Branstad not ready to face reality on telemed abortion or court appeals process

A unanimous Supreme Court ruling against your position is usually a sign that your legal arguments lack merit. But Governor Terry Branstad hasn’t learned that lesson from his administration being on the wrong end of not one, not two, but three unanimous Iowa Supreme Court rulings.

Last week, the court ruled with no dissenting justices that Iowa’s ban on using telemedicine to provide abortion services is unconstitutional. Three of the justices who concurred in the decision are Branstad appointees (Chief Justice Mark Cady and Justices Edward Mansfield and Thomas Waterman). Two of them–Waterman and Mansfield–have demonstrated in previous cases that they are reluctant to substitute their judgment for that of executive branch bodies responsible for rulemaking. Yet Branstad not only rejects the reasoning underlying the telemedicine ruling, but also refuses to accept legal experts’ determination that his administration cannot appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.  

Continue Reading...

Five key points about the Iowa Supreme Court striking down the telemedicine abortion ban

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously yesterday that Iowa’s ban on the use of telemedicine to provide abortion services was unconstitutional because it imposed an “undue burden” on women seeking an abortion. You can read the whole ruling here (pdf). I’ve posted highlights after the jump, along with some reaction to the decision from both sides in the debate.

A few points are worth remembering.

Continue Reading...

Iowans haven't heard the last from Brenna (Findley) Bird

Governor Terry Branstad’s office announced on Thursday that Brenna Bird (whose maiden name was Findley) is stepping down as the governor’s legal counsel “to pursue opportunities in the private sector.” Her LinkedIn profile hasn’t been updated yet, so it’s not clear whether Bird is returning to the Des Moines-based Whitaker Hagenow law firm. She joined that firm in 2010 after leaving Representative Steve King’s staff, but did not practice much law, since she was running for Iowa attorney general full-time.

Branstad named Bird as his legal counsel shortly after the 2010 election. She appears to have influenced several of the governor’s policy choices. At one time, Branstad had supported a mandate to purchase health insurance, but soon after being inaugurated in 2011, he joined a lawsuit to overturn the federal health care reform law (a key issue in Bird’s unsuccessful attorney general campaign). Branstad’s legal counsel also appears to have helped convince Branstad to change his position on banning lead shot for hunting mourning doves in Iowa. When the state legislature refused to overturn a rule mandating non-toxic ammunition, Bird worked several angles to overturn a rule adopted by the state Natural Resource Commission.

Bird’s work as legal counsel has also gotten the Branstad administration involved in some major litigation. In 2011, she participated in efforts to pressure Iowa’s Workers Compensation Commissioner to resign before the end of his fixed term. As a result, she and the governor, along with other former staffers, are co-defendants in a lawsuit filed by the former workers’ compensation commissioner.

In 2013, Bird was a key contact for Iowans seeking to ban the use of telemedicine for providing medical abortions in Planned Parenthood clinics. As the Iowa Board of Medicine considered a new rule containing verbatim wording from anti-abortion activists, the state Attorney General’s Office “cautioned the board against moving so quickly.” But as the governor’s counsel, Bird encouraged board members to adopt the telemedicine abortion ban immediately. Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit challenging that rule is pending with the Iowa Supreme Court.

Bird may be leaving the public sector for now, but I suspect Iowans will see her name on a ballot before too long. She reportedly considered running for Congress last year in Iowa’s third district and has served on the Republican Party of Iowa’s State Central Committee since last June. I could easily see Bird running for a Republican-leaning Iowa House or Senate seat if one were to open up in central Iowa. Alternatively, she and 2014 attorney general nominee Adam Gregg (now Iowa’s state public defender) are likely GOP candidates for attorney general in 2018.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. After the jump I’ve enclosed a press release on Bird’s departure from the governor’s staff, with background on Michael Bousselot, her successor as legal counsel.  

Continue Reading...

Attorney general candidate Adam Gregg becoming Iowa's state public defender

Governor Terry Branstad has often appointed unsuccessful Republican candidates to state positions, and this week he named Adam Gregg, the GOP nominee for Iowa attorney general, to be Iowa State Public Defender. I’ve enclosed the press release after the jump. It contains background on Gregg, who worked as a staffer in the governor’s office before running against longtime Democratic incumbent Tom Miller. I don’t anticipate Gregg having any trouble being confirmed by the Iowa Senate.

The Des Moines rumor mill says Miller will retire at the end of his ninth term as attorney general. An race for that position would likely attract many candidates in both parties. I expect Gregg to seek the office in 2018, along with Branstad’s legal counsel Brenna Findley, who was the GOP challenger to Miller in 2010. Several Republicans in the Iowa House or Senate might give this race a look, especially if there are no open Congressional seats on the horizon.

For those wondering whether Gregg or Findley performed better against Miller, the answer depends on how you look at it. Both of the challengers raised quite a bit of money for first-time candidates seeking a statewide office. Gregg raised $191,359 in his first month and a half as a candidate, then nearly another $200,000 before the election; see here and here. Findley also raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for her 2010 race; see here, here, and here.

