# Iowa House



Governor's summer meal grants amount to "crumbs for Iowa kids"

Free summer meal provided by the Cedar Rapids Community School District in June 2023. Photo originally published on the school district’s Facebook page.

Governor Kim Reynolds asked state legislators this year to “join me in making literacy a top priority in every Iowa classroom.”

Judging by her approach to feeding hungry kids, the governor appears to lack basic numeracy skills.

On April 10, the governor’s office and Iowa Department of Education announced “$900,000 in competitive grants to help more Iowa children and teens access nutritious meals and snacks during the summer months.” Those federal funds, which Reynolds is drawing from the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan, may help a few thousand more kids receive food while school is out.

But in December, Reynolds turned down $29 million in federal funding—more than 30 times the value of the new grants. Those funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program would have provided food assistance worth $120 to each of an estimated 240,000 Iowa children who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches.

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Want stronger CAFO regulations? Then stop Senate File 2370

Downstream of the Dunning’s Spring waterfall in Decorah; photo by Ralf Broskvar, available via Shutterstock.

Diane Rosenberg is executive director of Jefferson County Farmers & Neighbors, where this commentary first appeared.

Given Iowa’s 721 polluted waterways, it’s clear current factory farm rules and regulations don’t adequately safeguard water quality or public health. Stronger regulations on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are needed to protect water quality from worsening.

Yet a section of Senate File 2370—passed by the Senate along party lines and now pending in the Iowa House—would permanently prohibit the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) from strengthening CAFO regulations. The bill, which Governor Kim Reynolds’ office introduced, would codify the governor’s Executive Order Number 10, issued last year. That order required every state agency to conduct a comprehensive overhaul of the Iowa Administrative Code in order to promote private sector development.

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This AEA direct service provider has many unanswered questions

Photo of speech therapist working with child is by Ground Picture, available via Shutterstock

Kerri Schwemm has been employed as an AEA speech-language pathologist for 27 years. After the Iowa House approved the final version of the AEA bill, but before that version came to a vote in the Iowa Senate, she posed the questions enclosed below in bold to state legislators who represent portions of the Southeast Polk school district, where she lives and works: Republican State Representatives Jon Dunwell, Barb Kniff McCulla, Bill Gustoff, and Brian Lohse, and Republican State Senators Jack Whitver and Ken Rozenboom. She also posted her questions on the social media feeds of some GOP lawmakers who were involved in negotiating the AEA bill: State Representatives Skyler Wheeler and Chad Ingels, and State Senator Lynn Evans.

Continuous improvement, change, reform. Whatever you want to call it, it’s been part of the educational landscape forever. In fact, for the 27 years I’ve worked for the Area Education Agencies (AEA) system, I have seen this system continuously improve, change, and reform their practice. These necessary components of education happen through a process of evidence gathering, collaborative input, and thoughtful decision making.

Key state legislators who worked on the AEA bill gathered some evidence and received lots of public feedback, but thoughtful decision-making was lacking. For any of them to claim nothing will change with AEA services reflects ignorance.

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"Take time to read this bill": House Dem flagged AEA funding "oversight"

Barely a week after Governor Kim Reynolds signed an overhaul of Iowa’s Area Education Agencies, House Republicans are looking for ways to change the law’s provisions on media and education services funding, State Representative Brent Siegrist confirmed on April 4.

Siegrist was among the House Republicans who worked closely on House File 2612, having previously served as executive director of the AEA system. He described the language giving school districts the ability to divert funding from media and education services as “just an oversight.”

He and his colleagues should have listened more carefully during the March 21 debate. Democratic State Representative Sharon Steckman flagged this very problem, despite having little time to review the 49-page amendment Republicans rushed to pass.

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Davenport leaders need to put down their shovels

Screenshot from KWQC’s video of the Iowa House Government Oversight Committee’s March 27 meeting. Randy Evans is speaking from the right side of the far end of the table.

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

City officials in Davenport have managed to accomplish the impossible this year: They have gotten Republicans and Democrats in the state legislature to agree on something.

The two parties have bickered over topics like changes to the Area Education Agencies, liability protection for farm chemical manufacturers, removing gender balance requirements for state boards, and providing state tax money to arm teachers.

But the D’s and R’s came together in the House in February, voting 92-2 to increase the penalties for government officials who violate Iowa’s open meetings law. The bill, House File 2539, also requires a judge to remove a member of a government board who has twice violated the meetings law.

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Why this school psychologist is leaving Iowa

Amy Endle began her career in Iowa and has been a school psychologist with an Area Education Agency since 2012. She emailed the message enclosed below to all members of the Iowa House and Senate on March 23.

Dear Iowa Legislators 

I hope this message finds you well. I am writing to inform you of my family’s difficult decision to leave Iowa after 12 years of residency and return to our native Wisconsin. I have proudly served Iowa children, parents, and schools as a school psychologist since moving to Iowa in 2012. 

This decision was not made lightly and is driven by concerns directly impacting our livelihood and the educational future of our 3 children. The core reason for our departure stems from the increasing insecurity surrounding the sustainability of a gutted Area Education Agency (AEA) system. The knee-jerk decisions passed by legislators more interested in pleasing the governor than serving children in Iowa have not only affected the professional stability of highly trained education specialists, but have also cast a shadow over my family’s future in Iowa.

