Iowa House: Birthplace and graveyard for marriage and abortion bills

During 2011 and 2012, the Iowa Senate was our state's firewall against the social conservative agenda. The Republican-controlled Iowa House passed a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, sweeping limits on abortion rights (twice), a "stand your ground" bill and a constitutional amendment that would invalidate virtually all restrictions on guns. All of those bills died in the Democratic-controlled state Senate.

Social issues have never been a priority for Iowa House leaders. They blocked a floor vote on a "personhood" bill in 2011 and steered clear of extremist crusades like impeaching Iowa Supreme Court justices and replacing gun permit laws with "constitutional carry." Still, I expected House Republicans to cover the usual bases during this year's legislative session.

Instead, almost every high-profile bill on so-called family values failed to win House committee approval and therefore died in the legislature's first funnel deadline last Friday. That includes some mainstream conservative efforts as well as freak show bills like ending no-fault divorce or barring county recorders from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Most amazing to me, House Republicans no longer have the votes to pass a constitutional amendment restricting marriage to one man and one woman.  

Let's start with marriage. Two years ago, all 60 Iowa House Republicans went on record supporting a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Fifty-nine of them voted for the amendment on the House floor, and the one who was absent that day (Betty de Boef) was among the 56 co-sponsors.

On the opening day of this year's legislative session, House GOP leaders said nothing about protecting "traditional marriage" or the public's right to vote on the definition of marriage. The constitutional amendment on marriage, House Joint Resolution 11, attracted only 35 co-sponsors. That's just two-thirds of the House Republican caucus.

Here is the full list of co-sponsors in alphabetical order. I have indicated members of the House leadership team and put asterisks next to the names of those who voted for the amendment in 2011. The others were elected to the Iowa House for the first time in 2012.

Dwayne Alons*

Rob Bacon

Chip Baltimore*

Mark Brandenburg*

Mark Costello

Dave Deyoe*

Cecil Dolecheck*

Jack Drake*

Dean Fisher

Greg Forristall*

Joel Fry* (assistant majority leader)

Tedd Gassman

Pat Grassley*

Chris Hagenow* (House majority whip)

Greg Heartsill

Lee Hein*

Dan Huseman*

Ron Jorgensen*

Jarad Klein*

Kevin Koester*

John Landon

Linda Miller*

Dawn Pettengill*

Henry Rayhons*

Walt Rogers* (assistant majority leader)

Sandy Salmon

Tom Sands*

Jason Schultz*

Tom Shaw*

Larry Sheets

Chuck Soderberg*

Guy Vander Linden*

Ralph Watts*

Matt Windschitl* (assistant majority leader)

Gary Worthan*

The following 18 House Republicans declined to co-sponsor the marriage amendment. Asterisks note state representatives who voted for this constitutional amendment in 2011. The others were just elected to the Iowa House for the first time in 2012.

Clel Baudler*

Josh Byrnes*

Peter Cownie*

Julian Garrett*

Mary Ann Hanusa*

Dave Heaton*

Megan Hess

Jake Highfill

Bobby Kaufmann

Mark Lofgren*

David Maxwell

Brian Moore*

Steve Olson* (House speaker pro-tem)

Kraig Paulsen* (House speaker)

Jeff Smith* (assistant majority leader)

Quentin Stanerson

Rob Taylor

Linda Upmeyer* (House majority leader)

Note that the three top members of the leadership team all declined to co-sponsor the amendment.

To my knowledge, only one House Republican has publicly changed his stand on marriage: Josh Byrnes. Speaking to Mike Wiser last summer,

Byrnes said his views on same sex marriage - he does not oppose it - changed after he found out that a friend from high school married a same-sex partner and adopted children.

"He and his partner have been great parents, probably better than a lot of others out there," Byrnes said. "My phone hasn't been ringing off the hook about same-sex marriage. Look, I respect their opinions on it, but the constituents I talk to want to talk about education and the economy."

Some people who chose not to co-sponsor the amendment might vote for it anyway if necessary, but if just three of the 18 Republicans who declined to co-sponsor House Joint Resolution 11 quietly agree with Byrnes, then the amendment would fail on the House floor. (Republicans control 53 of the 100 Iowa House seats, and Dan Muhlbauer is the only Democrat still serving in the legislature who supported the marriage amendment in 2011.)

