A shameful end to the most destructive Iowa legislative session of my lifetime

The Iowa House and Senate adjourned for the year around 7:15 am on Saturday, after staying up all night while Republican leaders tried to hammer out last-minute deals on medical cannabis and water quality funding.

The medical cannabis compromise passed with bipartisan majorities in both chambers, but I’m not convinced the revised House File 524 will be an improvement on letting the current extremely limited law expire on July 1. The bill senators approved last Monday by 45 votes to five would have provided some relief to thousands of Iowans suffering from nearly 20 medical conditions. House Republican leaders refused to take it up for reasons Speaker Linda Upmeyer and House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow never articulated.

The new bill thrown together during the all-nighter theoretically covers nine conditions, but as Senator Joe Bolkcom explained in a video I’ve enclosed below, the only form of cannabis allowed (cannabidiol) will not be effective to treat eight of those. Although few if any Iowans will be helped, Republicans can now claim to have done something on the issue and will consequently face less pressure to pass a meaningful medical cannabis bill during the 2018 legislative session.

Republicans shut down the 30-year-old Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, which supported research on farming practices that could preserve our soil and water resources. But on Friday night, they gave up on doing anything serious to clean up our waterways, 750 of which are impaired, according to the latest data released by the Department of Natural Resources. CORRECTION: More recent DNR data indicate Iowa “contains 608 waterbodies with a total of 818 impairments.” (Some waterways have more than one impaired segment.) On the opening day of this year’s session, Hagenow promised “significant new resources to water quality efforts.” Why not come back next week and keep working until they find some way forward?

I’ll tell you why: lawmakers’ per diems ran out on April 18. Heaven forbid Republicans should work a few more days with no pay to address our state’s most serious pollution problem. Incidentally, this crowd just passed an education budget that will force thousands of students to go deeper in debt. They voted earlier this year to cut wages for tens of thousands of Iowans living paycheck to paycheck in counties that had raised the minimum wage. These “public servants” also handed more than 150,000 public workers an effective pay cut by taking away their ability to collectively bargain over benefits packages. As if that weren’t enough, they made sure many Iowans who get hurt on the job will be denied access to the workers’ compensation system or will get a small fraction of the benefits they would previously have received for debilitating shoulder injuries.

Lives will be ruined by some of the laws Republicans are touting as historic accomplishments.

Even worse, lives will likely end prematurely because of cuts in the health and human services budget to a wide range of programs, from elder abuse to chronic conditions to smoking cessation to Department of Human Services field operations. I enclose below a Democratic staff analysis of its provisions. During House and Senate floor debates, Republican floor managers offered lame excuses about the tight budget, which doesn’t allow us to allocate as much money as we’d like to this or that line item. Naturally, they found an extra $3 million for a new family planning program that will exclude Planned Parenthood as a provider.

Different Republican lawmakers used the same excuses to justify big cuts to victims assistance grants in the justice systems budget. That choice will leave thousands of Iowans–mostly women–without support next year after going through horrific assaults or ongoing abuse.

Despite some big talk from House Appropriations Committee Chair Pat Grassley, Republicans didn’t even try to rein in business tax credits, which have been the state’s fastest-growing expenses in recent years. The budget crunch is real and may get worse. But no one forced Republicans to inflict 100 percent of the belt-tightening on those who rely on public services.

More analysis of the 2017 legislative session is coming to Bleeding Heartland in the near future. All posts about this year’s work in the Iowa House and Senate are archived here. The Des Moines Register’s William Petroski and Brianne Pfannenstiel summarized some of the important bills that passed this year.

After the jump you’ll find Bolkcom’s commentary on the medical cannabis bill that offers “false hope” to Iowans “who have begged us to help,” along with closing remarks on the session from House Minority Leader Mark Smith and Senate Minority Leader Rob Hogg.

