Special election coming in Iowa Senate district 3

Bill Anderson will soon resign from the Iowa Senate and from U.S. Representative Steve King’s district office to become executive director of the Cherokee Area Economic Development Corporation, he told the Sioux City Journal‘s Bret Hayworth today. “I want to do something else and broaden my horizons,” he explained. He will officially step down in time for Governor Kim Reynolds to set a special election before the legislature reconvenes in January.

Ordinarily, a young lawmaker wouldn’t resign in the middle of his second term, soon after his party gained majority status. But Anderson didn’t seem like the happiest camper at the statehouse. For reasons that remain unclear, he supported an amendment opposed by leadership, which would have made the workers’ compensation bill Anderson had introduced slightly less bad for people suffering shoulder injuries.

He also missed quite a few votes during this year’s legislative session. Those factors may have prompted Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix to remove Anderson as Commerce Committee chair in May. (Neither Anderson nor Senate leaders ever responded to my requests for comment.)

Iowa Senate district 3 covers most of Plymouth County and a large area of Woodbury County, including neighborhoods on the south side of Sioux City. I enclose a detailed map below. Though anything can happen in a low-turnout special election, the GOP will be heavily favored to hold this seat, where voters favored Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by 68.12 percent to 27.32 percent last November. According to the latest figures from the Secretary of State’s office, Senate district 3 contains just 8,741 active registered Democrats, 17,635 Republicans, and 13,035 no-party voters.

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Yet another Iowa Republican budget atrocity

The hits just keep on coming from the health and human services budget Iowa Republicans enacted this year.

As if big spending cuts to public health programs, child care assistance, social worker field services, the closure of four Planned Parenthood clinics, and ending on-site ombudsmen visits to nursing homes didn’t do enough to harm vulnerable people, that budget bill also called for short-changing Iowans who sign up for Medicaid.

The Reynolds administration is moving forward with the plan to end decades-long practice on covering health care for new Medicaid recipients.

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Iowa political opinion is shifting against corporate tax giveaways

The Apple corporation’s plan to build a “state-of-the-art data center” in Waukee is attracting national attention and ridicule for a state and local incentives package worth more than $4 million to the country’s most profitable company for every long-term job created.

While Governor Kim Reynolds celebrated yet another deal to fleece taxpayers, one encouraging sign emerged last week: more Iowa politicians are willing to say out loud that this approach to economic development doesn’t pay for itself.

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Former Iowa prison nurse files landmark transgender rights lawsuit

A former prison nurse has filed Iowa’s first transgender rights case since state lawmakers and the governor added gender identity protections to the Iowa Civil Rights Act in 2007, the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa announced today.

Jesse Vroegh is suing the Iowa Department of Corrections, the Iowa Department of Administrative Services, the insurance company Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Iowa, and State Penitentiary Warden Patti Wachtendorf on four counts of discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sex. The plaintiff charges that while employed at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville, he “was continuously denied the use of restrooms and locker rooms consistent with his gender identity, because he is transgender.”

In addition, the Department of Corrections “denied transgender employees the same level of health care benefit coverage that it provided to non-transgender employees,” while the Department of Administrative Services “was involved in the decision to select and offer to employees of the Iowa Department of Corrections only employer-sponsored health care plans which discriminated against transgender employees.”

Vroegh claims the state’s actions violated the Civil Rights Act and provisions in the Iowa Constitution that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex and require equal protection for historically disfavored groups. I enclose below the plaintiff’s initial court filing and a press release providing more background on the case.

Although he no longer works for the Department of Corrections, Vroegh said in a statement he is proceeding with the lawsuit “because I feel I need to fight for the rights not only of transgender people who work for the state but for other Iowa workers as well. I’m not asking for any special treatment of myself or any other transgender person. All I’m asking for is that transgender people be treated the same way as people who are not transgender.”

The ACLU of Iowa noted, “The first transgender employment discrimination case, Sommers v. Iowa Civil Rights Commission, was decided in 1983. But today’s action is the first case we’re aware of to be filed in Iowa District Court that asserts gender identity discrimination in employment since the Iowa Civil Rights Act was amended in 2007 to include gender identity and sexual orientation.” A few state House and Senate Republicans joined almost all of the Democratic lawmakers to approve the new civil rights language during the first year Democrats had controlled both chambers of the legislature in more than a decade. Governor Chet Culver signed the bill into law.

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Why did Branstad and Reynolds request transition funds they didn't need?

Some surprising news arrived in the mail recently. In response to one of my records requests, Governor Kim Reynolds’ legal counsel Colin Smith informed me that “zero dollars” of a $150,000 appropriation for gubernatorial transition expenses “have been spent and there are no plans to spend any of that appropriated money.” I soon learned that the Department of Management had ordered a transfer of up to $40,000 in unspent Department of Revenue funds from the last fiscal year “to the Governor’s/Lt. Governor’s General Office to cover additional expenses associated with the gubernatorial transition.”

A Des Moines Register headline put a favorable spin on the story: “Reynolds pares back spending on office transition from lieutenant governor.” However, neither the governor’s office nor Republican lawmakers ever released documents showing how costs associated with the step up for Reynolds could have reached $150,000.

Currently available information raises questions about whether Branstad/Reynolds officials ever expected to spend that money, or whether they belatedly requested the fiscal year 2018 appropriation with a different political purpose in mind.

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