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Iowa House Democrats strangely quiet on eminent domain bill

Protester’s sign against a pillar in the state capitol on February 27 (photo by Laura Belin)

What’s the opposite of “loud and proud”?

Iowa House Democrats unanimously voted for the chamber’s latest attempt to address the concerns of landowners along the path of Summit Carbon Solutions’ proposed CO2 pipeline. But not a single Democrat spoke during the March 28 floor debate.

The unusual tactic allowed the bill’s Republican advocates to take full credit for defending property rights against powerful corporate interests—an extremely popular position.

It was a missed opportunity to share a Democratic vision for fair land use policies and acknowledge the progressive constituencies that oppose the pipeline for various reasons.

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A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com    

There’s a beloved children’s book titled, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Alexander wakes up with gum in his hair, and it gets worse from there. 

After Governor Kim Reynolds’ Condition of the State speech on January 9, Area Education Agencies woke up with gum in their hair and it became a “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year.”

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Iowa House GOP's "big wins" won't avert big problems for AEAs

Representative Skyler Wheeler floor manages the AEA bill on March 21 (photo by Laura Belin)

Iowa House leaders attempted to wrap up work last week on the thorniest issue of the 2024 session: overhauling the Area Education Agencies (AEAs) to comply with Governor Kim Reynolds’ demand for “transformational change.” Less than three hours after a 49-page amendment appeared on the legislature’s website on March 21, the majority party cut off debate and approved a new version of House File 2612 by 51 votes to 43.

State Representative Skyler Wheeler hailed many provisions of the revised AEA bill as “wins” for House Republicans during the floor debate. House Speaker Pat Grassley likewise celebrated “big wins in this legislation” in the March 22 edition of his email newsletter.

Nine Republicans—Eddie Andrews, Mark Cisneros, Zach Dieken, Martin Graber, Tom Jeneary, Brian Lohse, Gary Mohr, Ray Sorensen, and Charley Thomson—didn’t buy into the official narrative and voted with Democrats against the bill.

I doubt any of them will regret that choice. If House File 2612 becomes law, it could irreparably harm the AEAs’ ability to provide a full range of services to children, families, educators, and schools.

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It's time for GOP politicians to stop ripping off Iowa taxpayers

Former State Senator Joe Bolkcom served on the Senate Ways and Means Committee for 24 years, including ten years as chair.

For the past eight years, Iowa taxpayers have been victims of a political scheme to collect our hard-earned taxes for services we never received.

Instead of investing our money in priorities to make Iowans stronger and more prosperous, Governor Kim Reynolds and our Republican-controlled legislature have hoarded our tax dollars into a colossal $5.5 billion surplus to redistribute to their favorite fat cat donors and special interest pals.

In a normal, functioning democracy, citizens expect their taxes will be spent to make their lives better. In Iowa, that should include adequately funding our local public schools; more inspectors to make sure our nursing homes are safe for seniors; better maintained state parks; more mental health, alcohol and drug treatment in all 99 counties; affordable colleges and universities; safer roads and prisons; improved maternal health; and serious efforts to clean up our polluted lakes and rivers.

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No, the feds are not threatening to take over special education in Iowa

State Senator Lynn Evans speaks in the Iowa Senate on March 18.

David Tilly is a former deputy director of the Iowa Department of Education. He emailed this message to all 150 Iowa legislators on March 20. His previous messages to lawmakers about proposed changes to Area Education Agencies are available here, here, and here.

Open letter to Iowa Legislators:

I am David Tilly. I was Deputy Director at the Iowa Department of Education between 2012 and 2020. I oversaw the Division of PK-12, which encompasses special education responsibility and oversight in Iowa. I am writing today to address a rumor that appears to be circulating about the AEA bills. Specifically that the Iowa Department of Education must be given both more authority and more compliance resources over special education or the “feds” might come in and “take us over.” This statement is patently false. That is not how Federal Special Education Monitoring of states works. The Iowa Department of Education currently has all of the monetary resources and authority necessary to effectively monitor special education in Iowa.

Please excuse the long-detailed email, but it’s important to set the record straight.

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Iowa superintendents sound alarm about AEA changes

Superintendents from more than 30 Iowa school districts warned state legislators on March 17 that major changes to Area Education Agencies (AEAs) “will have grave consequences for the students we serve.”

In a message enclosed in full below and available here (pdf), the superintendents told lawmakers they “are deeply concerned about the proposed changes to the AEAs, especially the shift towards a ‘Fee-for-Service’ approach.” They highlighted the value of the existing AEA model, particularly for rural school districts that “rely heavily on AEAs for critical support.”

Caleb Bonjour, superintendent of the Gladbrook-Reinbeck Community School District, told lawmakers that those who signed are a “non-comprehensive list of superintendents” opposing legislation “that could drastically affect our Area Education Agencies.” Gladbrook-Reinbeck covers some rural areas in Black Hawk, Grundy, and Marshall counties.

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Iowa House and Senate Republicans are not on the same page

Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley (left) and Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver speak to members of the media on March 14 (photos by Laura Belin)

If you didn’t know Iowa was in the eighth year of a Republican trifecta, you might be forgiven for thinking different parties controlled the state House and Senate after watching the past week’s action.

Dozens of bills approved by one chamber failed to clear the legislature’s second “funnel” deadline on March 15. While it’s typical for some legislation to die in committee after passing one chamber, the 2024 casualties include several high-profile bills.