Video recorded by Senator Joe Bolkcom on April 22:

To paraphrase: Bolkcom believes this bill will provide “false hope” for several reasons. It doesn’t cover several conditions, including PTSD. It will take two years to implement. It allows patients to use only CBD oil, which has 3 percent or less THC (the compound that makes marijuana users feel high). “We know from pharmacologists and people in the medical cannabis field that you actually need cannabis medicines with more than 3 percent THC to treat things like cancer pain, MS, Crohn’s disease, HIV/AIDS, and a host of other conditions,” Bolkcom explained. Even after cannabidiol becomes available in a couple of years, Iowans suffering from eight of the nine conditions listed in the bill will not have access to a therapeutic medicine. The Senate bill that passed with bipartisan support provided access to the whole plant, but House Republicans wouldn’t consider that legislation. Bolkcom will keep working on this issue during next year’s session.

UPDATE: Forgot to list the medical conditions for which treatment with cannabis oil would be allowed under the amendment House Republicans offered on April 22:

multiple sclerosis
Crohn’s disease
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease)
any terminal illness with a life expectancy under one year associated with severe or chronic pain, nausea or severe vomiting, cachexia or severe wasting
Parkinson’s disease
untreatable pain

The Senate bill would have allowed the use of many forms of cannabis (but not smokeable marijuana) for all of those conditions, as well as for:

Hepatitis C
ulcerative colitis
Ehlers-danlos syndrome
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Tourette’s syndrome
Muscular dystrophy
Huntington’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease
Complex regional pain syndrome, type I and II
Rheumatoid arthritis
polyarteritis nodosa

SECOND UPDATE: Here are the roll calls on the medical cannabis bill.

House members passed the amendment including the new language by voice vote.

On final passage, the following 83 state representatives approved House File 524: Republicans Rob Bacon, Clel Baudler, Jane Bloomingdale, Michael Bergan, Brian Best, Gary Carlson, Peter Cownie, Dave Deyoe, Cecil Dolecheck, Joel Fry, Tedd Gassman, Pat Grassley, Chris Hagenow, Kristie Hager, Mary Ann Hanusa, Dave Heaton, Lee Hein, Jake Highfill, Ashley Hinson, Steve Holt, Chuck Holz, Dan Huseman, Megan Jones, Bobby Kaufmann, David Kerr, Jarad Klein, Kevin Koester, John Landon, Shannon Lundgren, David Maxwell, Andy McKean, Gary Mohr, Norlin Mommsen, Tom Moore, Zach Nunn, Ross Paustian, Dawn Pettengill, Ken Rizer, Walt Rogers, Sandy Salmon, Mike Sexton, Rob Taylor, Guy Vader Linden, Ralph Watts, John Wills, Matt Windschitl, Gary Worthan, Louis Zumbach, and Linda Upmeyer, and Democrats Ako Abdul-Samad, Bruce Bearinger, Marti Anderson, Wes Breckenridge, Timi Brown-Powers, Dennis Cohoon, Abby Finkenauer, John Forbes, Ruth Ann Gaines, Mary Gaskill, Chris Hall, Curt Hanson, Lisa Heddens, Chuck Isenhart, Dave Jacoby, Tim Kacena, Jerry Kearns, Bob Kressig, Monica Kurth, Vicki Lensing, Charlie McConkey, Brian Meyer, Amy Nielsen, Jo Oldson, Scott Ourth, Todd Prichard, Kirsten Running-Marquardt, Art Stand, Sharon Steckman, Todd Taylor, Phyllis Thede, and Cindy Winckler.

Eleven House members voted against the bill: Republicans Chip Baltimore, Gary Carlin, Dean Fisher, Stan Gustafson, and Skyler Wheeler, and Democrats Bruce Hunter, Mary Mascher, Rick Olson, Mark Smith, Beth Wessel-Kroeshcell, and Mary Wolfe.

Six House members were absent for this vote: Republicans Terry Baxter, Greg Forristall, Greg Heartsill, and Larry Sheets, and Democrats Helen Miller and Liz Bennett.

