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Iowa Senate

Moderatepachy Goes to Des Moines: Vol. I

by: moderatepachy

Thu Feb 26, 2015 at 21:02:36 PM CST

(Bleeding Heartland welcomes guest diaries, and during the busy legislative session, it's particularly helpful to get a close look at bills proposed in the Iowa House or Senate. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

When I am not a moderatepachy, I am a lawyer.  The majority of my practice is as defense counsel in civil litigation.  Sometimes, the job is rewarding, especially when you win in lawsuits initiated by lawyers who advertise like this (disclosure: I have never opposed them, but I hope to one day, and win).  Other times, the job causes headaches, because my job is to to be a skeptic.

Recently, I went to the Iowa State Senate to talk about this proposed legislation.  SF107 extends the Statute of Limitations for filing civil (and criminal) actions relating to sex abuse of a child.  You can read an 80% accurate depiction of the Senate Subcommitte hearing here.  Believe this moderatepachy, the testimony from the survivors was passionate.  Petrovsky omitted that another survivor of abuse, John, gave compelling testimony.

What Petroski also missed is that the bill would allow suits within 25 years of the "discovery" of abuse by the alleged victim.   In other words, the 60+ year old senior partner at my firm could "discover" tomorrow that he had been abused as a child, and he would have 25 years to file suit... imagine a lawsuit filed in 2039 for something that allegedly occurred during the LBJ administration.   (No doubt Hillary Clinton's granddaughter and Ted Cruz's son will yell at one another about the lawsuit one day on Fox News' "Hannity & Son").

The sensitive and difficult nature about these types of suits is touched on here by the Iowa Catholic Conference; the Catholic church has a dog in this fight for obvious reasons I need not explain.

Besides those, the reality is that most abusers do not have any money; but insurance policyholders do.   The gimmick, then, is that one sues the abuser... but also wherever the abuser taught, worked, and preached, under a theory that supervisors are liable for whatever their subordinates do.  Imagine the changes that occur in 4 years (the Statute of Limitations right now) in a business, school, or church.  Records, witnesses, memories... gone.  Just like plaintiffs, defendants have a right to a fair trial.  How can one defend against an alleged wrong that occured 30, 50, or 70 years ago?

After the victims testified, it was clear that Senator Petersen (D, SD-18) urgently wanted to move the bill forward.  The defense bar hopes that cooler heads might prevail in the House.  Last year, similar legislation died in a Senate subcommittee.  To oppose this bill is tricky; to be seen as "against" abuse victims is to be seen as tacitly "supporting" abusers.    

What is interesting is that the lobbyist declarations have not been very active; certainly there are other things that keep our legislators busy, and in same cases, motivate our legislative leaders to cave to Farm Bureau pull members of their own caucus off of committees to get things done.

I urge any other Bleeding Heartland readers, if you hear about legislation you might not like, figure out a way to find it, found out who supports it, and share your view with your legislators.    

This moderatepachy may have further updates and hopes to give readers more insights in the legislative sausage being made.  Moderatepachy would also like to salute the work of desmoinesdem, for creating an incredible local resource on Iowa politics.  It smarts that the analysis and writing in this blog and another (D)'s usually has more contextstatewide scope, and humour (say it with a British or French accent to justify my misspelling), than the flagship for my party.   

 

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Iowa Senate approves bills on wage theft, minimum wage increase

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Feb 26, 2015 at 13:12:54 PM CST

While the gasoline tax increase grabbed most of the attention, the Iowa Senate approved two other significant bills on Tuesday. Senate File 270 would combat Iowa's wage theft problem, estimated to cost workers about $600 million annually. After the jump I've enclosed State Senator Bill Dotzler's opening remarks on the bill, which cover its key provisions. Victims of wage theft testified at an Iowa Senate hearing in late January, and when you hear their stories, it's hard to understand why this remains a partisan issue.

It makes sense when you read the lobbyist declarations on the bill, showing various labor groups in favor and business groups opposed (including the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, the National Federation of Independent Business, the Iowa Retail Federation, the Iowa Grocery Association, and the Iowa Propane Gas Association). During the Senate Labor and Business Committee's hearing on wage theft, GOP Senator Rick Bertrand had criticized the idea of forcing more "paperwork" on all Iowa businesses because a minority are stealing wages from workers. Democrats later incorporated some amendments suggested by Bertrand. Nevertheless, the final vote on Senate File 270 was strictly partisan, with 26 Democrats in favor and 23 Republicans against. Senators approved a similar bill last year, also along party lines. It died in the Iowa House.