The chambers remain far apart on education policy, with no agreement in sight on overhauling the Area Education Agencies, which is a top priority for Governor Kim Reynolds. The legislature is more than a month late to agree on state funding per pupil for K-12 schools, which by law should have happened by February 8 (30 days after Reynolds submitted her proposed budget). The Senate Education Committee did not even convene subcommittees on a few bills House Republicans strongly supported.

House Speaker Pat Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver struck an upbeat tone when speaking to journalists on March 14. Both emphasized their ongoing conversations and opportunities for Republicans to reach agreement in the coming weeks.

But it was clear that Grassley and Whitver have very different ideas about how the legislature should approach its work.

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Iowa governor's 2024 legislative agenda in limbo

State legislators escort Governor Kim Reynolds into the Iowa House chamber on January 9, 2024. Photo by Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Des Moines Register (pool).

Governor Kim Reynolds had every reason to be confident about her legislative plans this year. Republican lawmakers approved most of her priorities in 2023, including some that had previously stalled in the Iowa House, such as a “school choice” plan and damage caps for medical malpractice awards.

Ten weeks into the 2024 legislative session, only two policies the governor requested have made it through both chambers. Nearly a dozen other bills still have a chance to reach her desk with few changes.

But Reynolds’ top priority—downgrading the Area Education Agencies (AEAs) and centralizing power over special education in her administration—will be dramatically scaled back, if it passes at all.

Three bills the governor introduced and promoted in public remarks or on social media are almost certainly dead for the year. Those include her effort to enshrine “separate but equal” treatment of LGBTQ Iowans.

Leaders moved several of Reynolds’ bills to the “unfinished business” calendar in one or both chambers on March 14, keeping them eligible for floor debate despite missing an important legislative deadline. The rest of the governor’s proposals involve taxes or spending, and are therefore “funnel-proof.”

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Let Iowans with disabilities Work Without Worry

Supporters of the Work Without Worry bill lobby at the state capitol on March 12. From left: Derek Fike, State Representative Josh Turek, Jordan True, Julie Russell-Steuart, and Jen Sinkler.

Jordan True chairs the Iowa Democratic Party’s Disability Caucus. He emailed the message enclosed below to Republican members of the Iowa House Appropriations Committee on March 13.

Honorable Representatives of the House Appropriations Committee,

Please support appropriations for HF 2589 Work Without Worry by asking Chair Gary Mohr to assign to a subcommittee and schedule a vote as soon as possible in the Appropriations Committee. Although this bill has survived the funnel, please help employed people with disabilities get this through appropriations, through the House, and onto the Senate by the end of March. 

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Opposing ranked choice voting is undemocratic

Sample ballot used in Maine (which has a ranked choice voting system) in 2018

Jason Benell lives in Des Moines with his wife and two children. He is a combat veteran, former city council candidate, and president of Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers.

Ranked choice voting should be the bare minimum for a society interested in the most representative and responsive government. It is extremely frustrating to see Iowa Republican legislative leaders work against a more balanced and representative approach to democracy by banning ranked choice voting as part of the election bill numbered House File 2610 and Senate File 2380.

Opponents of ranked choice voting never give any reason or provide any citation supporting their position. It simply reflects a commitment to “the way its always been done,” along with fear mongering about some amorphous specter of fraud—even though the method of counting votes has nothing to do with fraud or misrepresentation. 

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Immigration extremists rule red states

Gerald Ott of Ankeny was a high school English teacher and for 30 years a school improvement consultant for the Iowa State Education Association.

Well, well. The 2024 State of the Union is behind us. As I expected, President Joe Biden was ready and roaring to enter the fray. He tackled his opponent in the proverbial end zone and brushed aside MAGA supporters as if they were linebackers on a junior high school squad. As expected, the southern border was center stage, amidst a gazillion other gigantic topics.

Given that most Americans thought Biden would slump into a stupor while standing behind the podium, they must have been astounded that exactly the opposite happened. Vice President Kamala Harris seemed thrilled, smiling and clapping like a cheerleader at a National Championship Game. U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson looked puzzled and confused, turning from glum to dispirited to angry with each tick of the clock.

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Iowa Republican misleads about bill threatening IVF

As the Iowa Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on the near-total abortion ban Republicans enacted last year, state House and Senate Republicans are advancing several bills to further their anti-abortion agenda. The latest example is House File 2575, which rewrites the criminal statute on causing a non-consensual pregnancy loss. House members approved the bill on March 7, voting mostly along party lines.

Republican State Representative Skyler Wheeler denied during Iowa House debate that what he called a “fetal homicide” bill could jeopardize the legality of in vitro fertilization (IVF). He either doesn’t understand the plain meaning of the legislation he floor managed, or was trying to mislead the public about its potential impact.

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Educators don't need guns

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com    

Educators need a lot of things. They need adequate on time school funding, parental support, dedicated school boards, administrators who’ll back them, copy paper, supplies, adequate preparation time, professional pay, positive working conditions, technology, and a legislature who supports public schools and doesn’t interfere with real teaching and learning.

They don’t need guns.

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Whip count fail: Iowa House leaders suffer defeat on stormwater bill

Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley confers with Majority Leader Matt Windschitl on March 6 as votes for a bill limiting local government authority stall at 49.

