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Republicans left Iowa House seats uncontested in nearly every battleground Iowa Senate district

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Aug 25, 2014 at 12:41:54 PM CDT

The filing period for general-election candidates closed on August 15. You can view the full candidate list for federal and state offices on the Iowa Secretary of State's website. John Deeth briefly reviews all 100 House races here. Next month, I'll be posting on the most competitive Iowa House races.

For today, I'm interested in what appears to be a pattern of Republicans letting Iowa House seats go in battleground Iowa Senate districts. I suspect a strategy is in play to depress GOTV in the more Democratic halves of these districts.  

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New data bolster supporters of raising Iowa's gas tax

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Aug 18, 2014 at 07:33:30 AM CDT

The average cost of owning a car is lower in Iowa than in any other state, the Cedar Rapids Gazette's B.A. Morelli reported on August 16, citing an analysis by Bankrate.com. Car insurance costs an average of $630 per year in Iowa, the lowest in the 50 states. Vehicle repairs cost Iowa drivers an average of $315 per year, also the lowest number for any state. The average cost of gasoline for Iowa drivers worked out to $998 a year, taking into account not only the price of gas but also vehicle miles traveled and fuel efficiency rates. That's "middle of the pack," Morelli noted.

Iowa's gasoline tax has not been increased since 1989, reaching a historic low in real terms. Meanwhile, Iowa road and bridge conditions continue to deteriorate. Three years ago, our state ranked third-worst in the country for structurally deficient bridges. The latest data indicate we are second-worst in that category, with more than 20 percent of the state's bridges in need of repairs or replacement.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jack Hatch supports raising the gas tax, while Governor Terry Branstad has said he favors other ways to finance road and bridge work. The candidates clashed over that issue during last week's debate. Branstad has left himself some wiggle room by not pledging to veto a gas tax increase.

The current leaders of the Iowa House and Senate Transportation Committees strongly support raising the gas tax to pay for road work. Bills to increase the tax by a total of 10 cents per gallon over several years passed committees in both chambers in recent years, but advocates were unable to recruit enough bipartisan support to pass them in the full Iowa House or Senate in either of the past two legislative sessions. Iowa House Transportation Committee Chair Josh Byrnes has promised to keep working on this issue, and State Representative Brian Moore, the vice chair of that committee, said this spring that a gas tax hike is "in the works" for 2015. He has emphasized that weight limits on structurally deficient bridges are bad for businesses like the livestock transportation company he owns.

Republicans Byrnes and Moore both represent Iowa House districts that may be targeted this fall, as does Iowa Senate Transportation Committee Chair Tod Bowman, a Democrat. Prospects for raising the gas tax will depend in part on whether key advocates are re-elected in November. Regardless of which parties control the Iowa House and Senate after the midterm elections, a gas tax increase would have to be a bipartisan effort.

Democratic and Republican critics of increasing the gasoline tax have pointed out that consumption taxes tend to be regressive, hitting lower-income people harder. A gas tax hike would also disproportionately affect rural residents, who may need to travel further to work or shop. The Washington-based Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy has recommended reforms to address those concerns. I've posted the short summary after the jump; you can read more in depth on their ideas for "building a better gas tax" here. I would add that any increase to Iowa's gas tax should be accompanied by "fix-it first" language, so that new road construction doesn't swallow the most of the revenue that should be earmarked for repairs. Fixing roads and bridges gives taxpayers more bang for their buck and creates more jobs than building new roads or putting new lanes on existing roads, which (while sometimes needed) increase future maintenance costs.

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State Representative Henry Rayhons charged with abusing his incapacitated wife

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Aug 16, 2014 at 07:25:00 AM CDT

When I criticized State Representative Henry Rayhons for announcing his retirement so late in an election year, I had no idea this was coming down the pike:

Today, 78 year old Henry Rayhons of Garner, Iowa was arrested after charges were filed against him for 3rd Degree Sexual Abuse, a class C Felony. [...]

The criminal complaint states that on or about May 23, 2014, Rayhons committed sexual abuse upon the victim [Donna Rayhons] by performing a sex act upon her as a person suffering from mental defect or incapacity, after he had been told that the victim did not have the cognitive ability to give consent to any sexual activity.

