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Branstad insists on keeping administrative law judges "at-will," easier to fire

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jul 03, 2015 at 10:47:23 AM CDT

Not for the first time and probably not for the last time, Governor Terry Branstad dropped a lot of line-item vetoes late in the afternoon before a holiday weekend. Early news reports are understandably focusing on the vetoes of one-time funding for K-12 education and state universities, as well as language that would have kept mental health institutions in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant open. Bleeding Heartland has a post in progress about the fallout from those actions and others, including Branstad's decision to strike language that would have expanded child care assistance.

Democratic State Representative Sharon Steckman called attention to several other line-item vetoes that flew below the radar yesterday. One of them seems particularly important, as it could put the State of Iowa at odds with U.S. Department of Labor demands to "strengthen Iowa's compliance with Federal law" and keep administrative law judges "free from actual or perceived intimidation."

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Weekend open thread: Hostile environments

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Jun 28, 2015 at 13:17:27 PM CDT

I was planning to compile presidential candidate reactions to this week's two big U.S. Supreme Court decisions for the weekend thread, but this disturbing feature for the Kansas City Star derailed my plans. Jason Hancock and Steve Kraske report on a pervasive hostile work environment for women at the Missouri Capitol. I've posted a few excerpts below, but you need to click through and read the whole piece, which explores the toxic culture fueling the harassment and lack of accountability.

Too many women working at the Iowa statehouse have had similar experiences. I've heard some appalling stories in private communications, and no, it's not a partisan problem. My impression is that over the last 15 to 20 years, the work environment at the Capitol in Des Moines has improved, and sexual harassment is no longer as prevalent for Iowa legislative staffers as it is in Jefferson City, Missouri. That said, if even half of what Kirsten Anderson alleged in court filings is true, the culture at the Iowa statehouse is far from where it needs to be.

For a politically-engaged young person starting a career, there can hardly be a more exciting job than working in a state legislature. I feel physically ill thinking of how many women have had powerful men ruin these potentially enriching experiences. Harassment can cause severe emotional trauma. One former Missouri legislative staffer told the Kansas City Star, "The best thing that ever happened to me was getting another job and leaving that building." Hardly any of the perpetrators faced real consequences for their unethical (and in some cases illegal) conduct toward female interns or legislative employees.

Speaking of hostile environments, many social conservatives appear to be hunkering down in a siege mentality following Friday's Supreme Court decision on marriage equality. I am continually baffled to see how opinion leaders on the Christian right are so eager to view themselves as persecuted minorities. No church will be forced to officiate or recognize a same-sex marriage, any more than the Catholic Church has been forced to marry people who had civil divorces over the last five decades.

Some of the over-the-top reactions to the marriage ruling are laughable. But when you think about it, how unhealthy to convince yourself and your followers that religious Americans are now "vulnerable." Christian martyrdom is still a tragic reality in some parts of the world, but fomenting paranoid ideas about the fate of American conservatives doesn't benefit anyone. Check that: I can see how some people and corporations could profit from spreading fear that Christians are about to be persecuted on a mass scale and "Must Now Learn To Live as Exiles in Our Own Country."

Having spent most of my life in metro areas where my fellow Jews made up less than 1 percent of the population, I've wondered what it would have been like to live in a larger Jewish community as a child. But one huge plus about growing up in Iowa was learning at an early age that the whole world wasn't ever going to validate my religious perspective, nor did I need the mass culture to approve and promote my beliefs. I encourage disappointed social conservatives to learn that life lesson sooner rather than later.

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No single issue is worth risking the Iowa Senate majority

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jun 16, 2015 at 08:22:02 AM CDT

Shortly before the end of this year's legislative session, former State Representative Ed Fallon announced "political action" to stop the proposed Bakken Oil Pipeline. He warned that if the Iowa House and Senate did not approve a bill to block the use of eminent domain for the project, he would organize and fundraise "to help defeat one or two Democratic Senators and one or two Republican Representatives" who oppose the bill.

