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state legislature

Weekend open thread: Hostile environments

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Jun 28, 2015 at 13:17:27 PM CDT

I was planning to compile presidential candidate reactions to this week's two big U.S. Supreme Court decisions for the weekend thread, but this disturbing feature for the Kansas City Star derailed my plans. Jason Hancock and Steve Kraske report on a pervasive hostile work environment for women at the Missouri Capitol. I've posted a few excerpts below, but you need to click through and read the whole piece, which explores the toxic culture fueling the harassment and lack of accountability.

Too many women working at the Iowa statehouse have had similar experiences. I've heard some appalling stories in private communications, and no, it's not a partisan problem. My impression is that over the last 15 to 20 years, the work environment at the Capitol in Des Moines has improved, and sexual harassment is no longer as prevalent for Iowa legislative staffers as it is in Jefferson City, Missouri. That said, if even half of what Kirsten Anderson alleged in court filings is true, the culture at the Iowa statehouse is far from where it needs to be.

For a politically-engaged young person starting a career, there can hardly be a more exciting job than working in a state legislature. I feel physically ill thinking of how many women have had powerful men ruin these potentially enriching experiences. Harassment can cause severe emotional trauma. One former Missouri legislative staffer told the Kansas City Star, "The best thing that ever happened to me was getting another job and leaving that building." Hardly any of the perpetrators faced real consequences for their unethical (and in some cases illegal) conduct toward female interns or legislative employees.

Speaking of hostile environments, many social conservatives appear to be hunkering down in a siege mentality following Friday's Supreme Court decision on marriage equality. I am continually baffled to see how opinion leaders on the Christian right are so eager to view themselves as persecuted minorities. No church will be forced to officiate or recognize a same-sex marriage, any more than the Catholic Church has been forced to marry people who had civil divorces over the last five decades.

Some of the over-the-top reactions to the marriage ruling are laughable. But when you think about it, how unhealthy to convince yourself and your followers that religious Americans are now "vulnerable." Christian martyrdom is still a tragic reality in some parts of the world, but fomenting paranoid ideas about the fate of American conservatives doesn't benefit anyone. Check that: I can see how some people and corporations could profit from spreading fear that Christians are about to be persecuted on a mass scale and "Must Now Learn To Live as Exiles in Our Own Country."

Having spent most of my life in metro areas where my fellow Jews made up less than 1 percent of the population, I've wondered what it would have been like to live in a larger Jewish community as a child. But one huge plus about growing up in Iowa was learning at an early age that the whole world wasn't ever going to validate my religious perspective, nor did I need the mass culture to approve and promote my beliefs. I encourage disappointed social conservatives to learn that life lesson sooner rather than later.

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No single issue is worth risking the Iowa Senate majority

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jun 16, 2015 at 08:22:02 AM CDT

Shortly before the end of this year's legislative session, former State Representative Ed Fallon announced "political action" to stop the proposed Bakken Oil Pipeline. He warned that if the Iowa House and Senate did not approve a bill to block the use of eminent domain for the project, he would organize and fundraise "to help defeat one or two Democratic Senators and one or two Republican Representatives" who oppose the bill.

On June 5, the Iowa House and Senate adjourned for the year without passing an eminent domain bill in either chamber. Last week Fallon confirmed that he is sticking to his goal of defeating one or two majority party members in both the House and Senate, adding that he had already raised $4,500 toward the cause.

All I can say is, count me out of that political crusade.

Come to think of it, I have a few more things to say on the subject.

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Branstad may veto part of budget compromise, open to special session on school funding

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jun 09, 2015 at 07:59:32 AM CDT

Governor Terry Branstad does not feel bound by spending compromises Iowa Senate Democrats and House Republicans made to end the 2015 legislative session, he told reporters yesterday. Democrats reluctantly agreed to most of the GOP budget targets in exchange for extra funding for education and other key programs in a $125 million supplemental spending bill. But last year, Branstad vetoed one supplemental spending bill in its entirety and item vetoed from other legislation some hard-fought increases in conservation funding. Similar action in the coming weeks would make an already disappointing session for Democrats even worse.

