Anti-abortion constitutional amendment clears first Iowa House hurdle

Iowa Republicans have enacted most of their legislative agenda with little trouble during the past four years of full control of state government. But a few priorities eluded them, including a constitutional amendment that would pave the way for future abortion bans. Unable to find 51 votes in the state House for that measure last year, the GOP settled for mandating a 24-hour waiting period before all abortions.

The 2020 elections increased the GOP’s majority in the lower chamber from 53-47 to 59-41. Republicans didn’t waste time returning to unfinished business: a new version of the attack on reproductive rights cleared an Iowa House Judiciary subcommittee on January 19.

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2021

The Iowa House opened its 2021 session on January 11 with 59 Republicans and 41 Democrats, a big improvement for the GOP from last year’s 53-47 split.

The House members include 69 men and 31 women (21 Democrats and ten Republicans), down from a record 34 women in 2019 and 33 women last year.

Six African Americans (Democrats Ako Abdul-Samad, Ruth Ann Gaines, Ras Smith, Phyllis Thede, and Ross Wilburn, and Republican Eddie Andrews) will serve in the legislature’s lower chamber. Republican Mark Cisneros is the first Latino elected to the Iowa legislature, and Republican Henry Stone is only the second Asian American to serve in the House. The other 92 state representatives are white.

Democrat Liz Bennett is the only out LGBTQ member of the Iowa House. To my knowledge, Abdul-Samad (who is Muslim) is the only lawmaker in either chamber to practice a religion other than Christianity.

I’ve posted details below 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 changes since last year.

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Iowa Senate Republicans advance plan to ban abortion

Republicans on the Iowa Senate State Government Committee have approved a proposed constitutional amendment that could eventually clear the way for a total ban on abortion.

Senate Joint Resolution 21 would add language to the Iowa Constitution clarifying that the document “shall not be construed to recognize, grant, or secure a right to abortion or to require the public funding of abortion.”

An earlier version cleared the Senate State Government Committee in March 2019. But for reasons they never explained publicly, Republican leaders did not bring the measure to the Senate floor during last year’s legislative session.

Governor Kim Reynolds urged lawmakers to act on this issue in her Condition of the State address earlier this month: “We must protect life by making clear, through an amendment, that our constitution does not grant a right to abortion.”

The goal is to make all future abortion restrictions immune from court challenges.

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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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Five stories: How Iowa's new abortion law will torment and endanger women

Women in Iowa have almost no options for terminating a pregnancy after 20 weeks, under a law former Governor Terry Branstad signed a few weeks ago. Proponents have claimed the measure would “save lives immediately.”

In reality, the law will cause more pregnant women to have life-threatening health problems, and will add to the suffering of parents whose babies have no chance of survival.

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Republican budget would eliminate Iowa Flood Center

UPDATE: The House Appropriations Committee restored about $1.2 million of this funding on April 12. Added more details below.

The Republican education budget proposal would eliminate $1.5 million in state funding for the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa. According to an e-mail from Professors Witold Krajewski and Larry J. Weber, enclosed in full below, the cut “will have a devastating impact on the Flood Center’s ability to continue to provide flood prevention and real-time flood support to communities, businesses, emergency managers, public works professionals and citizens.”

In addition to ending the Iowa Flood Information System, zeroing out the flood center’s budget would “jeopardize Iowa’s $96 million dollar federal Iowa Watershed Approach HUD [Housing and Urban Development] grant and the Center’s ability to continue to implement projects in nine Iowa watersheds.”

Republican lawmakers have been negotiating behind closed doors on appropriations bills that will likely be approved in quick succession during the next two weeks.

Although the education appropriations bill has not been published, to my knowledge, the Education Appropriations Subcommittee is scheduled to meet today at 2:00 pm to discuss (and probably approve) the GOP-agreed budget numbers. Iowans should urgently contact Republicans who serve on that subcommittee: State Senators Tim Kraayenbrink (chair), Craig Johnson (vice chair), and Jason Schultz, and State Representatives Cecil Dolecheck (chair), Tom Moore (vice chair), Dean Fisher, Gary Mohr, and Walt Rogers. UPDATE: Barbara Rodriguez of the Associated Press published photos of the proposed education budget: page 1, page 2, and page 3.

Iowa lawmakers created the country’s “first academic center devoted to the study of floods” in 2009, following the previous year’s devastating natural disaster.

The IFC is now actively engaged in flood projects in several Iowa communities and employs several graduate and undergraduate students participating in flood-related research. IFC researchers have designed a cost-efficient sensor network to better monitor stream flow in the state; have developed a library of flood-inundation maps for several Iowa communities; and are working on a large project to develop new floodplain map for 85 of Iowa’s 99 counties.

UPDATE: A number of readers have speculated that Republicans may want to shut down the flood center to disrupt a major watersheds project, which might influence public discourse on land-use policies or climate-change impacts in Iowa.

Also, I learned this morning that Democratic State Senator Joe Bolkcom is the outreach and community education director for the flood center, as well as doing the same work for the University of Iowa’s Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research. Bolkcom is the ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee and has been a relentless critic of GOP budget policies this year.

SECOND UPDATE: GOP State Representative David Maxwell copied me on his e-mail to Professor Larry Weber, saying, “Not all of us are in favor of defunding the Iowa Flood Center. I will not have the final say, but I will make my thoughts known to someone who will have an effect on the bill.” Keep contacting House and Senate Republicans. A reader told me that bringing up the threat to Iowa’s $96 million dollar federal HUD grant may be a particularly effective talking point.

THIRD UPDATE: O.Kay Henderson reported for Radio Iowa,

During an interview with reporters on Tuesday, Dolecheck said if the University of Iowa wants to keep the Iowa Flood Center open, administrators can shift funds from elsewhere in the university’s operating budget.

Larry Weber of the Iowa Flood Center said the center provided invaluable projections for Iowans who were bracing for flooding last year. “We shut down a Google Map server because the traffic to the Iowa Flood Center was so intense during the run-up of the crest of the flood coming to Cedar Rapids,” he said, “so many people using that data wanting to see what the extent of the inundated would be, what the water depth on their property would be.”

FOURTH UPDATE: Brianne Pfannenstiel reported for the Des Moines Register, “The House Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment Wednesday that would restore $1.2 million for the program by transferring $250,000 away from a National Guard educational assistance program and transferring another $950,000 out of general aid to the University of Iowa. […] Dolecheck, who is co-chair of the subcommittee that oversees the education budget proposal, said the Senate already is on board with the amendment and plans to adopt it.”

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