2019 Iowa legislative recap: Constitutional amendments

Bleeding Heartland continues to catch up on the legislature’s significant actions during the session that ended on April 27. Previous posts related to the work of the Iowa House or Senate can be found here.

Republicans showed little interest in amending the Iowa Constitution during the 2019 session. Only one amendment passed both chambers. If and when that proposal appears on a statewide ballot, it will spark a costly and divisive campaign about gun rights and regulations.

The Senate and House debate over the pro-gun amendment is the focus of the first half of this post. Arguments raised on both sides will surely return in future television commercials and mass mailings.

The rest of the post reviews this year’s unsuccessful attempts to change the constitution. One amendment (backed by Governor Kim Reynolds) made it through the Iowa House, and four others advanced from a House or Senate committee but did not come up for a floor vote. The rest did not get through a committee, even though some of the same ideas went further last year.

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ISU president didn't follow university policy on transporting firearms

Since late September, Iowa State University President Steven Leath has repeatedly asserted that his use of ISU’s two airplanes was consistent with university policies.

Multiple audits and perhaps a criminal investigation will shed light on whether Leath violated ISU policy (and state law) on personal use of university property. Questionable flights include several unexplained trips to the city where the Mayo Clinic is located, stops at a New York airport to pick up and drop off Leath’s relatives, a trip to Kansas City after ISU had been eliminated from the Big 12 basketball tournament, and numerous visits to the town where Leath owns a home. On one of those trips, ISU’s plane was on the ground in North Carolina for only 37 minutes before returning to Ames.

Whatever conclusion investigators reach regarding Leath’s use of the airplanes, one fact is clear: the president has not complied with university policy on transporting weapons when using ISU’s Flight Service for various hunting trips.

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Weekend open thread, with Iowa nature links

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread.

I have several posts in progress about the 2014 elections and looking ahead to next year’s legislative session and even the campaigns of 2016. But for today, I wanted to share some nature links.

Good news: Iowa’s pheasant numbers “have rebounded to a six-year high,” according to a roadside survey the Iowa Department of Natural Resources conducted in August.

Hunting season is in full swing. The non-profit Save our Avian Resources has compiled a good list of lead-free bullets and ammunition for hunters. Toxic bullet fragments left in gut piles are a major threat to predatory birds including eagles.

I learned via Radio Iowa that the Iowa DNR has added more content on its website about large mammals in Iowa, including black bears, gray wolf, mountain lion and even moose (rarely seen this far south). This page on the DNR’s website is a great resource for all kinds of information about animals indigenous to Iowa.

Bad news: for most of this fall, nitrogen levels in the Raccoon River have remained above the standard for drinking water. Along with the Des Moines river, the Raccoon River is a major source of drinking water for more than a half-million central Iowa residents.

Bleeding Heartland’s Iowa wildflower Wednesday series is on hiatus until the spring (you can view the archive here). Guest diaries featuring Iowa nature photography are welcome any time of the year.

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A Little Vietnam in Dallas County

(Terrifying comment on the lack of basic safety awareness among some Iowa gun enthusiasts. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Yesterday I conducted a wetlands delineation for the Iowa DNR at Pleasant Valley Wildlife Area, along the South Raccoon between Adel and Redfield. Among the highlights: a good plant list that included a new sedge species, Carex oligocarpa; numerous butterflies, including Tiger and Black Swallowtails, American Lady, Spring Azure, Eastern Comma, and Red Admiral; experience with riparian soils; and overall a good day.

The most memorable part came in the last 15 minutes. Four 20-something year-olds noisily stopped about 450 feet away on the old canoe access road and began making sounds that could have been firecrackers. When the first clear rifle report came, I knew that this was no mere Independence Day warm-up. At least two bullets hit within 100 yards of me and a third whizzed overhead as I crouched behind a low dirt pile.

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Weekend open thread: Iowa wildlife edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread.

As a major cold front and a dusting of snow covered much of Iowa in recent days, birds have been relying more on feeders. I’ve refilled ours every two or three days instead of once every ten days to two weeks. Now would be a excellent time to put out thistle seed for finches or any feeder containing a mix of birdseed.

November is the peak time for deer-vehicle collisions. The other day I was on a two-lane highway near dusk and saw a doe dart across the road, narrowly escaping a deadly encounter with trucks traveling in both directions. Of course, I thought immediately of Senator Chuck Grassley.

Pheasant season opened in late October, but bird numbers are down significantly, due to weather conditions and habitat loss. The trendlines are even worse in South Dakota.

Via the Next City blog, I saw an amazing map of the “United Watershed States of America.” Land use planner John Lavey created the map after wondering, “What if all the states were configured around principal watersheds?” In Lavey’s map, “Iowa” consists of areas feeding into the Mississippi River. Western parts of our state that feed into the Missouri River are part of “Missouri” on the map.

Speaking of watersheds, the Raccoon River Watershed Association is selling a beautiful 2014 calendar as a fundraiser ($18 per calendar or $15 each if you order at least ten). Many calendars include lovely Iowa nature photos, but to my knowledge, only this one contains detailed information about Iowa phenology. Dr. Lee Searles created the calendar with birders, native plant lovers and nature enthusiasts in mind. For instance, it notes that early warblers usually start arriving on April 8. Yellow coneflower starts opening around July 3. Northern Goshawks start to come down the Raccoon River around September 15. UPDATE: Here’s a link to the calendars.

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