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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Iowans Lose with Senate "Loser Pays" Bill

Bill Brauch, the former director of the Consumer Protection Division in the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, warns about a “little sleeper of a bill” that would be “a nuclear weapon against judicial fairness.” -promoted by desmoinesdem

Iowa Senate Republicans have hit the ground running this session, and their agenda is replete with extreme proposals. One of them hasn’t gotten much notice yet but, if enacted, would represent the most radical change to Iowa’s judicial system since its inception.

Senate Study Bill 1008 would impose the “loser pays” standard in all civil actions in Iowa courts. This means that if you lose a civil lawsuit you not only have to pay your own attorney fees, you have to pay the other side’s attorney fees as well. Another term for this would be “instant bankruptcy!”

Imagine you are injured in a car accident and sue the other driver to seek recovery for your injuries. If the case is hard-fought both sides might run up tens of thousands of dollars in attorney fees. Say the case is a close one and you lose by a whisker – the jury thought you had a good case but your proof fell just short. Under SSB 1008, you’ll not only have to pay your own attorney fees, you’ll have to pay the other side’s as well!

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Read Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate's draft voter ID and election reform bills

The Legislative Services Agency has drafted three bills fleshing out Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate’s proposals on voter ID and other changes to election administration, such as signature verification and wider use of electronic poll books. Bleeding Heartland obtained copies of the documents, which I enclose below.

Important caveats:

These drafts are not the final versions of Pate’s bills.

The voter ID plan is consistent with Pate’s comments at an early January press conference and talking points the Secretary of State’s Office distributed the following week. As far as I can tell, these drafts have not incorporated feedback from the four county auditors who testified at a January 26 Iowa House hearing. Many election administrators have reservations about signature verification requirements as well as voter ID. Legislative staff may rewrite some provisions before the bills are assigned numbers and formally introduced in the Iowa House and Senate.

Republican lawmakers will alter Pate’s bills, if they run them at all.

Departmental bills often die in Iowa legislative committees. State Representative Ken Rizer and State Senator Roby Smith, who lead the State Government Committees in their respective chambers, told Barbara Rodriguez of the Associated Press last week “they’re working together on possible changes” to Pate’s plan. Rizer described the secretary of state’s recommendations as “a starting point for an election reform bill.” I expect Pate will end up playing “good cop,” with the “bad cops” in the House and Senate passing more restrictive ID requirements as well as steps to limit early voting, which Pate has not endorsed.

These bills do not yet come with a price tag.

Eventually, the Legislative Services Agency will produce a fiscal note estimating the cost of enacting each bill. Pate initially suggested his plans would require $1 million, roughly half to make electronic poll books universally available, and half to provide voter ID cards to about 140,000 registered Iowa voters lacking a driver’s license or other valid identification. More recently, he has said only about 85,000 current Iowa voters would need a new ID card to bring to the polls, reducing the cost to the state.

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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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Republicans outspending Democrats in most Iowa Senate battlegrounds

Iowa House and Senate candidates were required to file their last pre-election campaign finance reports on Friday. In stark contrast to four years ago, Republicans are outspending Democrats in most of the contested state Senate districts. (I’ll address spending in the key Iowa House races in a different post.)

Currently, there are 25 Senate Democrats, 23 Republicans, and one independent. If former GOP Senator David Johnson makes good on his promise to remain an independent in 2017, and Democrats win the December special election to replace the late Senator Joe Seng, Republicans would need to pick up three seats to gain control of the upper chamber for the first time since 2004.

I enclose below in-kind contribution figures for the Senate districts expected to be in play next Tuesday. Candidates running elsewhere did not report large in-kind contributions from their respective parties.

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