Iowa legislature opening day linkfest

The Iowa legislature convenes this morning for its 2011 session. Join me after the jump for clips on two of the most contentious issues to be resolved this session: proposed spending cuts and impeachment proceedings against four Iowa Supreme Court justices.

UPDATE: You can listen to opening speeches by Senate President Jack Kibbie, Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, House Speaker Pro Tempore Jeff Kaufmann, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer at the Radio Iowa site.

SECOND UPDATE: Lawmakers issued the official canvass of the 2010 gubernatorial election: Branstad/Reynolds 592,079 votes, Culver/Judge 484,798 votes.

The first bill Iowa House Republicans will push this week contains many spending cuts as well as a few increased appropriations. Bleeding Heartland discussed some of the proposed cuts here; you can download the complete Republican wish list here. One of the most controversial points is eliminating the voluntary preschool program in favor of a new voucher program. Republicans are skeptical about the benefits of preschool, but Democrats in the Iowa Senate appear prepared to go to the mat for the preschool program as well as health care for kids. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal also opposes Governor-elect Terry Branstad’s plan to move the state to biennial budgeting.

House Republicans hope to eliminate $30 million in “sustainable communities” funding appropriated last year, but it’s not clear how much of that money they can take back. Twenty-two Iowa cities and towns received parts of

“sustainable communities” grants, which came to be known as I-JOBS 2 disaster-prevention funding.

The city of Cedar Rapids garnered the largest of the grants, $7.675 million, with $5 million to help fund the city’s new central fire station, $1.6 million to help with a new west-side fire station and $1.075 million to help with the city’s new riverfront amphitheater that is part flood-protection and part entertainment venue.

The city of Coralville received $3.65 million for flood-protection along Biscuit and Clear creeks.

The state I-JOBS Board made the awards in September from the last year’s legislative appropriation.

As vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Nick Wagner, R-Marion, on Friday said that the Republican appropriations bill, in fact, does now call for defunding $30 million in I-JOBS 2 funding, but he said every bill changes as it is debated.

At the same time, Wagner said recipient communities that have signed contracts with the state for I-JOBS 2 funding will probably not lose access to the funding.

“A signed contract is a commitment we made as a state, and it’s the right thing to honor the commitment,” Wagner said. “We will probably go through and honor those commitments.”[…]

The Democrats in the Iowa Senate retain a 26-23 majority, and the Senate would have to agree to defund programs.

“We believe I-JOBS made a lot of sense. It would be a mistake to back up on that,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said on Friday.

While fiscal issues may dominate the early days of the session, several House Republicans are determined to impeach the four remaining Iowa Supreme Court justices who concurred in the 2009 Varnum v Brien ruling on marriage. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen said last week impeachment wasn’t his priority. House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer dodged several questions about impeachment proceedings on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program over the weekend:

Upmeyer: As majority leader I am expecting to hear from the caucus, arguments on both sides of that.  I know that there are members in our caucus that support an impeachment.  I know there are members in our caucus that do now.  So, until that discussion has been had in caucus and we’ve determined whether or not that will be something we will discuss further I’m just going to wait and hear.

Glover: What is your personal view?

Upmeyer: I think it’s unfair actually to color this discussion with my personal view until we’ve had an opportunity to talk.  We haven’t even sworn these new legislators in yet and so I’m going to wait and have that discussion.

Glover: Is it your view that — what is your prediction about the outcome?  There are conservatives in your caucus who are going to introduce a resolution aimed at impeaching the remaining four justices.  What is your take on how that resolution will proceed?

Upmeyer: I think it will depend on what the caucus decides.  The resolution hasn’t been filed yet to my knowledge, well it hasn’t been brought in yet to my knowledge and it will depend on what the caucus decides and what we decide.

Glover: What is your timeframe for dealing with that?

Upmeyer: I don’t think there is a timeframe.  I haven’t thought about where that might land if, in fact, we do decide to move forward with it.  What I know is that we’re going to focus on bills like the Taxpayer First Act that will be the first bill out and we’re going to focus on doing exactly what Iowans elected us to do and I think that is to address the budget and the spending and get Iowans back to work.

