Five takeaways from the Iowa legislature's opening day in 2018

The Iowa House and Senate convened Monday with the usual big promises and platitudes about working together to build a better future for Iowans.

Behind the optimistic rhetoric, all signs point to another contentious legislative session. The opening day speeches by Republican and Democratic leaders, enclosed in full below, revealed almost no common ground about the focus of lawmakers’ work and no indication that the most important bills will incorporate Democratic ideas. My takeaways:

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Who's who in the Iowa Senate for 2018

The Iowa Senate begins work today with 29 Republicans, 20 Democrats, and one independent, former Republican David Johnson.

I enclose below details on the majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing Iowa Senate committees. Where relevant, I’ve noted changes since last year’s legislative session.

Just six senators are women (five Democrats and a Republican), down from ten women serving in the chamber in 2013 and 2014 and seven during 2015 and 2016. All current senators are white. To my knowledge, the only African-American ever to serve in the Iowa Senate was Tom Mann, elected to two terms during the 1980s. No Latino has ever served in the Iowa legislature; in 2014, Nathan Blake fell 18 votes short of becoming the first to join the Senate. No Asian-American has served in the state Senate since Swati Dandekar resigned in 2011.

Some non-political trivia: the 50 Iowa senators include two with the surname Johnson, four Marks, and two men each named Bill, Richard (Rich and Rick), Robert (a Rob and a Bob), Dan, Jim, Tim, Tom, Jeff, and Charles (one goes by Chaz).

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Iowa Republicans found yet another way to hurt teachers this year

No matter how closely you were following the horror show that was the Iowa legislature’s 2017 session, chances are you didn’t notice every Republican favor to moneyed interests at the expense of working people, especially public sector employees.

So it was that I learned just this week about a new law that could cost some Iowa educators part of their retirement savings.

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Iowa Senate passes major gun bill: what changed, plus debate highlights

Legislation to make sweeping changes to Iowa’s gun laws is headed back to the state House, after the Senate approved an amended version of House File 517 on Tuesday.

All 29 Senate Republicans voted for the bill, joined by Democrats Chaz Allen, Tod Bowman, Rich Taylor, and Wally Horn. The other sixteen Democratic senators and independent David Johnson voted against it. (Taylor and fellow Democrat Kevin Kinney had backed the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee, but Kinney voted against final passage on the floor.)

Follow me after the jump for details on what changed and stayed the same in the omnibus gun bill, as well as highlights from the Senate debate.

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Iowa Senate Republicans bury "unfiltered" debate with rule change

As of this week, Iowa state senators are no longer able to give speeches about matters of political or personal importance at a predictable time of day, when the chamber is relatively full.

For many years, members have been allowed to offer “Points of Personal Privilege” shortly after the Senate gavels in at 9:00 a.m.

Republicans ended that tradition on a party-line vote last Thursday. GOP leaders have not explained their reasons for moving the open discussion period to the end of each session day. The rule change is likely designed to reduce the visibility of Democratic remarks highlighting controversial legislation or Branstad administration policies. A former Democratic senator decried the move as “pushing public discourse in the dark.”

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