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state legislature

Iowa Senate confirms all but one Branstad appointee during 2015 session

by: desmoinesdem

Fri May 22, 2015 at 08:45:58 AM CDT

The Iowa legislature's 2015 session drags on amid unresolved conflict over various budget issues, especially K-12 school funding. But one aspect of the lawmakers' work is complete for this year. The Democratic-controlled Iowa Senate has confirmed all but one of Governor Terry Branstad's more than 200 nominees. The overwhelming majority of those votes were unanimous or nearly so.

In recent years, senators have voted against confirming one or two Branstad nominees. This year no nomination failed on the Iowa Senate floor, and only one department head was ever in real danger of not being confirmed to do his job: Department of Human Services Director Chuck Palmer.

Branstad has occasionally withdrawn nominees who didn't have support from the necessary two-thirds majority in the Iowa Senate. This year the governor didn't need to exercise that power, although he sidestepped a near-certain rejection by accepting Teresa Wahlert's resignation in January, rather than reappointing her to run Iowa Workforce Development. In addition, Iowa Law Enforcement Academy Director Arlen Ciechanowski recently announced plans to retire, tacitly acknowledging the votes weren't there to confirm him.

Follow me after the jump for background on the controversies surrounding Palmer and Ciechanowski and details on Palmer's confirmation vote--the closest call by far for any Branstad appointee this year.

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Fantastic new resource launched on Iowa Administrative Rules

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 20, 2015 at 14:42:13 PM CDT

Iowa policy wonks have every reason to be discouraged lately about the frozen-in-place, do-little state legislative session. Looking on the bright side, a fantastic new resource on state administrative rules appeared this week.

The Office of the Chief Information Officer launched the Iowa Administrative Rules website on Monday. The site is easy to navigate. A FAQ page explains the basics about the rulemaking process and public comments. Rules currently open for comment are right there on the front page. Clicking on any specific rule brings up the full text, contact information for the relevant state agency, details on upcoming public hearings, and the closing date for comments on the proposal. This website should make it easier for politically-engaged Iowans to understand and participate in making state regulations. It's a good companion to the Iowa legislature's official website, which is user-friendly and updated frequently (though it could be more readable).

I had to laugh at a few comments in the press release announcing the new website, enclosed after the jump. Governor Terry Branstad couldn't resist taking a swipe at "burdensome rules" and "overregulation," a bugaboo for him. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds (yes, the relentless branding of Branstad-Reynolds as a single unit continues) pegged the website launch to other "transparency" measures, including visiting all 99 Iowa counties every year.

I strongly disagree with the governor's general view that business groups need more power over state regulations. The new process Branstad created has allowed a small but powerful group of business owners to torpedo a rule protecting the public interest in preserving topsoil and clean water. Branstad also intervened to undermine an electrical inspections rule designed to prevent fires in farm buildings. That said, the Iowa Administrative Rules website was a great idea, well-executed. Whoever developed the site for the Office of the Chief Information Officer deserves credit.

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Ed Fallon arrested after sit-in at governor's office over Bakken pipeline (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon May 18, 2015 at 22:05:43 PM CDT

Former state lawmaker Ed Fallon is in police custody tonight after he refused to leave Governor Terry Branstad's office at the close of business today. Fallon went to the governor's office this afternoon demanding a meeting to discuss "eminent domain legislation that would help landowners along the path of the Bakken Oil Pipeline." More details are in a press release I've enclosed after the jump. Branstad's legal counsel Michael Bousselot came out to talk with Fallon, who insisted on a meeting or phone conversation with the governor himself. Brianne Pfannenstiel reported for the Des Moines Register,

When the statehouse closed at 5 p.m., Iowa State Patrol troopers approached Fallon and asked if he would be willing to leave, or be arrested for criminal trespassing. Fallon declined to leave, so he was escorted out of the building and arrested outside.

A supporter posted on Facebook this evening that Fallon has a "jail support team attending to all his needs" and "will probably be released sometime tomorrow." When Fallon served in the Iowa House from 1995 through the 2006 session, land use issues were a focal point of his legislative efforts. During and since that time, Fallon has opposed various proposals to use eminent domain to seize farmland for use in for-profit ventures. Earlier this year, he walked from the southeast corner of Iowa to the northeast corner along the proposed pipeline route to raise awareness and mobilize landowners and others who oppose the project. The No Bakken website and Facebook page represent a coalition of some two dozen non-profit groups that oppose the project.

