# 2023 Session



Iowa governor tries to defend vague education law

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. 

In a hearing, I always knew when the lawyer on the other side didn’t have a good case. Instead of focusing on facts, they shouted and pounded the table more in hopes the arbitrator might forget and get distracted by a loud passionate argument. 

That’s what Governor Kim Reynolds tried during her October 25 press conference, when asked about book banning in public schools.

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Iowa nice, except if you're blind

Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter is a freelance journalist from the American Midwest. She covers social justice stories, especially pertaining to disability. Her work has appeared in Parents, Mother Untitled, The Omaha World Herald, The Insider and elsewhere. You can follow her on X/Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Iowa is known for being nice. Old-fashioned values seem rooted in the ground, tracing back to 1846. An idyllic landscape, simple and plain, yet beautiful, as depicted in American Gothic. Stop in this fly-over state for a pork tenderloin sandwich, or a Maid Rite, and don’t forget, its state fair is the greatest state fair.

Set against this backdrop of American dreams is a Republican party introducing bill after bill that have altered Iowa in both subtle and blatant ways. The GOP-controlled legislature approved many controversial bills during the 2023 session. One with potentially great consequences for blind Iowans was Senate File 514, the state government realignment sought by Governor Kim Reynolds.

STREAMLINING, OR A “POWER GRAB”?

The state paid nearly one million dollars for Virginia-based Guidehouse to help develop a plan to streamline state government. Although the final Guidehouse report did not make any recommendations related to the Iowa Department for the Blind (IDB), the bill the governor proposed to state lawmakers included one important change.

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Laws that ban books run contrary to Iowa's history, legacy

Banned Book Week runs from October 1 to October 7, 2023. The following letter, released on September 14, was co-signed by The Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature Board of Directors, Mayor Bruce Teague on behalf of the City of Iowa City, The Iowa City Public Library Trustees, The Iowa City Public Library Friends Foundation, The Coralville Public Library, The North Liberty Library, Think Iowa City, Iowa Small Library Association executive board, Prairie Lights, One Iowa, The Tuesday Agency, Iowa City Poetry, the Iowa Library Association, and Corridor Community Action Network.

An open letter to Governor Kim Reynolds and the Iowa legislature:

Iowa is home to one of the most literary cities on earth. It is here where the Iowa Writers’ Workshop produced some of the greatest voices in American Literature: Frank Conroy, John Irving, Wallace Stegner, Raymond Carver, Jane Smiley, Rita Dove, Ayana Mathis, Flannery O’Connor, Ann Patchett, and so many others. Iowa is also home to contemporary writers producing works of fiction and non-fiction that are both bold in truth-telling and revolutionary in voice.

It’s because of this legacy and the dedication of Iowans to producing great writing, that Iowa City was declared a UNESCO City of Literature in 2008. Often called the “Athens of the Midwest,” Iowa City has a unique set of influential literary institutions, which explore new ways to teach and  support writers. At the same time, it has long been, quite simply, a place for writers and for readers: a haven, a destination, a proving ground, and a nursery. Iowa has a history and an identity in which its citizens take enormous pride, prizing a role in celebrating and honoring writers and good writing.

On May 26, Iowa’s governor signed into law legislation that runs counter to that legacy. Senate File 496 prohibits books with written and visual depictions of sex acts from school libraries. The legislation also bans written materials and instruction on “gender identity” and “sexual orientation.” This law was passed under the pretense of protecting children, and yet what this law amounts to is a book ban that limits children’s freedom of expression and access to knowledge about the world around them.

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Iowans need to step up and be LGBTQ allies

John and Terri Hale own The Hale Group, an Ankeny-based advocacy firm working for better lives for all Iowans. Contact them at terriandjohnhale@gmail.com.

“In Nature, a flock will attack any bird that is more colorful than the others because being different is seen as a threat…”

That’s a phrase from a now-trending music video titled The Village from an artist known as Wrabel. It tells the story of a transgender teen and the intense emotional challenges faced as they struggle with their own thoughts and feelings, unsupportive parents, community, church and school.

It’s a powerful video that everyone should watch—regardless of your views on LGBTQ issues, political leanings, faith, etc.  

Wrabel’s message to the LGBTQ community—especially trans kids—is “There’s nothing wrong with you. There’s something wrong with the Village.”

The Village is that part of society that endorses efforts to discriminate against, if not erase, the LGBTQ community—in particular those who are transgender.

