Branstad's office withholds invitation list for collective bargaining bill signing

Governor Terry Branstad’s staff have rebuffed repeated efforts to obtain a list of those invited to watch the governor sign sweeping changes to Iowa’s collective bargaining law last month.

Going against longtime standard practice for high-profile legislation, Branstad excluded reporters from attending what staff called a “private” event. Drew Klein, state director for Americans for Prosperity, later posted a picture of himself shaking the governor’s hand at the bill signing. The large number of pens on the governor’s desk suggest that many others celebrated the historic move to take rights away from an estimated 180,000 public workers.

Jodie Butler was determined to find out who else was in that room.

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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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Three questions about how Iowa got into this budget mess

Iowa’s Revenue Estimating Conference delivered bad news yesterday. Revenues are lagging so far behind projections that even after enacting huge spending cuts in February, the state is on track to have a shortfall of $131 million at the end of the current fiscal year. Next year’s revenues are being revised downward by $191 million as well.

Governor Terry Branstad, Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, and House Speaker Linda Upmeyer quickly announced plans to use the state’s cash reserves to cover the gap. Dix’s written statement explained, “We must not cripple our schools, public safety and many other essential services with further cuts this year. Our savings account exists for moments such as this.”

Two months ago, many Democratic lawmakers advocated dipping into “rainy day” funds as an alternative to the last round of painful reductions to higher education, human services, and public safety. At that time, Republican leaders portrayed such calls as irresponsible. A spokesperson said Branstad “doesn’t believe in using the one-time money for ongoing expenses.” Now, the governor assures the public, “Iowa is prepared,” thanks to hundreds of millions of dollars in the state’s cash reserves, and Dix boasts about the supposedly strong GOP leadership that filled those reserve funds.

Republican hypocrisy on state budget practices is irritating and all too predictable. But that’s not my focus today.

While transferring funds from cash reserves will solve the immediate problem, it won’t answer some important questions about how we got into this mess.

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Deaf services gutted in Iowa: Do something!

Mary Dyer, an advocate for Iowans with hearing loss, sounds the alarm about an imminent threat to deaf services. The Department of Human Rights has been forced to cut about $90,000 from its budget before the end of the current fiscal year on June 30. -promoted by desmoinesdem

RE: Cuts to Deaf Services Effective March 31

I was notified Monday, March 6, by Monica Stone, Deputy Director of the Iowa Department of Human Rights, that Stephanie Lyons, the full-time disabilities consultant with the Department of Deaf Services, is being terminated at the end of the month due to “necessary” budget cuts. This leaves one staff member working one-third-time for the entire department of Deaf Services, plus support staff. This is for the entire state of Iowa.

If you are someone with typical hearing, you have probably not thought of the challenges and limitations of having hearing loss. I learned about this the hard way.

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Senator nudges Iowa attorney general on Kim Reynolds succession questions

State Senator David Johnson wrote to Attorney General Tom Miller today to follow up on his request last month for answers to nine questions related to the coming transfer of power in Iowa. Governor Terry Branstad plans to resign following his expected confirmation as U.S. ambassador to China, which could happen in late April or early May.

I enclose Johnson’s latest letter in full below. The senator, who is not affiliated with any political party, noted the urgency of the question, because of Branstad’s upcoming U.S. Senate confirmation hearings. Johnson added, “My mail last month included a surprising number of cards and letters thanking me for making the request for an Official Opinion, as citizens’ attention has been drawn to the situation.”

Johnson’s February 1 letter to Miller requested a formal opinion “on an expedited basis” by February 15, because Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds will assume the governor’s powers soon. However, the Attorney General’s Office has not yet responded in writing. When I last inquired about the status of the opinion, Miller’s spokesperson Geoff Greenwood told me in a February 27 e-mail, “Our office is still working on it. I’ll let you know when we have something available.”

Several readers have asked why anyone should care whether Reynolds will have the title of governor and whether she will appoint a new lieutenant governor after Branstad leaves the scene. To recap points I explained in more detail here, allowing Reynolds to appoint a new lieutenant governor would put an unelected person (rather than the Iowa Senate president) next in line to perform the governor’s duties, should anything happen to Reynolds before January 2019. In addition, a newly-appointed lieutenant governor could travel the state in an official capacity, handling public events and generating local media coverage. In effect, Reynolds would be able to use state resources to boost the political profile of her chosen running mate for 2018.

I look forward to reading the opinion from Miller, though I still believe the best outcome would be for the seven Iowa Supreme Court justices to provide a definitive interpretation of the relevant provisions in the Iowa Constitution. Nowhere in that document is it written that the lieutenant governor is empowered to a new lieutenant governor when the governor’s office becomes vacant.

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What you need to know to fight the next four terrible Iowa Republican bills

Republicans have already inflicted immeasurable harm on Iowans during the 2017 legislative session, taking rights away from more than 180,000 workers, slashing funding for higher education and human services, and approving the third-smallest K-12 school funding increase in four decades. The worst part is, they’re nowhere near finished.

Iowa Senate Minority Leader Rob Hogg has flagged twelve of the most destructive bills still alive in the GOP-controlled House and Senate. Any Iowan can attend public hearings scheduled for March 6 or 7 on four of those “dirty dozen” bills. Those who are unable to come to the Capitol in person can submit written comments on the legislation or contact Republican state representatives or senators directly by phone or e-mail.

Here’s what you need to know about the four bills most urgently requiring attention.

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