On June 5, the Iowa House and Senate adjourned for the year without passing an eminent domain bill in either chamber. Last week Fallon confirmed that he is sticking to his goal of defeating one or two majority party members in both the House and Senate, adding that he had already raised $4,500 toward the cause.

All I can say is, count me out of that political crusade.

Come to think of it, I have a few more things to say on the subject.

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Branstad may veto part of budget compromise, open to special session on school funding

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jun 09, 2015 at 07:59:32 AM CDT

Governor Terry Branstad does not feel bound by spending compromises Iowa Senate Democrats and House Republicans made to end the 2015 legislative session, he told reporters yesterday. Democrats reluctantly agreed to most of the GOP budget targets in exchange for extra funding for education and other key programs in a $125 million supplemental spending bill. But last year, Branstad vetoed one supplemental spending bill in its entirety and item vetoed from other legislation some hard-fought increases in conservation funding. Similar action in the coming weeks would make an already disappointing session for Democrats even worse.

In more surprising comments yesterday, Branstad indicated that he hasn't ruled out calling lawmakers back to Des Moines for a special session to set K-12 school funding for the 2016/2017 academic year. Under a 20-year-old state law, the Iowa House and Senate should have acted on that issue months ago, but in recent years House Republicans have refused to follow the timetable for giving school districts a year's warning on state aid levels. As a result, administrators and school board members were forced to fly blind when adopting budgets for the 2015/2016 academic year. While I'm glad Branstad is back on board with following the law on school funding (he wasn't always so inclined), I have trouble seeing how a special session could overcome House Republicans' intransigence.

Follow me after the jump for more details from Branstad's press conference.

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Anatomy of a rare and costly strategic error by Mike Gronstal

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jun 05, 2015 at 13:52:17 PM CDT

The Iowa legislature is wrapping up its work for this year with the usual frenzy of appropriations bills. Months of stalemate over K-12 education funding and social safety net programs ended late last week with a deal that gave Iowa House Republican leaders what they wanted on overall state spending ($7.168 billion) and "allowable growth" for local school district budgets (up by only 1.25 percent). A $125 million supplemental spending bill will allocate one-time money for K-12 schools and some other Democratic priorities.

It will take a while to sort through the wreckage and identify the good, bad, and ugly line items hiding in the appropriations bills for fiscal year 2016. Democrats can only pray that Governor Terry Branstad won't veto the supplemental spending bill like he did last year.

What's already clear: Republicans have many more reasons to celebrate. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen was all smiles about the budget deal, while Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal admitted candidly, "I think there's plenty of disappointment to go around, but we fought long and hard for what we thought was important and I think we, in the end, had some success." Speaking to reporters earlier this week, Gronstal noted, "If left to our own devices, we would pass a very different budget. But it is our duty to work together to come to common ground between the two sides."

Why did this "common ground between the two sides" end up so much closer to the Republican negotiating position? Because months ago, Gronstal gave House leaders what they wanted on tax bills, without securing any concessions on spending. Even a brilliant politician can make a mistake.

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Are state laws in the cross-hairs of trade deals?

by: openureyes

Mon Jun 01, 2015 at 10:51:56 AM CDT

(Important points raised by the ranking Democrat on the Iowa House Environmental Protection Committee and a member of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

By STATE REP. CHUCK ISENHART, Dubuque

For two years, along with other state legislators, I have waved yellow flags about the Pacific and European trade deals being negotiated by the Obama Administration.

As Congress moves to give the president authority to "fast-track" trade treaties with other nations -- meaning Congress would give up its ability to change the agreements -- those flags are turning red.

Why do state legislators care? Proposed language in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement could threaten our ability to enforce state laws. This undermines the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: "Powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States." Congress may give the President the ability to effectively negotiate this amendment away.