You can view the complaint and affidavit here (pdf). After the jump I've posted the full text of the Iowa Department of Public Safety press release, a statement released by Henry Rayhons' attorney, and excerpts from relevant news coverage. Henry Rayhons has been released from jail after posting bail. Donna Rayhons passed away on August 8.

It appears that the prosecution's case against Rayhons will rely on testimony from Donna Rayhons' roommate at the nursing home, surveillance camera footage from the nursing home, and statements the state lawmaker made while being interviewed by a Department of Criminal Investigations agent on June 12. Judging from comments made yesterday by Rayhons' son and by his attorney, the defense will argue that Rayhons is the victim of a "witch hunt," that he loved his wife, and that the "sexual contact" he admitted to "could be anything from a hug or a kiss."

Rayhons' late retirement makes a lot more sense now. By the way, on August 14 local Republicans held a special election to nominate Terry Baxter in Iowa House district 8, the seat Rayhons will vacate. Baxter will face Democrat Nancy Huisinga in a district that strongly favors Republicans in voter registrations and presidential voting in 2012.

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How not to retire from the Iowa legislature (revisited)

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Aug 05, 2014 at 09:33:21 AM CDT

A few months ago, Bleeding Heartland criticized the practice of longtime Iowa legislators announcing their retirements within a day or two of the filing deadline for primary candidates. Too many incumbents in both parties have pulled that stunt over the years. Respect for one's constituents demands giving people outside a small circle of party activists a few weeks, or ideally a few months, to consider running for the Iowa House or Senate.

Yesterday, State Representative Henry Rayhons demonstrated an even worse way to retire from the Iowa legislature. Just eleven days before the deadline for getting a candidate on the general election ballot, the nine-term Iowa House Republican announced that he would not seek re-election, citing "ongoing family and health matters." Rae Yost reported for the Mason City Globe-Gazette that the Rayhons family "has been dealing with issues regarding appointment of a guardian and conservator" for the 78-year-old lawmaker's wife.

Rayhons should have announced his retirement earlier this year, anticipating that he would be unable to serve another two-year term. Then other Republicans could have competed in a primary to represent Iowa House district 8, covering part of Kossuth County and all of Hancock and Wright counties. Now only a handful of GOP activists will have a say in choosing Rayhons' successor. They need to convene a nominating convention in the middle of vacation season and the Iowa State Fair. The GOP nominee will face Democrat Nancy Huisinga in a district that strongly favors Republicans in voter registrations and presidential voting in 2012.

Arguably, Rayhons should have stepped aside gracefully three years ago, after Iowa's new map of political boundaries threw him and two House GOP colleagues into House district 8. Instead, House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer moved to the Clear Lake area to run in House district 52. It made no sense for Upmeyer to defer to an eight-term backbencher like Rayhons when doing so meant bigfooting Gabe Haugland, the ambitious young Republican who was already planning to run in HD-52. Everyone could see that Rayhons didn't have a long political career ahead of him and wasn't a key member of the House GOP caucus. We haven't seen the last of Haugland, who was elected to the Iowa GOP's State Central Committee earlier this year. But he could be seeking a second term in a safe Iowa House seat by now if Rayhons had allowed Upmeyer to stay in HD-08.

I'm glad there is no mandatory retirement age for Iowa legislators, but sometimes our older incumbents are too reluctant to step aside for a younger generation.

UPDATE: I was sorry to hear that Donna Lou Young Rayhons passed away on August 8.

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A smoke-free Cedar Rapids casino is not a public health initiative

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 19:34:00 PM CDT

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission sent a strong message last week to backers of a casino project in Cedar Rapids: don't bother trying to get a license for at least the next three years.

Rational actors would have started working on Plan B for prime downtown real estate as soon as commissioners voted down the application for a Cedar Rapids casino in April. But Mayor Ron Corbett and some other movers and shakers are determined to chase the gambling dream, through legislative or judicial means. Instead of taking the hint from the Racing and Gaming commissioners, Corbett is ratcheting up his strategy for gaining legislative approval for a new casino. He's smart and experienced enough to know that state lawmakers need a better excuse for acting than "we don't like what the commission did." So, he's now dressing the casino project up as a public health initiative. Lawmakers shouldn't fall for or hide behind this ruse.

