It's hard to believe this legislative session is real

Bruce Lear covers some low points of this year's Republican work in the Iowa House and Senate. -promoted by Laura Belin

Even though this Iowa legislative session may seem like a sketch from Saturday Night Live, it’s real.

But if it had a theme, it might be “Solutions in search of a problem,” or maybe “If it ain’t broke, fix it anyway.”

In a legislative session this extreme, it’s really hard to focus on specific bills solving nonexistent problems, not because they are hard to find, but because there are so many.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, and Iowa ranking 49th out of 50 states for getting two vaccinations in arms, it would be logical for legislators of both parties to work together on oversight on both saving lives and saving the economy.

But that’s not what’s happening under the golden dome.

Instead, the Republican majority seems obsessed with ramming through every fringe piece of legislation they may have had in their fever dreams. From gun bills that would make residents of the old Wild West blush to morality police trying to regulate what bathroom someone uses to legislation that chokes public schools, the hits keep coming, and the pain keeps growing.

Here are just a few more examples.

During the last election, Iowa had 76 percent voter participation. So, Republicans just knew they needed to fix voting. Senate File 413, rammed through by the House and the Senate in eight days, will likely become law before long.

Among other horrible provisions, this law shortens early voting, criminalizes mistakes by auditors, limits satellite voting, and allows fewer voter drop boxes--all in the name of saving Iowans from fraud that never happened.

But wait, Republicans can’t really decide how to spin these changes. While most settled-on the Trump fraud prevention lie, some rationalized limiting early voting was protecting Iowans from long campaigns. Obviously, this is utter nonsense because as soon as a person votes early, they stop getting calls, emails and texts, at least from campaigns that have voter data.

A simpler explanation is that the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Holy Bible for the right wing, helped write the bill and that’s why this is happening in many other states where Republicans control the agenda.

But the most glaring reasons for ramming through these changes is pure voter suppression. Even though in Iowa, Trump won big, and the GOP increased its majorities in both the House and Senate, they know the demographics are shifting under their feet and even blood red Iowa could go the way of now purple Georgia given the right organizing by Iowa Democrats.

Besides limiting, the right to vote, Republicans also have tried to solve non exist problems for Iowa public education. Here are few of those examples.

The anti-tenure bill, Senate File 41, has been around for a while because GOP State Senator Brad Zaun proposes it every year. The bill would prevent Iowa public universities from offering tenure to any professor. It would give Iowa the distinction of being the only state with such a law.

Most years, this type of backward, ill-conceived, legislation is quietly killed by leadership because the adults in the room know the impact it has on the state. Not this year. Senate File 41 advanced from a subcommittee, and Republicans moved a similar bill, House File 496, out of the education committee in the lower chamber.

The University of Iowa is searching for a new president. A bill like this, treated as something serious, instead of what it is, will chill the search about as much as one of those Iowa subzero days. Governor Kim Reynolds should take a minute to denounce this ugly piece of legislation instead of trying to justify her pandemic response.

But that’s not all.

State Senator Jim Carlin, a declared candidate for the U.S. Senate channeled the ghost of Joseph McCarthy and introduced Senate File 292. His bill would require the Iowa Board of Regents to survey state university employees about their political party affiliations. Like the proposed tenure ban, the message sent to qualified professors is that Iowa is a professional grave yard.

Not to be outdone, State Representative Bobby Kaufmann has decided he knows better than all of Iowa university officials who have been planning virtual graduation ceremonies. Kaufmann authored House Study Bill 246, requiring that all public university graduations take place in person and that two family members may attend. After all, they, like Governor Reynolds, believe the pandemic is over.

Not to be out done, the House had some fixes for non-problems too.

Representative Skyler Wheeler thinks the 1619 project, a supplement to the social studies curriculum focusing on slavery, is biased. So he proposed House File 222, which would reduce a school or university budget if administrators, school boards, and educators think the supplemental curriculum is a benefit to students. Obviously, this learned legislator from northwest Iowa knows more than every local school official.

Anti-vaxxers are also well-represented in the legislature. Iowa House Republican Jeff Shipley proposed House File 237, limiting the information students can receive about vaccinations. He also proposed House File 247, which repeals normal immunizations required to attend public school. (Those bills have not advanced through the committee process.)

Sadly, I could fill another five pages with examples. Our representatives are elected to solve real problems for real people and most of all, "Do no harm.” I wish this legislative session was a bad skit on a late-night TV show. It’s not. But it is time for voters to change the channel.

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and retired after 38 years of being connected to public schools. He was a teacher for eleven years and a regional director for Iowa State Education Association for 27 years until retirement. 

  • And more awfulness is ahead...

    ...though some of it may wait until next year. And yet hope springs eternal. There's a dreadful water quality bill being considered for introduction, but maybe, just maybe, it can be headed off. At this point, even postponing it til next year would be a tiny relief.

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