For the second time in three years, a bill backed by top Iowa House Republicans failed to gain the 51 votes needed on the House floor. Senate File 455, which would restrict local government authority to regulate topsoil and stormwater, topped out at 49 votes in favor during floor debate on March 6. By the time the clerk closed the machine a few minutes later, yes votes had dropped to 44.

Such events are rare in any legislature, because leaders typically don’t bring a bill to the floor unless they know it will pass. No bill favored by the majority has failed an Iowa Senate floor vote for many years.

The last time Iowa House GOP leaders lost a floor vote was in March 2022, on an amendment that combined liability protection for trucking companies with limits on private employers requiring employees or customers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Republicans had a 60-40 majority at that time; the GOP advantage in the chamber has since grown to 64-36.

Majority Leader Matt Windschitl quickly filed a motion to reconsider Senate File 455, indicating leaders plan to call another vote on the bill soon. Even so, the episode revealed surprisingly deep opposition to this legislation in Republican ranks.

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Iowa GOP lawmakers want their politics in your kid's classroom

Ed Tibbetts, a longtime reporter and editor in the Quad-Cities, is the publisher of the Along the Mississippi newsletter, where this article first appeared. Find more of his work at edtibbetts.substack.com

Republicans in the Iowa legislature say they don’t want politics in your kid’s classroom. But that’s not true. They don’t mind politics in your kid’s classroom—as long as it’s their politics.

The proof was in full view on February 28 in the Iowa House.

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On collusion—not separation—of church and state

Photograph of the painting The Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch, 1890

Herb Strentz was dean of the Drake School of Journalism from 1975 to 1988 and professor there until retirement in 2004. He was executive secretary of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council from its founding in 1976 to 2000.

Another nightmare of Iowa legislation is upon us in Senate File 2095 and House File 2454, companion bills lumped together as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (often known as RFRA). 

The legislation would be more appropriately labeled FACT, for Fearful, Arrogant, Callous Threats to Iowans’ civil rights. That’s because Senate File 2095 would turn upside down the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that Congress approved and President Bill Clinton signed in 1993.

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Power players in Iowa Senate are aiding and abetting

Bonnie Ewoldt is a Milford resident and Crawford County landowner.

The Iowa House is considering a bill designed to combat “organized retail theft” of property from stores. Lawmakers supporting the measure said they wanted to deter looting, which has happened in some U.S. cities. Law enforcement has not always intervened. 

Iowans may naively think such lawlessness cannot happen here. But it could. 

Summit Carbon Solutions has been using strong-arm tactics to take farmland for a pressurized CO2 pipeline. Meanwhile, power players in the Iowa Senate, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver and Senate Commerce Committee Chair Waylon Brown, block all attempts at legislative intervention. 

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Davenport secrecy inspires Iowa House bill on sunshine laws

Photo of Davenport skyline is by WeaponizingArchitecture and available via Wikimedia Commons

The Iowa House has overwhelmingly passed a bill designed to improve local government compliance with the state’s open meetings and open records laws.

House File 2539, approved by 92 votes to 2 on February 22, would increase fines for members of a local government body who participated in an open meetings violation, from the current range of $100 to $500 to a range of $500 to $2,500. Penalties would be greater for those who “knowingly” participated in the violation: each could be fined between $5,000 and $12,500, compared to $1,000 to $2,500 under current law.

The bill would also require all elected or appointed public officials to complete a one- to two-hour training course on Iowa’s open meetings and open records laws (known as Chapter 21 and Chapter 22). The Iowa Public Information Board would provide the training, which officials would need to complete within 90 days of being elected, appointed, or sworn in.

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Activists twist religious freedom laws to enable discrimination

Connie Ryan is Executive Director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa and Action Fund. She first published a version of this essay in the Des Moines Register.

Religious freedom is one of our country’s most fundamental rights. Religious freedom is also already protected through the First Amendment to the U.S Constitution as well as Article I, Section 3 of our state’s constitution. The rule of law is also important.

Iowa Senate Republicans approved Senate File 2095, known as the religious exemptions law or “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” on February 20. But even some Republicans have major concerns with the legislation.

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Iowa House bill would mandate long list of U.S. history topics

Rick Morain is the former publisher and owner of the Jefferson Herald, for which he writes a regular column.

House File 2544 survived last week’s funnel deadline in the Iowa legislature and is eligible for floor debate in the state House of Representatives. If I were a public school social studies teacher in Iowa and this bill were to become law, I would begin to wonder how I could continue to teach what I know about American history and government.

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A mother's perspective: How AEA reform will hurt Iowa's children

Heather Sievers is the founder of Advocates for Iowa’s Children and an Altoona mother of a child of rare disabilities. Photo of Heather with her daughter Rowan was provided by the author and published with permission.

I am speaking out to educate our communities and give voice to thousands of families across the state who are begging our Iowa legislators to stop the Area Education Agency (AEA) education reform bill from being passed into law during the 2024 legislative session.

Having spent years building my professional experience in effective health care transformation, performance and process improvement in large systems, I know we are not doing this the right way. We are not taking time to perform a credible and thorough study to determine what reform is needed before enacting a bill. A change of this magnitude cannot be rushed, or it will inevitably fail. The risk is too high to gamble on our children’s well-being and their futures. 

Any harm to our children as a result of the decisions made this legislative session will never be forgiven, nor forgotten. Our integrated AEA system works and is a national treasure. Many states aspire to implement a system like we have, and my personal story demonstrates that our system works. 

