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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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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Weekend open thread: Accountability

Senator Chuck Grassley hit a new low last week in running interference for the White House on the Trump/Russia investigation. After leaders of the private research firm Fusion GPS called on Congressional Republicans “to release full transcripts of our firm’s testimony” about the so-called Steele dossier, Grassley and Senator Lindsey Graham wrote to the Department of Justice and the FBI “urging an investigation into Christopher Steele.” Ranking Senate Judiciary Committee Democrat Dianne Feinstein was not consulted about the referral, which she accurately characterized as “another effort to deflect attention from what should be the committee’s top priority: determining whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the election and whether there was subsequent obstruction of justice.”

Here in Iowa, the Department of Human Services recently acknowledged that privatizing Medicaid “will save the state 80 percent less money this fiscal year than originally predicted,” Tony Leys reported for the Des Moines Register. The Branstad/Reynolds administration has claimed since 2015 that shifting care for one-sixth of Iowans to private companies would result in big savings for the state. Officials were never able to show the math underlying those estimates. Staff for Governor Kim Reynolds and the DHS now portray the miscalculation as an honest mistake, which a more “comprehensive methodology” will correct. The governor would have been wiser to pull the plug on this disaster last year.

Forthcoming Bleeding Heartland posts will address those failures in more depth. But now it’s time to hold myself accountable for the 17 Iowa politics predictions I made at the beginning of 2017. Did I improve on my showing of seven right, two half-right, and seven wrong out of my 16 predictions for 2016?

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The 17 Bleeding Heartland posts I worked hardest on in 2017

Since I started writing for this website a decade ago, I’ve never worked harder than I did in 2017. This momentous year in Iowa politics provided an overwhelming amount of source material: new laws affecting hundreds of thousands of people, our first new governor since 2011, and a record number of Democrats seeking federal or statewide offices.

In addition, my focus has shifted toward more topics that require time-consuming research or scrutiny of public records. As I looked over the roughly 420 Bleeding Heartland posts I wrote this year, I realized that dozens of pieces were as labor-intensive as some of those I worked hardest on in 2015 or 2016.

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How Iowa could have lost three Supreme Court justices in 2016

Remember how awful you felt on November 9, 2016, as you started to grasp what we were up against following the most devastating Iowa election in decades?

Would you believe the results could have been even worse?

Imagine Governor Terry Branstad appointing three right-wingers to the Iowa Supreme Court. It could have happened if conservative groups had targeted Chief Justice Mark Cady, Justice Brent Appel, and Justice Daryl Hecht with the resources and fervor they had applied against three justices in 2010.

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