In four months of work this year, Iowa lawmakers made no progress on improving water quality or expanding conservation programs, funded K-12 schools and higher education below levels needed to keep up with inflation, failed to increase the minimum wage or address wage theft, let most criminal justice reform proposals die in committee, didn't approve adequate oversight for the newly-privatized Medicaid program, opted against making medical cannabis more available to sick and suffering Iowans, and left unaddressed several other issues that affect thousands of constituents.
But let the record reflect that bipartisan majorities in the Iowa House and Senate acted decisively to solve a non-existent problem. At a bill-signing ceremony yesterday, Governor Terry Branstad and supporters celebrated preventing something that probably never would have happened.
House File 2331 prohibits certain entities defined by the bill as public funds from directly investing in companies that are engaged in a boycott of Israel. The entities include: the Treasurer of State, Board of Regents, Iowa Public Employees Retirement System (IPERS), the Municipal Fire and Police Retirement System, the Peace Officer Retirement Fund, and the Judicial Retirement System. The public funds are not prohibited from investing in indirect holdings (i.e., mutual funds, etc.) that include scrutinized companies, but are encouraged to replace such investments with investments that do not include scrutinized companies.
The bill also prohibits a public entity from entering into a contract of $1,000 or more with a scrutinized company. The bill requires each public fund to file an annual report by October 1 with the General Assembly, and make the report available to the public. The report is to include a list of identified scrutinized companies, a summary of written notices sent, and all investments sold, redeemed, divested, or withdrawn during the prior fiscal year.
House File 2331, as well as similar legislation in other states, is intended to counter efforts of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS). The purpose of the BDS Movement is to encourage countries, government entities, and companies to boycott goods manufactured in Israel and by Israeli companies and divest from financial holdings in Israel and Israeli companies.
To my knowledge, the State of Iowa has not been doing business with any companies that boycott Israel, nor am I aware of any companies seeking government contracts while adhering to the tenets of the BDS movement.
Nevertheless, many legislators seized the chance to make a symbolic gesture toward Israel. Less than a week after the House State Government Committee introduced the bill, House File 2331 passed the Iowa House by 70 votes to 25.
Republican Quentin Stanerson floor-managed the bill. The roll call shows that the following state representatives joined him in voting for it: Republicans Rob Bacon, Chip Baltimore, Ted Baxter, Josh Byrnes, Brian Best, Peter Cownie, Darrel Branhagen, Cecil Dolecheck, Dean Fisher, Joel Fry, Tedd Gassman, Stan Gustafson, Dave Heaton, Bobby Kaufmann, Jake Highfill, Megan Jones, Jarad Klein, John Landon, David Maxwell, Brian Moore, Tom Moore, Kraig Paulsen, Norlin Mommsen, Pat Grassley, Greg Heartsill, Lee Hein, Dan Huseman, Steve Holt, Ron Jorgensen, Kevin Koester, Linda Miller, Zach Nunn, Dawn Pettengill, Ross Paustian, Walt Rogers, Larry Sheets, Tom Sands, Rob Taylor, Guy Vander Linden, Gary Worthan, John Wills, Linda Upmeyer, Ralph Watts, Matt Windschitl, Ken Rizer, Mike Sexton, Chris Hagenow, David Sieck, and Sandy Salmon, and Democrats Bruce Bearinger, Dennis Cohoon, John Forbes, Mary Gaskill, Bruce Hunter, Jim Lykam, Mary Mascher, Brian Meyer, Scott Ourth, Todd Prichard, Jo Oldson, Cindy Winckler, Mark Smith, Phyllis Thede, Abby Finkenauer, Jerry Kearns, Vicki Lensing, Charlie McConkey, Todd Taylor, and Chris Hall.