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Iowa's revised abortion rules still more political than medical

The Iowa Board of Medicine has unanimously approved a new version of administrative rules related to a near-total abortion ban Republicans hope to enforce in the future.

The law, known as House File 732, is currently enjoined under a Polk County District Court order, which the state has appealed. If the Iowa Supreme Court eventually allows the ban to go into effect, the administrative rules would provide some guidance to physicians on how to approach the law’s (mostly unworkable) exceptions.

The revisions approved during a February 15 teleconference meeting address some objections physicians raised when the board discussed the rules in November and January. However, they do not change the reality that the rules don’t match how doctors normally interact with patients seeking to terminate a pregnancy.

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Iowa legislature's clock runs out on feeding hungry kids

Interactive School Nutrition Dashboard created by the Iowa Hunger Coalition

At least four bills that would have helped needy Iowa families feed their children didn’t make it through the state legislature’s first “funnel.”

Most bills not related to taxes or spending are considered dead for the 2024 session if not approved by at least one Iowa House or Senate committee by February 16. Efforts to expand access to meals didn’t receive a subcommittee hearing, let alone consideration by a full committee. That was true even for one school lunch bill with 20 Republican co-sponsors.

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Abdul-Samad retiring, Rob Johnson running in Iowa House district 34

Left: State Representative Ako Abdul-Samad in February 2024. Right: Rob Johnson (photos cropped from their Facebook pages)

The longest-serving Black legislator in Iowa history will retire at the end of this year. State Representative Ako Abdul-Samad announced on February 15 that he will not seek another term in the Iowa House, Stephen Gruber-Miller reported for the Des Moines Register.

Abdul-Samad has represented part of the city of Des Moines since 2007. Speaking at a Black History Month event at the capitol, he explained his decision:

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Discriminating against transgender people does not make anyone safer

Laura Hessburg is Director of Public Policy for the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence. This commentary is slightly adapted from comments she delivered at the public hearing on House File 2389 on February 12.

The Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV) urges legislators to reject House File 2389, a bill permitting and enabling discrimination against trans individuals. We believe this bill is harmful, unnecessary, and appalling for a variety of reasons. Our remarks address the harmful impact it will have on ensuring crime victims have equal access to support services and emergency shelter.

ICADV supports 22 local victim service provider agencies across Iowa, including eight domestic violence shelters, providing support services to victims of violent crime (domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, human trafficking, homicide). The largest source of funding for this work comes from federal grants. As a condition of receiving federal funding, agencies are required to ensure equal access to accommodations and services as per non-discrimination provisions in federal law under the Violence Against Women Act, the Fair Housing Act, and HUD equal access regulations. This bill puts agencies in direct conflict with federal grant obligations and state law—and for many victims, this confusion creates another barrier to accessing support services.

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Proposed library bill is another attack on ideas

Photo by Bruce Lear of the public library in Alden, Iowa.

UPDATE: None of the bills that threatened to undermine the independence of public libraries made it past the Iowa legislature’s first “funnel” deadline on February 16. Original post follows.

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com   

Most Iowa towns have a few things in common: a gas station, a bar, a sprinkling of different church flavors, and a public library.  

Now, almost all of Iowa’s 500 public libraries are governed by a board of trustees. The library trustees make policy and oversee the collection. They are volunteer boards that function independently but are appointed by city councils.

That all could change if House Study Bill 678 becomes law. 

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Banning Satanic displays, worship would violate Iowa's constitution

Jason Benell lives in Des Moines with his wife and two children. He is a combat veteran, former city council candidate, and president of Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers.

Last week, Republican State Senator Sandy Salmon introduced Senate File 2210, “An act related to the Satanic displays or Satanic worship on property of the state and its political subdivisions.”

The bill is designed from top to bottom to ban satanism from being practiced, observed, or even acknowledged in public, including in Iowa schools, libraries, and public rights-of-way. A more clear and precise violation of the Iowa Constitution’s Article 1, Section 3 regarding religion couldn’t have been drafted better for future legal textbooks.

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"It's embarrassing"—Democrats slam do-nothing Iowa House environment panel

From left: Democratic State Representatives Austin Baeth, Molly Buck, Josh Turek, Elinor Levin, Sharon Steckman, and Adam Zabner. Screenshot from video posted to Facebook on February 8.

“When I joined Environmental Protection, I never envisioned that I would be talking about a raccoon bounty, but here we are,” Democratic State Representative Josh Turek said on February 7, while the House Environmental Protection Committee considered the only bill on the agenda that day.

As they weighed in on the bill, Democrats voiced broader frustrations about the committee’s failure to engage with any of Iowa’s serious environmental challenges.

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Can you hear us, Governor Reynolds?

Jenny Turner speaks during an Iowa House subcommittee on the governor’s AEA bill on January 31. Photo by Laura Belin

Jenny Turner is a public school mom and a school speech therapist. She lives in West Des Moines.

Governor Kim Reynolds is not happy that Iowans have opinions about her attempt to gut Iowa Area Education Agencies. She even held a press conference—a rare occurrence—about her AEA plan on January 31, a few hours before Iowa House and Senate subcommittees were scheduled to consider her bill.

The governor has been desperately blitzing social media with graphics to try to persuade people.

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Iowa House bill would allow vigilante justice in schools

Bernie Scolaro is a retired school counselor, a past president of the Sioux City Education Association, and former Sioux City school board member.