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Episode 3: Revenge of the Bully Bill

by: natewithglasses

Wed May 27, 2015 at 12:03:49 PM CDT

(Thanks for the update on one of the governor's top priorities for this year's legislative session. Natewithglasses previously discussed the proposed bullying bill here. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

As the Iowa Legislative Session comes to a close (or maybe not...) - one of Governor Branstad's top priorities is struggling to stay alive.  Bullying prevention efforts have gained bipartisan support over the last few years as leaders from both parties have heard the demands of their constituents for more work to be done protecting Iowa's kids.  Let's take a look at this year's bullying bill and what happened to a policy item that every major education organization and several other leaders in school issues supported.  
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Campaign Advice

by: Susan Staed

Tue May 26, 2015 at 19:57:53 PM CDT

(Excellent tips for anyone considering running for the Iowa House or Senate. The author is married to State Representative Art Staed.   - promoted by desmoinesdem)

So you want to run for political office?

I'm going to assume that you're sincere in your professed desire to Make A Difference, and that you truly believe you can Do Better Than the Other Guy/Gal. You seem knowledgeable and eager to get to work. Still, I have some questions for you.

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Ed Fallon arrested after sit-in at governor's office over Bakken pipeline (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon May 18, 2015 at 22:05:43 PM CDT

Former state lawmaker Ed Fallon is in police custody tonight after he refused to leave Governor Terry Branstad's office at the close of business today. Fallon went to the governor's office this afternoon demanding a meeting to discuss "eminent domain legislation that would help landowners along the path of the Bakken Oil Pipeline." More details are in a press release I've enclosed after the jump. Branstad's legal counsel Michael Bousselot came out to talk with Fallon, who insisted on a meeting or phone conversation with the governor himself. Brianne Pfannenstiel reported for the Des Moines Register,

When the statehouse closed at 5 p.m., Iowa State Patrol troopers approached Fallon and asked if he would be willing to leave, or be arrested for criminal trespassing. Fallon declined to leave, so he was escorted out of the building and arrested outside.

A supporter posted on Facebook this evening that Fallon has a "jail support team attending to all his needs" and "will probably be released sometime tomorrow." When Fallon served in the Iowa House from 1995 through the 2006 session, land use issues were a focal point of his legislative efforts. During and since that time, Fallon has opposed various proposals to use eminent domain to seize farmland for use in for-profit ventures. Earlier this year, he walked from the southeast corner of Iowa to the northeast corner along the proposed pipeline route to raise awareness and mobilize landowners and others who oppose the project. The No Bakken website and Facebook page represent a coalition of some two dozen non-profit groups that oppose the project.

The eminent domain bill Fallon wants Branstad to support is Senate File 506 (previously Senate Study Bill 1276), which passed the Iowa Senate Government Oversight Committee on May 6 with support from Democratic State Senators Rob Hogg, Brian Schoenjahn, and Kevin Kinney, and Republican Jack Whitver. Branstad warned state lawmakers in January not to "get politics into this" debate over the pipeline. The governor wants to leave the decision to the Iowa Utilities Board, which is considered likely to approve the pipeline. The Sierra Club Iowa chapter plans to fight the project before every state and federal agency that would be involved.

UPDATE: Fallon was released from jail the same evening he was arrested. In a press release I've posted below, he says he's due in court on May 27 and hasn't decided "what legal route to take yet."

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Branstad's plans on Medicaid, mental health facilities unpopular as well as unwise

by: desmoinesdem

Fri May 01, 2015 at 11:10:00 AM CDT

Governor Terry Branstad is forging ahead with some major policies he didn't campaign on last year, oblivious to concerns about the impact on Iowa's Medicaid recipients and people served by two mental health institutions the governor wants to close.

According to Public Policy Polling's latest Iowa survey, the governor's plans are deeply unpopular.

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Public's Business in the Public's House

by: Mike Owen

Mon Apr 27, 2015 at 17:09:00 PM CDT

(Excellent commentary on the controversy Susan Staed discussed here. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

A little Iowa House dustup surfaced in social media last week. Susan Staed, who clerks for her husband, Rep. Art Staed, reported on her Facebook page and on Bleeding Heartland about complaints from the chief clerk of the House that she was taking pictures from the House floor - in violation of a House rule.

Seems the House has a seldom-enforced rule that - while photos may be taken from the gallery or press box at virtually any time - they may not be taken from the House floor without permission of those in the photo, and never during a vote.

My, aren't we sensitive.

