Social issues nearly invisible on Iowa legislature's opening day

Leaders representing both parties in the Iowa House and Senate outlined their priorities in their opening remarks to this 2012 legislative session. Even the Republicans said next to nothing about social issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage or promoting religious education.

During the 2011 legislative session, the Republican-controlled Iowa House passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and approved a near-total ban on abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy–twice. Those bills did not advance in the Iowa Senate. Last week, Iowa House Majority Leader Kraig Paulsen in effect admitted that no further progress would be made on social issues this year.

“We’re not afraid to address those issues, but we’re also not interested in squandering Iowans’ time,” said House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, arguing that voters are more interested in jobs and the economy. “We have a job to do and we’re going to do it.”

Paulsen’s speech to his Iowa House colleagues this morning (pdf) said zilch about abortion, marriage, school prayer or any of the usual “family values” talking points. Instead, Paulsen spoke at length about property tax reform and other “policies to improve the economy and create an environment that encourages employers to keep and create jobs right here in Iowa.” He also called for more work to get Iowa’s “fiscal house in order” and cautioned against calls for using a so-called “billion-dollar surplus” to expand government functions. Paulsen predicted “significant progress” on changing the mental health system and “thoughtful consideration” of Governor Terry Branstad’s education reform.

Iowa House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer likewise said nothing. She recalled accomplishments from last year’s legislative session, such as passing a two-year state budget without “gimmicks” and creating a Taxpayers Trust Fund to hold some surplus revenues that will be returned to the public. “We will fight any effort to scoop this fund,” Upmeyer warned today. Like Paulsen, she referenced plans to redesign Iowa’s mental health and disability services, education reform, and property tax changes. Upmeyer also mentioned “real concerns over the effectiveness of the state’s abuse registries.” But she said nothing about ending same-sex marriage or restricting abortion rights.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s comments today were brief and focused on preventing partisan gridlock.

Here in Iowa last session, too often this chamber mirrored Congress. Because of the agenda that was pursued, Iowans were faced with week after week of partisan divisive debates on issues that tear at the very fabric of our society. […]

House Democrats are ready to turn the page; we are ready, willing and able to work in a bipartisan fashion to focus on the important issues before us.  To the credit of the Republican leaders, the tone and rhetoric going into this session has been much more positive and House Democrats have enjoyed working with you this last interim on a series of important issues.  Let’s continue that productive work as we begin this new session.  

This session, House Democrats want to focus on creating jobs and working with the majority party in a bipartisan way.  

I doubt the most conservative members of the House GOP caucus will give up trying to move anti-abortion bills. State Representative Kim Pearson may repeat her effort to bring “personhood” legislation to the House floor, especially since she has decided not to seek re-election in 2012. Pearson is one of several Republican legislators who support the new anti-abortion group Iowa Pro-life Action.

Addressing the Senate chamber today, Majority Leader Mike Gronstal named his top three priorities for the session: commercial property tax reform (modeled on the bill that cleared the Iowa Senate last year); education reform (focused on recruiting and development great teachers, expanding math and science education, and making college more affordable); and finishing work on “job creation legislation which is awaiting action in the Iowa House.” Specifically, Gronstal named the following proposals that already have Senate backing:

•           Help 60,000 Iowa businesses grow by providing a state tax credit to defray the cost of employee health insurance.

•           Provide low interest loans to small businesses struggling to recover from the national recession.

•           Help Iowans earn industry-approved job training certificates to prepare them for 21st century jobs.

•           Jumpstart Iowa’s clean energy industry through consumer rebates for home and business small solar or small wind projects.

•           Make sure the benefits of rules and regulations outweigh the costs on employers and workers.

Senate President Jack Kibbie outlined five priorities in his speech to colleagues: expand renewable fuel production; repair the state’s infrastructure (to be funded in part by an increase in gasoline taxes); address Iowa’s “skilled workforce shortage” through investments in community colleges; reduce commercial property taxes; and change the system for delivering mental health care services.

New Senate Minority Leader Jerry Behn’s prepared speech was all over the place. He promised Senate Republicans would provide a “laser-like focus on job creation and career development this session.” Behn discussed budget policies, property taxes, reducing government regulations, education, health care, energy, and agriculture before getting around to this token reference to social conservatives’ highest priorities:

We must do better in providing oversight, protecting life, promoting freedom, liberty and opportunity. We should give Iowans a vote on the basic definition of marriage and we must never stop trying to make our government more open and transparent.

Cornerstones of the Iowa GOP platform, life and marriage, sandwiched between oversight and transparency. How long before we hear rumblings from Senate back-benchers that Behn isn’t doing enough to force a vote on defending “traditional marriage” or protecting life? Last year Kent Sorenson and other GOP senators took the lead in trying to get the late-term abortion ban through the upper chamber.

Incidentally, that late-term abortion bill and Iowa Senate legislation regarding procedures on opening abortion clinics were drafted to stop Nebraska Dr. Leroy Carhart from opening a new abortion clinic in Council Bluffs. I’ve heard nothing about those plans moving forward, and last week Gronstal

questioned whether the doctor actually intended to open an Iowa clinic.

“I don’t think Carhart was ever really coming to Iowa in the first place,” Gronstal said.

Gronstal called the House’s more restrictive bill “blatantly unconstitutional,” adding that, “it would have been struck down by the Court of Appeals in hours after its passage.”

Gronstal argued the issue was largely a political exercise meant to energize the Republican base.

That sounds about right to me.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

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  • Fear not, for there is tomorrow...

    Wherein social issues shall rise to the fore…  As CCI brings about a hundred voices to overcome the drone of our beloved Governor.

    I would realistically expect arrest totals in the scores by the response numbers I’ve seen to the invitation for this event.