Both Gregg and Findley campaigned energetically around the state, visiting all 99 counties and attending hundreds of public events. In 2010, when total turnout was 1,133,429 for the midterm election, Miller received 607,779 votes to 486,057 for Findley (there were a smattering of write-ins and 38,605 “under votes,” meaning voters left that part of the ballot blank).

This year total turnout was a bit higher at 1,142,226, and Miller received 616,711 votes to 481,046 for Gregg (there were more write-ins and 43,016 under votes).

So Findley received a slightly higher share of the two-party vote, but she also had way more help. Branstad talked up her campaign all year and appeared in one of her television commercials. She was able to run far more radio and tv ads statewide, thanks to more than half a million dollars in transfers from the Republican Party of Iowa. Gregg didn’t get anything like that kind of assistance or exposure, so arguably he got more bang for his campaign bucks.

I’m intrigued that an ambitious young conservative politician wanted to serve as the state public defender. It’s an important job, and I hope Gregg does it well. Some of my favorite people have worked as public defenders. But there’s no getting around the fact that his office will be defending some unsavory characters. The job is risky in that next time Gregg is a candidate for public office, rivals could run “Willie Horton” ads against him highlighting onetime clients who committed horrible crimes.

Continue Reading...

Iowa Senate Democrats roll out state government reforms

The Iowa Senate Oversight Committee met yesterday to approve a wide range of recommendations on state government management, contracting, and labor practices. O. Kay Henderson posted audio from the committee meeting at Radio Iowa. On a 3-2 party-line vote, Democrats on the committee approved recommendations in the following nine areas:

• A ban on secret settlements and hush money

• Expanded whistleblower protections

• Anti-cronyism measures

• Reform of the state’s “do-not-hire” database

• A ban on no-bid contracts for state projects

• Increase accountability in state infrastructure projects

• Protect Iowans right to fair hearings by preventing political appointees and at-will employees from supervising or evaluating judges

• Restore integrity to Iowa’s unemployment trust fund by appointing trusted and transparent leadership

• Require that the Legislature be notified when the Governor receives reports of founded workplace violence in state agencies.

One of the Republicans who voted against the recommendations, State Senator Julian Garrett, characterized the Democratic proposals as “political theater” not “borne out by the facts.”

“No laws were broken. No codes of ethics were violated,” Garrett said. “Instead, we have discovered that there is a difference of opinion in management philosophies…and we have learned that sometimes front-line workers don’t care for or particularly agree with their bosses.”

In Garrett’s view, Governor Terry Branstad is running the state “exceptionally well” and should get more credit for ending secret settlements through an executive order. However, witnesses appearing before the Iowa Senate Oversight Committee in recent months testified to many problems in state government beyond settlements that included confidentiality clauses (which were the first scandals to get widespread attention). Committee Chair Janet Petersen mentioned several of them in her opening remarks for yesterday’s meeting. After the jump I’ve posted a more detailed list of recommendations, along with findings that prompted them. Whether these proposals go anywhere during the 2015 legislative session will depend on party control of the Iowa House and Senate after the November election.

Rod Boshart paraphrased Petersen as predicting that if Branstad is re-elected, several of his appointees who were involved in these scandals may have trouble being confirmed by the Iowa Senate, “notably Iowa Workforce Development Director Teresa Wahlert.”

Continue Reading...

District Court upholds Iowa rule banning "telemedicine" abortions

A Polk County District Court today upheld a rule adopted by the Iowa Board of Medicine last year, which would prohibit Planned Parenthood of the Heartland from providing medical abortions using “telemedicine” (where a doctor meets with the patient via videoconferencing). You can read the full text of Judge Jeffrey Farrell’s ruling here. After the jump I’ve summarized Judge Farrell’s key findings, including background on the case and excerpts from his decision. I’ve also enclosed reaction from both sides in the telemedicine abortion debate, as well as from Governor Terry Branstad and Democratic challenger Jack Hatch.

Judge Farrell’s ruling goes into effect in 30 days, but Planned Parenthood has already said it will appeal, so the Iowa Supreme Court may put another stay on the rule pending its hearing of the case.

I’m surprised by this ruling. In a November 2013 decision granting Planned Parenthood’s request for a stay of the rule, Polk County District Court Judge Karen Romano sounded skeptical that rule would be upheld when courts considered the merits. She noted the lack of evidence of any adverse outcomes in more than 5,000 abortions using Planned Parenthood’s telemedicine system, the “peculiar” fact that the Board of Medicine required an in-person meeting between a patient and doctor for abortion services, but not for other telemedicine practices, and the likelihood that denying rural women access to medical abortion would increase demand for “surgical abortion, which is much more invasive and risky.” UPDATE: In the comments, Bleeding Heartland reader ahawby notes several factors that could have influenced Judge Farrell’s perspective on this case.

Today’s decision is a victory for opponents of abortion rights, because Iowa women in small towns and rural areas will face more hurdles to obtain abortions early in pregnancy. It’s also a personal triumph for Branstad’s legal counsel, Brenna Findley. As Judge Farrell’s ruling acknowledges, Findley was a vocal advocate of the rulemaking, urging the Board of Medicine to act quickly on the petition from pro-life activists, against the advice of the board’s own legal counsel as well as the Iowa Attorney General’s office.

Continue Reading...
View More...