On January 4, a 17-year-old Perry High School student killed one 6th grader and injured five others (one of whom later died) before taking his own life. In response to school shootings, Siouxland Christian School in Sioux City has decided to train and arm school staff members.

However, no evidence indicates that having more guns reduces violence. In fact, it stands to reason that more guns will create more potential for school shootings, even if only accidentally.

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No one needs a civility lecture from Jeff Shipley

Photo by Greg Hauenstein of protesters at the Iowa state capitol on January 31, 2024.

“If you wish to enjoy civil rights, being able to act and behave civilly is a prerequisite,” State Representative Jeff Shipley tweeted on January 31, shortly after his latest effort to take civil rights protections away from transgender Iowans went down in flames.

Even for a practiced troll like Shipley, it was a remarkably ignorant and obnoxious statement.

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The word “groomer” has become a slur

Gerald Ott of Ankeny was a high school English teacher and for 30 years a school improvement consultant for the Iowa State Education Association.

Want to be called a “groomer”? Try reading a library book like Teach Her a Lesson, a new thriller by attorney Kate Flora. Flora “peels back the horror of a teacher being falsely accused by a student of initiating a long-standing sexual relationship.” So says reviewer Frank O Smith. It would seem a book only for teachers and parents, but it’s not. It could easily and appropriately find its way into a school library (excerpt). I hope it does.

Or try recommending The Passing Playbook on a public Facebook page. It’s a new young adult novel by Isaac Fitzsimmons (excerpt). Book reviewer Alaina Leary says Fitzsimmons explores privilege, identity, the complicated relationships we create through family and friends, and discovering the potential our voices have with charm and passion. 

“Teens everywhere will love this one,” says one review. Meaning Moms for Liberty would likely hate it. Says Leary, “It’s about fifteen-year-old Spencer Harris, a proud nerd, an awesome big brother, and a David Beckham (British soccer champion) in training. He’s also transgender.”

Hands down, the term “groomer” has become a slur, as foul as the “N” word or “f*g.” Its frequent use, as an insult, is often meant to imply teachers are potential sex offenders. Ironically, House File 2056 would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to work unsupervised in child care centers while caring for children under age 5.

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Governor's latest attack on trans Iowans can't be constitutional

Photo by Laura Belin from a rally outside the Iowa capitol on March 5, 2023

UPDATE: On February 6, Republicans advanced this bill from an Iowa House subcommittee. A few hours later, the full House Education Committee amended the bill to remove the driver’s license section, then approved it along party lines. Democrats requested a public hearing, which took place on February 12 (video). Following committee passage, the bill was renumbered as House File 2389. Original post follows.

Governor Kim Reynolds didn’t give LGBTQ Iowans even one full day to celebrate the downfall of a bill to remove gender identity protections from Iowa’s civil rights law.

The latest legislative proposal from the governor’s office would lay the foundation for “separate but equal” treatment of transgender Iowans and what one advocate called an “astonishing government violation of privacy rights.”

Although House Study Bill 649 contains some language designed to bolster the state’s potential defense in court, there’s no way the governor’s newest effort to codify discrimination against LGBTQ people could be constitutional.

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Plan for Iowa AEAs relied on consultant's faulty analysis

Members of the public at a January 31 Iowa House subcommittee considering House Study Bill 542, the governor’s bill on Area Education Agencies. (photo by Laura Belin)

David Tilly is a former deputy director of the Iowa Department of Education. He gave Bleeding Heartland permission to publish a follow-up letter he emailed to all 150 Iowa state legislators on January 30. His first message to lawmakers regarding Governor Kim Reynolds’ proposed changes to Area Education Agencies is available here.

My name is David Tilly and I was the Deputy Director at the Iowa Department of Education between 2012 and 2020. When I wrote my first comments to you regarding the AEA bill(s), I had only seen the bills themselves and was somewhat confused regarding the rationales for some of the bill components. The underlying report upon which this bill’s proposals are based was released recently through a Freedom of Information Act Request and posted here. This report was written by Guidehouse Inc., a respected national and international company. The report is quite well done in many regards. After reading this report, I am able to provide more specific analysis and more detailed recommendations on improving special education results in Iowa.

There appear to be three thematic issues (and a host of smaller inaccuracies) with the report that cause the report’s recommendations to be problematic. Fortunately, all 3 major issues can be fixed. The issues are: 1. The analysis is incomplete 2. The analysis/recommendations rely on unproven assumptions and 3. The analysis does not recognize the benefits inherent in the uniqueness of Iowa’s Education System structures. I will expand on each of these.

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Oh say can you see: Things can get worse

“By Dawn’s Early Light,” Photomechanical print by Edward Percy Moran, public domain from the Library of Congress, available via Wikimedia Commons

Herb Strentz was dean of the Drake School of Journalism from 1975 to 1988 and professor there until retirement in 2004. He was executive secretary of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council from its founding in 1976 to 2000.

To nourish patriotism, some Iowa legislators want to force public school students to sing a song with lyrics gloating about “the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave” that doomed slaves who, in exchange for freedom, fled to the British side in the War of 1812.

That is one take on House Study Bill 587, a proposal to mandate daily classroom singing of a verse or all four verses from our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

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Gender identity bill belongs in dustbin of failed, dehumanizing ideas

Photo by Nuva Frames, available via Shutterstock

Nick Covington is an Iowa parent who taught high school social studies for ten years. He is also the co-founder of the Human Restoration Project, an Iowa educational non-profit promoting systems-based thinking and grassroots organizing in education. Editor’s note: An Iowa House Judiciary subcommittee voted 3-0 on January 31 not to advance this bill.

