Rita DeJong's strong performance shows Iowa legislature in play

Josh Hughes is a Drake University undergraduate and vice president of the I-35 school board. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Republican Jacob Bossman bested Democrat Rita DeJong by 55.6 percent to 44.3 percent in a January 16 special election that, despite the sub-zero temperatures on election day, got very hot in the final stretch. Sensing vulnerability in this ancestrally Republican seat, the Iowa GOP spent more than $117,000 on tv advertising and paid mail to juice Republican turnout.

The GOP’s investment paid off. But even in this loss, Iowa Democrats have many reasons to feel hopeful, not only because of DeJong’s massive over performance compared to other Democrats, but also because the fundamentals of the district suggest something much larger going on.

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Five takeaways from the Iowa legislature's opening day in 2018

The Iowa House and Senate convened Monday with the usual big promises and platitudes about working together to build a better future for Iowans.

Behind the optimistic rhetoric, all signs point to another contentious legislative session. The opening day speeches by Republican and Democratic leaders, enclosed in full below, revealed almost no common ground about the focus of lawmakers’ work and no indication that the most important bills will incorporate Democratic ideas. My takeaways:

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2018

The Iowa House opens its 2018 session today with 58 Republicans, 41 Democrats, and one vacancy, since Jim Carlin resigned after winning the recent special election in Iowa Senate district 3. Voters in House district 6 will choose Carlin’s successor on January 16.

The 99 state representatives include 27 women (18 Democrats and nine Republicans) and 72 men. Five African-Americans (all Democrats) serve in the legislature’s lower chamber; the other 95 lawmakers are white. No Latino has ever been elected to the Iowa House, and there has not been an Asian-American member since Swati Dandekar moved up to the Iowa Senate following the 2008 election.

After the jump I’ve posted details on the Iowa House majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing House committees. Where relevant, I’ve noted significant changes since last year.

Under the Ethics Committee subheading, you’ll see a remarkable example of Republican hypocrisy.

Some non-political trivia: the Iowa House includes two Taylors (one from each party) and two Smiths (both Democrats). As for first names, there are six Davids (four go by Dave), four Roberts (two Robs, one Bob, and a Bobby), four Marys (one goes by Mary Ann), three Johns and a Jon, and three men each named Gary and Charles (two Chucks and a Charlie). There are also two Elizabeths (a Beth and a Liz) and two men each named Brian, Bruce, Chris, Todd, and Michael (one goes by Mike).

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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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Iowa sets precedent with "First in the Nation" law lowering the minimum wage

Matt Chapman comments on an important bill finalized this week. For what it’s worth, I do not believe Jake Highfill’s claim that Governor Terry Branstad supports a $10 an hour minimum wage. Branstad has expressed support for “a modest increase over a period of time.” -promoted by desmoinesdem

An unfortunate precedent was set when Governor Terry Branstad signed House File 295 on Thursday.

Although 23 Republican-controlled states “now preempt local efforts to increase the minimum wage,” this week Iowa became the “first state government in the U.S. to take away raises from low-wage workers who already received them,” according to the National Employment Law Project.

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Everything you want to know about Iowa's horrible new collective bargaining law

Republicans in the Iowa House and Senate voted today to dramatically reduce collective bargaining rights for some 180,000 public employees, following approximately 27 hours of debate in the Iowa Senate and fourteen and a half hours of debate in the Iowa House. GOP leaders moved House File 291 and Senate File 213 simultaneously through both chambers in order to speed up the process.

Democrats had offered dozens of amendments to the bills, which were published for the first time on February 7. Instead of allowing full discussion of every amendment, GOP leaders moved to cut off debate at a “time certain” today. That maneuver had never been used in the Iowa Senate and has been invoked only rarely in the Iowa House–including to end debate on the collective bargaining bill Republicans passed in March 2011. Debate ended in the Iowa House at noon, after which the majority quickly voted down all the remaining amendments with no discussion. Six Republicans joined all 41 Democrats to vote against the bill on final passage. Two of them, Tom Moore and Dave Heaton, are former teachers. Clel Baudler is a retired state trooper. Andy McKean and Shannon Lundgren were just elected from eastern Iowa swing districts, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans. McKean is also very familiar with Chapter 20 as a former county supervisor and longtime state lawmaker. I don’t know why Mary Ann Hanusa opposed the bill. UPDATE: Hanusa did not respond to my request for comment, but I learned from another source that she is also a former teacher who works in education administration.

Senators debated all night long Wednesday into Thursday morning, with Republicans voting down every Democratic amendment. Independent State Senator David Johnson voted with Democrats on all the amendments and joined them in giving several passionate speeches. Few Republicans in either chamber chose to speak in favor of the bills, aside from Senate Labor Committee Chair Jason Schultz, House Labor Committee Chair Dave Deyoe, and State Representative Steven Holt, who floor-managed the bill and distinguished himself as the legislature’s least convincing liar. The Des Moines Register’s William Petroski summarized some of the important Democratic amendments. I didn’t stay up to watch the whole debate, so would welcome examples of some of the most absurd Republican comments, like State Senator Mark Chelgren accusing Democrats of “stalling” while his party had shown an “incredible amount of patience.” Nothing says “patient” like making sweeping changes to a 43-year-old law, affecting 180,000 Iowans, after only nine days in the legislature.

Senate leaders ended debate at 2 pm Thursday, after which Republicans voted down the remaining Democratic amendments, then substituted the text of the House bill for the Senate bill, to get the legislation to Governor Terry Branstad more quickly. Branstad’s chief of staff, Michael Bousselot, spent the final hours of debate in the Senate chamber. House File 291 eventually passed on a 29-21 Senate vote.

Iowa’s largest public-sector union, AFSCME Iowa Council 61, plans to file a lawsuit claiming the new law is unconstitutional, presumably because of the way it grants more bargaining rights to “public safety” workers than to others, many of whom do dangerous jobs. Video from a February 16 press conference by labor leaders is available here.

I enclose below statements about the bill by legislative leaders from both parties, as well as documents prepared by Iowa House Democratic and Republican staff, which discuss in more detail how House File 291 will affect collective bargaining rights for different types of public employees. Regarding substantive impacts, I also recommend the recent guest posts here by state employee Ruth Thompson, University of Northern Iowa Professor Chris Martin, and attorney James Larew, who predicted that today’s action “will be remembered as the most destructive blow to our ability to govern ourselves fairly and efficiently in nearly half a century.”

GOP spin notwithstanding, collective bargaining “reform” in Iowa was designed primarily with political goals in mind, like similar measures in other states. Republicans know that crippling public sector unions will make it harder for Democrats to win elections.

Although Republicans repeatedly claimed during the House and Senate debates that their bill would help local governments, Chapter 20 has worked so well that more than 140 school districts rushed to sign new contracts with the teachers union before the legislature acted. Boards of supervisors in several large counties passed resolutions condemning the proposal. Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson’s case against the bill is convincing.

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