Iowa House censored video of public hearing on voter ID bill

The topic at hand was supposed to be Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert announcing that he may run for Iowa secretary of state in 2018. In a March 19 press release, Weipert said, “I’ve been meeting with auditors of both parties across the state, and there’s wide agreement we need new leadership in the Secretary of State’s Office. […] We should be helping people vote, not making it harder.” Auditors are the top election administrators in Iowa’s 99 counties. Weipert has been an outspoken critic of Secretary of State Paul Pate’s proposal to enact new voter ID and signature verification requirements. The Republican-controlled Iowa House approved a version of Pate’s bill earlier this month.

Weipert has argued voter ID would disenfranchise some voters and create long lines at polling places. While working on a post about his possible challenge to Pate, I intended to include footage from the Johnson County auditor’s remarks at the March 6 public hearing on House File 516. I’d watched the whole hearing online. However, I couldn’t find Weipert anywhere in the video the Iowa House of Representatives posted on YouTube and on the legislature’s website.

Upon closer examination, I realized the official record of that hearing omitted the testimony of sixteen people, including Weipert.

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Iowa Republicans on voter ID: La la la, we can't hear you

Bare-knuckles partisanship is a running theme of the 2017 Iowa legislative session, so Thursday’s party-line House vote to approve new voting restrictions was unremarkable. Nor was it surprising that Republicans cut off floor debate before members discussed most of the Democratic amendments to House File 516. Before last month, House leaders hadn’t invoked the “time certain” procedural maneuver since March 2011. They’ve used it twice this year already: to destroy collective bargaining rights and now for the bill containing voter ID, signature verification, and other ways to make voting more difficult.

After listening to the March 6 public hearing and about half of the twelve hours House members debated the bill, I was struck by how Republicans stayed on the message we’ve heard from Secretary of State Paul Pate. No one will be unable to vote because of this bill, and everyone who needs a new voter ID card will get one for free.

At the hearing and on the Iowa House floor, numerous speakers offered specific examples of how the GOP proposal could prevent eligible voters from casting a ballot.

They might as well have been talking to a wall.

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What you need to know to fight the next four terrible Iowa Republican bills

Republicans have already inflicted immeasurable harm on Iowans during the 2017 legislative session, taking rights away from more than 180,000 workers, slashing funding for higher education and human services, and approving the third-smallest K-12 school funding increase in four decades. The worst part is, they’re nowhere near finished.

Iowa Senate Minority Leader Rob Hogg has flagged twelve of the most destructive bills still alive in the GOP-controlled House and Senate. Any Iowan can attend public hearings scheduled for March 6 or 7 on four of those “dirty dozen” bills. Those who are unable to come to the Capitol in person can submit written comments on the legislation or contact Republican state representatives or senators directly by phone or e-mail.

Here’s what you need to know about the four bills most urgently requiring attention.

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Follow-up Iowa licensing bill is dead

A new bill that would have named a task force to study licensing requirements in Iowa will not move forward this legislative session, Republican State Representative Dawn Pettengill told representatives of the National Association of Social Workers Iowa chapter. House Study Bill 174 replaced an earlier proposal from Governor Terry Branstad, which would have eliminated licensing requirements for numerous professions. During the past week, House Study Bill 138 generated as many constituent contacts to Iowa lawmakers as the bill passed earlier this month to destroy collective bargaining rights. Among other things, the governor’s licensing bill would have reduced insurance coverage for mental health care services. On February 27, an Iowa House State Government subcommittee voted not to move that bill forward.

House State Government Committee Chair Ken Rizer introduced the replacement licensing bill on February 28. In addition to changing regulations in several other areas, House Study Bill 174 called for a new task force to review Iowa’s licensing requirements and report back to the legislature by the end of 2017.