The eminent domain bill Fallon wants Branstad to support is Senate File 506 (previously Senate Study Bill 1276), which passed the Iowa Senate Government Oversight Committee on May 6 with support from Democratic State Senators Rob Hogg, Brian Schoenjahn, and Kevin Kinney, and Republican Jack Whitver. Branstad warned state lawmakers in January not to "get politics into this" debate over the pipeline. The governor wants to leave the decision to the Iowa Utilities Board, which is considered likely to approve the pipeline. The Sierra Club Iowa chapter plans to fight the project before every state and federal agency that would be involved.

UPDATE: Fallon was released from jail the same evening he was arrested. In a press release I've posted below, he says he's due in court on May 27 and hasn't decided "what legal route to take yet."

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Branstad's plans on Medicaid, mental health facilities unpopular as well as unwise

by: desmoinesdem

Fri May 01, 2015 at 11:10:00 AM CDT

Governor Terry Branstad is forging ahead with some major policies he didn't campaign on last year, oblivious to concerns about the impact on Iowa's Medicaid recipients and people served by two mental health institutions the governor wants to close.

According to Public Policy Polling's latest Iowa survey, the governor's plans are deeply unpopular.

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Public's Business in the Public's House

by: Mike Owen

Mon Apr 27, 2015 at 17:09:00 PM CDT

(Excellent commentary on the controversy Susan Staed discussed here. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

A little Iowa House dustup surfaced in social media last week. Susan Staed, who clerks for her husband, Rep. Art Staed, reported on her Facebook page and on Bleeding Heartland about complaints from the chief clerk of the House that she was taking pictures from the House floor - in violation of a House rule.

Seems the House has a seldom-enforced rule that - while photos may be taken from the gallery or press box at virtually any time - they may not be taken from the House floor without permission of those in the photo, and never during a vote.

My, aren't we sensitive.

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Say Cheese

by: Susan Staed

Sat Apr 25, 2015 at 10:24:03 AM CDT

(I've never heard of this Iowa House rule before. Supposedly clerks for other House Democrats have also been hassled recently after posting photos on social media.   - promoted by desmoinesdem)

When I was a child, I hated getting my picture taken. An infamous family photo taken at an older sister's wedding is of the entire family grouped together, grinning for the professional photographer - except 10-yr-old me. I have a scowl on my face big enough to scare away the Dalai Lama. Not sure how old I was before I quit hiding when mom or dad yelled, "Family picture time!", but eventually I overcame the low self-esteem and painful shyness that dominated adolescence.

40 years later, it's more than a little ironic that one of my duties as Art's clerk is to photograph his legislative day. After winning re-election, Art decided to document the process involved in how our laws are made. This means a gazillion pictures of meetings with constituents one-on-one, pictures of group meetings, pics of sub-committees, full committees, and ultimately pictures of House debate.

Last week, after taking pictures of various representatives during floor debate on education, I returned to my seat next to Art's. The Chief Clerk came out of the Well (rather unusual during floor action, but House Leadership told her not to wait), up to my desk and told me not to take pictures of individual reps unless I had their permission - per House Rules.

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Adventures in wishful thinking

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Apr 24, 2015 at 07:00:00 AM CDT

Longtime Republican Polk County Supervisor Robert Brownell apologized this week for calling Democratic State Senator Tony Bisignano names in an e-mail to seven Iowa House Republicans.

Such classless behavior is unbecoming an elected official, but Brownell's faulty political analysis is perhaps more shocking. In the controversial e-mail, Brownell speculated that Republicans could retake the Iowa Senate majority in 2016 if State Senator Matt McCoy decides to run for Congress.

Sorry, no.  

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Schools paying the price for Iowa legislative dysfunction

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Apr 21, 2015 at 14:00:00 PM CDT

Nearly a week after the deadline for school districts to certify their budgets for the coming year, Iowa lawmakers are still not close to a deal on K-12 education funding. Some 300 teachers have been laid off in anticipation of no increase or only a minimal increase in state aid.

