Throwback Thursday: When state lawmakers chose not to change "infamous crime" to "felony" in the Iowa Constitution

A 2008 amendment to the Iowa Constitution became a matter of debate in Griffin v Pate, the major voting rights case before the Iowa Supreme Court. The amendment changed Article II, Section 5, which as adopted in 1857 read, "No idiot, or insane person, or person convicted of any infamous crime, shall be entitled to the privilege of an elector." The same section now reads, "A person adjudged mentally incompetent to vote or a person convicted of any infamous crime shall not be entitled to the privilege of an elector."

Two of the seven Supreme Court justices have previously held that when approving the 2008 constitutional amendment, the legislature "ratified its own existing interpretation of that provision under which infamous crime meant a felony." In its brief for the Iowa Supreme Court on behalf of defendants in Griffin, the Iowa Attorney General’s Office carried forward that claim: "By failing to alter the Infamous Crime Clause when other portions of Article II, section 5 were amended, the Legislature and the public ratified the definition of infamous crime as all felonies under state and federal law." During the March 30 Supreme Court hearing on Griffin v. Pate, Solicitor General Jeffrey Thompson likewise argued "the simple answer here" is the 2008 constitutional amendment was "passed twice by the General Assembly, adopted by the people of Iowa, in the context of a legal system and historical cases and practices that said felonies are the line."

My curiosity piqued, I decided to look into the legislative intent behind the 2008 constitutional amendment. What I found does not support the view that Iowa lawmakers envisioned "infamous crime" as synonymous with "felony" or intended to ratify such an interpretation when voting to remove offensive language from the state constitution.

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Democrats will keep pushing Medicaid oversight despite bill's demise in Iowa House

Two bills to address the impending privatization of Medicaid died in the Iowa House this week. Effective April 1, some 560,000 Iowans on Medicaid will have their health care services managed by one of three private insurance companies. Last month, three Republicans joined Iowa Senate Democrats to pass approved Senate File 2125, which would terminate the state’s contracts with the managed care companies. Last week, six GOP senators voted with their Democratic colleagues for Senate File 2213, which would strengthen oversight of Medicaid by the Iowa Department of Human Services and the state legislature.

To stay alive after the Iowa legislature’s second "funnel" deadline today, non-appropriations bills must have been passed by one chamber and by a committee in the other chamber. However, the bill to end privatization and the oversight bill both died in House Human Resources subcommittees. To my knowledge, the only bill related to Medicaid privatization that remains alive is Senate File 2260, which would prohibit the Iowa DHS from releasing to managed care organizations certain information about board members of non-profits that provide Medicaid services in Iowa.

Speaking to journalists yesterday, Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum described the House failure to act on the oversight and termination bills as a "disappointment" but added, "I can assure you the fight over Medicaid is not done. You will see the human services budget bill contain many of the measures that we believe are needed to protect Iowa’s most vulnerable citizens." Click here for a detailed summary of the oversight bill’s provisions. Maridith Morris described here how privatization will affect services available for her nephew on Medicaid.

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer told statehouse reporter Erin Murphy that Senate Democrats spent too long "working on killing the Medicaid modernization plan," while passing the oversight bill too close to the funnel deadline: "That’s an 80-page bill that arrived very late last week. So we will look at oversight. We will work on oversight. But that bill just could not be managed in the time frame we were given. So we’ll look at opportunities."

For the last five years of divided control at the statehouse, the human services budget has been one of the last bills to be resolved before lawmakers adjourn. Count on history to repeat itself this spring, because negotiations could drag on for months over Medicaid oversight and the near-certain Republican effort to eliminate Planned Parenthood funding for contraception services. A Bleeding Heartland post in progress will cover the family planning funding debate, as well as the fate of abortion-related legislation in the Iowa House and Senate this year.

Iowa Senate approves transgender protections in hate crimes law

The Iowa Senate voted today to add protections for transgender people to Iowa’s hate crimes law. Currently, hate crimes are defined as offenses "committed against a person or a person’s property because of the person’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, political affiliation, sex, sexual orientation, age, or disability, or the person’s association with a person of a certain race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, political affiliation, gender identity, gender expression, sex, sexual orientation, age, or disability." Senate File 2284 would add the words "gender identity" and "gender expression" to that list. The full bill text is after the jump.

Democratic State Senator Matt McCoy has championed this bill and addressed his colleagues yesterday about last week’s horrific murder of Kedarie Johnson, a 16-year-old high school student in Burlington who was transitioning from female to male. I enclose the video of that speech below.