Senate File 269, which would raise Iowa's minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.00 this year and to $8.75 next year, cleared the Iowa Senate on February 24 as well. This time Bertrand joined the 26 Democrats in voting for the bill; the other 22 Republicans who were present opposed it. For the last couple of years, many Democrats nationally and in Iowa have endorsed a minimum wage of $10.10.  I assume Senate File 269 set a lower goal in the hope of attracting bipartisan support, but I would have stuck with $10.10. Not only is that closer to a living wage, it's closer to the purchasing power of Iowa's minimum wage the last time it was raised in early 2007.

Incidentally, only three of the current Iowa Senate Republicans were in the legislature when Iowa last raised the minimum wage in 2007. Of those, David Johnson voted for raising the minimum wage to $7.25, while Brad Zaun and Jerry Behn voted against it.

Republican statehouse leaders have no interest in raising the minimum wage now, but when a minimum wage increase came to a vote in 2007, it passed with huge bipartisan majorities in both chambers. At that time, supporters included nine current Iowa House Republicans: Kraig Paulsen (now Iowa House Speaker), Linda Upmeyer (now Iowa House Majority Leader), Clel Baudler, Dave Deyoe, Cecil Dolecheck, Jack Drake, Dan Huseman, Linda Miller and Dawn Pettengill (she was a House Democrat at that time but switched to the Republican Party later in 2007). Seven of the current Iowa House Republicans voted against raising the minimum wage to $7.25 in 2007: Greg Forristall, Pat Grassley, Tom Sands, Chuck Soderberg, Ralph Watts, Matt Windschitl, and Gary Worthan.  

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

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Branstad signs gas tax hike, immediately calls for expediting new lane construction

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Feb 25, 2015 at 13:00:00 PM CST

This morning Governor Terry Branstad signed Senate File 257, which raises the state gasoline tax by 10 cents a gallon and includes several other provisions related to transportation funding, permit fees, and fuel taxes. The Iowa House and Senate just approved the bill yesterday, with substantial bipartisan support and opposition in both chambers.

Gas tax revenues go into Iowa's Road Use Tax Fund, which distributes money among state, county and local governments according to a set formula. Because Iowa lawmakers did not incorporate any  "fix it first" language in Senate File 257, I remain concerned that the bulk of the new money will be spent on new road construction or building new lanes on existing roads, rather than on fixing the crumbling infrastructure that was cited to justify this tax increase. Branstad already signaled as much this morning:

Branstad said having the tax hike go into effect March 1 means the state will collect more fuel taxes than expected in the last four months of the state fiscal year - and the starting date for some road and bridge projects may be moved up.

"Highway 20 is one of those that has been around for a long time and we want to see that completed and moved up," Branstad said, "and this is a way that hopefully that and other key projects can get priority and be expedited."

The project to expand all 300 miles of the Highway 20 route from Dubuque and Sioux City into a divided four-lane highway began 50 years ago. Branstad told reporters this morning that he's recently talked with the Iowa DOT's director about speeding up the Highway 20 project.

Current Road Use Tax Fund revenues fall an estimated $215 million short of what Iowa needs annually to maintain existing infrastructure. According to the fiscal note produced by the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency, Senate File 257 will bring in a little more than $200 million in additional funds each year for the next several years. Money spent on new roads or new lanes on roads like Highway 20 won't help us catch up with ongoing maintenance needs. How many structurally deficient bridges won't be fixed because four-laning Highway 20 was expedited? The same dynamic could play out in many counties and local governments too, because new roads or road expansions are often seen as better economic development than fixing a road or bridge that's in bad shape.

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Iowa Senate, House approve gas tax increase

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Feb 24, 2015 at 16:48:31 PM CST

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).

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Fewer Iowa Senate Republicans eager to ban same-sex marriage

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Feb 23, 2015 at 11:08:08 AM CST

Ever since I saw how few Iowa House Republicans are still co-sponsoring a state constitutional amendment on marriage, I've been watching and waiting for Republicans in the state Senate to introduce their version of the same legislation. Any effort to overturn marriage equality will be a dead letter in the Iowa Senate as long as Democrats maintain their majority. Nevertheless, I was curious to see how many (or few) Republican senators are still willing to stand up and be counted on this issue.

Late last week, State Senator Dennis Guth, one of the leading social conservatives in the chamber, finally introduced Senate Joint Resolution 6, "specifying marriage between one man and one woman as the only legal union that is valid or recognized in the state." Just eleven of the 24 Republicans are co-sponsoring this amendment. That's a significant drop from two years ago, when three-quarters of the Iowa Senate GOP caucus co-sponsored the marriage amendment.

