# Iowa ABI



Why did so many Democrats vote for Iowa's COVID-19 vaccine law?

Governor Kim Reynolds was “proud” to sign a bill designed to make it easier for Iowans to get around COVID-19 vaccination mandates in the workplace. State Representative Henry Stone, who floor managed the bill in the House, said Republicans worked on this legislation for months, seeking ways to lessen the impact of the Biden administration’s expected rules requiring large employers to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations or frequent testing of employees.

Democrats had no input on the proposal and did not see the bill text until hours before lawmakers debated House File 902 on October 28. Nevertheless, both chambers approved the bill by surprisingly large margins: 68 votes to 27 in the House and 45 votes to 4 in the Senate.

Why did so many Democrats vote for a bill that one supporter described as “a joke” during debate?

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Waterloo's "ban the box" ordinance survives in part—for now

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled on June 18 that part of the city of Waterloo’s “ban the box” ordinance can remain in effect despite a 2017 law prohibiting local governments from regulating “terms or conditions of employment.”

The city adopted the ordinance in November 2019 to address economic racial disparities. Because African Americans are more likely to have a criminal record, they are adversely affected by job applications that require a person to note whether they have ever been arrested or convicted of a crime.

Under Waterloo’s ordinance, employers may not inquire about past convictions, arrests, or pending criminal charges “during the application process,” but may do so after extending “a conditional offer of employment.” The court found that was allowed, because it regulates only “the time when an employer can inquire into a prospective employee’s criminal history,” which is not “a term or condition of employment.”

However, the Iowa Supreme Court held that state law preempts other portions of Waterloo’s ordinance, which prohibit employers from making an “adverse hiring decision” based on an applicant’s criminal history.

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Where things stand with Republican bills targeting Iowa workers

Republican attacks on working Iowans have received less attention this year than in 2017, when new laws shredded public employee collective bargaining rights, blocked local governments from raising the minimum wage, and reduced workers’ compensation benefits, especially for those who hurt their shoulder on the job.

But below the radar, GOP lawmakers have moved several bills lately that would make life harder for working people, including some facing the difficult circumstances of unemployment or workplace injury.

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MidAmerican's bid to crush small solar creates strange lobbying bedfellows

MidAmerican Energy’s effort to crush small-scale solar generation made it through the Iowa legislature’s first “funnel” and will be eligible for floor debate in both chambers. The House Commerce Committee on March 4 approved House Study Bill 185 (now renamed House File 669) without amendment on a party-line 12 to 10 vote. The Senate Commerce Committee amended the companion Senate Study Bill 1201 before advancing it on March 7.

The bill will likely pass the upper chamber, where Republicans have a 32 to 17 majority. Although Republicans outnumber Democrats by 54 to 46 in the House, and MidAmerican’s political action committee donated to dozens of incumbents’ campaigns last year, getting the solar bill through the lower chamber will be no easy task. A utility-backed bill to undercut energy efficiency programs was one of the heaviest lifts during the 2018 session. Only after several concessions did supporters cobble together 52 Republican votes in the House. The GOP held 59 seats at that time.

More than three dozen corporations, industry groups, or advocacy organizations have lobbyists registered for or against MidAmerican’s solar bill. While it’s not unusual for a high-profile bill to draw that kind of attention, the two camps seeking to persuade legislators on this issue reflect alliances rarely seen at the statehouse.

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A rare victory for Iowa water quality

Following a public outcry, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has abandoned an effort to weaken the state’s E. coli water quality standards.

Officials had designed the change with the explicit goal of reducing the number of Iowa waterways deemed impaired. Environmental advocates had warned public health would suffer if the DNR assessed waterways based on average readings of E. coli levels, rather than the highest single measurement of the bacteria.

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Peter Cownie won't say who suggested worst workers' comp proposals

The Iowa House has already approved and the Senate will consider today the most sweeping changes to our workers’ compensation system in decades. The legislation would disadvantage injured workers in many ways. Three points in the initial Republican proposal have drawn the most intense criticism from employee advocates who spoke to journalists, published commentaries, testified at a public hearing, or reached out directly to state lawmakers:

• Shifting the burden of proof by forcing employees filing a claim to show workplace activity was the “predominant” factor in an injury;

• Cutting off benefits for most injuries at age 67, which would discriminate against older workers; and

• Classifying shoulder injuries as “scheduled member” rather than “body as a whole” injuries, language seen as a gift to meatpacking companies because it would “drastically” reduce benefits.

Those provisions were so widely acknowledged to be unjust that Republicans amended them before passing House File 518. GOP State Senator Charles Schneider has said he and other colleagues favor changing the same three sections of the Senate version.

How did such cruel ideas come before the legislature to begin with? Hoping to find out, I turned to State Representative Peter Cownie, who introduced the workers’ compensation bill in his capacity as House Commerce Committee chair.

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