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July 4 weekend open thread: Iowa fireworks debate

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jul 04, 2014 at 12:34:00 PM CDT

Happy Independence Day to the Bleeding Heartland community. We're heading out to the Windsor Heights parade soon. Holiday parades and summer festivals are great outreach opportunities for candidates and their campaigns. Please share any favorite parade stories in this thread.

Last weekend Democratic State Senator Jeff Danielson and Republican State Senator Jake Chapman co-authored an editorial promising to work together next year to legalize fireworks in Iowa.

Senate File 2294 had several provisions that would allow fireworks to be safely regulated. Those stipulations would include prohibiting minors from purchasing fireworks, giving local municipalities the ability to restrict fireworks and the fire marshal the ability to regulate fireworks in the case of droughts.

The fireworks ban originally was a result of a Depression-era fire created by a sparkler in the middle of a drought when temperatures were nearing 100 degrees.

There also are misnomers and myths surrounding the fireworks-related injuries. In fact, the number of fireworks-related injuries in the U.S. has decreased drastically - nearly 61 percent - from 1994 to 2011, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. This decrease in reported injuries is noteworthy considering the use of fireworks increased nearly 100 percent during the same time period.

We remind Iowans that as we near the celebration of our independence, fireworks remain illegal in Iowa. About 42 states have legalized some form of fireworks. We encourage all those who wish to have the same freedom to display fireworks, to please contact your legislators and let them know it is time for Iowa to join America in celebrating our Independence Day with fireworks.

Here's some background on "The Great Spencer Fire" of 1931.

I'm a bit surprised to see Danielson taking the lead on this issue, as he is not only a firefighter but also a veteran. Amateur fireworks can prompt anxiety or panic attacks for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Playing with sparklers, which are legal, as well as fireworks purchased from neighboring states, contributes to a surge in eye injuries around July 4. Interest groups representing doctors have lobbied strongly against lifting the ban on most fireworks because of the risk of burns.

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Ronda Bern will face John Forbes in Iowa House district 40

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 06:28:00 AM CDT

Republicans held a special convention in Iowa House district 40 yesterday to nominate a candidate against first-term State Representative John Forbes. Remarkably, no Republican filed to run in this district before the March filing deadline. Two candidates attempted to win the nomination through write-in votes on the June 3 primary, but neither reached the required threshold.

Kevin Hall reported for The Iowa Republican that establishment candidate Ronda Bern won the nominating convention by 4.5 to 3.5 over college student Jeremy Freeman. (GOP Polk County Central Committee members from the various precincts in the House district cast weighted votes based on how many Republican votes came from each precinct in the last general election.) I'm surprised Bern didn't defeat Freeman more decisively. The nominating convention could have gone the other way if Freeman had a few more friends on the central committee.  

Click here for background on Bern. After the jump I've posted a map of House district 40 and the latest voter registration numbers. This will likely be a targeted seat in the general election. Republicans currently hold a 53 to 47 Iowa House majority.

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Prospects for increasing diversity in the Iowa legislature

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jun 10, 2014 at 08:10:18 AM CDT

Forty men and ten women currently serve in the Iowa Senate. No senators are African-American, Latino, or Asian-American.

Seventy-five men and 25 women currently serve in the Iowa House. Five state representatives are African-American and none are Latino or Asian-American.

Time for a look at how those numbers might change after the November election, now that primaries have determined the major-party nominees in all state legislative districts. Click here for the June 3 unofficial election results and here for the full list of candidates who filed to run in the primaries.

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Republicans likely to nominate Ronda Bern in Iowa House district 40

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jun 06, 2014 at 16:17:09 PM CDT

Last week Bleeding Heartland mentioned that two Republicans were actively seeking write-in votes in Iowa House district 40, the Iowa GOP's most spectacular recruiting failure in a statehouse district this year. Normally, major parties rectify such problems by nominating a candidate during the summer at a special district convention. However, little-known conservative activist Jeremy Freeman started aggressively door-knocking last month to obtain write-in votes (at first using a cowboy card that misspelled Governor Terry Branstad's name). Due to a little-known feature of Iowa election law and low turnout in Urbandale during the 2012 Republican primary, a write-in candidate could have taken the House district 40 nomination outright with 149 or more votes on June 3.