Looking more closely at who is and is not "loud and proud" about taking rights away from LGBT couples, some patterns emerge.

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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 legislative state of play on school funding

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Feb 11, 2015 at 12:30:37 PM CST

A standoff over state funding for K-12 education appears unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. The Republican-controlled Iowa House has approved legislation setting "allowable growth" in state funding to school districts at 1.25 percent for fiscal year 2016; the House Journal for January 27 includes details on the debate, during which members rejected on a party-line vote a Democratic amendment to increase school spending, and later approved House File 80, also along party lines. House Republicans reportedly support a 2.45 percent increase in school funding for fiscal year 2017 but have not brought legislation before the full chamber yet.

Meanwhile, Democrats who control the Iowa Senate are committed to setting allowable growth at 4 percent for each of the next two fiscal years. Many education groups have lobbied lawmakers for at least 4 percent allowable growth, and in a Senate Democratic survey of Iowa superintendents, 96 percent of respondents said the appropriate level of supplemental state aid for the coming fiscal year should be 4 percent or higher.

Yesterday four education funding bills passed the upper chamber; a statement enclosed after the jump covers the key points in each bill. The legislation setting allowable growth at 4 percent for fiscal year 2016 and 2017 passed on party-line votes (roll calls are in the Senate Journal). Republicans joined their colleagues to unanimously approve the other two bills, which would "have the state pick up the 12.5 percent property tax share under the state's foundation aid formula for both fiscal years." Rod Boshart summed up the bottom line:

Under the GOP approach, current state per-pupil funding of $6,366 would grow by $80 in fiscal 2016 and another $158 in fiscal 2017. By contrast, the Senate's 4 percent position would boost per-pupil funding to $6,621 for the 2015-16 academic year and $6,886 the following school year.

Or to view it another way, the House approach would include nearly $100 million in additional K-12 school funding for fiscal year 2016, while the Senate approach would provide an additional $212 million this coming year and $217 million the following year.

The obvious compromise would be to increase school aid by somewhere between 2-3 percent for each of the next two years, but Republican lawmakers and Governor Terry Branstad insist there's no room in the state budget for that much additional spending. Note that no one questioned whether Iowans could afford an extra $100 million in tax cuts, mostly for business, which just passed the Iowa House unanimously.

During yesterday's debate, Democratic State Senator Tony Bisignano argued that the big commercial property tax cut approved in 2013 will shortchange Iowa students. (Indeed, when that commercial property tax bill passed, many people warned that it would lead to cuts in public services.) State Senator Joe Bolkcom also criticized "messed up" priorities that favor "special interests" in the state tax code. As long as I've been paying attention to the Iowa legislature, tax expenditures have always been an easier sell than more money for schools or other public services. That dynamic won't change this year.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.  

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Iowa legislature sends first tax bill to Branstad's desk

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Feb 10, 2015 at 17:18:12 PM CST

Lawmakers from the two parties remain far from consensus on high-profile tax and budget questions, but the Iowa legislature has unanimously approved its first tax bill of the 2015 session. Senate File 126 (full text here) passed the Iowa Senate by 49 votes to 0 on February 4 and passed the Iowa House by 95 votes to 0 today. It "conforms Iowa's revenue laws to incorporate federal changes" made during 2014. O.Kay Henderson reported for Radio Iowa,

The bill would extend a tax break to Iowa business owners, allowing them to claim the first half a million dollars worth of new equipment purchases as a tax deduction for the business. It also allows Iowa teachers to claim a tax credit for up to $250 for the supplies, equipment and materials used in their classroom.

Unlike most bills, which take effect on July 1 (at the start of the next fiscal year), SF 126 "takes effect upon enactment" and "applies retroactively to January 1, 2014, for tax years beginning on or after that date." The fiscal note indicates that this bill will reduce state tax revenue by $98.98 million in the current fiscal year. About $83.5 million of that comes from one part of the bill:

Of the extended provisions, the most significant from a fiscal impact perspective is the extension of favorable depreciation expensing known as "Section 179 expensing." This provision allows business taxpayers (including corporate taxpayers and business entities taxed through the individual income tax) to write off additional depreciation in the year a qualified depreciable asset is placed in service. Since the provision accelerates the claiming of depreciation, the provision reduces taxes owed in the first year, but increases taxes owed in later years.