Statehouse Republicans who are resisting the obvious compromise on school funding claim Iowa doesn't have the money Democrats want to spend on K-12 schools, let alone the amount educators asked for. Reality: money could be found for an adequate increase in state aid to schools if not for an expensive commercial property tax cut lawmakers approved two years ago, adding some $277 million in fiscal year 2016 alone to other costly tax breaks for Iowa business interests.  

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Weekend open thread: Tamara Scott ignorance edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Apr 19, 2015 at 13:22:22 PM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

I just caught up on some recent remarks by Iowa's Republican National Committeewoman Tamara Scott. In addition to representing Iowa on the RNC, Scott lobbies the state legislature on behalf of Bob Vander Plaats' FAMiLY Leader organization and leads the Iowa chapter of Concerned Women for America, an influential group on the religious right. She was speaking at the FAMiLY Leader's southeast regional summit on April 9, an event four potential GOP presidential candidates attended. Scott used the Wiccan invocation that stirred controversy in the Iowa House to make a case for more public expressions of Christianity, including teaching the country's dominant religion in public schools. (Scott has frequently advocated school prayer and alleged that various societal problems stem from removing Christian prayers from public schools during the 1970s.) Miranda Blue covered the FAMiLY Leader regional summit speech for Right Wing Watch; some excerpts are after the jump. For video of all speeches from the regional summit, click here.

I am continually struck by how clueless social conservatives are about the separation of church and state. Though Scott does not acknowledge this legal reality, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from promoting any specific religious viewpoint. Every time a prominent Republican demands more government expressions and endorsements of Christianity, they are driving away Jews and probably members of other minority religious groups too, not to mention the growing number of Americans who do not identify with any religion.

In a fantastic column for the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Lynda Waddington offers her own Christian perspective on Scott's prayer for a storm to disrupt the Wiccan invocation. I've enclosed excerpts below, but you should click through to read the whole piece. All I can say is, that Cabot witch sure demonstrated some amazing powers.

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Iowa Wiccan priestess displays amazing power

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Apr 10, 2015 at 16:07:33 PM CDT

to make other people act like idiots.

I didn't think anything could top some people's freak-out over atheist ads on Des Moines buses, but the reaction to yesterday's Wiccan invocation in the Iowa House is a contender.

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New Iowa law aims to ease cities' concerns about sledding

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Apr 02, 2015 at 15:05:00 PM CDT

Iowa received some some unflattering national media coverage this year after the Dubuque City Council banned sledding at most city parks, out of what many considered excessive fears about litigation.

A law Governor Terry Branstad signed yesterday should bring joy to thousands of Iowa sledders next winter.  

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Quit stalling and make a deal on Iowa school funding

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Apr 02, 2015 at 09:00:00 AM CDT

Iowa legislative leaders like to boast about how well they work together, in contrast to the "gridlock" seen in Washington when different parties controlled the upper and lower chambers of Congress.

Yet Iowa lawmakers can be remarkably slow to move toward obvious solutions to some disagreements. Less than two weeks before school districts need to adopt budgets covering the 2015/2016 academic year, Iowa House Republicans and Senate Democrats are nowhere close to a deal on K-12 school funding. What is their problem?  

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Study shows distractions cause 6 in 10 crashes involving teen drivers

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Apr 01, 2015 at 12:40:00 PM CDT

After analyzing video data from roughly 1,700 crashes, University of Iowa researchers determined that "distracted driving contributes to nearly 60 percent of car crashes involving teen drivers" between the ages of 16 and 19. That's a far higher figure than previous studies have indicated. The findings are significant because although teenagers drive less than most other age groups, "their numbers of crashes and crash deaths are disproportionately high."

The full report, "Using Naturalistic Driving Data to Assess the Prevalence of Environmental Factors and Driver Behaviors in Teen Driver Crashes," is available here (pdf). Some highlights are here and after the jump, along with more details about the methodology.

Interacting with passengers in the car and talking or texting on a cell phone were among the most common distractions preceding teen driver crashes. Proposed legislation to ban most cell phone use while driving did not make it through the Iowa legislature's "funnel" this year, so it's up to parents to help address the problem by voluntarily not texting or carrying on phone conversations while they drive.

