House Republicans approve workers' comp bill with major unfunded changes

Iowa workers lost again at the statehouse on Thursday, as 55 House Republicans approved a bill that would tilt the workers’ compensation system markedly toward employers. All 37 Democrats present voted against House File 518, joined by just one Republican, State Representative Rob Taylor. UPDATE: GOP Representative Clel Baudler was absent on March 16 but filed an “explanation of vote” in the House Journal on March 20 clarifying that he would have voted “nay” on this bill.

Lawmakers had received an enormous number of constituent contacts since the “dramatic” and “far-reaching” legislation first saw the light of day a little more than two weeks ago. In a rush to get this unpleasantness behind them before the weekend, GOP legislators insisted on a final vote before staff could analyze the cost of a “new career vocational training and education program,” conjured up in an amendment filed the previous evening.

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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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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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Twelve holes in the internal ISU Flight Service audit

The Iowa Board of Regents gave Iowa State University President Steven Leath a well-choreographed vote of confidence on Monday. First, Chief Audit Executive Todd Stewart took the board through highlights from his team’s review of ISU’s Flight Service, noting the “full cooperation” provided by ISU staff. Then a contrite yet defensive Leath took the floor. Still insisting he did not violate any policies or laws, the president admitted he could have shown “better judgment” and said he is “very sorry” about “things I should have done differently.” In particular, he “used the university planes more frequently than was absolutely necessary, and should have been more transparent about some of the use.” He promised to be “more thoughtful” and learn from this experience. The 12-page auditor’s report and full statement from Leath are enclosed at the end of this post.

Regent Larry McKibben was up next to thank Leath for his leadership and contribution to positive trends at ISU, adding that he hopes for more “great things” during the next five years. The chair of the Regents’ audit committee has never viewed what he called a “ding on an airplane wing” as grounds to change his opinion of Leath. His remarks before the regents went into closed session signaled that the overseers would neither fire nor severely sanction the ISU president.

After board members evaluated Leath’s performance, Board President Bruce Rastetter asserted that Leath had “eliminate[d] any questions about the personal benefit that he may have received by using the university aircraft,” having reimbursed the ISU Foundation for costs associated with some flights. He went on to say,

“Clearly, President Leath’s acknowledgment that he takes full responsibility for the issues identified in the audit and that he should have been more transparent about the use of the planes reassures this board, and I hope all Iowans, that the president deserves our continued trust and support,” Rastetter said. “Furthermore, the board believes the audit has put to rest any concerns about President Leath’s use of the aircraft.”

This Iowan is not reassured. The audit has big holes and failed to fully account for costs of Leath’s airplane habit.

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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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Republicans outspending Democrats in most Iowa Senate battlegrounds

Iowa House and Senate candidates were required to file their last pre-election campaign finance reports on Friday. In stark contrast to four years ago, Republicans are outspending Democrats in most of the contested state Senate districts. (I’ll address spending in the key Iowa House races in a different post.)

Currently, there are 25 Senate Democrats, 23 Republicans, and one independent. If former GOP Senator David Johnson makes good on his promise to remain an independent in 2017, and Democrats win the December special election to replace the late Senator Joe Seng, Republicans would need to pick up three seats to gain control of the upper chamber for the first time since 2004.

I enclose below in-kind contribution figures for the Senate districts expected to be in play next Tuesday. Candidates running elsewhere did not report large in-kind contributions from their respective parties.

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