The following Iowa House members voted no: Republicans Clel Baudler, Gary Carlson, Greg Forristall, John Kooiker, Dave Deyoe, Mary Ann Hanusa, Charles Holz, and Democrats Ako Abdul-Samad, Marti Anderson, Deborah Berry, Liz Bennett, Timi Brown-Powers, David Dawson, Nancy Dunkel, Ruth Ann Gaines, Lisa Heddens, Chuck Isenhart, Dan Kelley, Rick Olson, Patti Ruff, Kirsten Running-Marquardt, Art Staed, Sharon Steckman, Sally Stutsman, Mary Wolfe.
For two months, it was not clear whether Senate leaders would bring House File 2331 up for a floor vote. Relatively few lobbyists registered a position on the legislation. Advocates argued the state of Iowa should make a clear statement in support of Israel. The most active voice was David Adelman, who is president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Des Moines and a lobbyist for organizations including the non-profit The Israel Project. (For some reason, that group's website claims the The Israel Project "does not lobby," but the organization has pushed for legislation like House File 2331 in multiple states.) The Iowa Federation of Labor and AFSCME Iowa Council 61, Iowa's two largest labor organizations, also registered in favor. I am seeking comment on why organized labor took a position on this bill, which has no obvious connection to their agenda. Possibly they see potential for job creation if Israeli companies become more inclined to invest in Iowa.
Opponents countered that the bill was unnecessary and bad public policy. Two organizations lobbied against House File 2331. The Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church expressed support for "nonviolent measures such as boycotts, sanctions, and divestment in pursuit of justice for both Israelis and Palestinians."
The Christian Church in the Holy Land is the first casualty of the ongoing Israeli policy. As a result, the Church in the Holy Land is calling Christian denominations to stop investing their pension funds in companies that do harm to peace, to Palestinians, and to peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. Instead, the Palestinian Christians call on churches to invest in companies that do no harm.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa opposed the bill for reasons that had nothing to do with Israel or its policies in the occupied territories. The group explained in this February 24 statement,
A boycott is an important and powerful form of expressive association protected by the First Amendment. Speech in support of a boycott encompasses the practice of people sharing common views banding together to achieve a common end, a practice deeply embedded in the American political process. By this collective effort, individuals can make their views known when, individually, their voices would be faint or lost. The Supreme Court has held that economic boycotts are protected by the First Amendment. *NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co.*, 458 U.S. 886 (1982).
In addition, the government cannot punish its contractors based on their political beliefs, associations, and activities. For example, in *O’Hare Truck Service v. City of Northlake*, 518 U.S. 712 (1996), the Supreme Court held that a city violated the First Amendment by firing a contractor in retaliation for its refusal to support one candidate and its support instead for another candidate. The Supreme Court explained: “If the government could deny a benefit to a person because of his constitutionally protected speech or associations, his exercise of those freedoms would in effect be penalized and inhibited. This would allow the government to produce a result which it could not command directly. Such interference with constitutional rights is impermissible.”
Ultimately, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal decided to bring House File 2331 up for a vote during the last few days of the legislative session. Senators approved it by 38 votes to 9. Democratic State Senator Jeff Danielson floor-managed the bill. Others who supported it: Democrats Chaz Allen, Tony Bisignano, Tod Bowman, Mike Gronstal, Amanda Ragan, Steve Sodders, Bill Dotzler, Matt McCoy, Liz Mathis, Joe Seng, Mary Jo Wilhelm, Tom Courtney, Brian Schoenjahn, Rita Hart, Pam Jochum, and Wally Horn, and Republicans Bill Dix, Bill Anderson, Tim Kapucian, Tim Kraayenbrink, Jerry Behn, Randy Feenstra, Julian Garrett, Tom Shipley, Amy Sinclair, Roby Smith, Mike Breitbach, Dennis Guth, Ken Rozenboom, Jack Whitver, Dan Zumbach, Mark Costello, Jake Chapman, David Johnson, Jason Schultz, Charles Schneider, and Mark Segebart.
