one of the most significant water quality protection rules this state has adopted during my lifetime. In March 2012, a Polk County District Court judge declared the legal challenge to the rule "without merit." The Farm Bureau quickly signaled its intent to appeal, claiming the case was about "good government" rather than water quality.

The Iowa Supreme Court will likely announce a decision in this case sometime early next year. Ryan Koopmans noted recently at the On Brief blog that the justices have cleared what used to be a major backlog and are running an efficient operation.

On average, the Court issues a decision 112 days after final submission (which is usually triggered by oral argument).  But even that figure understates the Court's efficiency.   There is a small subset of cases that, because of their complexity or other unusual factors, skew the average, which means that the median might give a better picture of the Court's timeliness.  That's 87 days between final submission and decision, which is relatively fast.

The Court is even faster when the situation calls for it.  In February, the Court issued a decision in In re Whalen-a case about a burial location- just 29 days after the scheduled oral argument.  And the  Court has made it a priority to respond quickly to certified questions from federal district courts.

Incidentally, last week's session in Fort Dodge is part of the Iowa Supreme Court's relatively new commitment to hear cases outside its chambers in Des Moines periodically. The effort was one response to the 2010 retention elections, the first ever in which voters chose not to retain Iowa Supreme Court justices. University of Iowa College of Law professor Todd Pettys cited those hearings around the state as one among many reasons that the 2012 vote to retain Justice David Wiggins turned out differently from the elections two years earlier. You can download Pettys' paper for the Journal of Appellate Practice and Process here. While it's probably healthy for the justices to work in other cities from time to time, I think the other factors Pettys discusses were far more important in 2012 than the court's statewide tour.

At the end of Pettys' paper, he discusses the future for the Varnum v Brien ruling, which cleared the way for same-sex marriages in Iowa in 2009. Commenting on a somewhat surprising "special concurrence" by Justices Edward Mansfield and Thomas Waterman in a different case related to marriage equality, Pettys suggests that perhaps "the Iowa Supreme Court is no longer of one mind about whether the Varnum Court was right to hold that the Iowa Constitution grants same-sex couples the right to marry."

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Iowa reaction to House passing Farm Bill with no nutrition programs

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jul 12, 2013 at 08:35:00 AM CDT

After last month's embarrassing failure to pass a five-year Farm Bill in the U.S. House, Republicans moved new legislation yesterday that included funding for agricultural programs but excluded the nutrition programs that have been embedded in farm bills for decades.

After Democrats forced a long slog through procedural votes, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act barely passed by 216 votes to 208. Every Democrat present voted against the bill, as did twelve Republicans. The rest of the GOP caucus voted yes, including Representatives Tom Latham (IA-03) and Steve King (IA-04). Last month, King tried but failed to muster sufficient conservative support for a farm bill including big cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (more commonly known as food stamps). Iowa Democrats Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) rejected yesterday's bill. They were among the small group of House Democrats to support the previous version of the farm bill despite cuts in nutrition programs that drove away most of their caucus.

Comments from Senator Tom Harkin and most of Iowa's House delegation are after the jump. I will update this post as needed with more comments from Iowa candidates or elected officials. At this writing, I don't see anything about yesterday's vote on Latham's Congressional website. According to Radio Iowa, Latham "said he was disappointed with the process, but pleased the House was 'at least able to pass the agriculture portion.'"

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Iowa's recreational land use immunity doctrine .....

by: MaryWolfe

Mon May 13, 2013 at 16:45:00 PM CDT

(Interesting commentary by an attorney and Iowa House member about a recent Iowa Supreme Court ruling and the bill drafted in response. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

cross-posted with permission from State Representative Mary Wolfe's blog

There have been many questions/concerns raised by the Iowa Supreme Court's recent ruling in Sallee v. Stewart, in which the Court was asked to interpret Iowa's Recreational Land Use Immunity doctrine. Like most of my colleagues, I've read the relevant court cases and studied the applicable statutes, and I've reviewed House File 605, the Farm Bureau's proposed bill intended to fix the "crisis" allegedly created by the Sallee ruling - and like many others, I've concluded that the actual impact of the Sallee ruling on Iowa's recreational land use immunity doctrine is minimal, and that the Farm Bureau's proposed legislation is an over-reaction to Sallee's extremely narrow holding.

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Shorter EPA: Iowa's nutrient reduction strategy needs a lot of work

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 09:10:00 AM CST

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency submitted lengthy comments this week on Iowa's draft strategy for reducing nutrients in waterways. I've posted the full text of EPA Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks' letter after the jump. The EPA found more problems with the "nonpoint source" part of the strategy, which primarily addresses runoff from farms. The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship drafted the nonpoint source part of the nutrient strategy, largely without input from Iowa Department of Natural Resources staff who are experts on agricultural runoff. Under "general comments," the EPA confirmed that rejecting numeric criteria for nutrient pollution from farms "does not reflect the EPA's current thinking." The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation applauded that aspect of the nutrient strategy. We'll see whose view holds sway in the final version.

The Iowa DNR was responsible for drafting the "point source" part of the nutrient strategy, which addresses municipal and industrial discharges (such as from wastewater treatment facilities) into rivers and streams. The EPA submitted only minor suggestions for improving the point source section.

Iowa citizens and advocacy groups have until January 18 to comment on the nutrient strategy.