Looking through the lobbyist declarations, I didn't see any lobbyists registered against this bill. The Iowa Society of Public Accountants, Deere & Company, Iowa Community Foundations, and the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation all registered in favor. Speaking to Radio Iowa, Republican State Representative Chris Hagenow said certified public accountants and tax preparers had told lawmakers "this is a priority for them" to provide "certainty" going into tax season.  

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Four reasons Mike Gronstal will win another term in Iowa Senate district 8

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Feb 02, 2015 at 09:07:00 AM CST

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal celebrated his 65th birthday on January 29. The Des Moines Register's William Petroski caught up with Gronstal after fellow senators sang "Happy Birthday" and confirmed that the longtime Democratic leader has no plans to retire. He's up for re-election next year in Senate district 8, covering the Council Bluffs area and Carter Lake (scroll to the end of this post to view a detailed map).

Now that Tom Harkin has retired, Gronstal may be the Iowa Democrat whom Republicans most love to hate. But I have news for them: he's going to win another term in 2016, and here's why.

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IA-01 Democratic candidate news roundup

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jan 29, 2015 at 09:52:40 AM CST

Another Democrat is moving closer to a Congressional bid in Iowa's first district. The Daily Iowan reported several days ago that Ravi Patel "is assembling campaign operatives and meeting with influential donors in Eastern Iowa in preparation for the run." He is best known as principal and president of Hawkeye Hotels, a fast-growing company his parents established. Pat Rynard wrote on the Iowa Starting Line blog that Patel "has built connections from holding many fundraisers for Democratic candidates" and is "an entrepreneur involved in many startup businesses."

If he runs for Congress, Patel told the Daily Iowan that his campaign "would be data-driven and heavy on social media." His biggest potential weakness would probably be his youth (current age: 29). Iowans have nominated some young candidates who faced competitive primaries against more experienced rivals, most recently Ben Lange, the GOP's 2012 nominee in IA-01. But despite a lot of excitement on social media, State Representative Anesa Kajtazovic didn't make much headway with IA-01 Democratic voters, finishing fourth in the 2014 primary. Anecdotally, many Democrats liked Kajtazovic but questioned whether she had enough experience for the job she was seeking. Patel would also be competing against others who have more longstanding ties to the district. Although he owns a home in Cedar Rapids now, he has spent most of his life in either Burlington or Iowa City, which are located in the second Congressional district.

The front-runner in the Democratic primary remains Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon, who last week added her first labor union endorsement to the long list of sate legislators backing her second bid for Congress. After the jump I've posted the press release announcing the Teamsters Local 238 endorsement of Vernon. That local did not endorse in the 2014 primary to represent IA-01, but two other Teamsters locals backed the eventual winner Pat Murphy. Note: the press release mentions that Teamsters Local 238 has approximately 6,000 members. A representative for the union told me that between 2,000 and 2,500 of those members live in the IA-01 counties.

Other Democrats considering a bid in IA-01 include former Governor Chet Culver, former State Senator Swati Dandekar (who placed third in the 2014 primary), and former Saturday Night Live actor Gary Kroeger. His most recent blog post, which I've excerpted below, takes a quick look at the history of America's major political parties with a view to reducing the "vitriol in our disagreements." Kroeger posted today on Facebook that if elected to Congress, he would push for creating a national jobs program inspired by a non-profit foundation he profiled at his blog a couple of years ago.

Any comments about the IA-01 race are welcome in this thread. Republican blogger Craig Robinson pointed out recently that GOP incumbent Rod Blum will benefit tremendously from having U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley on the ballot in 2016.

It's also worth noting that at least three and perhaps as many as six battleground Iowa Senate races will be located within IA-01 next year. State Senator Jeff Danielson will seek a fourth term in Senate district 30, covering parts of Waterloo and Cedar Falls; he faced well-funded challengers in his last two re-election campaigns. State Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm won by just 126 votes in Senate district 26 in 2012. I expect the GOP to target that district, half of which is in IA-01 and half in IA-04. Republicans are less likely to mount a serious challenge against either State Senator Liz Mathis in Senate district 34 or State Senator Brian Schoenjahn in Senate district 32, but a surprise retirement would instantly make either of those races competitive. Meanwhile, Democrats are likely to target Senate district 28, where GOP State Senator Mike Breitbach won by only 17 votes in 2012. First-term Senator Dan Zumbach could also face a serious challenger in Senate district 48. After the jump I've posted a map showing all the Iowa Senate district lines. UPDATE: Perhaps I should also have mentioned Democratic State Senator Steve Sodders (SD-36) and Republican Tim Kapucian (SD-38), who will be up for re-election in 2016 as well in counties that are part of IA-01. I haven't heard of potentially strong challengers in either Iowa Senate district, but that could change before next spring.