Local establishment Republicans swung into action behind Ronda Bern. An alert Bleeding Heartland reader shared with me a copy of her direct mail piece, which reached voters shortly before the primary. I got a kick out the fib on the front side: "In order to have a candidate on the ballot in November in HD 40, you must follow the write-in instructions on the back of this card." Not true, as we're going to find out during the next couple of months. I've posted the mailer after the jump, along with an excerpt from the May 23 press release announcing Bern's candidacy.

On election night, I saw on the Polk County Auditor's website that 254 write-in votes were recorded in House district 40, and thought perhaps Bern or Freeman made it over the line. But Bern received just 110 write-in votes, Freeman 103. The rest of the write-ins were for people who received either one or two votes apiece, according to the Polk County elections office. Since no one won the nomination through write-ins, Republicans can schedule a district convention anytime to nominate their candidate. All signs point to Bern. I couldn't find any record of her donating to Iowa House or Senate candidates in the past, but she and her husband maxed out to Matt Whitaker's unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign. In 2010, she gave $2,000 to Jim Gibbons' campaign in Iowa's third Congressional district.

House district 40 is likely to be a battleground race this fall. It's among a handful of Democratic-held Iowa House districts that Mitt Romney carried in the last presidential election. The latest figures from the Secretary of State's Office indicate that the district contains 6,385 active registered Democrats, 7,405 Republicans, and 6,037 no-party voters. Both parties ran television commercials here during the open-seat race in 2012, which Forbes won by 1,069 votes. Many local Republicans supported the Democrat, a local pharmacist, business owner, and longtime Urbandale City Council member. The latest financial reports show that in mid-May, Forbes' campaign had a little more than $19,000 cash on hand.

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At least two Republicans now seeking nomination in Iowa House district 40

by: desmoinesdem

Tue May 27, 2014 at 09:40:00 AM CDT

Up to now, the lack of a Republican candidate in Iowa House district 40 has represented one of the most spectacular recruiting failures in Iowa politics this year. Democratic State Representative John Forbes is a first-term incumbent in a wealthy suburban district where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats, and Mitt Romney outpolled Barack Obama in 2012. I've posted a map of House district 40 after the jump. The latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State's office indicate that the district contains 6,405 active registered Democrats, 7,385 Republicans, and 6,060 no-party voters. On paper, it's the most promising GOP pickup among the House seats where no Republican filed candidacy papers in time to be on the primary ballot.

I had assumed that Republicans would convene a special district convention this summer to nominate a challenger against Forbes. But I forgot about an obscure provision of Iowa law, which holds that

if there is no candidate on the official primary ballot of a political party for nomination to a particular office, a write-in candidate may obtain the party's nomination to that office in the primary if the candidate receives a number of votes equal to at least thirty-five percent of the total vote cast for all of that party's candidates for that office in the last preceding primary election for which the party had candidates on the ballot for that office.

Just 423 votes were cast in the 2012 Republican primary in Iowa House district 40, which means that a write-in candidate might need just 149 write-in votes on June 3 to receive the GOP nomination. Although few write-in candidates receive that many votes in Iowa legislative races, that is not an insurmountable hurdle. A well-organized write-in candidate for Windsor Heights City Council received more than 200 votes one year. Lots of Urbandale Republicans are presumably planning to vote on June 3, given the five-way primary for U.S. Senate and the six-way primary for the third Congressional district.

Late last week, a young guy named Jeremy Freeman announced his candidacy for the GOP nomination. I hear he has been knocking on doors in Urbandale, but I don't know much about him. His Facebook page contains little information, other than saying he is a "Bold New Conservative Leader." It appears that the Republican establishment quickly found an alternative write-in candidate, Ronda Bern. Her press release mentions that as well as being a homemaker and co-owner of Vannguard Utility Partners, "a multi-state underground locating business," Bern volunteers at the Lutheran Church of Hope. That's one of the largest congregations in the Des Moines metro area; hundreds of its members probably live in House district 40.

