Pate floats ending mandate that sank pro-gun amendment

Secretary of State Paul Pate has asked Iowa lawmakers to consider removing his agency’s responsibility to publish proposed constitutional amendments in Iowa newspapers. His request follows a “procedural oversight” that erased the legislature’s progress last year on adding expansive pro-gun language to the state’s founding document.

The Iowa Constitution calls for amendments approved by the House and Senate to be “published, as provided by law, for three months” prior to a general election, before being referred to the next legislature. Iowa Code 49A.1 requires the “state commissioner of elections” to publish the text “once each month, in two newspapers of general circulation in each congressional district,” during that three-month period.

The Iowa Firearms Coalition revealed on January 13 that the Secretary of State’s office failed to publish an amendment on the right to keep and bear arms before the midterm election. Pate’s staff later confirmed that his office also neglected to publish a second amendment, regarding the governor’s authority to appoint a lieutenant governor.

Pate officially broke the bad news in a January 14 letter to Secretary of the Senate Charlie Smithson, published in the Senate Journal the following day and enclosed below. After accepting “full responsibility for this oversight” and apologizing for it, Pate described steps he is taking to “ensure an error like this never happens again.”

First, Pate asked legislative staff to “flag any proposed constitutional amendments for special attention prior to submitting them” to his office, which files copies of all bills introduced and all laws enacted. The secretary of state also wants to meet with Smithson and House Chief Clerk Carmine Boal after lawmakers adjourn for the year to discuss any legislation needing further action from his office.

Second, Pate said he is preparing documents to make future secretaries of state aware of the requirement. He noted that even though “a similar oversight occurred in 2004” when Chet Culver was secretary of state, “no information regarding the Culver oversight, or constitutional amendments generally, was included in transition documents provided to me in December 2014.” (Pate should have known about the process, having served as secretary of state from 1995 through 1998, when the legislature passed and Iowans approved three constitutional amendments.)

Third, Pate suggested lawmakers could enact their own “safeguards.”

An option the legislature may consider is moving the duty of publication to the Legislative Services Agency and amending the definition of publication to include publication on an Internet website. As a non-partisan agency, LSA does not experience the same turnover and loss of institutional knowledge as the Secretary of State’s Office and already has a process in place to automatically publish all joint resolutions on their website, which is free and available to all Iowans. Allowing the publication requirements to be met using LSA’s website is a step that helps modernize the constitutional amendment process and better reflect how Iowan’s [sic] receive their news.

As a heavy user of the legislature’s website, I find it handy for viewing bills and resolutions. But I question how many Iowans would find and read pages listing constitutional amendments passed by their elected representatives. Even with the decline of print media, surely thousands more voters would learn about such proposals if they appeared in the designated newspapers Pate’s office should have used (the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald and Cedar Rapids Gazette in the first Congressional district, the Quad-City Times and Iowa City Press-Citizen in IA-02, the Des Moines Register and Council Bluffs Nonpareil in IA-03, and the Ames Daily Tribune and Sioux City Journal in IA-04).

Republican lawmakers bailed out Governor Kim Reynolds last year, fixing a law on budget transfers after she had knowingly violated it. Maybe they will be happy to take this responsibility off Pate’s hands to prevent another “monumental setback” for one of their priorities.

Appendix: January 14 letter from Secretary of State Paul Pate to Secretary of the Senate Charlie Smithson. The two-page letter can also be viewed here and here. Since state law calls on the commissioner of elections to report to the legislature on the publication of constitutional amendments, Pate presumably sent a similar letter to House Chief Clerk Carmine Boal. None of this week’s House Journals contain a copy, however.

Dear Secretary Smithson,

Enclosed you will find a copy of the required report filed pursuant to Iowa Code section 49A.3. Due to a procedural oversight, my office failed to cause SJR #2006 and HJR #2009 to be published in two newspapers of general circulation in each congressional district in the state for the three months preceding the November 2018 General Election.

I accept full responsibility for this oversight and offer my sincerest apology to the legislators and supporters who worked so hard on these bills. There is no excuse, and I am instituting a system that will ensure an error like this never happens again. I have been a vocal supporter of both measure [sic] and I deeply regret this oversight. I am truly sorry.

At my direction, my staff has adopted a policy for identifying proposed constitutional amendments for publication. As a part of this policy, we would ask that you, or another member of your staff, flag any proposed constitutional amendments for special attention prior to submitting them to the Secretary of State for filing. Additionally, at the conclusion of each legislative session, I would request a meeting with both yourself and the Chief Clerk of the House to review the journals and discuss any joint resolutions that require action on the part of the Secretary of State.

As you are aware, a similar oversight occurred in 2004 under the Chet Culver administration. To the best of my knowledge, no information regarding the Culver oversight, or constitutional amendments generally, was included in transition documents provided to me in December 2014. To ensure that future Secretaries of State are informed about the constitutional amendment process, my office’s new policy will be included with transition documents at the time that a new Secretary of State is elected. Additionally, I intend to have a letter to all future Secretaries printed into the record book kept by pursuant to Iowa Code section 49A.3.

Finally, I would request that the legislature review Iowa Code Chapter 49A and determine if there are any legislative safeguards that can be put in place to prevent this oversight from occurring in the future. An option the legislature may consider is moving the duty of publication to the Legislative Services Agency and amending the definition of publication to include publication on an Internet website. As a non-partisan agency, LSA does not experience the same turnover and loss of institutional knowledge as the Secretary of State’s Office and already has a process in place to automatically publish all joint resolutions on their website, which is free and available to all Iowans. Allowing the publication requirements to be met using LSA’s website is a step that helps modernize the constitutional amendment process and better reflect how Iowan’s [sic] receive their news.

In closing, while there is not a quick fix for this situation, I can guarantee that I will do everything in my power to prevent future oversights.

Sincerely,

Paul D. Pate
Secretary of State
State of Iowa

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