In the Senate, Democrat Tod Bowman and the following 25 Republicans voted to concur with the House amendment to House File 524: Bill Anderson, Jerry Behn, Mike Breitbach, Waylon Brown, Jake Chapman, Mark Chelgren, Bill Dix, Jeff Elder, Randy Feenstra, Tom Greene, Dennis Guth, Craig Johnson, Tim Kapucian, Tim Kraayenbrink, Mark Lofgren, Ken Rozenboom, Charles Schneider, Jason Schultz, Mark Segebart, Tom Shipley, Amy Sinclair, Roby Smith, Jack Whitver, Brad Zaun, Dan Zumbach.

Twelve Democrats and two Republicans voted against concurring with the House amendment, for different reasons. The Democrats are all supporters of real medical cannabis reform and presumably determined the House approach wasn’t sufficient to address the problem: Joe Bolkcom, Nate Boulton, Jeff Danielson, Bill Dotzler, Bob Dvorsky, Rob Hogg, Wally Horn, Pam Jochum, Matt McCoy, Janet Petersen, Herman Quirmbach, and Amanda Ragan. Republicans Mark Costello and Julian Garrett had opposed the more comprehensive medical cannabis bill last week on the Senate floor, so may have believed that even House File 524 would go too far toward providing relief for suffering Iowans.

Ten senators were absent when this bill came up after the all-nighter: Democrats Chaz Allen, Tony Bisignano, Rita Hart, Kevin Kinney, Jim Lykam, Liz Mathis, and Rich Taylor, Republicans Rick Bertrand and Dan Dawson, and independent David Johnson.

Then 33 senators voted to approve the bill on final passage: the same 25 Republicans who supported the House amendment, joined by Democrats Bowman, Danielson, Dotzler, Dvorsky, Horn, Jochum, Quirmbach, and Ragan.

Republicans Costello and Garrett and Demorats Bolkcom, Boulton, Hogg, McCoy, and Petersen voted against the bill on final passage.

Closing remarks by House Minority Leader Mark Smith, April 22:

Thank you Madam Speaker.

First, I want to thank the members of my caucus for sticking together this year and being a strong voice for the thousands of Iowans we represent.

On behalf of my caucus, I also want to thank the House Democratic Staff – Joe, Anna, Rachelle, Kelsey, Dave, Zeke, Bill, Joe, Brian, Jake and Dean — for all their work this session. And thanks to our page this year, Abbi Denner. We wish you well in your studies at the University of Iowa.

I also want to thank all the non-partisan staff who work behind the scenes to keep this place running. Your hard work does not go unnoticed.

When the session began, I told you Democrats in this chamber were ready to work together with the majority party to make progress for all Iowans again.

But Republicans chose a different path this session. And Iowans noticed.

Instead of working with us, Republicans chose to pursue a divisive, partisan agenda that Iowans expect to see in Washington, DC, but not here in our State Capitol.

Iowans came to the Capitol in record numbers this year for public hearings, rallies, and to have one-on-one conversations with lawmakers. Even more turned out at forums across the state to hold Republicans accountable and make sure their voice was heard.

Iowans have every right to be frustrated with the broken promises Republicans made to the people of Iowa.

Republicans promised to raise family incomes by 25%, but lowered wages for 65,000 Iowans instead.

Republicans said public schools were a priority last fall on the campaign trail, but they shortchanged public schools again this year with the third lowest increase in Iowa history.

Republicans talked about growing our economy, but made it more difficult for Iowans to get the skills they need to land a good-paying job.

Republicans said they would be fiscally responsible, but today the state budget has a $130 million deficit and Iowans are being forced to pay for the GOP’s budget mess.

In addition to the broken promises, Republicans stacked the deck against everyday Iowans who are working hard but still not getting ahead.

Now, the mom in Decorah will have to travel over an hour to get the family planning and cancer screening services she used to get at her local clinic.

Now, the parents in Osage can’t make their own decision about a pregnancy that has gone horribly wrong.

Now, the family from Peosta who just learned yesterday that the first kid in their family to attend college at the University of Iowa in the Fall will have to pay higher tuition.

