Iowa legislative recap: Constitutional amendments

Iowa lawmakers went home for the year on May 5. In the coming weeks, Bleeding Heartland will catch up on some of the legislature’s significant work that attracted relatively attention.

Two proposed state constitutional amendments passed both chambers and could appear on the 2020 general election ballot, if the House and Senate approve them in the same form during either 2019 or 2020.

Three other constitutional amendments cleared one chamber in 2017–in one case unanimously–then stalled in the other chamber as lawmakers completed this two-year session. Those ideas may resurface next year. But since changes to the state constitution must be passed by two consecutively elected legislatures before landing on the general election ballot (the last step in the process), Iowa voters would not be able to ratify those proposals until November 2022 at the earliest.

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Senate confirms Iowa DHS director with four votes to spare

The Iowa Senate confirmed Jerry Foxhoven as director of the Iowa Department of Human Services in an unusually close vote on March 21.

Most of Governor Kim Reynolds’ appointees have won unanimous confirmation, as has typically been the case in Iowa for many years. Foxhoven’s nomination was controversial because of how privatized Medicaid has been managed, along with several tragedies involving abused children. Senate Democrats asked to defer consideration on the DHS director last month “until we can fully assess his leadership.”

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Dems contesting far more Iowa House, Senate seats than in 2010 or 2014

Democrats are fielding a nearly full slate of Iowa House and Senate candidates this year, leaving far fewer GOP-held seats unchallenged than in the last two midterm elections.

The improvement is particularly noticeable in the Iowa House, where Republicans have an unusually large number of open seats to defend. Twelve of the 59 GOP state representatives are retiring, and a thirteenth seat (House district 43) is open due to Majority Leader Chris Hagenow’s move to safer Republican territory in Dallas County.

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No magical economic boom will make Iowa GOP's tax cuts affordable

Iowa Senate Republicans are barreling ahead to debate a regressive tax plan that would reduce state revenues by 10 to 15 percent within five years. Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Randy Feenstra, lead author of Senate File 2383, continued to describe his proposal as “bold, pro-growth tax relief” after a non-partisan analysis projected massive revenue losses.

Meanwhile, newly-released records show that in communications with other GOP senators, Feenstra greatly understated the cost of an earlier draft of his tax proposal. The documents don’t indicate whether the head of Senate’s tax-writing committee misunderstood numbers provided by the Iowa Department of Revenue or misrepresented them to downplay the price tag. (Feenstra has not responded to my inquiry.)

What is clear: the Department of Revenue never predicted that deeply cutting taxes would produce “excess” economic growth. Which isn’t surprising, since no economic boom materialized in states like Kansas and Louisiana after Republicans destroyed those states’ ability to pay for essential services.

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Republicans blow a billion-dollar hole in the budget (updated)

Matt Chapman reports from today’s Iowa Senate committee hearings on a massive tax bill published the previous day. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Senate Republicans dropped Senate Study Bill 3197 on February 21, scheduling a subcommittee on the tax plan first thing the following morning and a full Ways and Means Committee to consider the bill shortly after lunch. They had employed a similar shock-and-awe tactic last week to get Senate Study Bill 3193 through the legislature’s “funnel” on the last possible day. That bill, modeled after a Florida law deemed unconstitutional, called for drug testing Medicaid and food assistance (SNAP) recipients, along with quarterly instead of yearly recertification and work requirements.

In opening comments on his tax proposal, Senate Ways and Means Chair Randy Feenstra said SSB 3197 was “bold” and would save Iowans an average of $1,000 in taxes. You can watch the whole meeting on video here.

Senator Pam Jochum, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said she was looking forward to input from EMS and firefighters, among others, since this bill would end deductions. She was also concerned that there was no fiscal impact statement and wanted to be sure it fit the budget. Jochum asked Feenstra if he had any data he could share.

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IA-Gov: Latest Nate Boulton spot pitches for older voters

Six of the 23 current state lawmakers who have endorsed Senator Nate Boulton for governor speak on his behalf in a television commercial that began airing today in the Des Moines and Cedar Rapids markets. It’s the second spot Bolton’s campaign has released as part of a buy that will run through the February 5 precinct caucuses, at which Democratic activists will elect county convention delegates.

The ad appears to be designed to shore up Boulton’s support among older Democrats, who make up a larger portion of Iowa’s electorate than many people realize.

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