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Someone should investigate state's role in Iowa's health insurance coop failure

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jan 26, 2015 at 09:59:10 AM CST

What has seemed likely since Christmas Eve was confirmed on Friday: Iowa's non-profit health insurance coop is liquidating. At the end of this post, I've enclosed the e-mail CoOportunity Health members received on January 23. Members are strongly encouraged to enroll in other health insurance before February 15, the end of 2015 Open Enrollment under the federal health care reform law. In Iowa, only Coventry now sells policies through the exchange, allowing eligible people to receive federal tax subsidies to help cover the cost of insurance.

CoOportunity Health was created to sell individual, family, and small-business health insurance policies in Iowa and Nebraska. Its membership greatly exceeded projections, but so did the costs of insuring a population that had largely been uninsured before the 2010 Affordable Care Act went into effect in 2014.

Some politicians, like Senator Joni Ernst, have nothing to say about CoOportunity's collapse beyond empty talking points about Obamacare. Others, like Senator Chuck Grassley and Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02), are digging for answers on why federal officials didn't do more to help the health insurance coop survive. Those are important questions.

As far as I can tell, no one in a position of power is examining how decisions by Iowa officials stacked the deck against CoOportunity ever becoming solvent. Did Iowa's insurance commissioner Nick Gerhart seal the coop's fate by bending over backwards to suit the 800-pound gorilla in Iowa's health insurance market (Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield)? Now that CoOportunity's failure leaves only one company selling policies on Iowa's health insurance exchange, what is Gerhart's "plan B" if Coventry decides later this year against continuing to participate on the exchange for 2016?

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Bully Bill Redux: 2015 Edition

by: natewithglasses

Mon Jan 19, 2015 at 09:30:58 AM CST

(Thanks for this in-depth look at one of Governor Terry Branstad's top priorities for the legislative session. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

For the past several legislative sessions - a bully bill in some form or another has been proposed and supported by Governor Branstad.  In each session, the bill has taken on many different forms and have gone from extreme (license to bully provision) to this year's shocking development.

Read on for the latest in the Governor's proposed 2015 Bully Free Iowa Act.  

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Three pros and three cons of Andy McGuire as Iowa Democratic Party chair (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Jan 17, 2015 at 15:59:23 PM CST

Earlier today the Iowa Democratic Party's State Central Committee selected Dr. Andy McGuire to lead the party for the next two years. McGuire was the favorite going into the election and won on the third ballot against Kurt Meyer. Another candidate for state chair, former Congressional candidate Jim Mowrer, then ran for first vice chair and was elected on the first ballot.

Dr. McGuire has been active in Iowa Democratic politics for more than 20 years, since working on her sister-in-law Sheila McGuire's 1994 Congressional campaign in Iowa's fifth district. (Sheila McGuire later served as state party chair for a term.) In the political world, Andy McGuire is best-known for being Mike Blouin's running mate during the 2006 Democratic primary for governor. The pro-choice mother of seven helped balance the ticket, as many Democratic activists were concerned about Blouin's stance on abortion rights.

In recent years, McGuire has often been mentioned as a possible Congressional candidate, but she ruled out running in Iowa's third district in 2016 if elected to lead the party. Many central Iowa Democrats expect her to run for governor in 2018.

Although I favored one of the other candidates, McGuire brings a lot to the table as a state party leader. My first thoughts on the pros and cons of her election are after the jump.  

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A dubious distinction for Teresa Wahlert

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jan 14, 2015 at 20:09:26 PM CST

Even after retiring as Iowa Workforce Development director (effective this past Sunday), Teresa Wahlert continues to leave her mark on state government. Yesterday Administrative Law Judge Susan Ackerman filed a lawsuit against the State of Iowa, Wahlert, and two judges Wahlert promoted. After the jump I've enclosed excerpts from David Pitt's report for the Associated Press. Ackerman claims

That makes not one, not two, but three pending lawsuits against the State of Iowa in which Wahlert is a central figure. Former Workers Compensation Commissioner Chris Godfrey named Wahlert as a co-defendant in his 2012 lawsuit against the state, alleging (among other things) that she "ostracized" him after he resisted pressure to resign before the end of his fixed term. Last year Joseph Walsh, the former Chief Administrative Law Judge for Iowa Workforce Development, sued the state and Wahlert, claiming that she had "interfere[d] with the administrative judicial process in order to favor employers," attempted "to illegally strip [Walsh] of his merit protection," and eventually retaliated by removing him in "a political reorganization disguised as a budget layoff."

