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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Diversity lacking on Iowa Democrats' new governing body

Both major parties held district conventions on April 28. One encouraging sign from the Iowa Democratic Party’s proceedings: activists are much more energized this year than usual. Every delegate slot was filled in all four Congressional districts. Quite a few alternates (including myself) did not receive credentials. According to former State Senator Jack Hatch, it was only the second time in 40 years that an IA-03 district convention “packed a full slate of delegates.” State party chair Troy Price observed in a Facebook post, “Typically, in a non-Presidential year it is a struggle to reach quorum, and this year we had more people than spots available.”

All of the district convention delegates elected at county conventions in March are automatically delegates for the state conventions in June. So the main order of business yesterday was choosing members of each party’s State Central Committee.

Both Democrats and Republicans will have lots of new faces on their governing bodies. But Democrats mostly missed an opportunity to elect leaders who reflect the diversity of the party’s base.

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Save the Iowa State Historic Tax Credit

Adapted from a post Tanya Keith wrote for Hat Trick Renovation, the blog for her company, where she works to restore historic houses in the urban core of Des Moines. -promoted by desmoinesdem

The current version of the Iowa Senate tax bill would reduce the Iowa State Historic Tax Credit from $45 million to $35 million, starting next fiscal year, and repeal the tax credit in 2025. That would be a huge loss for neighborhoods and main streets in Iowa. Many of our projects at Hat Trick Renovation are only viable because of state historic tax credits. Often older buildings need so much work, it can cost more to restore them than the building will eventually be worth. However, once restored, these buildings become beautiful, irreplaceable structures that will last far longer than modern day construction.

Not only are tax credits a vital part of our work in saving historic buildings in Des Moines, they are also good for the financial health of our state.

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Heartbeat bill advances where personhood failed

The Iowa Senate Judiciary Committee has advanced a bill that would ban nearly all abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Senate Study Bill 3143 is the most extreme anti-abortion bill to clear an Iowa legislative committee in decades. Any physician terminating a pregnancy in the absence of a “medical emergency”–narrowly defined to include only life-threatening conditions–could be charged with a class D felony. All eight Republicans on the panel voted for the legislation, while all five Democrats opposed it. Committee approval on February 12 keeps the bill alive for at least another month, until the second “funnel” deadline on March 16.

Less than a year ago, Senate Judiciary Chair Brad Zaun was disappointed not to have the votes on his committee to advance a “personhood” bill, which declared that life would be protected from the moment of conception. The same eight Republicans who supported the heartbeat bill this week served on Judiciary during the 2017 session.

Which minds changed is not clear, nor is it apparent whether the bill will gain final approval in either chamber. Not every bill that comes out of committee receives a vote in the full Senate. Republican leaders blocked an effort to force a floor vote on personhood last year.

However, the shift among at least two Republicans on Judiciary suggests that GOP leaders may feel pressure to fire up the social conservative base.

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Who's who in the Iowa Senate for 2018

The Iowa Senate begins work today with 29 Republicans, 20 Democrats, and one independent, former Republican David Johnson.

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 noted changes since last year’s legislative session.

Just six senators are women (five Democrats and a Republican), down from ten women serving in the chamber in 2013 and 2014 and seven during 2015 and 2016. All current 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 to join the Senate. No Asian-American has served in the state Senate since Swati Dandekar resigned in 2011.

Some non-political trivia: the 50 Iowa senators include two with the surname Johnson, four Marks, and two men each named Bill, Richard (Rich and Rick), Robert (a Rob and a Bob), Dan, Jim, Tim, Tom, Jeff, and Charles (one goes by Chaz).

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