Who's who in the Iowa Senate for 2018

The Iowa Senate begins work today with 29 Republicans, 20 Democrats, and one independent, former Republican David Johnson.

I enclose below details on the majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing Iowa Senate committees. Where relevant, I’ve noted changes since last year’s 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 2015 and 2016. 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.

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

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If all Iowa candidates had to win under rules Republicans forced on unions

“There’s not one Republican in this state that could win an election under the rules they gave us,” asserted AFSCME Council 61 President Danny Homan after the first round of public union recertification elections ended this week.

He was only slightly exaggerating.

A review of the last two general election results shows that Iowa’s capitol would be mostly devoid of office-holders if candidates for statewide and legislative races needed a majority vote among all their constituents–rather than a plurality among those who cast ballots–to be declared winners.

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Iowa Senate Republicans hold no one accountable for sexual harassment case

Iowa Senate Republicans voted last Friday to make no changes in the caucus’s staff or leadership, following a sexual harassment lawsuit that led to a $2.2 million verdict against the state. Instead, Secretary of the Senate Charlie Smithson will internally review allegations that came to light through Kirsten Anderson’s lawsuit, with the chamber’s number two Republican, Senate President Jack Whitver, “overseeing the investigation.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix has claimed repeatedly that any problems relating to a hostile work environment were resolved soon after he took charge of the Senate GOP caucus in late 2012. But court testimony indicated that neither senators nor top Republican staffers ever asked others employed by the caucus whether they had observed sexual harassment or other offensive workplace conduct. Although Dix admitted hearing about matters “I was not aware of” during the trial, he still insists Anderson was fired in May 2013 solely because of her work product. Meanwhile, the current Iowa Senate Republican communications staffers occupy themselves with who-knows-what, as opposed to keeping the website and social media feeds current.

Dix confirmed that Republicans will not cover the costs of any payout to Anderson, opting to let taxpayers foot the bill for the lack of professionalism that persisted for years.

Republicans’ failure to hold anyone accountable for this debacle underscores the need for independent consultants to take a hard look at what happened in the Senate GOP caucus and how to fix the work environment. Anderson has asked a Polk County District Court to make that happen.

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Let's not forget who made Iowa's new medical cannabis law so useless

Iowa’s new medical cannabis law goes into effect on July 1, but “obtaining the medicine will be difficult and manufacturers said it’s unclear if the state’s effort will be viable,” Linley Sanders reported for the Associated Press this week. Her story illuminated a few reasons the law won’t help most of the people who could potentially benefit from access to cannabis derivatives.

Iowa lawmakers closed out the session with all-nighter so as not to adjourn without doing something on this issue. The previous medical cannabis law, adopted in similar last-minute fashion three years earlier, was due to expire this summer. Even for people with seizure disorders, the only conditions for which cannabis oil was allowed, the old law was too limited and unworkable.

As the new law’s defects become more obvious, we need to remember that most state legislators favored a better alternative. House Republicans thwarted their efforts.

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Near-total support for medical cannabis bill in Iowa Senate

What a difference two years makes: the Iowa Senate approved a comprehensive medical cannabis bill today by 45 votes to five. Almost two years ago to the day, a similar bill covering fewer medical conditions barely passed the Senate with just one Republican (Brad Zaun) joining 25 of the 26 Democrats. State Senator Tod Bowman was the lone Democrat not to support the 2015 cannabis legislation, and he was the only Democrat to vote against Senate File 506 today, joined by Republicans Mike Breitbach, Dan Dawson, Julian Garrett, and Mark Costello. (Garrett had voted for the bill in the Senate Appropriations Committee last week.)

Bleeding Heartland covered the important provisions of Senate File 506 here. Whereas the current law allows the use of cannabis oil to treat a few seizure conditions but doesn’t provide for in-state production, the new bill would cover thousands more Iowans, permit licensed users to obtain cannabis in more forms (but not smokeable marijuana), and create conditions for manufacturing and selling medical cannabis in Iowa.

Before final passage, senators adopted two amendments by voice vote. Language introduced by Republican Tom Greene added polyarteritis nodosa to the list of covered conditions and reduced the maximum number of licensed medical cannabis manufacturers in Iowa from twelve to four. Republican Mark Chelgren’s amendment removed a passage that would have allowed patients to register for a nonresident card in Minnesota and obtain medical cannabis from a manufacturer in that state.

Iowa House Republican leaders may not allow a vote on this bill without amendments to limit its scope. However, they will face pressure to do something before adjournment, because the current law expires on July 1. During today’s floor debate, several senators urged colleagues in the lower chamber to send the legislation to Governor Terry Branstad, Steffi Lee reported for CBS-2 in Cedar Rapids.

Advocacy groups representing Iowans affected by various diseases or medical conditions are lobbying in favor of Senate File 506, while some organizations representing law enforcement or medical professionals are registered against it, including the Iowa Pharmacy Association. Ironically, the only two pharmacists serving in the legislature are strong supporters of the bill. Greene floor-managed Senate File 506, and Democratic State Representative John Forbes has been one of the lower chamber’s leading advocates for medical cannabis reform for years.

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