UPDATE: In response to Bleeding Heartland user rockm's question below, I confirmed with the Polk County Auditor's Office that if both Freeman and Bern receive more than 149 write-in votes, the GOP nomination will go to the person who received the larger number of votes.

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Lazy Beltway journalism: Pat Grassley, Matt Schultz among "40 under 40"

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 21, 2014 at 17:21:27 PM CDT

I wouldn't pretend to know who the rising political stars are in all 50 states, but the Washington Post's Aaron Blake published a 40 Under 40 feature this week, purporting to identify "people who have made names for themselves in politics outside of Washington, D.C. - state-level politicians, mayors, local officials and operatives - but could soon be known to all of us."

I strongly disagree with whoever influenced Blake's Iowa selections (State Representative Pat Grassley and Secretary of State Matt Schultz). After the jump I explain why, as well as which Iowans would make the cut for a more accurate "40 Under 40" list.

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Labor union endorsements in contested 2014 Iowa Democratic primaries

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 21, 2014 at 12:17:37 PM CDT

With less than two weeks remaining before June 3, interest groups with a preference in competitive primaries have presumably made their views known by now. On the Democratic side, labor unions are most likely to get involved in primaries, so I wanted to compile in one place the full list of candidates in competitive Democratic races who have been endorsed by one or more organized labor group. None of the Democrats seeking statewide office in Iowa this year has a primary opponent, and I've omitted county-level races. The list below includes candidates running for Congress in the first district and seeking various Iowa House and Senate seats.

I will update this post as needed if I learn of other labor union endorsements. Note that many other Democratic candidates already have or will have organized labor's official support for the general election campaign. Blog for Iowa posted all of the Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO's endorsements for 2014 here. A complete list of candidates who will appear on primary ballots is on this page of the Iowa Secretary of State's website.

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Cedar Rapids mayor won't give up casino dream

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 14, 2014 at 09:53:00 AM CDT

Talk about opportunity costs: Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett will not pursue any alternative development plans for a downtown parcel of land where backers hope to build a casino. Rather, he will continue to pursue the casino project despite last month's 4 to 1 vote by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission to reject a gambling license for Cedar Rapids.

Speaking to Rick Smith of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, onetime Iowa House Speaker Corbett said he hopes the Iowa legislature will approve a bill granting a license for a smoke-free casino to Iowa's second-largest city. Democratic State Senator Wally Horn already tried to add such language to a bill limiting greyhound racing, but his amendment was ruled not germane.

Independent research has repeatedly shown that the hidden economic costs of casinos "far exceed their benefits and that [casinos] are a poor use of precious downtown land." But even if that were not true, why waste years trying to persuade the Iowa legislature to pass this kind of bill? What are the chances lawmakers will go along with a special deal for Cedar Rapids, when many of them represent districts with casinos that stand to lose market share? Furthermore, current Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, who represents a suburban Cedar Rapids district, screwed up Iowa's chance to get passenger rail to Iowa City (and possibly later to Des Moines and Council Bluffs).

Corbett seems to hope Jack Hatch will win the governor's race; Hatch has expressed support for a Cedar Rapids casino. If elected, he might sign a bill for this purpose, or might appoint like-minded people to the Racing and Gaming Commission. But that process would take years. Why not pursue plan B or plan C for Cedar Rapids? There are many other approaches to economic development that do not hurt other local businesses the way casinos do.

The spin about a smoke-free casino being a "healthy" option for a "Blue Zone" community like Cedar Rapids is a sick joke. Casinos are no benefit to public health. On the contrary, problem gambling increases with accessibility and incurs major hidden health costs.  

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Iowa legislature not serious yet about preserving soil and clean water

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 07, 2014 at 08:16:45 AM CDT

The Iowa House and Senate wrapped up the 2014 session during "Soil and Water Conservation Week." While certain environmental programs did well in the budget for fiscal year 2015, the legislature did not adequately address some of the biggest problems affecting Iowa's soil and water.

