State appeals ruling on law targeting trans Iowans

The Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) is appealing a Polk County District Court ruling that found the state law and policy designed to deny Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming surgery are unconstitutional. The state filed notice of its intent to appeal on December 17, near the end of its 30-day window to do so following the District Court’s decision in November.

The Iowa Attorney General’s office had no comment on the appeal. Governor Kim Reynolds’ office also had no comment on why the governor is determined to prevent transgender Iowans on Medicaid from receiving medically necessary care approved by their doctors.

Plaintiffs Aiden Vasquez and Mika Covington have been waiting for years to obtain surgery and first challenged the state law in court within weeks of Reynolds signing the provision into law in May 2019.

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We're suing Governor Reynolds over open records violations

The ACLU of Iowa filed suit on December 16 on behalf of three reporters and three media organizations over Governor Kim Reynolds’ long-standing failure to comply with Iowa’s open records law. The lawsuit cites five unfulfilled requests submitted by me, two submitted by Clark Kauffman of Iowa Capital Dispatch, and one submitted by Randy Evans of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council.

I’ve been seeking some of those records for more than a year. My oldest outstanding request, for video messages the governor may have recorded for meatpacking plant employees during the early weeks of the pandemic, dates to April 2020. Although Reynolds told members of the Iowa Capitol Press Association in January 2021 that she would commit to having her staff respond to open records requests “in a timely manner,” her office continues to stonewall.

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Court finds law targeting trans Iowans unconstitutional

For Aiden Vasquez and Mika Covington, the news was life-changing. Polk County District Court Judge William Kelly ruled on November 19 that Iowa’s law designed to deny Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming surgery “violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution.”

He ordered the Iowa Department of Human Services to change a longstanding regulation “excluding coverage for sex reassignment surgery” and said the agency must apply the revised rule to allow “transgender individuals coverage under Iowa Medicaid for medically necessary gender affirming surgery for the treatment of Gender Dysphoria and other relevant diagnoses.”

Vasquez and Covington are transgender Iowans who qualify for Medicaid and have been unable to obtain the health care they need for years. They have been seeking legal redress since soon after Governor Kim Reynolds signed the discriminatory statute in May 2019.

Naturally, not everyone was happy with what the ACLU of Iowa’s legal director Rita Bettis Austen described as a “historic win for civil rights in Iowa.” Soon after the court ruling was published on November 22, Reynolds’ spokesperson Alex Murphy told reporters, “The governor’s office is disappointed in today’s decision and disagrees with the district court’s ruling on Medicaid coverage for transgender reassignment surgeries.”

Reynolds echoed the sentiment when speaking to reporters on November 23: “Of course we were disappointed with the ruling and disagree […] My legal team is looking at it. There will be more to come later on. We’re still looking through it and trying to determine what our options are.”

She should stop fighting this battle.

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Governor's own words helped sink mask mandate ban in court

A federal court confirmed on October 8 that Iowa cannot enforce the state’s ban on mask mandates in public schools, pending resolution of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Iowa on behalf of a disability advocacy group and eleven parents of children with disabilities.

U.S. District Court Senior Judge Robert Pratt’s preliminary injunction follows a temporary restraining order he issued and extended last month, putting the law on hold. About two dozen Iowa school districts, including most of the largest, have since reimposed mask mandates, affecting more than 150,000 students.

The state immediately appealed Pratt’s ruling to the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. In a written statement, Reynolds said, “We will never stop fighting for the rights of parents to decide what is best for their children and to uphold state laws enacted by our elected legislators. We will defend the rights and liberties afforded to all American citizens protected by our constitution.” 

The governor’s bluster is not consistent with the state’s own legal arguments, which have not asserted the Iowa or U.S. constitutions establish any right not to wear masks, or to have one’s children remain unmasked at school.

The irony is that Reynolds’ own public statements have bolstered the plaintiffs’ case against the law Republicans rushed to enact in May.

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State pays $70,000 to settle Black Lives Matter protesters' lawsuit

The state of Iowa has agreed to pay $70,000 and improve First Amendment training for state troopers in order to settle a lawsuit filed last year by five protesters who were banned from the Iowa Capitol Complex.

Jalesha Johnson, Louise Bequeaith, Brad Penna, Brandi Ramus, and Haley Jo Dikkers were among seventeen people whom state troopers had banned from the capitol grounds following a July 1, 2020 Black Lives Matter protest that led to numerous arrests. They filed suit last October against Iowa Department of Public Safety Commissioner Stephen Bayens and several Iowa State Patrol officials, saying the bans violated their rights under the First, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

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Law blocking health care for trans Iowans facing new court challenge

Two years ago this week, on the day before the Iowa legislature completed its work for 2019, Republicans added two new discriminatory provisions to the state’s health and human services budget. Both code sections quickly spawned litigation. Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit against language designed to exclude the organization from sex education grants is now pending before the Iowa Supreme Court, after a District Court found the prohibition violated the state constitution’s equal protection guarantee.

A case challenging language that authorized discrimination against transgender Iowans on Medicaid never got that far. But on April 22, the ACLU of Iowa and the national ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project filed a new lawsuit in Polk County District Court.

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