House Judiciary Committee Chair Chip Baltimore blamed timing for his committee's failure to take up the marriage amendment this year.

House Judiciary Chairman Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, said the bill was delivered too late to make it past this week's funnel deadline. Most bills not involving monetary issues have to make it through a subcommittee and committee by the end of the week to be considered "live." Baltimore, one of the bill's co-sponsors, faulted members of the Family Leader for holding onto the bill too long. "I signed on to this three weeks ago," he said. "I don't know why they sat on it this long."

That's a convenient excuse for Baltimore, but supporters filed this amendment on March 5. He could have rushed it through a subcommittee in time to have a full committee hearing by March 8. I suspect that he decided not to bring the bill up because he knew he might not have the votes to pass House Joint Resolution 11 in his committee.

The House Judiciary Committee contains twelve Republicans and nine Democrats. All of the Democrats oppose the marriage amendment. Three of the Republicans on Baltimore's committee did not co-sponsor the amendment (Julian Garrett, Dave Heaton, Bobby Kaufmann). In other words, Baltimore may not have been able to bring this legislation out of his committee even if he'd tried.

Alternatively, House leaders may have encouraged Baltimore to let the amendment die in committee so as to avoid an embarrassing failure to pass it on the House floor.

Chuck Hurley of the FAMiLY Leader organization put a brave face on defeat:

Chuck Hurley, Family Leader Foundation president, said the group didn't delay the bill intentionally but was trying to get more co-sponsors. Last session, more than 50 House members signed on to the legislation. "It was, admittedly, kind of late in the process," Hurley said. "The most likely outcome of that is that it will be brought up next year. The OK part of that is it's a two-biennium process (to get a Constitutional amendment), and so next year's fine. It's not going to slow things down any."

Nice try, Mr. Hurley. However, simple logic suggests that if a third of the House Republicans won't co-sponsor your bill now, and opinion polls show support for marriage equality growing every year, the FAMiLY Leader won't have better luck on this issue in 2014.

Other bills seeking to advance the conservative Christian agenda on marriage died in the funnel too. Last week many national blogs picked up the story about Iowa Republicans attempting to turn back the clock 40 years by ending no-fault divorce for couples with young children. State Representative Tedd Gassman's comments about his granddaughter at a subcommittee hearing were entertaining or embarrassing, depending on your point of view. But the "OMG, look at the crazy Iowa Republicans" blog posts ignored the fact that House File 338 had only seven co-sponsors (Gassman, Alons, Heartsill, Shaw, Schultz, Dolecheck, and Salmon). Gassman and Alons were able to pass this bill out of subcommittee, but Baltimore never took it up in the full House Judiciary Committee. Timing wasn't the issue here, because supporters introduced the no-fault divorce bill on February 27.

House File 444 stipulates that "the county registrar shall not grant a marriage license where both parties are of the same gender until such time as an amendment to the Constitution of the State of Iowa defining marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman is submitted to the electorate for ratification." This "blatantly unconstitutional" bill attracted only ten co-sponsors (Alons, Heartsill, Schultz, Sheets, Dolecheck, Fry, Gassman, Salmon, Koester, and Landon). Baltimore did not bring it up for a committee vote before the funnel deadline--which didn't stop the LGBT advocacy group One Iowa from trying to raise money off the effort.

Various bills that would have restricted abortions in Iowa also died in the House this year. Conservative blogger Shane Vander Hart posted a good summary at Caffeinated Thoughts.

Like last session the Republican-led Iowa House will not advance any pro-life legislation past funnel week.  None.  Nada. Zip.  This would include the following bills, most of which would likely be dead on arrival in the Iowa Senate not that it really matters.

A personhood bill, House File 138, introduced by State Representative Tom Shaw (R-Laurens)

A personhood bill (doesn't penalize mothers), House File 171, introduced by State Representative Matt Windschitl (R-Missouri Valley)

A ban against webcam abortions, House File 173, introduced by Windschitl.

A personhood state constitutional amendment, House Joint Resolution 12, introduced by State Representative Dwayne Alons (R-Hull).

[...] I'm tired of the circular firing squad.  There's plenty of blame to go around.  The simple fact is none of these bills would make it past a floor vote even though Republicans have a 53 seat majority.

Just ten Republicans co-sponsored Shaw's personhood bill (Shaw, Alons, Heartsill, Schultz, Bacon, Sheets, Koester, Fry, and Salmon). Only Fry is on the House leadership team.