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Two views of Iowa's strategy on key water pollution problem

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jan 09, 2013 at 11:40:00 AM CST

Last week the Iowa Department of Natural Resources extended the public comment period on the state's proposed strategy "to assess and reduce nutrients delivered to Iowa waterways and the Gulf of Mexico." Nutrients have become "Iowa's most widespread water pollution problem" and are the primary cause of the gulf's "dead zone." The Environmental Working Group's recent report on "Murky Waters" explains the causes of Iowa's chronically poor water quality.

Interest groups aligned with corporate agriculture had extensive input while the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship drafted its part of the nutrient reduction strategy, even shutting out the Iowa DNR's experts on agricultural runoff. For more background on the proposed state policy, which relies on voluntary efforts to curb pollution from farms, click here or here.

Iowans have until January 18 to comment on the nutrient strategy. Many groups and individuals have already submitted their feedback. After the jump I've posted comments from the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and the Sierra Club Iowa Chapter. The contrast is striking.  

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Iowa State limiting academic freedom at Harkin Institute

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 06:40:00 AM CST

Iowa State University President Steven Leath is trying to restrict the kind of agricultural research that can be conducted at the Harkin Institute of Public Policy, I learned from a must-read article by Hannah Furfaro for the Ames Tribune. The dispute over academic freedom may prompt U.S. Senator Tom Harkin to sever ties from the institute established last year.
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Lawmaker seeking longer public comment period on Iowa water quality policy

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Nov 28, 2012 at 10:15:00 AM CST

State Representative Chuck Isenhart has formally asked Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Chuck Gipp and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey to extend the public comment period on Iowa's latest water quality policy. Shortly before Thanksgiving, officials revealed a draft strategy "to assess and reduce nutrients delivered to Iowa waterways and the Gulf of Mexico." The 45-day public comment period falls mostly during the holiday season.

Isenhart, the ranking Democrat on the Iowa House Environmental Protection Committee, pointed out that a 30-day extension of the comment period would allow for feedback from the Watershed Planning Advisory Council and from relevant Iowa House and Senate committees. The legislature's 2013 session will open on January 14, ten days after the current public comment period expires.

Isenhart also suggested that an extension would be fair to stakeholder groups and members of the public who didn't have the "privilege" of reading the draft nutrient strategy before last week. Stakeholders whose leaders got a "head start" on reviewing the policy before the official roll-out include agricultural commodity groups, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, the Iowa League of Cities, the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, and the Iowa Waste Water Association.

The full text of Isenhart's letter is below. Last month Gipp denied a request to extend public comments on a complex air quality permit linked to a large fertilizer plant construction project.

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Big ag interests writing new state policy on farm runoff

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 10:02:52 AM CST

Governor Terry Branstad's plan to transfer water quality programs from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship stalled during the 2011 legislative session. However, state officials appear to be letting corporate agriculture interests control Iowa's water pollution rules anyway.

Policy statements from the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation were lifted almost verbatim for a new state plan to reduce runoff from farms, according to an exclusive report by Perry Beeman in today's Des Moines Register.

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Iowa Senate district 6: Mary Bruner vs Mark Segebart

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Nov 05, 2012 at 17:10:13 PM CST

Democratic candidates for the state Senate haven't fared well in western Iowa lately, so the new Senate district 6 hasn't been on my radar, even though it's an open seat. However, campaign finance reports indicate that Democrats are not conceding this district, so I decided to post a profile of the race. Background on both candidates is below, along with a district map and some of the campaign rhetoric voters have been hearing.
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Four strategies for interest group Iowa legislative endorsements

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Nov 05, 2012 at 07:47:54 AM CST

Many candidates for the Iowa House and Senate tout endorsements by outside groups in their campaign communications. Some of those groups pay for direct mail, phone calls, or even advertising supporting their endorsed candidates.

Iowa's influential political action committees and advocacy groups have very different ways of getting involved in the state legislative campaign. Follow me after the jump for examples of four distinct strategies.

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A few links on making Iowa's water cleaner (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Oct 04, 2012 at 07:45:00 AM CDT

To coincide with today's annual conference of the Iowa Environmental Council, I've compiled some recent news related to Iowa water quality after the jump.
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Iowa Senate district 30: Jeff Danielson and Matt Reisetter up on tv

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Sep 12, 2012 at 11:54:21 AM CDT

Both Democratic incumbent Jeff Danielson and Republican challenger Matt Reisetter have started advertising on television in what is expected to be one of Iowa's most competitive legislative races: Iowa Senate district 30. Both videos and transcripts are after the jump, along with a district map and background on both candidates.  
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Branstad begging for a lawsuit on electrical inspections

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 02, 2012 at 09:15:00 AM CDT

The Iowa Department of Public Safety announced last week that it is halting electrical inspections of farm buildings. The move is consistent with Governor Terry Branstad's opinion that the inspections are an unlawful bureaucratic overreach. One way or another, a court will probably decide whether the Electrical Examining Board or the Branstad administration violated state law.
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Weekend open thread: Iowa rivers and lakes edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun May 20, 2012 at 13:00:14 PM CDT

Summer unofficially kicks off next weekend, which means lots of Iowans will be enjoying themselves at lakes and rivers. Follow me after the jump for recent news related to lake and river projects, flood prevention, and water quality in Iowa.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

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