Senate Republicans throw transparency out the window

Iowa Senate Republicans have abandoned longstanding rules that ensured subcommittee meetings would be open to the public and announced at least 24 hours in advance, and that committee chairs would allow votes on all germane amendments to bills.

Senate committees had operated under those rules since the 2005 legislative session, when each party had 25 senators. The rules remained standard practice throughout ten years when Democrats controlled the upper chamber and the first two years of a Republican majority following the 2016 elections.

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Don't make more than 52,000 Iowans wait until 2023 to vote

Governor Kim Reynolds asked Iowa lawmakers today to start the process of amending the state constitution to remove the lifetime ban on voting by those who have committed “infamous crimes,” which under current law are defined as all felony offenses.

A constitutional amendment would be the best long-term fix for an unfair system that disproportionately affects racial minorities and those lacking the funds to navigate the restoration process. So the Iowa House and Senate should certainly heed the governor’s call. But it’s difficult to get a constitutional amendment through both chambers of the legislature, and the soonest an amendment could be enacted would be November 2022.

Reynolds and state lawmakers can and should take immediate steps to allow tens of thousands of Iowans to participate in this year’s local elections, the 2020 caucuses, and the primary and general elections of 2020 and 2022.

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Who's who in the Iowa Senate for 2019

The Iowa Senate convened for its 2019 session on January 14 with 32 Republicans and 18 Democrats. A record eleven senators are women (six Democrats and five Republicans), up from six women in the chamber at the start of the last legislature’s work.

I enclose below details on the majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing Iowa Senate committees. Where relevant, I’ve mentioned changes since last year’s legislative session. Note that Democratic Senator Nate Boulton will serve on committees after all. Minority Leader Janet Petersen had declined to assign him to any committees last month.

A few words about demographics: all current state senators are white. To my knowledge, the only African American ever to serve in the Iowa Senate was Tom Mann, elected to two terms during the 1980s. No Latino has ever served in the Iowa legislature; in 2014, Nathan Blake fell 18 votes short of becoming the first. No Asian American has served in the Iowa Senate since Swati Dandekar resigned in 2011.

Some non-political trivia: the 50 Iowa senators include two Smiths (a Democrat and a Republican) and two Taylors (both Democrats). As for first names, there are three Marks, three Zachs, and two men each named Dan, Jim, Tim, Tom, and Jeff.

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Iowa legislative recap: Senate confirmations

Continuing a series on news from the Iowa legislature’s 2018 session that attracted little attention before lawmakers adjourned for the year.

The Iowa Senate confirmed almost everyone Governor Kim Reynolds nominated for a state board or commission this year with unanimous or near-unanimous support. However, opposition from Democratic senators blocked three of the governor’s more than 200 appointees (full list here).

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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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