During today’s floor debate, Republican State Senator Mark Chelgren, who is also running for Congress in Iowa’s second district, offered an amendment that would have removed all individual classes from the state code on hate crimes. McCoy countered that such an amendment would "destroy the point of a hate crimes statute." Senators rejected Chelgren’s amendment by 30 votes to 18, with Republicans Bill Dix, Mike Breitbach, Charles Schneider, and Jack Whitver joining all 26 Democrats to vote no. Chelgren then withdrew another amendment he had proposed, which would have added "military veteran or military personnel status" to the list of protected classes.

Republican Senator Jake Chapman offered an amendment to add "unborn status" to the hate crimes bill, but as he was speaking in its favor (and graphically describing abortion procedures), Democratic Senator Tony Bisignano questioned whether the remarks were relevant. McCoy then formally objected that the amendment was not germane, and Senate President Pam Jochum ruled the objection "well-taken" and Chapman’s amendment out of order.

Schneider was the only Republican to join all 26 Democrats in approving the bill on final passage. Republicans Rick Bertrand and Brad Zaun were absent, and the 21 other GOP senators voted no. Schneider represents my own district in the western suburbs of Des Moines, and I’m proud to see him continue a tradition of Republicans from this area supporting protections for LGBT Iowans. The same was true when the Iowa House and Senate added sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s Civil Rights Code in 2007, and when lawmakers approved an anti-bullying bill the same year.

I don’t expect Iowa House Republican leaders to bring up Senate File 2284 this year, but I hope to be proven wrong.

UPDATE: The video from today’s debate is up on the Iowa legislature’s website. Chapman went on for several minutes, starting around the 1:38 mark. Jochum repeatedly asked him to confine his remarks to why "unborn status" should be included in the hate crimes statute, but Chapman kept talking about abortion procedures.

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Medicaid oversight bill passes Iowa Senate with bipartisan support

Since Terry Branstad returned to the governor’s office, the overwhelming majority of Iowa Senate votes on contentious political issues have fallen along strict party lines: 26 Democrats one way and 24 Republicans the opposite. However, the Branstad administration’s rush to privatize Medicaid has created space for bipartisanship, as a growing number of Republicans acknowledge the dangers of shifting to managed care for a program through which one in six Iowans access health services.

Last month, three GOP senators joined their Democratic colleagues to vote for a bill that would have halted Iowa’s Medicaid privatization. That legislation is going nowhere in the Republican-controlled state House, and federal officials recently approved waivers to allow the Iowa Department of Human Services to implement the managed care policy as of April 1.

Yesterday a quarter of the GOP state senators voted with all 26 Democrats for a Medicaid oversight bill that had cleared the Senate Human Resources Committee unanimously. In her remarks to open floor debate on Senate File 2213, Human Resources Committee Chair Amanda Ragan said the bill was designed "to safeguard the interests of Medicaid members, encourage the participation of Medicaid providers, and protect Iowa taxpayers." She told colleagues, "we must require DHS and the managed care companies to protect consumers, preserve provider networks, address the unique needs of children and assure accountability."

I enclose below highlights from the debate on SF 2213, the roll call on final passage, and Ragan’s full remarks, along with a Democratic staff analysis summarizing the bill’s key points.

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IA-Sen: Patty Judge thinking about challenging Chuck Grassley

The Des Moines Register’s Jason Noble snagged a surprising scoop yesterday: former Lieutenant Governor and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge is considering running for the U.S. Senate this year. Referring to Grassley’s approach to the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy, Judge told Noble,

“Iowans have always been straight shooters, and up until the recent time I would have said the same thing about Chuck,” Judge said. […]

“I don’t like this double-speak,” Judge said. “I don’t like this deliberate obstruction of the process. I think Chuck Grassley owes us better. He’s been with us a long time. Maybe he’s been with us too long.”

To qualify for the Democratic primary ballot, Judge would need to submit nominating papers with the Secretary of State’s Office by March 18, three weeks from today. That doesn’t leave much time to collect at least 2,104 signatures, including minimum amounts in at least ten Iowa counties. But Judge could pull together a campaign quickly, having won three statewide elections—for secretary of agriculture in 1998 and 2002 and on the ticket with Chet Culver in 2006.

Three other Democrats are seeking the nomination to run against Grassley: State Senator Rob Hogg, former State Senator Tom Fiegen, and former State Representative Bob Krause. Former State Representative Ray Zirkelbach launched a U.S. Senate campaign in November but ended his campaign last month, Zirkelbach confirmed by phone this morning.

Dozens of Democratic state lawmakers endorsed Hogg in January. I enclose the full list below. Any comments about the Senate race are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Rebecca Tuetken notes, "Patty Judge does meet one apparent Iowa requirement: she told @SenatorHarkin ‘08 steak fry that she can castrate a calf." Truly a classic moment for Judge, when Joni Ernst was still the little-known Montgomery County auditor.

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