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Say Cheese

by: Susan Staed

Sat Apr 25, 2015 at 10:24:03 AM CDT

(I've never heard of this Iowa House rule before. Supposedly clerks for other House Democrats have also been hassled recently after posting photos on social media.   - promoted by desmoinesdem)

When I was a child, I hated getting my picture taken. An infamous family photo taken at an older sister's wedding is of the entire family grouped together, grinning for the professional photographer - except 10-yr-old me. I have a scowl on my face big enough to scare away the Dalai Lama. Not sure how old I was before I quit hiding when mom or dad yelled, "Family picture time!", but eventually I overcame the low self-esteem and painful shyness that dominated adolescence.

40 years later, it's more than a little ironic that one of my duties as Art's clerk is to photograph his legislative day. After winning re-election, Art decided to document the process involved in how our laws are made. This means a gazillion pictures of meetings with constituents one-on-one, pictures of group meetings, pics of sub-committees, full committees, and ultimately pictures of House debate.

Last week, after taking pictures of various representatives during floor debate on education, I returned to my seat next to Art's. The Chief Clerk came out of the Well (rather unusual during floor action, but House Leadership told her not to wait), up to my desk and told me not to take pictures of individual reps unless I had their permission - per House Rules.

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Schools paying the price for Iowa legislative dysfunction

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Apr 21, 2015 at 14:00:00 PM CDT

Nearly a week after the deadline for school districts to certify their budgets for the coming year, Iowa lawmakers are still not close to a deal on K-12 education funding. Some 300 teachers have been laid off in anticipation of no increase or only a minimal increase in state aid.

Statehouse Republicans who are resisting the obvious compromise on school funding claim Iowa doesn't have the money Democrats want to spend on K-12 schools, let alone the amount educators asked for. Reality: money could be found for an adequate increase in state aid to schools if not for an expensive commercial property tax cut lawmakers approved two years ago, adding some $277 million in fiscal year 2016 alone to other costly tax breaks for Iowa business interests.  

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Iowa Wiccan priestess displays amazing power

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Apr 10, 2015 at 16:07:33 PM CDT

to make other people act like idiots.

I didn't think anything could top some people's freak-out over atheist ads on Des Moines buses, but the reaction to yesterday's Wiccan invocation in the Iowa House is a contender.

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Shorter Terry Branstad: It's good to be the king

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Apr 07, 2015 at 20:26:59 PM CDT

Governor Terry Branstad made a remarkable claim at his latest press conference: because "the people of Iowa elected me to reduce the size and cost of government," he has the authority to "make tough decisions" on closing state-run mental health facilities and reorganizing Medicaid services for more than half a million Iowans.

To justify his position, Branstad channeled President Harry Truman: "The buck stops with me." But his view of governance reminds me more of Mel Brooks in the movie "History of the World, Part 1": "It's good to be the king."

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Weekend open thread: Iowa marriage equality anniversary edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Apr 05, 2015 at 07:00:00 AM CDT

Happy Passover or Happy Easter to all who are celebrating this weekend. In past years Bleeding Heartland has posted links about those religious holidays. For today's open thread, I'm reflecting on the Iowa Supreme Court's Varnum v Brien ruling, announced on April 3, 2009.

Lambda Legal, which represented the Varnum plaintiffs, published a timeline of the case. The LGBT advocacy group filed the lawsuit in December 2005, banking on the Iowa Supreme Court's "extraordinary history" of independence and "civil rights leadership."

If Iowa lawmakers had approved a state constitutional amendment on marriage, the Varnum case might never have been filed (in anticipation of Iowans approving a ban on same-sex marriage, as voters had done in many other states). But during the 2004 legislative session, the marriage amendment failed by one vote in the upper chamber, thanks to the united Senate Democratic caucus, joined by GOP senators Maggie Tinsman, Don Redfern, Mary Lundby, and Doug Shull. All four Republican moderates had left the legislature by the time the Iowa Supreme Court ruled on Varnum. Redfern retired in 2004. Tinsman lost her 2006 primary to a social conservative challenger. Shull retired from the Senate in 2006 and unsuccessfully sought a seat in the state House that year. Lundby retired from the legislature in 2008 and passed away the following year.  