Just twelve Republicans co-sponsored Windschitl's personhood bill (Windschitl, Klein, Koester, Fry, Schultz, Huseman, Fisher, Brandenburg, Landon, Hanusa, Costello, and Salmon). Only Fry and Windschitl are on the House leadership team.

The bill seeking to ban "telemedicine" abortions offered in some Planned Parenthood clinics around Iowa attracted 15 co-sponsors (Windschitl, Rogers, Klein, Koester, Fry, Schultz, Huseman, Fisher, Sheets, Landon, Hanusa, Maxwell, Costello, Salmon, and Hagenow). Windschitl, Fry, Rogers, and Hagenow are on the House leadership team, but I would have expected much broader support for this bill in the House Republican caucus.

The personhood constitutional amendment attracted only six co-sponsors, none of them on the House leadership team (Alons, Landon, Heartsill, Salmon, Koester, and Pettengill).

House File 138 and House File 171 died in Baltimore's Judiciary Committee. House Joint Resolution 12 and House File 173 died in the Human Resources Committee, chaired by State Representative Linda Miller.

No one who remembers the failed attempt to bring personhood to the House floor in 2011 could be surprised that House leaders tanked this year's versions of the "wackadoodle" movement. Nevertheless, I'd have thought that House Republicans would pass the telemedicine bill, if only to set up a talking point against House and Senate Democrats for the 2014 elections. During the last legislative session, House Republican leaders were determined to pass a late-term abortion ban, and conservative groups like the FAMiLY Leader used that issue against some Iowa Senate Democrats during the 2012 campaign.

This year, pro-choice Iowans didn't need to depend on the state Senate to block new abortion restrictions. House Republican leaders took care of that for us.

I understand why conservatives like Vander Hart are so frustrated when a Republican-controlled legislative chamber won't act on principles articulated clearly and strongly in the Iowa GOP platform. I felt the same way when the Democratic-controlled legislature failed to act on many of my priorities during 2007 through 2010.

Share any relevant comments in this thread.

P.S.- Many Iowa politics-watchers expect Baltimore to run for Congress or another higher office someday. If he runs for the open U.S. Senate seat or in the fourth Congressional district after Representative Steve King moves on, Baltimore's failure to advance "family values" bills could become a problem in a Republican primary.

UPDATE: Your unintentional comedy for the day comes from the Iowa House speaker.

Republicans expressed frustration that measures they have long pushed, such as abortion restrictions and seeking a public vote on gay marriage, have again failed, but they said they weren't surprised.

"Those issues are extremely important to House Republicans ... but Senate Democrats are going to block those initiatives," said House Speaker Kevin Paulsen, R-Hiawatha.

Yes, so "extremely important to House Republicans" that none of those abortion bills attracted more than 15 co-sponsors, and Chuck Hurley and Bob Vander Plaats could only get 35 people to sign on to the marriage amendment.

LATE UPDATE: Kevin Hall reported on some "pro-life" infighting at The Iowa Republican blog:

A "pro-life" organization based in western Iowa is once again attacking Rep. Matt Windschitl (R-Missouri Valley). They blanketed his House district with literature Saturday [March 16], attacking Windschitl for sponsoring HF 173 ... What does this awful bill do? It bans web-cam abortions in Iowa. It saves lives and it is supported by every other pro-life organization in the state ...

They also attack Rep. Windschitl for not supporting "their" personhood bill. Apparently it's no longer Tom Shaw's bill, but it belongs to Iowa Pro-Life Action ... Of course, their propaganda never mentions that Rep. Windschitl has written and sponsored his own Life at Conception legislation ...

These people are shameless and will accomplish the exact opposite of what they claim to support. Their tactics will not save one life as they make enemies of the exact people they should be working with ... Makes. No. Sense.

  • Elections matter

    The Obama campaign continually ran commercials with Romney saying, in his own words, that he wants to overturn Roe v. Wade, and "Planned Parenthood, we're going to get rid of that." That was a losing message for Romney. The retention of Justice Wiggins was an indication that voter opposition to marriage equality was no longer a winning issue.

    Maybe some of the Republicans noticed.

    • true

      But I still would expect more House Republicans to get behind that telemedicine bill, if only to protect themselves against a primary challenger from the right.

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