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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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2019

The Iowa House opened its 2019 session today with 54 Republicans and 46 Democrats. State Representative Michael Bergan was sworn in for a second term, even though his Democratic opponent Kayla Koether is contesting the outcome. A special committee will consider her complaint in the coming weeks.

The new state representatives include 66 men and 34 women (24 Democrats and ten Republicans, record numbers for both parties).

Four African Americans (Democrats Ako Abdul-Samad, Ruth Ann Gaines, Ras Smith, and Phyllis Thede) will serve in the legislature’s lower chamber; the other 96 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), and Charles (a Chuck and a Charlie).

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Iowa Republicans left many Democratic lawmakers unchallenged

The Republican Party is not fielding a candidate in more than two dozen Democratic-controlled Iowa House or Senate districts, while Democrats have left only seven GOP-held legislative seats uncontested. The disparity in party strategies is a departure from the last midterm election, when each party failed to nominate a candidate in more than two dozen state House districts alone.

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Democrats will get outspent in Iowa House races again. Here's why

Democrats have opportunities to make big gains in the Iowa House this year. Thirteen of the 59 Republican-held seats in the lower chamber are open. A number of Democratic challengers have done well on fundraising, in some cases even out-raising the GOP incumbents in their districts. The past year’s special elections for Iowa House seats suggest that Democratic turnout may be much higher than the level seen in Iowa’s last two midterms, thanks to extreme laws enacted by statehouse Republicans and an unpopular president in Washington.

But winning a state legislative race often requires more than a favorable political environment. Bleeding Heartland observed in February that “the latest set of campaign financial disclosures reveal little sense of urgency among Democratic incumbents who could do much more to help others win competitive districts this November.”

Unfortunately, the latest fundraising numbers tell the same old story.

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Dems contesting far more Iowa House, Senate seats than in 2010 or 2014

Democrats are fielding a nearly full slate of Iowa House and Senate candidates this year, leaving far fewer GOP-held seats unchallenged than in the last two midterm elections.

The improvement is particularly noticeable in the Iowa House, where Republicans have an unusually large number of open seats to defend. Twelve of the 59 GOP state representatives are retiring, and a thirteenth seat (House district 43) is open due to Majority Leader Chris Hagenow’s move to safer Republican territory in Dallas County.

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No magical economic boom will make Iowa GOP's tax cuts affordable

Iowa Senate Republicans are barreling ahead to debate a regressive tax plan that would reduce state revenues by 10 to 15 percent within five years. Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Randy Feenstra, lead author of Senate File 2383, continued to describe his proposal as “bold, pro-growth tax relief” after a non-partisan analysis projected massive revenue losses.

Meanwhile, newly-released records show that in communications with other GOP senators, Feenstra greatly understated the cost of an earlier draft of his tax proposal. The documents don’t indicate whether the head of Senate’s tax-writing committee misunderstood numbers provided by the Iowa Department of Revenue or misrepresented them to downplay the price tag. (Feenstra has not responded to my inquiry.)

What is clear: the Department of Revenue never predicted that deeply cutting taxes would produce “excess” economic growth. Which isn’t surprising, since no economic boom materialized in states like Kansas and Louisiana after Republicans destroyed those states’ ability to pay for essential services.

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