Groups challenge Iowa's "ag gag" law in federal court

Two years ago, a federal court in Idaho ruled that state’s “Ag Gag” law unconstitutional, saying the ban on “interference with agricultural production” violated the First Amendment. That ruling pointed to similar problems with Iowa’s law prohibiting so-called “agricultural production facility fraud.”

Today, “a broad coalition of public interest groups” asked a federal court to strike down Iowa’s law under the U.S. Constitution and “enter an order blocking the state from enforcing it.”

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ACLU challenges Medicaid coverage exclusions for transgender Iowans

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa has filed a second lawsuit charging that state government violates the civil rights of transgender Iowans. Plaintiff EerieAnna Good is a Medicaid recipient who has been denied coverage for transition-related surgical care, because Iowa Department of Human Services administrative rules exclude Medicaid coverage for surgery related to “Sex reassignment.”

Professional associations representing doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers support transition-related care as medically necessary, and more than a dozen states prohibit transgender exclusions in private health insurance or Medicaid.

In a news release enclosed in full below, ACLU of Iowa legal director Rita Bettis noted that “Iowans who are not transgender routinely receive coverage for a medically necessary mastectomy—but a transgender Iowan would be banned from coverage for the same care to treat gender dysphoria regardless of medical need. That’s a violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act and equal protection under the Iowa Constitution.” (Since 2007, the Iowa Civil Rights Act has prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender identity.)

A second transgender Iowan, Carol Ann Beal, will likely join this lawsuit after the Iowa DHS finishes processing her appeal of Medicaid’s denial of coverage, the ACLU said.

Last month, the ACLU filed suit on behalf of a former Iowa prison nurse, who “was continuously denied the use of restrooms and locker rooms consistent with his gender identity, because he is transgender,” and also denied “the same level of health care benefit coverage” the state plan provided to employees who are not transgender.

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Former Iowa prison nurse files landmark transgender rights lawsuit

A former prison nurse has filed Iowa’s first transgender rights case since state lawmakers and the governor added gender identity protections to the Iowa Civil Rights Act in 2007, the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa announced today.

Jesse Vroegh is suing the Iowa Department of Corrections, the Iowa Department of Administrative Services, the insurance company Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Iowa, and State Penitentiary Warden Patti Wachtendorf on four counts of discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sex. The plaintiff charges that while employed at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville, he “was continuously denied the use of restrooms and locker rooms consistent with his gender identity, because he is transgender.”

In addition, the Department of Corrections “denied transgender employees the same level of health care benefit coverage that it provided to non-transgender employees,” while the Department of Administrative Services “was involved in the decision to select and offer to employees of the Iowa Department of Corrections only employer-sponsored health care plans which discriminated against transgender employees.”

Vroegh claims the state’s actions violated the Civil Rights Act and provisions in the Iowa Constitution that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex and require equal protection for historically disfavored groups. I enclose below the plaintiff’s initial court filing and a press release providing more background on the case.

Although he no longer works for the Department of Corrections, Vroegh said in a statement he is proceeding with the lawsuit “because I feel I need to fight for the rights not only of transgender people who work for the state but for other Iowa workers as well. I’m not asking for any special treatment of myself or any other transgender person. All I’m asking for is that transgender people be treated the same way as people who are not transgender.”

The ACLU of Iowa noted, “The first transgender employment discrimination case, Sommers v. Iowa Civil Rights Commission, was decided in 1983. But today’s action is the first case we’re aware of to be filed in Iowa District Court that asserts gender identity discrimination in employment since the Iowa Civil Rights Act was amended in 2007 to include gender identity and sexual orientation.” A few state House and Senate Republicans joined almost all of the Democratic lawmakers to approve the new civil rights language during the first year Democrats had controlled both chambers of the legislature in more than a decade. Governor Chet Culver signed the bill into law.

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City of Windsor Heights defends action on political signs

The city of Windsor Heights insists officials did not violate the First Amendment when attempting to restrict displays of signs opposing construction of new sidewalks and other local government policies. In a letter to the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, which is representing affected homeowners, attorneys for the city revised the legal grounds for previous actions and asserted that Windsor Heights is enforcing content-neutral sign regulations.

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