In addition, Wahlert was on the wrong end of a November 2014 ruling by an arbitrator, who determined that the Iowa Workforce Development director had "overstepped her bounds when she promoted a judge who had been demoted after complaints that she created a hostile work environment."

Just last week, unemployment appeals Judge Marlon Mormann announced his early retirement, telling the Associated Press that he was "ready to be done with it" after his worst year in a 24-year career in state government. Judge Mormann and Judge Ackerman were both witnesses at Iowa Senate Oversight Committee hearings last August on Branstad administrative officials (led by Wahlert) "pressuring judges to rule against unemployed Iowans."

Let's not forget that Wahlert presided over the governor's policy to close Iowa Workforce Development field offices in dozens of communities, which became an issue in a lawsuit that went all the way up to the Iowa Supreme Court.

I would guess that Wahlert's tenure has set some kind of record for legal entanglements involving an agency director for the State of Iowa. Yet every step of the way, including the day his office announced Wahlert's resignation, Branstad has heaped praise on her work. I'm convinced that the only reason she retired was everyone knew she'd never be confirmed to run Iowa Workforce Development again. Thank heaven for checks and balances.

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Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice calls for action on racial disparity, courthouse security

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jan 14, 2015 at 14:32:36 PM CST

Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady delivered his annual State of the Judiciary address to Iowa House and Senate members this morning. The full text is available here (pdf), and I've posted important sections after the jump. Cady hailed progress the court system is making on helping Iowa children and improving efficiency and transparency. He described ongoing initiatives to improve how Iowa courts handle family law cases and review guardianship and conservatorship laws and procedures. Cady also asked lawmakers to appropriate 4.7 percent more funding for the court system in the next fiscal year.

Cady cited recent work within the judicial branch to "better understand and address the persistence of racial disparities" in the criminal justice system--a longstanding problem in Iowa. I enclosed below reaction from Assistant House Minority Leader Ako Abdul-Samad. Abdul-Samad is one of five African-American members of the Iowa House.

Finally, the chief justice alluded to a shooting last September during a meeting of the Jackson County Board of Supervisors as he called for action "to make every courthouse in Iowa safer and more secure."

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

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Highlights from Branstad's 2015 Condition of the State address

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jan 13, 2015 at 08:55:23 AM CST

Governor Terry Branstad will deliver his annual Condition of the State address to members of the Iowa House and Senate this morning at 10 am. You can watch the speech live on Iowa Public Television's website or on IPTV World (channel 119 on Mediacom in central Iowa). The full text as prepared will be available on the governor's official website.

Judging by yesterday's opening remarks from state legislative leaders, Iowa House Republicans most want to see new tax reform proposals from the governor. Iowa Senate Democrats are most closely watching to see whether Branstad will propose adequate funding for education at all levels, from pre-school to K-12 to community colleges and state universities. I'll update this post later with highlights from the day. Any comments about the governor's speech (content or delivery) or the upcoming legislative session are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Added highlights and some reaction to the "Together We Can" speech below. James Q. Lynch created a graphic showing the words Branstad used most.

Chutzpah alert: Branstad is urging lawmakers to "bring together state agencies that have a shared interest in quality of life initiatives and invest in our parks, trails, lakes and museums." Maybe he's forgotten that the state legislature did that last year, before he vetoed millions of dollars that would have gone toward parks, trails, water quality programs and other amenities.

It's also disappointing that the governor can't quit lying about how many jobs have been created since he returned to public office.

It's encouraging to hear the governor call for stronger efforts to protect victims of domestic violence and end bullying in schools. The devil will be in the details of those proposals. Speaking to Radio Iowa, Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum said "the anti-bullying proposal as well as the anti-domestic violence proposal will get a very good response from the Iowa Senate." But she said the governor's proposed education funding is "less than what we know we need in order to bring Iowa's per pupil spending investment up to at least close the national average." Meanwhile, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen told Radio Iowa that his caucus will continue to look for tax cuts ("a way to for Iowans to leave more of their own money in their pockets").

SECOND UPDATE: As he did last year, the governor called for expanding access to broadband statewide. But strangely, Branstad does not plan to attend President Barack Obama's scheduled January 14 event in Cedar Falls, where the president will "propose plans to increase affordable access to high-speed broadband internet."