In Iowa, Republican legislators introduced a record 29 anti-LGBTQ bills during the recent session. Twenty-nine bills that called for blocking access to basic human rights for our LGBTQ friends, children and families, co-workers and neighbors. 

These measures called for everything from taking away the right to same-sex marriage, to censuring teachers from using words—and librarians from having books—that acknowledge the existence of LGBTQ Iowans, to denying parents and their doctors the right to make life-saving decisions for transgender kids.

Each bill, whether it became law or not, sent destructive messages to the LGBTQ community: “You are not wanted here. You don’t deserve the same rights guaranteed to others, including the right to love who you love. You don’t have the freedom to flourish in Iowa.”

Why the attacks on the LGBTQ community? Simply put, they are easy pickings. The LGBTQ population is outnumbered. They do not have immense political power, though it is growing. Misinformation, distortions, and confusion lead people to fear what they do not understand. Like the colorful birds in the quote above, being different is seen as a threat to life as many have known it. Many Republicans are capitalizing on that fear, riling up their base of voters and promising that, if elected, constituents can count on them to deal with what they insinuate is a clear and present danger.

This is Iowa in 2023: a horribly divided state, and as anti-LGBTQ legislation shows, a religious state that too often doesn’t practice what is preached—to treat others the way they want to be treated, to show some charity and be kind, to love and accept others for who they are.

We’re blessed with wonderful friends in the LGBTQ community who are making tremendous contributions to their workplaces, neighborhoods, communities, states,and nation.

They’ve told us how the bills—and accompanying rhetoric—make them feel. Some plan to leave Iowa. Others plan never to move here.

As allies, we’re disgusted by the attacks on our LGBTQ friends and colleagues. We’re tired of the holier-than-thou attitudes of many elected Republicans and candidates. Enough is enough.

We can all take action to stop it.

Allies of the LGBTQ community: invite your Republican legislator(s) to meet with you. Try to get to know them as people, not just lawmakers. Ask what they believe and why. In a direct and non-confrontational way, tell your story and why you support the LGBTQ community. If their contact with the LGBTQ community has been minimal, offer to arrange additional opportunities to build relationships.

Leaders in business and industry: step up and speak out on behalf of your valued LGBTQ employees and customers. You have a powerful voice. Legislators may listen to you when they may not listen to others.

Republican legislators: before proposing or voting on additional anti-LGBTQ legislation, seek to understand and really get to know those in the LGBTQ community whose lives you may be dramatically altering.

Legislators are in their districts until the start of the next session in January. They, and we, should take advantage of this time to meet, talk, listen and hopefully learn.

If reasonable and influential voices are silent, things will not get any better. Sadly, they could get even worse.

Top photo taken outside the state capitol during a March 5, 2023 rally to support LGBTQ Iowans is by Michael F. Hiatt and available via Shutterstock.

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David Young's narrow win in House district 28 cost everyone too much

Tom Walton chairs the Dallas County Democrats, was a Democratic primary candidate for Iowa House district 28 in 2022, and is an attorney.

In the 2022 election for Iowa House district 28, Republican David Young showed up again in Iowa politics, after losing Congressional races in 2018 and 2020. Young won the Iowa House seat covering parts of Dallas County by only 907 votes, after the Iowa Democratic Party spent only about a quarter as much on supporting its nominee as the Republican Party of Iowa spent on behalf of Young.

Each of those winning votes cost his campaign about $331 based on campaign finance data. All told, Young and the Republican Party spent nearly half a million dollars on his race. As this article demonstrates, his election cost everyone too much—in money spent and loss of freedoms.

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Iowa's culture war: Pronouns, nicknames, and LGBTQ kids' rights

Nick Covington is an Iowa parent who taught high school social studies for ten years. He is also the co-founder of the Human Restoration Project, an Iowa educational non-profit promoting systems-based thinking and grassroots organizing in education.

On August 1, I got an email from my kids’ school district announcing a new required form I needed to fill out in response to Senate File 496, part of the slate of so-called Parents’ Rights provisions that Governor Kim Reynolds signed in May. The letter read in part:

Recently passed legislation, Senate File 496, requires that school districts receive written permission from parents and/or guardians regarding any request by a student to accommodate a gender identity, name or pronoun that is different from what was assigned to the student during the school registration process. This requirement also applies to all nicknames. (i.e. Sam instead of Samuel; Addy instead of Addison, etc.)

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