Weekend open thread: Packed Iowa legislative forums

All over Iowa this year, record numbers of citizens have been turning out for legislative forums. Controversies over education spending and Planned Parenthood funding brought out many activists earlier in the legislative session. This weekend, the overwhelming majority of attendees wanted to talk about the Republican bill to eviscerate Chapter 20, Iowa’s law that has governed collective bargaining for public employees since 1974.

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Four things I learned about the Iowa Republicans who just voted to defund Planned Parenthood

On Thursday Iowa Senate Republicans approved a bill that would end most state and federal funding for Planned Parenthood’s family planning services. All 29 Republicans and independent Senator David Johnson voted for Senate File 2, while all 20 Democrats voted against the measure. The Senate Judiciary Committee had approved the bill on a party-line vote the previous day.

Passage was a foregone conclusion, since the entire GOP caucus co-sponsored the bill, and statehouse Republicans have been trying to defund Planned Parenthood for years.

Although I already knew Republican lawmakers were willing to force the state to spend ten times more for family planning services, with no reliable funding stream, I still learned some new things watching Senate File 2 move through the upper chamber.

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Iowans Lose with Senate "Loser Pays" Bill

Bill Brauch, the former director of the Consumer Protection Division in the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, warns about a “little sleeper of a bill” that would be “a nuclear weapon against judicial fairness.” -promoted by desmoinesdem

Iowa Senate Republicans have hit the ground running this session, and their agenda is replete with extreme proposals. One of them hasn’t gotten much notice yet but, if enacted, would represent the most radical change to Iowa’s judicial system since its inception.

Senate Study Bill 1008 would impose the “loser pays” standard in all civil actions in Iowa courts. This means that if you lose a civil lawsuit you not only have to pay your own attorney fees, you have to pay the other side’s attorney fees as well. Another term for this would be “instant bankruptcy!”

Imagine you are injured in a car accident and sue the other driver to seek recovery for your injuries. If the case is hard-fought both sides might run up tens of thousands of dollars in attorney fees. Say the case is a close one and you lose by a whisker – the jury thought you had a good case but your proof fell just short. Under SSB 1008, you’ll not only have to pay your own attorney fees, you’ll have to pay the other side’s as well!

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Who's who in the Iowa Senate for 2017

The Iowa legislature’s 2017 session begins today with minor adjustments to business in the state House but massive changes in the Senate. After ten years of Democratic control, the last six with a one-seat majority, the upper chamber now contains 29 Republicans, 20 Democrats, and one independent (former Republican David Johnson).

I enclose below details on the Iowa Senate majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing Senate committees. Click here to find the same information from the 2016 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 the past two years. 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.

As a group, the members of the new majority caucus have much less legislative experience than do their Democratic counterparts. As detailed below, only three of the 29 Senate Republicans have served ten or more years in the Iowa legislature, compared to thirteen of the 20 Democrats.

Some non-political trivia: the 50 Iowa senators include two with the surname Johnson, four Marks, three Bills, and two men each named Richard (Rich and Rick), Robert (a Rob and a Bob), Dan, Tim, Tom, Jeff, and Charles (one goes by Chaz).

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After campaigning on lies, Iowa Senate Republicans still won't lay out agenda

All but one of the 29 Republicans who will serve in the Iowa Senate for the next two years elected their leaders on Friday, changing little from the group that led the minority caucus during the last legislative session.

Bill Dix moves from Senate minority leader to majority leader.

Jack Whitver moves from minority whip to Senate president.

Jerry Behn, who preceded Dix as minority leader but hasn’t been in leadership since 2012, will become Senate president pro tem. He’s the longest-serving current Republican senator.

My own state senator, Charles Schneider, moves from an assistant minority leader position to majority whip.

Dan Zumbach and Randy Feenstra will be assistant majority leaders, having been assistant minority leaders during the last legislative session. The other two assistant majority leaders are new to leadership: Michael Breitbach and Amy Sinclair, the only woman in the 29-member incoming GOP caucus.

After the caucus meeting, Dix spoke only in general terms about the new majority’s plans.

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