LATE UPDATE: Nate Monson, executive director for Iowa Safe Schools, characterized the governor's anti-bullying bill as a "giant leap forward for gay youth" in Iowa. I've enclosed excerpts from his Des Moines Register guest editorial at the end of this post.

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The face of the medical marijuana fight in Iowa has died

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jan 12, 2015 at 22:05:00 PM CST

Benton Mackenzie passed away at home this morning, his wife Loretta Mackenzie told Brian Wellner of the Quad-City Times. Mackenzie was convicted last summer on drug charges, having grown dozens of marijuana plants in order to treat his terminal cancer. During the trial, the judge did not allow Mackenzie or his attorney to say that the defendant was seeking to use cannabis as a cancer treatment. Mackenzie was later sentenced to probation. The family had hoped to move to Oregon; Mackenzie had visited the state and received a valid Oregon medical marijuana card before his health deteriorated late last year.

Many Iowans who favor legalizing medical marijuana were outraged by the prosecution of a terminal cancer patient. State Senator Joe Bolkcom described the case as a waste of taxpayer money. During last year's legislative session, Bolkcom defied long odds to get a baby step toward legalizing medical cannabis approved in the Iowa House and Senate. However, the new law only permits the use of cannabis oil in order to treat certain seizure disorders, and even the affected families have been unable to obtain the treatment so far.  

Thousands of Iowans are battling cancer or suffering from chronic illnesses that can be treated with cannabis or its derivatives. They should not be subject to criminal prosecution merely for attempting to obtain marijuana for personal use. Benton Mackenzie's death may not be enough to spur a majority of lawmakers to act this year, but I hope his sad story will eventually create the political space to expand Iowa's medical marijuana law.

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Themes from the opening day of the Iowa legislature's 2015 session

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jan 12, 2015 at 18:16:59 PM CST

Exciting times for Iowa politics watchers: the state legislature's 2015 session began in Des Moines today. A tentative schedule for this year's work is available here (pdf). The last day lawmakers will receive per diem expenses is on May 1, but for the past four years of divided control between a Republican House and a Democratic Senate, the session has always gone into overtime--sometimes by a little and sometimes by a lot. Bleeding Heartland previously posted details on the each chamber's majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing committees. Click here for who's who in the Iowa House, and here for who's who in the Iowa Senate.

Today legislative leaders from both parties pledged to work together. After the jump I've enclosed the full texts of opening day remarks. Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal called for making Iowa's middle class the "focus of the 2015 session" by ensuring adequate education spending, fighting wage theft, and expanding worker training while keeping a balanced budget. He praised Governor Terry Branstad for agreeing to go back to setting K-12 school funding a year in advance, as is required by state law, but warned the governor not to make a partisan statement by proposing too little funding for education when he addresses the legislature tomorrow.

Echoing some of the priorities she named last year, Senate President Pam Jochum said building an economy that "works for everyone" means supporting families and especially children: "For too long, the well-being of children has been considered a woman's issue.' It is not just a 'woman's issue'. It is an American issue. It is an Iowan issue." Jochum urged lawmakers to expand access to education from pre-K through college, make "quality, affordable childcare" more available across the state, and boost an initiative to "detect and help prevent mental health and developmental problems among young children."

Iowa House Minority Leader Mark Smith said the top priorities for House Democrats are strengthening the middle class and re-vitalizing rural Iowa. In addition to expanding early childhood education and providing adequate funds for K-12 schools, Smith called for raising the minimum wage, though GOP leaders have shown no willingness to negotiate on that issue.

As has been true in recent years, top Iowa House and Senate Republicans focused on fiscal issues and mostly avoided social issues. Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen challenged his colleagues "to ensure that government do less and do it better" when "others bring forward their laundry list of funding opportunities, spending priorities, or flashy government programs." He called for more tax cuts along the lines of a 2006 bipartisan agreement to eliminate the state tax on Social Security benefits. (Mike Owen of the Iowa Policy Project explained in a guest column for the Quad-City Times why that tax cut was passed "under false pretenses" and skewed Iowa's tax code "further to the benefit of the wealthy.") House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer emphasized the need to "craft a responsible budget." She singled out the Medicaid program for criticism, claiming growth in Medicaid spending is "not sustainable" and will threaten lawmakers' ability to invest in education, job training, infrastructure, and renewable energy. Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix called on senators to "work together to rein in spending, make cuts and reduce the size of government and lift up all Iowans in the process by reducing their tax burdens."