The Iowa Environmental Council blog linked to several recent articles by "top experts on Iowa soil conservation," who "expressed alarm about the state of our soil" and in particular the rapid rate of erosion. Along with other kinds of agricultural runoff, soil erosion contributes to toxic algae blooms in rivers and lakes, not only in Iowa and neighboring states but also across much of the U.S. Nutrient pollution is a major reason that more than half of the country's rivers and streams are "in poor condition for aquatic life."At the end of this post, I've enclosed an infographic explaining how toxic algae blooms form and how to prevent them.

Iowa lawmakers continue to throw money at the state's Nutrient Reduction Strategy, without insisting on numeric criteria for nitrogen and phosphorous levels in water and without the goals, timelines and monitoring needed to assure Iowans that waterways are becoming cleaner. In fact, the fiscal year 2015 appropriation for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship removed wording requiring that money for watershed projects be used to reduce nutrients. Follow me after the jump for the disturbing details.

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2014: A good legislative session for Iowa environmental funding

by: desmoinesdem

Tue May 06, 2014 at 06:45:00 AM CDT

During the legislative session that just ended, the Iowa House and Senate approved substantial increases in funding for some key environmental programs.

Lawmakers committed to providing $25 million to mark the 25th anniversary of the Department of Natural Resources' Resource Enhancement and Protection program (REAP) achieved their goal. REAP had only been funded at the $20 million level once before during the past two and a half decades. The REAP money came from three separate bills appropriating funds for the 2015 fiscal year; I've posted details after the jump. Many REAP-funded projects have a lasting positive impact on local communities for decades. Click here for more background on the kind of projects REAP has supported around Iowa.

Last month, Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson posted a guest diary warning about legislative proposals that would indirectly undermine REAP by changing the program's funding formula. Fortunately, the conference committee agreement negotiated by Iowa House and Senate members did not include that language in the final bill.

Senate File 2349 allocates Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund money, which mostly comes from gambling revenues. That bill included $9.6 million for lake restoration funding during the 2015 fiscal year, a big improvement on the recent past when lawmakers approved just $5.5 million for lake restoration projects. The Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund bill also included $2 million "for the administration of a water trails and lowhead dam public hazard statewide plan." Just a few years ago, environmental groups including Iowa Rivers Revival were fighting for even $1 million in state funding for rivers. The only downside to the river funding was that the conference committee went with House-approved language allocating the whole $2 million to low-head dam removal and water trails. Iowa Rivers Revival preferred the Senate-passed bill, which contained $1 million for that purpose and $1 million to launch a new Iowa River Restoration Program. You can find the Senate-passed version of Senate File 2349 here and the conference committee report describing agreed changes in detail here (the river funding is discussed on pages 4-5 of the Senate bill).

Governor Terry Branstad hasn't signed any of these appropriations bills yet, so funding for REAP and Iowa lakes are rivers is not a sure thing. I would be surprised if he item-vetoed any of these appropriations, although in 2011, Branstad vetoed river restoration funds that lawmakers had allocated for fiscal year 2012.

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Weekend open thread: End of 2014 legislative session edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sat May 03, 2014 at 09:46:47 AM CDT

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

The Iowa legislature got out of town on May 2, 110 calendar days after the 2014 session began. That's ten days after lawmakers' per diem payments ran out but earlier than in any year since 2010, when Democrats held majorities in both chambers. After the jump I've posted closing remarks delivered by the top Iowa Senate Democrats (Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and President Pam Jochum) and the top Iowa House Republicans (Speaker Kraig Paulsen and Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer). A series of posts next week will focus on some of the more significant legislative results from the session, as well as important bills that never did pass.

I've also enclosed Gronstal's prepared remarks on the final Iowa Senate vote of the session: granting subpeona power to the Government Oversight Committee to continue investigating various scandals in Governor Terry Branstad's administration. Gronstal emphasized that the resolution is "narrowly drafted" and "not a criminal investigation. The goal is not to convict people. The only goal is to find out what went wrong [in state government] and how to fix it." The resolution passed by voice vote just before the Senate adjourned on Friday morning. Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix blasted what he called a "dangerous" and "underhanded partisan move." He claimed the "disruption of separation of powers" will invite "a state constitutional crisis," and that the Oversight Committee's investigation is politically motivated.