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School Start Dates Have Nothing to Do With Tourism

by: daveswen

Wed Mar 25, 2015 at 10:15:00 AM CDT

(Not the first time and won't be the last that Iowa lawmakers get bogged down in a dispute based on a false premise. Click here to read the full text of the school start date bill and here for the bill history, which shows how it changed from the Iowa Senate version to what passed the House. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Dave Swenson 
 
We have a debate in the Iowa Assembly on constraining early school starts.  It arose after the Iowa Department of Education indicated it would no longer routinely approve school starts prior to the week containing the 1st day of September.  Governor Branstad weighed in as well indicating that early start dates negatively affected attendance at the State Fair and threatened tourism.   School districts squawked, and the legislature weighed-in. The current Iowa House bill wants no starts prior to the 23rd of August, which is around the time when the State Fair typically ends.  The Iowa Senate would allow districts to set school dates based on their localized preferences. Reconcilliation is in order.
 
Without citing any evidence at all, school start dates and tourism were pitted to be at odds with each other.  But it is a phony argument: there is no evidence that early start dates interfere in any meaningful sense with the Iowa State Fair or with any other tourism activity in Iowa.   
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Heather Matson challenging Kevin Koester in Iowa House district 38

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 24, 2015 at 22:26:47 PM CDT

Heather Matson announced today that she will run for Iowa House district 38 in 2016. To my knowledge, she is the first Democratic challenger to declare against an Iowa House incumbent.

The district should be competitive, and Matson and four-term State Representative Kevin Koester each bring strengths to the campaign. After the jump I've enclosed a district map, recent election results and voter registration data, and background on both candidates.

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Weekend open thread: Ross Paustian "Sex After Sixty" edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Mar 21, 2015 at 15:03:44 PM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

The most important Iowa political story of the week was state Republican leaders hounding consultant Liz Mair out of a job with Scott Walker's PAC. Colin Campbell compiled Mair's tweets about the episode for Business Insider, and they are well worth reading. I'm still annoyed by the collective Republican temper tantrum and the Des Moines Register's pandering.

A different Iowa political event drew even more attention, though, including a segment on ABC's Good Morning America show. The fateful photo of Republican State Representative Ross Paustian might have been a footnote to a long Iowa House debate on a collective bargaining bill. But because the lawmaker was apparently reading a book called Sex After Sixty, the photo went viral and could easily become what Paustian is most remembered for when his political career is over. I enclose below background, Paustian's explanation and a few thoughts on the sometimes cruel nature of politics.

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Three reasons Brad Zaun should give up on IA-03 primary challenge

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Mar 15, 2015 at 20:40:00 PM CDT

When State Senator Brad Zaun came out "110 percent" behind Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker for president recently, I inferred that Zaun probably won't run for Congress again. But this week the Urbandale Republican told the Des Moines Register that he is keeping "all my options open" regarding a primary challenge to Representative David Young.

Iowa Republicans aren't in the habit of seeking my advice, but for what it's worth: Zaun should stop dreaming about representing the third Congressional district.

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Iowa House approves new restrictions on counting absentee ballots

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Mar 12, 2015 at 06:45:00 AM CDT

Seeking to address a problem that has grown along with absentee voting, Iowa House Republicans approved a bill yesterday to set new restrictions on which mailed ballots may be counted. Backers said the change would provide more consistency to the system. But the change may not reduce the number of ballots tossed out every election year.
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Same-sex marriage ban dies without a whimper in Iowa House

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 10, 2015 at 07:15:00 AM CDT

Following up on this post from last month, the latest version of a state constitutional amendment restricting marriage to one man and one woman in Iowa is dead for this legislative session. House Joint Resolution 4 didn't make it so far as a subcommittee hearing, let alone passage by a full committee before the "funnel" deadline late last week.

Iowa House Judiciary Committee Chair Chip Baltimore never assigned the bill to any subcommittee. When I asked him about the status of the bill on February 24 (a month after the bill was introduced), Baltimore's response was telling.

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Two ways 40,000 Iowans could lose their health insurance

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Mar 04, 2015 at 14:40:13 PM CST

At least 40,000 Iowans are in danger of losing their health insurance later this year, and not only because of the King v Burwell case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Regardless of how justices decide that case, Iowans could lose access to federal subsidies they need to buy insurance policies.

State legislators and Governor Terry Branstad could eliminate the risk by working together to establish a fully state-run health insurance exchange this year. But for reasons I can't comprehend, I see no sense of urgency to prevent a potentially devastating outcome for thousands of families.  

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