The Iowa court ruling that could stop a Republican gerrymander

Terror gripped many Iowa Democratic hearts when the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency (LSA) announced it would release a second redistricting plan on October 21. Governor Kim Reynolds soon scheduled a legislative session to consider the plan for October 28, the earliest date state law allows.

Democrats had hoped the LSA would spend more time working on its next plan. Iowa Code gives the agency up to 35 days to present a second set of maps. If lawmakers received that proposal in mid-November, Republicans would not be able to consider a third set of maps before the Iowa Supreme Court’s December 1 deadline for finishing redistricting work.

By submitting Plan 2 only sixteen days after Iowa Senate Republicans rejected the first redistricting plan, the LSA ensured that GOP lawmakers could vote down the second proposal and receive a third plan well before December 1. So the third map gerrymander—a scenario Bleeding Heartland has warned about for years—is a live wire.

Nevertheless, I expect Republicans to approve the redistricting plan released last week. The maps give the GOP a shot at winning all four U.S. House districts and an excellent chance to maintain their legislative majorities.

Equally important, state law and a unanimous Iowa Supreme Court precedent constrain how aggressive Republicans could be in any partisan amendment to a third LSA proposal.

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Iowa's new qualified immunity law may not hold up in court

“Iowa’s law enforcement will always have my respect, and I will always have their back,” Governor Kim Reynolds declared while signing Senate File 342 on June 17. Sections 12 through 16 of the wide-ranging policing bill establish a “qualified immunity” standard for Iowa. Effective immediately upon the governor’s signature, state employees or law enforcement officers who violate individuals’ constitutional rights can be sued only if their conduct violated “clearly established” law, such that “every reasonable employee would have understood” the act was illegal.

The provisions were crafted to match decades-old federal qualified immunity standards, and to override an Iowa Supreme Court ruling that was more favorable to Iowans whose rights have been violated by police.

The new law will almost certainly be challenged. And while the conservative majority on the Iowa Supreme Court often defers to other branches of government, the justices may find that Senate File 342’s language on qualified immunity is incompatible with the Iowa Constitution.

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Why Iowa Senate Democrats backed a GOP tax bill

When the Republican-controlled Iowa House and Senate approved large tax cuts in 2018, not a single Democrat voted for the legislation. Critics pointed out that the bill hailed by Governor Kim Reynolds was skewed to provide most of the benefit to wealthy people, with little savings for middle class Iowans.

Much of that bill went into effect immediately, but lawmakers put some portions on hold until 2023, provided that state revenue hit certain targets. In her annual address to legislators in January, Reynolds called for eliminating “the unnecessary triggers that were put in place in 2018,” so all of the tax cuts would go into effect.

Republicans embraced that idea in Senate File 576, which would take out the triggers and phase out Iowa’s inheritance tax by 2024. Democrats didn’t support the bill when the Senate’s tax-writing committee voted on it this month. But a surprise to many observers, including the GOP floor manager Dan Dawson, every senator from both parties voted for Senate File 576 on March 17.

Why did Democrats come around to supporting a bill that is estimated to reduce state revenues by more than $100 million annually, beginning in fiscal year 2023?

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Who's who in the Iowa Senate for 2021

The Iowa Senate convened for its 2021 session on January 11 with 31 Republicans, eighteen Democrats, and one vacancy in the district formerly represented by Mariannette Miller-Meeks. A record twelve senators are women (seven Democrats and five Republicans), up from eleven women in the chamber last year and double the six who served prior to 2018.

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. A few committees have new Republican leaders.

All current state senators are white. 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 chamber, and Iowa’s only Asian-American senator was Swati Dandekar, who resigned in 2011.

Some non-political trivia: the 50 Iowa senators include two Smiths, a Democrat and a Republican. As for first names, there are three Jeffs, three Zachs, and two men each named Craig, Mark, Dan, Jim, and Tim.

UPDATE: Republican Adrian Dickey won the January 26 special election to represent Senate district 41, giving the GOP a 32-18 majority. After he’s sworn in, I’ll note his committee assignments below.

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Sixteen Iowa Senate races to watch, with ratings

Iowans will elect 25 state senators today. Those races have attracted far less attention than this year’s Iowa House races, because Republicans have a lopsided 32-18 majority in the upper chamber and only a 53-47 advantage in the House.

Nevertheless, it’s important to keep an eye on the Senate races, because this year’s outcome will influence Democratic prospects under the new map coming in 2021.

This overview covers five districts where both parties are spending six-figure amounts, seven districts where Republicans spent a significant amount, and four more districts where the results could shed light on political trends in various parts of the state, even though neither Democrats nor Republicans targeted the race.

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Iowa lawmakers had their chance. Now governor should issue voting rights order

“Let them vote! Let them vote!” Black Lives Matter protesters chanted a few minutes after Governor Kim Reynolds signed a police reform bill on June 12. Reynolds did not acknowledge hearing them, continuing to pass out pens to advocates of the legislation, which the Iowa House and Senate had unanimously approved the night before.

The protesters want the governor to sign an executive order automatically restoring voting rights to Iowans who have completed felony sentences. Iowa has the country’s strictest felon voting ban, which disproportionately disenfranchises African Americans. Reynolds has resisted calls to issue an executive order, saying she wants the legislature to approve a state constitutional amendment on felon voting instead.

The Iowa legislature adjourned for the year on June 14 without the constitutional amendment clearing the Senate.

For many thousands of Iowans with felony convictions, an order from Reynolds provides the only path to voting before 2024. She should issue one as soon as possible.

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