Henderson: This past week in an interview with the Cedar Rapids Gazette and in an interview with me, Radio Iowa, Governor-elect Branstad said it’s pretty obvious if you read the constitution there are no grounds for impeachment.  Does Governor Branstad’s statement impact the consideration of house republicans in this matter?

Upmeyer: Well, I think he certainly framed up the question because I think that is what needs to be determined.  I don’t think there’s a case for a misdemeanor so I think what has to be decided is was there malfeasance and in looking at court cases, law definitions of malfeasance there really are none.  So, we have to determine whether or not we believe that has been the case.  And those arguments will be made to the caucus and that will be the discussion.  But I think he framed up the question correctly.

Henderson: Do legislators have the capacity to come up with those articles of impeachment on their own?  Are you hiring outside counsel to come in and advise?

Upmeyer: I have no knowledge of what the group is doing, if they’re writing them themselves, the people that are engaged in that I do not know.

Although Republicans have a large 60-seat majority in the Iowa House, the GOP caucus is divided on impeachment.

Among the first House Republicans to oppose the initiative to impeach or remove the remaining justices were Rep. Jeff Kaufmann, R-Wilton, and Rep. Mark Lofgren, R-Muscatine.

Kaufmann is the speaker pro tem, the third-highest Republican leader in the Iowa House.

He and Lofgren told the Muscatine Journal in late December that with impeachment, “we run the risk of dealing a damaging blow to our judicial system.”

Lofgren said the three Republican freshman pushing hard for impeachment shouldn’t expect support from their fellow House Republicans.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rich Anderson doesn’t sound enthusiastic about impeaching the justices either, so perhaps the bill would die in his committee. But even if House Republicans have the 51 votes to impeach, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy warned Friday that Democrats will not let that pass:

House Democrats, outnumbered 60-40, don’t have the votes to block impeachment, so McCarthy promised to file 1,000 amendments and use every procedural measure available to bring the House to a halt.

“You’ll hear a debate like you’ve never heard before,” he said.

McCarthy indicated he doesn’t plan to shut down the House unless the articles of impeachment actually reach the House floor. It’s possible, he said, impeachment would not make it out of committee. Some Republicans, he said, do not support impeachment.

“I want to send a signal that it will be an epic battle and I don’t think they will be successful in the end,” McCarthy said.

If articles of impeachment are approved, the four justices would be suspended from the court and the governor would appoint replacements.

“That would be debilitating to the Judicial Branch, McCarthy said.

If the House impeaches the justices, the Senate would conduct a trial, but not until the session is adjourned, according to Iowa law. Conviction requires a two-thirds vote of senators present.

Speaking to the Des Moines Register editorial board, McCarthy predicted,

Once the debate drags on for a week or two, McCarthy said he suspects Republicans will back off.

“The argument that they’ve done some sort of crime by deciding the decision, that is such an overreach that that’s one where you will hear our voice, loudly, day in and day out,” McCarthy said.

Final link for now: Rod Boshart wrote an interesting piece on the demographics of the new legislature.

The Iowa Legislature will count 32 women this year, the smallest number since 2005.

In 2009, there were 34 women.

The decline from two years ago mirrors a nationwide trend, according to preliminary figures from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

It reported last week that the share of women in state legislatures across the country is falling from 25 percent to 24 percent.

In Iowa, women now hold 21 percent of the seats.

The number of African-Americans, meanwhile, also has declined slightly, from six to five, over the past two years.

All are in the House. […]

In terms of age, Iowa’s legislative body will have fewer people under the age of 30 than it did just two years ago, when there were seven 20-somethings.

Now, there now will be five.

At the same time, there will be four more members who are under 50 than there was in 2009 and five fewer who are over that age line.

The average age of the Iowa legislator this year is 52.8.

The oldest, at 81, is Sen. Jack Kibbie, D-Emmetsburg.

[Waterloo Democrat Anesa] Kajtazovic is the youngest, at 24.

Rep.-elect Chris Hall, A Democrat from Sioux City, is the second youngest, at 25. […]

Retirees totalled 27 of the 149 legislators who will take their seats Monday, while 30 list farming as their occupation, full- or part-time.

There are 28 people who work in various business fields and another 17 in education.

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