Three questions about how Iowa got into this budget mess

Iowa’s Revenue Estimating Conference delivered bad news yesterday. Revenues are lagging so far behind projections that even after enacting huge spending cuts in February, the state is on track to have a shortfall of $131 million at the end of the current fiscal year. Next year’s revenues are being revised downward by $191 million as well.

Governor Terry Branstad, Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, and House Speaker Linda Upmeyer quickly announced plans to use the state’s cash reserves to cover the gap. Dix’s written statement explained, “We must not cripple our schools, public safety and many other essential services with further cuts this year. Our savings account exists for moments such as this.”

Two months ago, many Democratic lawmakers advocated dipping into “rainy day” funds as an alternative to the last round of painful reductions to higher education, human services, and public safety. At that time, Republican leaders portrayed such calls as irresponsible. A spokesperson said Branstad “doesn’t believe in using the one-time money for ongoing expenses.” Now, the governor assures the public, “Iowa is prepared,” thanks to hundreds of millions of dollars in the state’s cash reserves, and Dix boasts about the supposedly strong GOP leadership that filled those reserve funds.

Republican hypocrisy on state budget practices is irritating and all too predictable. But that’s not my focus today.

While transferring funds from cash reserves will solve the immediate problem, it won’t answer some important questions about how we got into this mess.

Continue Reading...

"Personhood" in trouble as Iowa legislative deadline approaches

One of the anti-abortion community’s top legislative priorities, a bill declaring that life begins at conception, appears likely to perish in this week’s “funnel.” Social conservatives introduced companion “personhood” bills in the Iowa House and Senate two weeks ago. Under legislative rules, all non-appropriations bills must pass at least one committee in one chamber by March 3 in order to remain eligible for consideration this year.

However, House File 297 has not even been assigned to a House Human Resources subcommittee, and Senate File 253 appears not to have the votes to get out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Continue Reading...

Iowa House Majority leader commits to preserving non-partisan redistricting

Iowa House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow is committed to preserving Iowa’s “great system” of having a non-partisan commission draw new political maps following each ten-year census, he told Bleeding Heartland on February 25. Iowa’s redistricting process has been a model for the country since the 1970s. I’ve been concerned that during the next few years, Republicans might use their political power to enact a new redistricting law. Following the 2010 census, gerrymandering gave the GOP airtight state legislative majorities in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, and several other states.

Since the majority leader controls which legislation reaches the Iowa House floor, I asked Hagenow after a February 25 public forum in Clive whether he would ever consider supporting a bill to change Iowa’s redistricting process. “No, we’re not doing that,” he said emphatically. Would he consider such legislation in 2019 and 2020, if Republicans still control both chambers? “No, I don’t want that. We have a great system.”

I noted that everywhere Republicans have had the trifecta during the last decade, they have gerrymandered. Hagenow responded, “We have not had that conversation. I think we’ve got a great system. I think that we should continue with that system.”

Even if Republicans retain the governorship and Iowa House and Senate majorities in 2018? “Yes. We’ve got a great system.”

A few minutes later, I put the same question to Republican Senator Charles Schneider, who serves as Iowa Senate majority whip. “I will never support that,” he said without hesitation. You will never support gerrymandering? “Nope, never.” Even if Republicans control the legislative and executive branches after 2018? “Never. What we have right now is fair.”

I will follow up with House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, to see if they also will unequivocally promise to protect non-partisan redistricting in Iowa. The more Republican elected officials we can get on the record now, the better. In November, staff for Governor Terry Branstad did not respond to my e-mails seeking comment on whether the governor would rule out signing a bill that replaced the current system with rules allowing the political party in control of the legislature to draw new legislative and Congressional districts.

Continue Reading...

Key Iowa Senate Republican: "Loser pays" bill going nowhere

A Republican bill that would have made Iowa courts far less accessible to ordinary people will die in an Iowa Senate subcommittee, GOP State Senator Charles Schneider told Bleeding Heartland on February 25. Bill Brauch, former director of the Consumer Protection Division in the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, explained here how the so-called “loser pays” bill “would in effect kill Iowa’s private consumer fraud law, and just about eliminate any other type of legal action by an individual against a defendant with money.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Brad Zaun introduced Senate Study Bill 1008 during the first week of the legislative session, then assigned it to a subcommittee chaired by Schneider. Following a February 25 public forum in Clive, I asked Schneider about that bill’s status. He replied, “I don’t think it’s going anywhere. I haven’t held a subcommittee meeting for it, and I’m not planning to.”

I mentioned that Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix had named “loser pays” as one of his top four priorities in an interview with Radio Iowa. Schneider responded, “I’m not planning to hold a subcommittee meeting on it. I don’t think any other tort reform bills include a ‘loser pays’ section in them.”

Under Iowa legislative rules, most non-appropriations bills will be dead for the year if they have not cleared at least one Iowa House or Senate committee by the first “funnel,” coming up on Friday, March 3. The leaders of subcommittees and committees have discretion on what bills to bring up for a vote.

I’m pleasantly surprised to learn Senate Study Bill 1008 will go down without a fight. Only a month and a half ago, Dix cited a “measure that ensures losers in those court cases pay for the cost associated with the case” as one of “four bills that I believe define us and give Iowans a clear indication of where we plan to go with policies for our state.” The Iowa Association of Business and Industry, a lobby group with substantial influence among statehouse Republicans, registered in favor of this bill almost immediately. Perhaps Schneider, who practices law as a day job, was able to convince non-attorneys Dix and Zaun that “loser pays” is unnecessary and unfair. Or perhaps Zaun miscalculated by putting Schneider in charge of this subcommittee.

Whatever caused this bill’s demise, any bit of good news from this dreadful legislative session is worth celebrating.

UPDATE: Reader Marian Kuper noticed that Senate Study Bill 1144 contains a “loser pays” clause for nuisance lawsuits against large livestock farms. Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Dan Zumbach proposed that bill, which contains several provisions designed to shield confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) from lawsuits. It has passed a subcommittee and appears likely to survive the funnel, with support from several Big Ag lobby groups.

Continue Reading...

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.”

Continue Reading...

An open letter to Iowa Republican legislators

A UNI faculty member explodes three “alternative facts” supporting the Republican case for shredding collective bargaining rights. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Let me introduce myself. I’m Chris Martin, a professor at the University of Northern Iowa. Please let me disabuse you of the notion that I worked just a couple hours today and spent the rest of the time sipping chardonnay. I’m like most Iowans. I work a lot (faculty members at my university average 52-54 hours a week), I have a family I love, I pay taxes, I vote, and I volunteer for my community.

I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I’m very good at my job. I’ve taught at UNI for 20 years, and I’m nationally known in the field of journalism and mass communication. I am a Fulbright Scholar and a recipient of the State of Iowa’s Board of Regents Award for Faculty Excellence – the state’s highest honor for university professors – and several other awards. I’m a public employee and member of the faculty union.

Because I’m a journalism professor, I can’t help but provide some needed fact-checking on several issues concerning Iowa’s collective bargaining law and the bills that seek to undermine it. I’ll speak to the collective bargaining tradition at the University of Northern Iowa, where the faculty have bargained peacefully and fairly with the Board of Regents for 40 years.

Continue Reading...
View More...