Senate Republicans misstate facts, misread Iowa law on absentee mailing

A wide-ranging election bill is eligible for Iowa Senate debate on June 10. Judging by the party-line vote in the State Government Committee on June 5, the Republican majority seems likely to rubber-stamp House File 2486 and send it to the Iowa House.

State Senator Roby Smith proposed many bad ideas in his 30-page amendment to that previously innocuous bill. The most controversial would prevent Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate from sending an absentee ballot request form to any voter who did not ask for one. Pate’s decision to send such forms to every registered Iowa voter contributed to record-setting turnout for the June 2 primary.

Smith has denied he is trying to suppress voting by mail. But talking points he and a Republican ally floated in recent days do not withstand scrutiny. Pate didn’t need lawmakers to appropriate state funds for the mass mailing, didn’t need legislative approval to send the forms, and didn’t exceed his authority under Iowa law.

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How you can stop the effort to roll back transgender equality in Iowa

UPDATE: House Judiciary Committee Chair Steven Holt confirmed by email on January 29, “The bill is dead. I will not assign it to sub-committee.”

Original post follows:

Nine Iowa House Republicans are trying to make it legal to discriminate against transgender Iowans in many areas of daily life, including education, employment, and housing.

House File 2164 would remove gender identity protections from the Iowa Civil Rights Act. Adding sexual orientation and gender identity language to that law in 2007 was one of the hard-fought victories of the new Democratic legislative majority.

The civil rights law bans discrimination against protected classes in “public accommodations, employment, apprenticeship and on-the-job training programs, vocational schools, or housing.” Iowa House and Senate Republicans set a terrible precedent last year by altering the code to deny gender-affirming surgery to transgender Medicaid recipients. (That law is being challenged in court.) So it’s not surprising a group of social conservatives want to deny all civil rights to trans Iowans.

It’s far from clear there are 51 votes to get this horrible proposal through the Iowa House, or that state Senate leaders would want to pass it in the upper chamber. After the jump I’ve highlighted how fair-minded Iowans can help keep this bill from becoming law.

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2020

The Iowa House opened its 2020 session on January 13 with 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats, a change from last year’s 54-46 split due to State Representative Andy McKean’s party switch shortly before lawmakers adjourned last year.

The House members include 67 men and 33 women (23 Democrats and ten Republicans). Although 34 women were elected to the chamber in 2018 (a record number), State Representative Lisa Heddens stepped down last summer, and Ross Wilburn won the special election to serve out her term in House district 46.

Five African Americans (Democrats Ako Abdul-Samad, Ruth Ann Gaines, Ras Smith, Phyllis Thede, and Wilburn) will serve in the legislature’s lower chamber; the other 95 lawmakers are white. No Latino has ever been elected to the Iowa House, and there has not been an Asian-American member since Swati Dandekar moved up to the state Senate following the 2008 election. Democratic State Representative Liz Bennett is the only out LGBTQ member of the lower chamber. To my knowledge, Abdul-Samad (who is Muslim) is the only lawmaker in either chamber to practice a religion other than Christianity.

After the jump I’ve posted details on the Iowa House majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing House committees. Where relevant, I’ve noted significant changes since last year.

Some non-political trivia: the Iowa House includes two Smiths (both Democrats), while the other 98 members have different surnames. As for popular first names, there are six Davids (four go by Dave), four Marys (one goes by Mary Ann), three Roberts (a Rob, a Bob, and a Bobby), three men named Thomas (two go by Tom), three Johns and two Jons, and three men each named Gary and Brian. There are also two Elizabeths (a Beth and a Liz) and two men each named Bruce, Chris, Jeff, Michael (one goes by Mike), Ross, and Charles (a Chuck and a Charlie).

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Where things stand with MidAmerican's bad solar bill

As state lawmakers wrap up their work for 2019, one of the biggest question marks surrounds MidAmerican Energy’s push to make future solar development unaffordable for most Iowa homeowners and small businesses.

Four weeks after the bill cleared the Iowa Senate, it is still hung up in the House, where a group of Republicans recently took an unusual step to signal their opposition.

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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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