A last-minute Republican double-cross on absentee voting in Iowa

UPDATE: Governor Kim Reynolds signed this legislation on June 30.

Iowa Republicans have perfected the art of sneaking attacks on constitutional rights or the rule of law into budget bills shortly before adjourning for the year.

Last-minute budget amendments in 2019 sought to shorten the Iowa Supreme Court chief justice’s term, increase the governor’s influence over selecting judges, restrict medical care for transgender Iowans, and stop Planned Parenthood from obtaining sex education grants. Those measures spawned four lawsuits.

Judges will surely hear challenges to legislation Republicans enacted while burning the midnight oil this past weekend. A forthcoming post will address a 24-hour waiting period for abortion, approved during the session’s closing hours.

This post focuses on provisions that would make it harder for Iowans to vote by mail. Marc Elias, one of the country’s most prominent Democratic election lawyers, promised on June 14, “This will not stand. We will sue.”

Don’t bet against him. A Polk County District Court already struck down similar language in an administrative rule as “irrational, illogical, and wholly unjustifiable.”

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Bipartisan deal on election bill brewing in Iowa House (updated)

House members approved the amended bill by 95 votes to 2 on the evening of June 11. The Senate took up the bill around 12:45 am on June 13. Following a brief debate, during which three Democratic senators spoke against the House version, senators concurred with the House amendment and approved the bill by 31 votes to 16. However, some of the disenfranchising provisions related to absentee ballots surfaced again on June 14, attached to a budget bill. Bleeding Heartland covered that debate here.

Original post follows.

After a contentious debate on June 10, the Iowa Senate approved by 30 votes to 19 a bill including controversial changes to election law. The proposal has drawn extensive local and national media coverage for a provision that would ban Iowa’s secretary of state from sending absentee ballot request forms to any voter who did not request one.

House File 2486 now goes to the lower chamber, where an amendment filed the evening of June 10 suggests Democrats and Republicans have agreed to strip out much of Senate State Government Committee Chair Roby Smith’s handiwork.

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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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Some bad laws for Iowa's environment take effect today

Continuing Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of the Iowa legislature’s work during the 2019 session.

Iowa’s environmental community had something to celebrate when state lawmakers adjourned for the year without passing legislation that would crush small-scale solar development. An unusual coalition including solar installers, environmental groups, and livestock farmers helped keep the bill bottled up in the Iowa House despite intense lobbying by MidAmerican Energy and its allies, along with massive spending by undisclosed donors.

Unfortunately, lawmakers approved and Governor Kim Reynolds signed several other measures that will be detrimental for Iowa’s natural resources and take our state’s energy policy in the wrong direction. The new laws take effect today, as the 2020 fiscal year begins.

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"This is political": House Republicans vote to limit Iowa AG's powers

North Carolina Republican lawmakers started the trend after losing the governor’s race in 2016. GOP legislative majorities in Michigan and Wisconsin followed suit late last year, seeking to hamstring newly-elected governors and the Michigan attorney general. Kansas Republicans are now trying to limit the appointment power of that state’s Democratic governor.

Iowa House Republicans took their own step toward “banana-republic style governance” on April 23, voting for unprecedented restrictions on Attorney General Tom Miller’s ability to make legal decisions.

The bill’s floor manager, State Representative Gary Worthan, admitted his proposal stemmed from political disagreements with Miller, whom Iowans elected to a tenth term last November.

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Where things stand with Republican bills targeting Iowa workers

Republican attacks on working Iowans have received less attention this year than in 2017, when new laws shredded public employee collective bargaining rights, blocked local governments from raising the minimum wage, and reduced workers’ compensation benefits, especially for those who hurt their shoulder on the job.

But below the radar, GOP lawmakers have moved several bills lately that would make life harder for working people, including some facing the difficult circumstances of unemployment or workplace injury.

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