House File 2082 sought to make Iowa the first state in the country to remove gender identity as a protected class under the Iowa Civil Rights Act and reconstruct it as a “disability.” That framing spreads harmful misinformation under the medical model of disability and undermines our shared goal of creating a safe and inclusive future for Iowa’s families and young people. 

We should understand that HF 2082 is both cruel and unnecessary, as transgender identity is not a disability and disability is also a protected class under Iowa Civil Rights law. 

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Are trans Iowans losing their civil rights? Will I be next?

Bernie Scolaro is a retired school counselor, a past president of the Sioux City Education Association, and former Sioux City school board member.

An Iowa House subcommittee will consider House File 2082 on January 31. Republican State Representative Jeff Shipley introduced this bill, which would remove gender identity as a protected class under the Iowa Civil Rights Act.

I wanted to start with some anecdotal story about a time when I had rights and lost them, but I could not come up with anything. Then I realized, of course I haven’t experienced this. Rights are not usually given and then taken away randomly. One might lose a driver’s license after drunk driving or speeding, but not because the government arbitrarily decided one should no longer be eligible to drive. That’s part of the problem with HF 2082.

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Iowa lawmakers advance misguided proposals, ignore big problems


Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

These days, with political campaigns that seem to go on forever, Iowans may not recognize the significance of what occurred at polling places across the state on November 5, 1968.

Voters approved an amendment to the Iowa Constitution that day, ending the legislature’s practice of meeting only every other year. Biennial sessions had been a fact of civic life in Iowa since statehood 122 years earlier. 

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Trans Iowans face broadest civil rights threat in years

UPDATE: After this post was published, the Iowa Business Council, Technology Association of Iowa, and Greater Des Moines Partnership registered against the bill.

SECOND UPDATE: Subcommittee members voted 3-0 on January 31 not to advance this bill. Original post follows.

An Iowa House Judiciary subcommittee will soon consider the broadest threat to trans rights since lawmakers added gender identity protections to the Iowa Civil Rights Act in 2007, the first year of a Democratic trifecta. House File 2082 would remove gender identity as a protected class, while redefining “a diagnosis for gender dysphoria or any condition related to a gender identity disorder” as a disability under the civil rights act.

Eighteen organizations are already registered against the bill, which is scheduled for a subcommittee hearing on January 31.

But as the Republican-controlled legislature’s attacks on transgender Iowans continue to escalate, some groups that helped hold the line against past efforts to rewrite the civil rights code are on the sidelines, for now.

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Governor's AEA plan would harm Iowa children, families, and school districts

David Tilly is a former deputy director of the Iowa Department of Education. He gave Bleeding Heartland permission to publish a letter he emailed to all Iowa state legislators on January 24 regarding Governor Kim Reynolds’ proposed changes to Area Education Agencies. The governor’s bill has been introduced as Senate Study Bill 3073 and House Study Bill 542.

An open letter to Iowa State Senators and Representatives regarding the AEA System:

My name is David Tilly and I was the Deputy Director at the Iowa Department of Education (IDE) between 2012 and 2020. I administered the state education budget for PK-12 Education at the IDE during those years, and I managed all of the Department’s PK-12 programs and staff. I am a special educator by training (my Ph.D. is in School Psychology) and I worked for over 30 years in Iowa at all levels of the education system. Through these experiences, I learned quite a bit about how Iowa’s education system works.

I have analyzed SSB3073/HSB542 (changes to AEAs) carefully and I will begin my comments with the punchline: If implemented as written, these bills will harm Iowa children, families and small school districts.

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Iowa Utilities Board bill includes a good idea—and a lost cause

Wally Taylor is the Legal Chair of the Sierra Club Iowa chapter.

The Iowa Utilities Board has proposed companion bills on energy production in the Iowa legislature this year. The Sierra Club is focused on two provisions in House Study Bill 555 and Senate Study Bill 3075: including battery storage as part of an energy production facility, and designating nuclear power as an alternate energy production facility.

One of the primary criticisms of renewable energy, specifically wind and solar, is that they provide power intermittently. In other words, wind turbines don’t provide power when the wind isn’t blowing, and solar panels don’t provide power when the sun isn’t shining.

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In rapid reversal, House clerk grants me press credentials

My five-year effort to gain a seat on the Iowa House press bench ended less than five days after the Institute for Free Speech filed a federal lawsuit on my behalf.

House Chief Clerk Meghan Nelson informed me shortly after 5:00 pm on January 23 that the Iowa House approved my application for work space, and a spot has been reserved for me in the press box on the floor of the House chamber.

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Dubuque-based Iowa Senate seat no longer solid blue

State Senator Pam Jochum presents a resolution on brain health during Iowa Senate debate on January 17. Photo first published on her Facebook page.

Catching up on some legislative campaign news: Iowa Senate Minority Leader Pam Jochum announced on January 12 that she won’t seek re-election this November. Jochum is the longest-serving current Iowa Democratic legislator, with sixteen years of experience in the state House followed by sixteen in Senate. Her colleagues chose her to lead the sixteen-member caucus last June. The last four years Democrats held a majority in the chamber, Jochum served as Senate president (the second-ranking position).

