Where did the Iowa I love go? A student's perspective

TJ Foley is a senior at Valley High School in West Des Moines. He will pursue a degree in international relations next fall. -promoted by desmoinesdem

To be quite honest, I thought I was done writing about politics in Iowa. As a high school senior, son of a teacher, and lifelong Iowan I am increasingly disillusioned with the direction of this state. This year the Iowa GOP and their special interest friends steamrolled over ordinary Iowans, gutting collective bargaining for public employees, eviscerating workers’ compensation protections, and slashing the wages of thousands of Iowan families, to name a few. Due to their actions, I no longer recognize my home of nearly 18 years. The Iowa I love values workers and teachers more than the narrow priorities of elite special interests like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Koch Brothers. But the Iowa I love and the Iowa we all currently have are no longer the same.

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A shameful end to the most destructive Iowa legislative session of my lifetime

The Iowa House and Senate adjourned for the year around 7:15 am on Saturday, after staying up all night while Republican leaders tried to hammer out last-minute deals on medical cannabis and water quality funding.

The medical cannabis compromise passed with bipartisan majorities in both chambers, but I’m not convinced the revised House File 524 will be an improvement on letting the current extremely limited law expire on July 1. The bill senators approved last Monday by 45 votes to five would have provided some relief to thousands of Iowans suffering from nearly 20 medical conditions. House Republican leaders refused to take it up for reasons Speaker Linda Upmeyer and House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow never articulated.

The new bill thrown together during the all-nighter theoretically covers nine conditions, but as Senator Joe Bolkcom explained in a video I’ve enclosed below, the only form of cannabis allowed (cannabidiol) will not be effective to treat eight of those. Although few if any Iowans will be helped, Republicans can now claim to have done something on the issue and will consequently face less pressure to pass a meaningful medical cannabis bill during the 2018 legislative session.

Republicans shut down the 30-year-old Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, which supported research on farming practices that could preserve our soil and water resources. But on Friday night, they gave up on doing anything serious to clean up our waterways, 750 of which are impaired, according to the latest data released by the Department of Natural Resources. CORRECTION: More recent DNR data indicate Iowa “contains 608 waterbodies with a total of 818 impairments.” (Some waterways have more than one impaired segment.) On the opening day of this year’s session, Hagenow promised “significant new resources to water quality efforts.” Why not come back next week and keep working until they find some way forward?

I’ll tell you why: lawmakers’ per diems ran out on April 18. Heaven forbid Republicans should work a few more days with no pay to address our state’s most serious pollution problem. Incidentally, this crowd just passed an education budget that will force thousands of students to go deeper in debt. They voted earlier this year to cut wages for tens of thousands of Iowans living paycheck to paycheck in counties that had raised the minimum wage. These “public servants” also handed more than 150,000 public workers an effective pay cut by taking away their ability to collectively bargain over benefits packages. As if that weren’t enough, they made sure many Iowans who get hurt on the job will be denied access to the workers’ compensation system or will get a small fraction of the benefits they would previously have received for debilitating shoulder injuries.

Lives will be ruined by some of the laws Republicans are touting as historic accomplishments.

Even worse, lives will likely end prematurely because of cuts in the health and human services budget to a wide range of programs, from elder abuse to chronic conditions to smoking cessation to Department of Human Services field operations. I enclose below a Democratic staff analysis of its provisions. During House and Senate floor debates, Republican floor managers offered lame excuses about the tight budget, which doesn’t allow us to allocate as much money as we’d like to this or that line item. Naturally, they found an extra $3 million for a new family planning program that will exclude Planned Parenthood as a provider.

Different Republican lawmakers used the same excuses to justify big cuts to victims assistance grants in the justice systems budget. That choice will leave thousands of Iowans–mostly women–without support next year after going through horrific assaults or ongoing abuse.

Despite some big talk from House Appropriations Committee Chair Pat Grassley, Republicans didn’t even try to rein in business tax credits, which have been the state’s fastest-growing expenses in recent years. The budget crunch is real and may get worse. But no one forced Republicans to inflict 100 percent of the belt-tightening on those who rely on public services.

More analysis of the 2017 legislative session is coming to Bleeding Heartland in the near future. All posts about this year’s work in the Iowa House and Senate are archived here. The Des Moines Register’s William Petroski and Brianne Pfannenstiel summarized some of the important bills that passed this year.

After the jump you’ll find Bolkcom’s commentary on the medical cannabis bill that offers “false hope” to Iowans “who have begged us to help,” along with closing remarks on the session from House Minority Leader Mark Smith and Senate Minority Leader Rob Hogg.

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Branstad nominees held accountable for violating women's constitutional rights

Iowa Senate Democrats held two members of the Iowa Board of Medicine accountable yesterday for hasty action in 2013 to approve an anti-abortion rule that had no scientific basis and was later found unconstitutional by a unanimous Iowa Supreme Court.

Iowa Board of Medicine Chair Diane Clark and fellow board member Dr. Hamed Tewfik became the first (and probably the only) nominees for state boards or commissions to be rejected by the Iowa Senate this year. Republicans are predictably denouncing the vote as “petty partisan politics.” But senators have confirmed without dissent the overwhelming majority of more than 200 people Governor Terry Branstad selected.

Clark and Tewfik have only themselves to blame for losing their prestigious positions.

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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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Education appropriations bill makes significant policy changes

Randy Richardson, a former teacher and retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association, provides his personal assessment of important language in the education appropriations bill, which Republicans will likely approve this week. -desmoinesdem

With the end of the legislative session drawing near, much of the work left for lawmakers is agreeing to a final budget. Last week the Iowa House introduced a number of appropriations bills. Included among them was House File 642, the education appropriations bill.

For fiscal year 2018-2019 the bill appropriates monies from the general fund of the State to the Department for the Blind, the College Student Aid Commission, the Department of Education, and the State Board of Regents and the institutions it governs, at generally 50 percent of the amounts appropriated for the same purposes for the prior fiscal year. In addition to establishing budget numbers the bill also contains quite a bit of language that modifies Iowa Code.

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Courts will have the final say over Iowa's voter ID law

New restrictions on voting in Iowa are headed to Governor Terry Branstad after one last party-line vote in the state Senate on Thursday. The final version of House File 516 contains voter ID and signature verification requirements that will surely prevent some eligible voters from having their ballots counted. For more on those barriers, read Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert’s statement enclosed below, testimony from the public hearing in the Iowa House last month, Bleeding Heartland guest posts by representatives of One Iowa and the American Civil Liberties Union, John Deeth’s “deep dig,” and the position paper from Iowa’s Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs. That commission took its first-ever stand on pending legislation out of concern House File 516 will “impede access to the voting booth.”

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