2019 Iowa legislative recap: Constitutional amendments

Bleeding Heartland continues to catch up on the legislature’s significant actions during the session that ended on April 27. Previous posts related to the work of the Iowa House or Senate can be found here.

Republicans showed little interest in amending the Iowa Constitution during the 2019 session. Only one amendment passed both chambers. If and when that proposal appears on a statewide ballot, it will spark a costly and divisive campaign about gun rights and regulations.

The Senate and House debate over the pro-gun amendment is the focus of the first half of this post. Arguments raised on both sides will surely return in future television commercials and mass mailings.

The rest of the post reviews this year’s unsuccessful attempts to change the constitution. One amendment (backed by Governor Kim Reynolds) made it through the Iowa House, and four others advanced from a House or Senate committee but did not come up for a floor vote. The rest did not get through a committee, even though some of the same ideas went further last year.

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The 2007 votes that made 2019 a historic year for transgender Iowans

Only three months in, 2019 is already the most significant year for transgender equality in Iowa since 2007, when state lawmakers and Governor Chet Culver added sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes in the Iowa Civil Rights Act. That 1965 law hadn’t been significantly amended in decades.

The crucial Iowa House and Senate votes on the civil rights law happened during the first year since the 1960s that Democrats controlled both legislative chambers and the governor’s office. Support for LGBTQ equality is often taken for granted now in Democratic circles, but the issue was seen as more politically volatile twelve years ago. The bill amending the civil rights act came late in the 2007 legislative session and could not have passed without some Republican votes.

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Laughable spin casts Reynolds as hero of latest Medicaid fiasco

When a government press release arrives at 4:45 pm on a Friday, you know it’s not bearing good news. UnitedHealthcare will soon pull out of Iowa’s Medicaid program, the governor’s office announced on March 29. The company “manages health care for more than two-thirds of Iowans on Medicaid,” at least 425,000 people, Tony Leys reported for the Des Moines Register.

The official spin portrayed Governor Kim Reynolds as a hero who resisted a for-profit insurer’s “unreasonable” and “unacceptable” demands.

The real story is that nearly three years into our costly Medicaid privatization experiment, Iowa’s dominant managed-care organization (MCO) still can’t handle normal business practices like paying health care providers on time.

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Senate ignores deadbeat corporations while targeting Iowans on Medicaid

Matt Chapman closely follows Iowa legislative happenings, including bills affecting Iowans on public assistance. -promoted by Laura Belin

Iowa Senate Republicans on March 19 approved new work requirements for tens of thousands of Iowans on Medicaid or receiving food assistance. Senate File 538 would instruct the Iowa Department of Human Services to request a federal waiver for the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan, our state’s version of Medicaid expansion. Approximately 170,000 adults receive Medicaid through that plan, and roughly 61,000 of them also receive Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP) benefits.

If the waiver were approved, Medicaid recipients would face new reporting obligations for “community engagement.” If not part of an exempted group, they could lose coverage due to paperwork errors, even if they were working the requisite number of hours per week. Nonpartisan analysis estimated this bill would cost the state budget nearly $5 million the first year after the waiver and nearly $12 million each subsequent year.

During floor debate (beginning at 11:53:20 of this video), Republicans characterized the bill as a way to hold Iowans accountable. Democrats offered two amendments that would have extended that accountability to large employers and the for-profit insurers known as managed-care organizations (MCOs), which oversee Iowa’s privatized Medicaid.

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Iowa lawmakers pass another unconstitutional "Ag Gag" bill

Iowa legislators just can’t quit violating the constitution in the service of livestock farmers and their lobby groups.

Two months after a federal judge comprehensively dismantled Iowa’s 2012 law prohibiting “agricultural production facility fraud,” the state House and Senate approved a bill creating the crime of “agricultural production facility trespass.” Governor Kim Reynolds has indicated she will sign the legislation. (UPDATE: She signed it on March 14.)

Although the drafters modeled the new bill after portions of an Idaho statute that survived a legal challenge, federal courts could and should strike down this law. Like the previous “ag gag” legislation, its primary purpose is to suppress speech reflecting certain viewpoints.

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