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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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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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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Iowa Republicans slash funds for sexual violence and domestic abuse survivors

Times won’t be equally tough all over when Republican cuts take effect in the justice systems budget.

The Attorney General’s Office receives only about 3 percent of state funding in this area (totaling some $559 million for the next fiscal year) but will absorb about 84 percent of the $2.9 million in cuts Republican lawmakers agreed on behind closed doors. The Department of Corrections, which consumes about three-quarters of justice systems spending, will face a net reduction only $1.6 million, and the Department of Public Safety, which costs six times more to run than the Attorney General’s Office, will see a small increase despite the bleak revenue forecast for the state as a whole.

Justice Systems Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Gary Worthan commented on April 12, “We would have liked to have done better with a lot of areas, but we’re forced to work with the realities of the budget.”

Fiscal constraints didn’t force anyone to inflict the deepest cuts on Iowans who have already experienced some of this world’s harshest realities. Republicans who put together this bill chose to spend 25 percent less next year on grants supporting survivors of sexual violence and domestic abuse.

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