Finally, in non-legislative news, Patrick Caldwell reported for Mother Jones this week on a remarkably shady deal involving Danny Carroll in 1996. At the time, Carroll was a real estate agent in the Grinnell area and an Iowa House Republican. He currently chairs the Republican Party of Iowa--though probably not for much longer. After reading Caldwell's piece, I want to know why anyone supposedly committed to Christian values would participate in a scheme to take advantage of an elderly widow with debts.  

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HIV transmission bill passes in end-of-session surprise

by: desmoinesdem

Thu May 01, 2014 at 13:36:00 PM CDT

Sometimes bills left for dead rise again in the final hours of the Iowa legislature's work. So it was for Senate File 2297, an "act relating to the criminal transmission of a contagious or infectious disease." If signed into law, this bill would replace current Iowa law on HIV transmission, under which a person can be sentenced to 25 years in prison, even if the virus that causes AIDS was not transmitted to anyone. For background on the old law, one of the harshest in the country, click here or here, or listen to this Iowa Public Radio program from March. (Incidentally, the Iowa Supreme Court has heard but not yet ruled on a case related to that law but not challenging its constitutionality.)

Whereas current law takes a "one size fits all" approach to HIV transmission cases, Senate File 2297 outlines more serious penalties for those who intentionally infect a partner (not just with HIV, but with any communicable disease) than for those who either didn't mean to transmit or did not transmit a disease. In addition,

under the new bill, Iowans would no longer be sentenced as sex offenders and a retroactive clause in the bill would remove anyone sentenced under 709c from the sex offender registry. Prosecutors would also have to prove substantial risk, rather than the current law which simply requires non-disclosure.

Senate File 2297 passed the Iowa Senate unanimously in February. Democratic State Senator Rob Hogg said it would update Iowa law to reflect modern medicine and replace a "badly outdated and draconian" part of the code. Republican State Senator Charles Schneider agreed that current law was "not always proportionate" to the crime committed.

So far, so good. But instead of sailing through the Iowa House, Senate File 2297 stalled. It cleared a House Judiciary Subcommittee but not the full committee in time for the "second funnel" deadline in mid-March. The bill landed on the "unfinished business" calendar, which kept it eligible for debate.

I hadn't heard anything about this bill for some time, until I saw this morning that it came up for debate in Iowa House a little before 2 am. It passed by 98 votes to 0. After the jump I've posted a statement from the LGBT advocacy group One Iowa, which has pushed for similar legislation for years.  

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Iowa legislature gives final approval to medical cannabis oil

by: desmoinesdem

Thu May 01, 2014 at 10:14:00 AM CDT

Iowa legislators pulled an all-nighter at the Capitol to close out the 2014 session. The Iowa House adjourned for the year a little before 6 am, while the Senate will return briefly on Friday to authorize further investigation of Branstad administration controversies.

It will take several days for Bleeding Heartland to cover the most important news about the state budget and other bills passed toward the end of the session. I was surprised to see that Iowa House leaders did call up Senate File 2360, the limited medical cannabis bill the Iowa Senate approved last Friday. As of yesterday afternoon, that bill seemed doomed.  I saw some speculation that leaders might not even call it up for debate. A few Republicans had filed more than a dozen amendments, apparently with the goal of killing the bill on the floor. State Representative Chip Baltimore was one sponsor of the poison pill amendments. He told the Des Moines Register that

a bill legalizing marijuana - even in an extremely limited way for an extremely limited purpose - simply couldn't be introduced, debated and passed in the space of a week.

"We're being asked to take an extraordinary leap of faith," Baltimore said, referring to the reassurances [Representative Rob] Taylor and others have given on cannabidiol's safety and efficacy. "You don't do that in five days."

Lawmakers negotiated well pass midnight and agreed to make small changes to the medical cannabis bill. It will still allow only the use of cannabis oil, not marijuana in smokeable form. According to Radio Iowa's O.Kay Henderson, the new language also "requires patients to get an Iowa neurologist's recommendation for cannabis oil." The Iowa House approved the bill by 75 votes to 20 just after 3:30 am. The Senate approved the House version by 38 votes to 8 about an hour later. The Senate roll call is after the jump. I'll update this post with the House roll calls once it becomes available on the Iowa legislature's website.