The nine opponents were all Democrats: Joe Bolkcom, Chris Brase, Dick Dearden, Bob Dvorsky, Rob Hogg, Kevin Kinney, Janet Petersen, Herman Quirmbach, and Rich Taylor.
Once the bill reached the governor's desk, there was no doubt Branstad would sign it. William Petroski reported for the Des Moines Register on May 2,
"I just think it is wrong to be boycotting our friend and ally, Israel," Branstad said. He noted that Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds visited Israel last month with the Republican Lieutenant Governors Association for meetings with Israeli government, military, and business leaders. In addition, he pointed out that the Greater Des Moines Partnership participated in a trade mission to Israel two years ago.
"There is a lot of opportunity for us to do business with them, and I don’t believe we ought to be penalizing Israel, of all countries," Branstad added. "They are one of our best friends and allies. This is something I strongly support."
Petroski reported yesterday,
"I just think this is the right thing to do," Branstad said after a bill-signing ceremony. "I think it sends an important and very clear signal that we are not going to do business with people who boycott Israel. We think that is wrong, and we think that is a prejudicial position that some countries and some companies have taken and we will take a stand on the side of what is right and good." [...]
About 35 people attended the bill signing ceremony, including Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, and House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow, R-Windsor Heights. Also present was Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, who recently traveled with the Republican Lieutenant Governors Association to Israel, where she met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Others at the ceremony included Michael Ralston, president of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, and Iowa Jewish community leaders.
I was surprised Ralston attended this event. For one thing, the Iowa Association of Business and Industry didn't take a formal position on the bill. In addition, I wouldn't expect that group to support using state power to control corporate decisions. Ralston commented that advocates for House File 2331 invited him to the bill-signing "to show business community support for Israel," adding, "ABI has always supported free trade and Israel is an important trading partner for Iowa." When I suggested that the next logical step might be a law banning the State of Iowa from doing business with companies that have other policies some people don't like, Ralston said, "I never considered that, I was thinking about free trade. And responding to members."
Yesterday's press release from The Israel Project, enclosed in full below, made House File 2331 sound monumentally important and even claimed it will protect "Iowa taxpayers from financially supporting deceptive anti-Israel efforts."
Let's be frank: this bill will not affect Israel or Iowa taxpayers in any tangible way. Don't take my word for it, read the fiscal note.
To the governor and lawmakers congratulating themselves for enacting a solution in search of a problem, let us know when you get around to protecting Iowans from filthy water, under-funded schools, or any number of other hardships your constituents deal with on a daily basis.
P.S.-I'm a Jewish supporter of Israel's right to exist and a two-state solution. I oppose both the Netanyahu government's settlement policy and the BDS movement.
The Israel Project Thanks Iowa for Anti-BDS Legislation
WASHINGTON, May 10, 2016 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The Israel Project congratulates the Iowa state government for passing legislation ensuring that no state agency supports a politically motivated boycott of Israel. Governor Terry Branstad (R) today held a ceremony to sign the legislation, which secures the relationship between Iowa and Israel.
The Israel Project commends the state legislature and the governor for emphatically reaffirming Iowa’s commitment to the shared democratic values and shared interests that form the basis of this important relationship.
“This is an important day for the people of Iowa,” said Josh Block, The Israel Project CEO. “The U.S. relationship with Israel is unbreakable because it is based on the unshakable values we share - values such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, a free press and defense of human rights. Standing up against discrimination is an important part of that. This bill ensures that Iowa remains at the forefront of supporting our critical relationship with Israel, the only true democracy in the Middle East.”
The legislation, which rejects hatred and discrimination while protecting Iowa taxpayers from financially supporting deceptive anti-Israel efforts, was sponsored by Senator Jeff Danielson (D) and Rep. Quentin Stanerson (R), and recently passed overwhelmingly in a 38-9 vote in the Senate.
The Israel Project applauds Iowans and their elected representatives for taking a stand against efforts to single out Israel.