Although Rizer’s bill would not have immediately affected marriage and family therapists, mental health counselors, or social workers, the leading association representing Iowa’s social workers expressed concern that “the taskforce as outlined would mostly be selected by the Governor, who has demonstrated that he wants to de-professionalize many different important professions that serve some of our most vulnerable populations.” (You can read the task force membership provisions on on page 37.) The social workers group was seeking an amendment to give licensed professionals greater influence over the task force membership. But last night, Pettengill–one of two Republicans on the subcommittee where the new bill was assigned–said House Study Bill 174 was dead.

Most non-appropriations bills must be approved by at least one Iowa House or Senate committee by March 3 in order to stay alive for this year. Bills need to clear a subcommittee before coming up for a full committee vote.

Whether the licensing task force language led to the new bill’s demise is not clear. The lobbyist declarations on House Study Bill 174 show substantial opposition, presumably related to other provisions on regulating hospitals and electricians.

P.S. Attention-seeking State Representative Bobby Kaufmann could have let the governor’s original licensing bill die quietly by not scheduling a subcommittee hearing, as is normal practice in the Iowa legislature. Instead, the publicity hound wasted a lot of people’s time before drawing cheers as he ripped up the bill’s cover sheet. Alas, television cameras had already left the meeting room before Kaufmann’s dramatic gesture. The young Republican lawmaker was literally not ready for prime time.

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Read Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate's draft voter ID and election reform bills

The Legislative Services Agency has drafted three bills fleshing out Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate’s proposals on voter ID and other changes to election administration, such as signature verification and wider use of electronic poll books. Bleeding Heartland obtained copies of the documents, which I enclose below.

Important caveats:

These drafts are not the final versions of Pate’s bills.

The voter ID plan is consistent with Pate’s comments at an early January press conference and talking points the Secretary of State’s Office distributed the following week. As far as I can tell, these drafts have not incorporated feedback from the four county auditors who testified at a January 26 Iowa House hearing. Many election administrators have reservations about signature verification requirements as well as voter ID. Legislative staff may rewrite some provisions before the bills are assigned numbers and formally introduced in the Iowa House and Senate.

Republican lawmakers will alter Pate’s bills, if they run them at all.

Departmental bills often die in Iowa legislative committees. State Representative Ken Rizer and State Senator Roby Smith, who lead the State Government Committees in their respective chambers, told Barbara Rodriguez of the Associated Press last week “they’re working together on possible changes” to Pate’s plan. Rizer described the secretary of state’s recommendations as “a starting point for an election reform bill.” I expect Pate will end up playing “good cop,” with the “bad cops” in the House and Senate passing more restrictive ID requirements as well as steps to limit early voting, which Pate has not endorsed.

These bills do not yet come with a price tag.

Eventually, the Legislative Services Agency will produce a fiscal note estimating the cost of enacting each bill. Pate initially suggested his plans would require $1 million, roughly half to make electronic poll books universally available, and half to provide voter ID cards to about 140,000 registered Iowa voters lacking a driver’s license or other valid identification. More recently, he has said only about 85,000 current Iowa voters would need a new ID card to bring to the polls, reducing the cost to the state.

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How Paul Pate is spinning county auditors on his voter ID plan

Nearly three weeks after Iowa Secretary of State announced plans to push for new voter ID requirements, Pate still hasn’t produced a draft bill that would answer important questions about how his scheme would work. Skeptics including John Deeth, Gavin Aronsen, Pat Rynard, the Des Moines Register editorial board, the Quad-City Times editorial board, and I have posited that the proposal would disenfranchise a significant number of eligible voters, largely from groups that tend to lean Democratic. Pate strenuously objects, claiming that his only concerns are for the “integrity” of Iowa elections and voter confidence in the system.

In addition to arguing his case on social media and in “a public relations tour of Iowa newsrooms,” Pate has sought to enlist support from county auditors, many of whom “aren’t fans of voter ID” requirements.

I enclose below two documents the Secretary of State’s Office distributed to county auditors during the week after his voter ID rollout.

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