Governor Terry Branstad indicated a few weeks ago that he is open to a cannabis oil bill, as long as it's "very limited in focus." I expect him to sign Senate File 2360.

UPDATE: Added a statement below from State Senator Joe Bolkcom, the legislature's leading advocate for medical marijuana.

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Iowa House Republicans elevate Windschitl, Klein, Hein to leadership

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Apr 30, 2014 at 15:55:00 PM CDT

With the 2014 legislative session expected to end any day, Iowa House Republicans voted to elevate two rising stars in their caucus. Four-term State Representative Matt Windschitl moves up from assistant majority leader to Speaker Pro Tem, replacing Representative Steve Olson, who is not seeking re-election. Meanwhile, two-term State Representative Jarad Klein replaces Windschitl as one of four assistant majority leaders. Press releases on the changes are after the jump. All three lawmakers represent districts considered safe for the GOP; Klein and Hein do not have challengers.

So far the best comment on the move came from AFSCME Iowa Council 61 Deputy Political Director Brian Guillaume, who alerted Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix to the fact that the "House GOP elected a union boss to Speaker Pro Tem." Windschitl works full-time for the Union Pacific Railroad in addition to working occasionally in his family's gun store.

The full Iowa House Republican leadership team consists of Speaker Kraig Paulsen, Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, Majority Whip Chris Hagenow, Speaker Pro Tem Windschitl, and Assistant Majority Leaders Walt Rogers, Joel Fry, Lee Hein, and Jarad Klein. Representative Jeff Smith, who has been an assistant majority leader, is not seeking re-election.

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Two triumphs for Iowa lobbyists: Dog racing and e-cigarettes (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Apr 29, 2014 at 08:40:26 AM CDT

Iowa lawmakers advanced two bills yesterday that illustrate how effective corporate and interest group lobbyists can be. In the Iowa House, a bill allowing greyhound racing to end in Council Bluffs and become less costly for a casino in Dubuque won final passage by 79 votes to 16. I've posted the roll call after the jump. As Bleeding Heartland discussed here, Iowa greyhound breeders and trainers, along with their paid representatives, managed to get the state legislature to insist on a massive bailout for their industry--even though public demand for dog racing is near zero these days. According to the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald's Erin Murphy, Governor Terry Branstad has not committed to signing the bill. But if he does, tens of millions of dollars from the Las Vegas-based Caesar's corporation will be divided among a relatively small group of greyhound breeders, trainers, kennel owners, and rescue organizations.

Meanwhile, yesterday the Iowa Senate approved "an act relating to vapor products and alternative nicotine products, and providing penalties." Bleeding Heartland discussed this bill in February, when it passed the Iowa House. On its face, House File 2109 looks like it is designed to protect children's health by banning e-cigarette sales to minors. But medical and public health groups opposed the bill. Lobbyists who supported it mostly represented tobacco companies or retailers. They liked the bill because it didn't classify vapor cigarettes as tobacco products and didn't ban fruit-flavored e-cigarettes. Before final passage, senators rejected an amendment offered by Senator Joe Bolkcom, which would have strengthened the bill. They then approved an amendment offered by Senator Bill Dotzler, making minor changes to the definition of "vapor product." The lobbyist declarations on the bill still show opposition from the public health community and support from the tobacco industry and retailers. On final passage senators approved the bill by 37 votes to 12. Because of the slight change in wording, this bill goes back to the Iowa House rather than straight to the governor's desk. I doubt it will run into any trouble there, given how easily it passed in February.

Incidentally, the e-cigarettes bill is a rare example of legislation that passed the Iowa Senate with more votes from the minority party (22 of the 24 Republicans) than from the majority party (15 of the 26 Democrats). Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but I can't think of any similar Iowa Senate vote during the last few years. Scroll to the end of this post for the roll call.

UPDATE: On April 29, the Iowa House approved the Senate version of House File 2109, after rejecting along party lines Democratic amendments that would have strengthened the bill. The vote on final passage was 74 to 23, similar to the margin by which House members approved the e-cigarette legislation in February. I've posted details on the roll call after the jump.

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