Now, the first grade teacher in Windsor Heights no longer has a say on most of the issues that directly impact her own classroom.

Now, the correctional officer at the Anamosa State Penitentiary who served two tours of duty in Iraq is fearful for his own safety in the workplace because the prison is overcrowded and understaffed.

Now, the parents in Marion have to keep fighting the managed care company to make sure their son with disabilities gets the health care he needs.

Democrats will keep fighting to raise wages for Iowans, not lower them.

Democrats will keep fighting to expand job training opportunities and make higher education affordable, not more expensive.

Democrats will keep fighting to put women on an equal playing field with men, not let politicians make medical decisions for them.

Democrats will keep fighting to help working families get ahead, not take away their rights and stack the deck against them.

Democrats will keep fighting to make public schools first again, not shift resources away from them.

When push comes to shove, I have always put my faith in the good, hard-working people of Iowa who have been, for more than 65 years, my family, my friends, and my neighbors.

To you, I say this: you do not deserve this treatment.

House Democrats will not forget you, we will not desert you.

Thank you Madam Speaker.

Closing remarks by Senate Minority Leader Rob Hogg, April 22:

Mr. President, Mr. Majority Leader, and all my Senate colleagues:

During my address on the opening day of this session, I expressed hope the Senate would govern wisely and take action to make life better on the bread-and-butter issues that Iowans face every day.

I noted that – in recent years – the Legislature has worked together in a bipartisan manner on policies that were designed to:

Create jobs and broaden economic prosperity across our state.
Create more educational opportunities for Iowans.
Expand access to health care and make it more affordable.
Improve public safety for families, neighborhoods and communities.
Help safeguard our people and our property from disasters.
With that in mind, I pledged on the first day of the session that Senate Democrats would focus on real solutions to real problems.

I specifically cited six real problems that need to be addressed:

First, the increase in deadly Iowa traffic accidents.

Second, the Medicaid managed care mess that is failing Iowa patients and families, failing Iowa providers, and failing Iowa taxpayers.

Third, the lack of pension and retirement security for too many Iowans.

Fourth, the statewide problem of impaired waters.

Fifth, the loss of population in over 70 counties and its impact on local schools.

Sixth, the problem of stagnant wages paid to Iowa workers.

So how did the Legislature do on these six key problems facing Iowa?

On traffic safety, Democrats joined with Republicans to pass Senate File 234 to address texting while driving and Senate File 444 to increase penalties when texting causes an accident that seriously injures or kills someone.

That same legislation will also help reduce drunken driving fatalities and other drug and alcohol-related problems by establishing the 24/7 Sobriety program in counties that want to try it. This is probably the best news of this legislative session.

Unfortunately, this body did not take up Senate File 450 to address bicycle safety, and we have much, much more to do for better driver’s education and traffic safety to save lives.

On the Medicaid managed care mess, the Republican majority did not take any action to fix the problem. The Republican majority failed to take up bills Democrats proposed to improve the system, and even blocked a vote on an amendment just to study ways to improve managed care.

To make matters worse, the human services budget (House File 653) slashed funding for hospital reimbursements, slashed funding for child abuse investigations through the field offices, and made further cuts to our mental health system that is already in crisis.

On retirement security, the Republican majority did not take any action to improve retirement security. None. The only good news is that no action was taken on a Republican proposal, Senate File 45, to end the retirement system for peace officers, fire fighters, teachers, and other public employees.

On water quality, the Legislature was much more talk than action. In fact, the Ag and DNR budget (Senate File 510) reduces funding for REAP, CRP, and other water quality programs and would eliminate the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, which Governor Branstad established at Iowa State University in 1987. I still hope that Governor Branstad will exercise his veto pen and save the Leopold Center.

On the declining population in over 70 counties in Iowa, the Republican majority did not enact any positive vision for revitalization in our counties and small towns.

Instead, the Republican majority provided inadequate funding for our schools – again (Senate File 166) – along with cuts to our community colleges (Senate File 130), cuts to the REAP program (Senate File 510), and cuts to our hospitals (House File 653).