In more surprising comments yesterday, Branstad indicated that he hasn't ruled out calling lawmakers back to Des Moines for a special session to set K-12 school funding for the 2016/2017 academic year. Under a 20-year-old state law, the Iowa House and Senate should have acted on that issue months ago, but in recent years House Republicans have refused to follow the timetable for giving school districts a year's warning on state aid levels. As a result, administrators and school board members were forced to fly blind when adopting budgets for the 2015/2016 academic year. While I'm glad Branstad is back on board with following the law on school funding (he wasn't always so inclined), I have trouble seeing how a special session could overcome House Republicans' intransigence.

Follow me after the jump for more details from Branstad's press conference.

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Anatomy of a rare and costly strategic error by Mike Gronstal

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jun 05, 2015 at 13:52:17 PM CDT

The Iowa legislature is wrapping up its work for this year with the usual frenzy of appropriations bills. Months of stalemate over K-12 education funding and social safety net programs ended late last week with a deal that gave Iowa House Republican leaders what they wanted on overall state spending ($7.168 billion) and "allowable growth" for local school district budgets (up by only 1.25 percent). A $125 million supplemental spending bill will allocate one-time money for K-12 schools and some other Democratic priorities.

It will take a while to sort through the wreckage and identify the good, bad, and ugly line items hiding in the appropriations bills for fiscal year 2016. Democrats can only pray that Governor Terry Branstad won't veto the supplemental spending bill like he did last year.

What's already clear: Republicans have many more reasons to celebrate. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen was all smiles about the budget deal, while Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal admitted candidly, "I think there's plenty of disappointment to go around, but we fought long and hard for what we thought was important and I think we, in the end, had some success." Speaking to reporters earlier this week, Gronstal noted, "If left to our own devices, we would pass a very different budget. But it is our duty to work together to come to common ground between the two sides."

Why did this "common ground between the two sides" end up so much closer to the Republican negotiating position? Because months ago, Gronstal gave House leaders what they wanted on tax bills, without securing any concessions on spending. Even a brilliant politician can make a mistake.

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Are state laws in the cross-hairs of trade deals?

by: openureyes

Mon Jun 01, 2015 at 10:51:56 AM CDT

(Important points raised by the ranking Democrat on the Iowa House Environmental Protection Committee and a member of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

By STATE REP. CHUCK ISENHART, Dubuque

For two years, along with other state legislators, I have waved yellow flags about the Pacific and European trade deals being negotiated by the Obama Administration.

As Congress moves to give the president authority to "fast-track" trade treaties with other nations -- meaning Congress would give up its ability to change the agreements -- those flags are turning red.

Why do state legislators care? Proposed language in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement could threaten our ability to enforce state laws. This undermines the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: "Powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States." Congress may give the President the ability to effectively negotiate this amendment away.

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Episode 3: Revenge of the Bully Bill

by: natewithglasses

Wed May 27, 2015 at 12:03:49 PM CDT

(Thanks for the update on one of the governor's top priorities for this year's legislative session. Natewithglasses previously discussed the proposed bullying bill here. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

As the Iowa Legislative Session comes to a close (or maybe not...) - one of Governor Branstad's top priorities is struggling to stay alive.  Bullying prevention efforts have gained bipartisan support over the last few years as leaders from both parties have heard the demands of their constituents for more work to be done protecting Iowa's kids.  Let's take a look at this year's bullying bill and what happened to a policy item that every major education organization and several other leaders in school issues supported.  
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Campaign Advice

by: Susan Staed

Tue May 26, 2015 at 19:57:53 PM CDT

(Excellent tips for anyone considering running for the Iowa House or Senate. The author is married to State Representative Art Staed.   - promoted by desmoinesdem)

So you want to run for political office?

I'm going to assume that you're sincere in your professed desire to Make A Difference, and that you truly believe you can Do Better Than the Other Guy/Gal. You seem knowledgeable and eager to get to work. Still, I have some questions for you.

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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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