Iowa House, Senate GOP leaders not co-sponsoring "personhood" bills

While most Iowa politics junkies were absorbed by lengthy collective bargaining debates in the state House and Senate, Republican lawmakers introduced identical “personhood” bills in both chambers on February 14.

Notably, leaders of the House and Senate are not among the co-sponsors of the bills declaring “that life is valued and protected from the moment of conception, and each life, from that moment, is accorded the same rights and protections guaranteed to all persons by the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of the State of Iowa, and the laws of this state.”

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Four things I learned about the Iowa Republicans who just voted to defund Planned Parenthood

On Thursday Iowa Senate Republicans approved a bill that would end most state and federal funding for Planned Parenthood’s family planning services. All 29 Republicans and independent Senator David Johnson voted for Senate File 2, while all 20 Democrats voted against the measure. The Senate Judiciary Committee had approved the bill on a party-line vote the previous day.

Passage was a foregone conclusion, since the entire GOP caucus co-sponsored the bill, and statehouse Republicans have been trying to defund Planned Parenthood for years.

Although I already knew Republican lawmakers were willing to force the state to spend ten times more for family planning services, with no reliable funding stream, I still learned some new things watching Senate File 2 move through the upper chamber.

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Iowa Republicans unprepared for backlash on Planned Parenthood funding

GOP lawmakers have been trying to defund Iowa’s leading provider of reproductive health care for years. Their previous efforts attracted relatively little public attention, since the Democrats in control of the state Senate would not go along.

Democrats no longer hold enough seats in the legislature to stop Republicans from enacting a plan that will require Iowa to spend ten times more, even as family planning services become less accessible.

As expected, an Iowa Senate Judiciary subcommittee advanced Senate File 2 during a January 24 meeting. The outcome was a foregone conclusion, since all 29 Senate Republicans are co-sponsoring the bill that would create a state-run family planning program, excluding Planned Parenthood as a qualified provider.

But the vast majority of Iowans support continued state funding for Planned Parenthood’s non-abortion services. Republicans weren’t prepared for hundreds of them to show up at the Capitol yesterday.

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Don't panic: Iowa House Education chair doesn't want to abolish tenure

State Senator Brad Zaun’s bill to prohibit “the establishment or continuation of a tenure system” has worried many people who understand how badly that policy would harm Iowa’s state universities. Wisconsin Republican lawmakers spurred an exodus of highly-regarded faculty from that state’s top university, and the Wisconsin law to weaken tenure didn’t go nearly as far as Zaun’s bill would.

Fortunately, the bill seems unlikely to clear the Iowa House Education Committee–if it even gets that far.

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Who's who in the Iowa Senate for 2017

The Iowa legislature’s 2017 session begins today with minor adjustments to business in the state House but massive changes in the Senate. After ten years of Democratic control, the last six with a one-seat majority, the upper chamber now contains 29 Republicans, 20 Democrats, and one independent (former Republican David Johnson).

I enclose below details on the Iowa Senate majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing Senate committees. Click here to find the same information from the 2016 legislative session.

Just six senators are women (five Democrats and a Republican), down from ten women serving in the chamber in 2013 and 2014 and seven during the past two years. All current senators are white. To my knowledge, the only African-American ever to serve in the Iowa Senate was Tom Mann, elected to two terms during the 1980s. No Latino has ever served in the Iowa legislature; in 2014, Nathan Blake fell 18 votes short of becoming the first to join the Senate. No Asian-American has served in the state Senate since Swati Dandekar resigned in 2011.

As a group, the members of the new majority caucus have much less legislative experience than do their Democratic counterparts. As detailed below, only three of the 29 Senate Republicans have served ten or more years in the Iowa legislature, compared to thirteen of the 20 Democrats.

Some non-political trivia: the 50 Iowa senators include two with the surname Johnson, four Marks, three Bills, and two men each named Richard (Rich and Rick), Robert (a Rob and a Bob), Dan, Tim, Tom, Jeff, and Charles (one goes by Chaz).

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Twelve holes in the internal ISU Flight Service audit

The Iowa Board of Regents gave Iowa State University President Steven Leath a well-choreographed vote of confidence on Monday. First, Chief Audit Executive Todd Stewart took the board through highlights from his team’s review of ISU’s Flight Service, noting the “full cooperation” provided by ISU staff. Then a contrite yet defensive Leath took the floor. Still insisting he did not violate any policies or laws, the president admitted he could have shown “better judgment” and said he is “very sorry” about “things I should have done differently.” In particular, he “used the university planes more frequently than was absolutely necessary, and should have been more transparent about some of the use.” He promised to be “more thoughtful” and learn from this experience. The 12-page auditor’s report and full statement from Leath are enclosed at the end of this post.

Regent Larry McKibben was up next to thank Leath for his leadership and contribution to positive trends at ISU, adding that he hopes for more “great things” during the next five years. The chair of the Regents’ audit committee has never viewed what he called a “ding on an airplane wing” as grounds to change his opinion of Leath. His remarks before the regents went into closed session signaled that the overseers would neither fire nor severely sanction the ISU president.

After board members evaluated Leath’s performance, Board President Bruce Rastetter asserted that Leath had “eliminate[d] any questions about the personal benefit that he may have received by using the university aircraft,” having reimbursed the ISU Foundation for costs associated with some flights. He went on to say,

“Clearly, President Leath’s acknowledgment that he takes full responsibility for the issues identified in the audit and that he should have been more transparent about the use of the planes reassures this board, and I hope all Iowans, that the president deserves our continued trust and support,” Rastetter said. “Furthermore, the board believes the audit has put to rest any concerns about President Leath’s use of the aircraft.”

This Iowan is not reassured. The audit has big holes and failed to fully account for costs of Leath’s airplane habit.

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