These cuts do nothing to reverse the decline in population and revitalize our communities across our state. We should be investing in our natural resources, our schools, and access to health care across our state to reverse declining population and stop school consolidations and closures.

On stagnant wages, the Republican majority failed to make progress, despite the promise of Governor Branstad and Lt. Gov. Reynolds to raise family incomes. In fact, the Republican majority voted for House File 295 – which was signed by Governor Branstad – to cut the wages of 85,000 hard-working Iowans in counties that had already moved forward to raise the minimum wage.

There were other bills that undermine wages and family incomes in our state. The Republican majority voted for Senate File 130 and House File 642 to slash education funding for our community colleges and our universities. The Republican majority voted for House File 518 to create barriers and cut workers compensation for injured and disabled workers.

The Republican majority also voted for House File 203 to circumvent “prevailing wage” and “Buy American” requirements for road projects. The Republican majority voted for Senate File 438 to prevent local governments from considering wages and health and safety qualifications when seeking bids for construction projects.

All of this legislation will make the problem of stagnant wages worse, not better. And dealing with the problem of stagnant wages is the key to creating a future with broad prosperity and more opportunity for all Iowans.

Dealing with stagnant wages with solutions to raise wages and grow family incomes is also the key to our budget. After more than six years under Governor Branstad and Lt. Gov. Reynolds, Iowa’s budget is a mess – not because of a national or global recession, but because of bad budgeting decisions by the Branstad-Reynolds Administration and their failure to grow our economy and family incomes as they promised.

Unfortunately, rather than deal with these real problems, the Republican majority made a decision to pursue the fake problems I warned about on opening day – like the “fake” problem of collective bargaining, the “fake” problem of Planned Parenthood funding, and the “fake” problem of “fake” people casting votes.

The bad news for Iowans is that the Republican majority dedicated this session to addressing these fake problems, with an anti-worker, anti-women, anti-family agenda that hurts Iowans.

The Republican majority attacked the “fake” problem of collective bargaining by taking away workers’ rights and reducing wages and benefits (House File 291), hurting 184,000 Iowa families and communities across our state.

he Republican majority attacked the “fake” problem of Planned Parenthood funding (House File 653), costing the state $3 million in federal family planning dollars and making it harder for Iowans across the state to access preventive health care services.

The Republican majority attacked the “fake” problem of “fake” people casting votes (House File 516), by weakening the voting rights of Iowans, by making it more difficult for all Iowans to vote, especially elderly and disabled Iowans, poor people and minorities who do not own or drive a car, and college students who won’t have the required identification.

I believe the intent of House File 516 was to limit participation, which is fundamentally contrary to the ideals of our state and our country.

But I also believe that because of the attacks on workers, women, families, students, minorities, and all voters, we are already seeing the greatest re-awakening of democracy that Iowa has ever seen.

As I said in my opening day speech, the solution to our problems is not less participation, it is more participation.

So today I ask again – as I asked when this legislative session opened on January 9 – to everyone in this chamber and to those listening or watching the proceedings online – let’s join together with a renewed sense of citizenship, to sit at our table of democracy, to participate, to reach out, to listen, to speak up, and to serve, so that together we can build a safer and healthier future, with broad prosperity and more opportunity, for all Iowans.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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  • Well said

    And may the Iowans who worked so hard against the awfulness at the Statehouse this year be able to recover from this horrendous session. Take walks, look at flowers, read good books, meditate, do whatever it takes to restore your spirits. And thank you.

    • Don't Worry!

      Many trips to the Capitol this year….many just to get a look at the cold-eyed men who perpetrated this zombie apocalypse on my dear Iowa. We understand that seasons are a part of life and we are not tired. Not even close.
      My progressive Iowa has been upended but like the super bloom in the California desert after the drought, we’ll be back.
      …And in this revolution, the last thing you’ll need is a gun.
      Now….what’s the message going forward?