Whitver, Schneider to lead Iowa Senate GOP; Failor out as top aide

Iowa Senate Republicans elected new leaders today following Bill Dix’s unexpected resignation on March 12. Jack Whitver moves up from Senate president to majority leader, and Charles Schneider moves up from majority whip to Senate president. Amy Sinclair, who has been one of four assistant majority leaders, moves up to majority whip. Jake Chapman will take her place as an assistant leader.

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No magical economic boom will make Iowa GOP's tax cuts affordable

Iowa Senate Republicans are barreling ahead to debate a regressive tax plan that would reduce state revenues by 10 to 15 percent within five years. Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Randy Feenstra, lead author of Senate File 2383, continued to describe his proposal as “bold, pro-growth tax relief” after a non-partisan analysis projected massive revenue losses.

Meanwhile, newly-released records show that in communications with other GOP senators, Feenstra greatly understated the cost of an earlier draft of his tax proposal. The documents don’t indicate whether the head of Senate’s tax-writing committee misunderstood numbers provided by the Iowa Department of Revenue or misrepresented them to downplay the price tag. (Feenstra has not responded to my inquiry.)

What is clear: the Department of Revenue never predicted that deeply cutting taxes would produce “excess” economic growth. Which isn’t surprising, since no economic boom materialized in states like Kansas and Louisiana after Republicans destroyed those states’ ability to pay for essential services.

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Heartbeat bill advances where personhood failed

The Iowa Senate Judiciary Committee has advanced a bill that would ban nearly all abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Senate Study Bill 3143 is the most extreme anti-abortion bill to clear an Iowa legislative committee in decades. Any physician terminating a pregnancy in the absence of a “medical emergency”–narrowly defined to include only life-threatening conditions–could be charged with a class D felony. All eight Republicans on the panel voted for the legislation, while all five Democrats opposed it. Committee approval on February 12 keeps the bill alive for at least another month, until the second “funnel” deadline on March 16.

Less than a year ago, Senate Judiciary Chair Brad Zaun was disappointed not to have the votes on his committee to advance a “personhood” bill, which declared that life would be protected from the moment of conception. The same eight Republicans who supported the heartbeat bill this week served on Judiciary during the 2017 session.

Which minds changed is not clear, nor is it apparent whether the bill will gain final approval in either chamber. Not every bill that comes out of committee receives a vote in the full Senate. Republican leaders blocked an effort to force a floor vote on personhood last year.

However, the shift among at least two Republicans on Judiciary suggests that GOP leaders may feel pressure to fire up the social conservative base.

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Deafening silence from Kim Reynolds as GOP prepares to gut higher education

Governor Kim Reynolds found time to show off her support for education during the past two days. She honored five schools that closed “achievement gaps,” touted “extremely important” community colleges, and praised dual enrollment on January 25. She attended a luncheon to honor “Outstanding Iowa Teachers” the following day.

Somehow, the unfailingly “optimistic” governor never got around to denouncing the huge higher education cuts Iowa Senate Republicans rolled out toward the end of the week.

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Senate GOP's budget cuts could close more than 30 county courthouses

More than 30 county courthouses could close if the Iowa legislature enacts Senate Republicans’ plan to cut more than $4.8 million from the judicial branch for the remainder of the 2018 fiscal year, State Court Administrator Todd Nuccio warned on January 25. Iowa Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Charles Schneider proposed some $52 million in mid-year budget cuts the same day; within hours, his committee approved the bill along party lines.

Earlier this month, Governor Kim Reynolds proposed about $27 million in spending cuts before the end of the fiscal year, of which about $1.6 million would come from the judicial branch. House Republicans have not yet released a plan for mid-year cuts. In January 2017, leaders from both chambers worked out a deal behind closed doors before publishing a bill. But House Speaker Linda Upmeyer “said Thursday the House was still working on its plan for spending reductions,” the Des Moines Register’s William Petroski and Brianne Pfannenstiel reported.

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