Reading through the early Democratic and Republican reaction to the Varnum decision should make all Iowa Democrats proud. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and former House Speaker Pat Murphy deserve credit for their leadership at a time when some Democrats would have run for cover on an issue perceived to be unpopular. Minority civil rights should never be conditional on majority approval.

As for the Republicans in the Bleeding Heartland community, you can be proud that your party's state legislators seem less and less interested in fighting the losing battle to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples.

Three of the seven justices who concurred in Varnum v Brien (Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, Justice David Baker, and Justice Michael Streit) lost their jobs in Iowa's 2010 retention elections. Justice David Wiggins survived a campaign against his retention in 2012. The remaining three justices who concurred in the decision are up for retention in 2016: Chief Justice Mark Cady (author of the ruling), Justice Daryl Hecht, and Justice Brent Appel. It's not yet clear whether Bob Vander Plaats and his fellow-travellers will make a serious effort to remove them, or whether they will give up in the face of Iowans' growing acceptance of marriage equality.

The LGBT advocacy group One Iowa holds an annual gala around the anniversary of the Varnum ruling. Last night the group honored Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum and Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu, among others. I enclose below a statement from the group marking six years since gay and lesbian couples won the freedom to marry in Iowa.

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New Iowa law aims to ease cities' concerns about sledding

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Apr 02, 2015 at 15:05:00 PM CDT

Iowa received some some unflattering national media coverage this year after the Dubuque City Council banned sledding at most city parks, out of what many considered excessive fears about litigation.

A law Governor Terry Branstad signed yesterday should bring joy to thousands of Iowa sledders next winter.  

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Quit stalling and make a deal on Iowa school funding

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Apr 02, 2015 at 09:00:00 AM CDT

Iowa legislative leaders like to boast about how well they work together, in contrast to the "gridlock" seen in Washington when different parties controlled the upper and lower chambers of Congress.

Yet Iowa lawmakers can be remarkably slow to move toward obvious solutions to some disagreements. Less than two weeks before school districts need to adopt budgets covering the 2015/2016 academic year, Iowa House Republicans and Senate Democrats are nowhere close to a deal on K-12 school funding. What is their problem?  

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Study shows distractions cause 6 in 10 crashes involving teen drivers

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Apr 01, 2015 at 12:40:00 PM CDT

After analyzing video data from roughly 1,700 crashes, University of Iowa researchers determined that "distracted driving contributes to nearly 60 percent of car crashes involving teen drivers" between the ages of 16 and 19. That's a far higher figure than previous studies have indicated. The findings are significant because although teenagers drive less than most other age groups, "their numbers of crashes and crash deaths are disproportionately high."

The full report, "Using Naturalistic Driving Data to Assess the Prevalence of Environmental Factors and Driver Behaviors in Teen Driver Crashes," is available here (pdf). Some highlights are here and after the jump, along with more details about the methodology.

Interacting with passengers in the car and talking or texting on a cell phone were among the most common distractions preceding teen driver crashes. Proposed legislation to ban most cell phone use while driving did not make it through the Iowa legislature's "funnel" this year, so it's up to parents to help address the problem by voluntarily not texting or carrying on phone conversations while they drive.

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August 23 to be set as earliest start date for most Iowa schools

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 31, 2015 at 16:16:11 PM CDT

A bill prohibiting school districts from starting the academic year before August 23 is on its way to Governor Terry Branstad, who has indicated that he can accept the compromise. UPDATE: The governor signed the bill on April 10.

The school start date issue has taken up a lot of oxygen at the statehouse this legislative session, despite a lack of evidence that the timing of the academic year affects Iowa's tourism sector in any meaningful way. Follow me after the jump for details on Senate File 227's journey through the legislature, including how Iowa House and Senate members voted on different versions of the bill.

The governor's determination to use state power to supersede decisions reached independently by more than 300 school boards and superintendents is yet another example of the Branstad administration's disregard for local control in many policy areas. For my money, that's one of the most under-reported Iowa politics stories of the last five years.

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