None of the Republicans set a goal of undoing marriage equality, and only House Speaker Pro Tem Matt Windschitl made passing reference to other top priorities for social conservatives when he said, "Let us work together to make Iowa the best place to live, where taxes are low, jobs are abundant, education is top of the line, innocent life is protected and Second Amendment rights are fully embraced."

Any comments about the legislative session are welcome in this thread. By the way, here's some trivia you may not know about Speaker Paulsen.  

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Who's who in the Iowa Senate for 2015

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jan 12, 2015 at 09:33:24 AM CST

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).  

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Why did Debi Durham sack one of Iowa's leading clean energy experts? (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jan 05, 2015 at 22:59:22 PM CST

Iowa is already one of the top states for wind power and could become one of the country's solar power leaders as well. Unfortunately, Governor Terry Branstad has a mixed record on promoting alternative energy. On the plus side, Branstad has praised "tremendous potential for growth in solar energy." He has signed bipartisan legislation to provide state income tax credits for renewable energy, including a bill last spring that tripled the annual amount of solar tax credits in Iowa.

On the other hand, last year the Branstad administration "surrendered a $1 million grant designed to make Iowa a nationwide leader in solar energy after electric utilities lobbied for major changes," Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press. You can view what that grant might have accomplished here. After the jump I've enclosed excerpts from Foley's report on the e-mail correspondence.

Now we find out that last month the Iowa Economic Development Authority quietly sacked Paritosh Kasotia as leader of the state energy office. The Associated Press reported that Kasotia was "informed of her ouster Dec. 8 and stopped working the same day."

Colleagues said Kasotia was not given an explanation for the termination, which came days after she returned from a national conference. An expert on alternative energy and energy efficiency, Kasotia oversaw tens of millions of dollars in funding for state and federal programs during her five-year state tenure. [...]

Kasotia, 32, also became active in the National Association of State Energy Officials and served on the advisory council of the Iowa Energy Center at Iowa State University.

Gary Steinke, who served with Kasotia on the advisory council, called her a "national leader in alternative energy."

"My reaction is that I'm shocked and disappointed," said Steinke, president of the Iowa Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. "She brought a wealth of knowledge and information to the advisory council and she will be sorely missed."

Last year, Kasotia helped land a competitive $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to make Iowa a leader in solar energy. Environmentalists said the grant would cut costs and regulations to speed solar adoption. Branstad had written a letter in support. But state officials ended up giving up the grant after utility lobbyists complained they had not been consulted and objected to the grant's scope.

The move was seen as an embarrassment to the energy office, which started meeting routinely with representatives from utilities such as Alliant Energy and MidAmerican to get input on grant applications.

I sought comment from the governor's office on why Kasotia was fired. Governor Branstad's spokesman Jimmy Centers responded, "Iowa law prevents our office from commenting on personnel matters. It's important to note that state agencies, not the governor's office, handle personnel matters within their departments."

Raise your hand if you think Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham would fire a senior official in her department without running it by the governor's office.

Incidentally, Kasotia was a merit employee in the Office of Energy Independence under Governor Chet Culver. But when the Branstad administration restructured the office and assigned it to Durham's agency, Kasotia's job as team leader became an "at will" position. Democrats have criticized the governor's policy of making some 350 state employees at will, because those people can be fired for any reason or no reason. In addition, at will employees may be replaced without advertising the job. Senior officials in the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals have challenged their change in job status, and the U.S. Department of Labor had to intervene to block the Iowa Workforce Development director's attempt to make that agency's chief administrative law judge an at will employee.

Someone with as much knowledge and expertise as Kasotia should not be shown the door without a valid reason. Branstad may be be a huge cheerleader for Durham, but when Iowa state senators consider whether to confirm her for another term as Iowa's top economic development official, they should question her about Kasotia's firing.

P.S.- Durham's confirmation hearing could be one of the most contentious during the upcoming legislative session. Democratic lawmakers will also challenge Durham on why she committed Iowa to more than $100 million in unnecessary state tax incentives for one foreign-owned corporation. They may also ask why she has taken several annual bonuses to put her total compensation well above the salary cap defined by state law.

P.P.S.- Kasotia's ouster makes me more concerned that the Iowa Utilities Board (now run entirely by Branstad appointees) will take administrative steps to overturn a recent Iowa Supreme Court ruling, which went against utility companies' interests.

UPDATE: Added portions of the Des Moines Register's January 6 editorial after the jump.

SECOND UPDATE: Des Moines Cityview's Civic Skinny column discussed the firing as well. Scroll down for excerpts.

THIRD UPDATE: Added Governor Branstad's latest comments below.

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