While the open seat in Iowa Senate district 36 leans Democratic, the Dubuque area is no longer as blue as it has been for much of the last century. Depending on who wins each party’s nomination, this could be a race to watch in November.

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I'm suing the Iowa House Chief Clerk over denial of press credentials

“The First Amendment prohibits government officials from arbitrarily denying reporters access to official information, and from discriminating against reporters based on their viewpoint,” declares a federal lawsuit filed on my behalf on January 19. Yet since 2019, the Iowa House Chief Clerk “has arbitrarily applied an ever-shifting credentialing system” to limit my “ability to gather and report political news” from the Iowa House chamber.

The Institute for Free Speech filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, making four claims under the U.S. Constitution. First, by denying me access to the Iowa House press bench, where other statehouse reporters can closely observe House debate and attend regular briefings by House Speaker Pat Grassley, Chief Clerk Meghan Nelson is violating my First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of the press.

Second, the complaint also states that Nelson’s policy, limiting access to reporters who provide “nonpartisan news to a broad segment of the public,” amounts to unconstitutional content-based and viewpoint-based discrimination, on its face and as applied to me.

Third, Nelson’s press credential policy “constitutes a prior restraint in violation of the First Amendment.” Chief Clerk Nelson has “unbridled discretion” to grant reporters access to the House press box, and “relies on the undefined, broad terms of the credential policy to subjectively exclude news media and deprive them of the ability to gather news in a manner equal to that afforded to other media representatives.”

Finally, the suit asserts that the press credential policy is vague in violation of my “First Amendment rights to free speech and press and Fourteenth Amendment right to due process.”

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Iowa House speaker hints at new law on "sexually explicit" books in schools

Republican lawmakers may take additional steps to remove “sexually explicit material” from schools, Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley indicated on January 8. Speaking to fellow legislators, Grassley also blamed schools for politicizing what he called “a simple solution to protect Iowa’s students from inappropriate material.”

Grassley was the only House or Senate leader to address the school book bans in opening remarks on the first day of the legislature’s 2024 session. His comments came ten days after a federal court blocked the state of Iowa from enforcing a ban on library books and classroom materials that describe or depict sex acts.

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2024

Photo by Carl Olsen of the Iowa House chamber in 2020

Iowa House members return to Des Moines on January 8 for the opening day of the 2024 legislative session. Although the balance of power remains the same (64 Republicans, 36 Democrats), I’m publishing a new version of this post to note small changes in leadership or among the chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing House committees. Where relevant, I’ve noted changes since last year’s session.

Thirty-eight House members (24 Republicans and fourteen Democrats) are serving their first term in the legislature. Two Republicans previously held other legislative offices: Craig Johnson served one and a half terms in the Iowa Senate, and David Young served two terms in Congress.

The House members include 71 men and 29 women (sixteen Democrats and thirteen Republicans), down from 31 women who served in 2021 and 2022. The record for women’s representation in the Iowa House was 34 female lawmakers in 2019.

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A losing candidate tells her side of the story

Photo of Joan Marttila provided by the author and published with permission.

Joan Martila is a retired Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency audiologist. She is a former president of the Iowa Speech Language Hearing Association as well as a former president of the Iowa Speech Language Hearing Foundation. 

Another election year is upon us. I can guess what you’re thinking, because I have heard others say it: Why do Iowa Democrats have so many losers running of office? 

I am one of those losers. Let me tell you my side of the story.

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Religion in politics: the biggest threat to our liberties

Illustration by Jena Luksetich from Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers is published with permission.

Jason Benell lives in Des Moines with his wife and two children. He is a combat veteran, former city council candidate, and president of Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers.

Over the last dozen or so years in Iowa, we have seen a new assault on citizens’ rights, putting the future of our state in a precarious situation. It seems every other week there are reports and new sets of statistics tarnishing what was once a sterling record for Iowa on the well-being of its citizens. We have seen Iowa lose its destination status for those looking for an excellent public education as well as a dearth of coverage for mental health care. Iowa now ranks the worst in the country for OB/GYN coverage per capita and is consistently cited as an example of what not to do when it comes to stewardship of our waterways.

On top of these dire statistics, we are also seeing unprecedented assaults on the civil liberties of Iowans, from banning books in schools (and prompting at least two costly lawsuits because of it) to banning transgender Iowans from participating in sports to restricting the right to privacy and health care for half of the state’s population.

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A pioneering Iowa Democrat: Don't tell Josh Turek what can't be done

State Representative Josh Turek talks with 6-year-old Hayes Hofmeister in Des Moines during a recent summit on advocacy for people with disabilities. Photo by Douglas Burns.

Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa journalist. He is the co-founder of the Western Iowa Journalism Foundation and a member of the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative, where this article first appeared on The Iowa Mercury newsletter. His family operated the Carroll Times Herald for 93 years in Carroll, Iowa where Burns resides.

Six-year-old Hayes Hofmeister of rural Cedar Rapids, a Springville, Iowa farm kid, can’t stop talking about Josh Turek — “that guy in the wheelchair” — the one who plays basketball and has Paralympics gold medals. The one who inspired him at Camp Sunnyside.

Born with Spina Bifida, Hayes, a bright-eyed kindergartner excitedly rolled his own wheelchair toward State Representative Josh Turek of Council Bluffs at the Easterseals Camp in Des Moines on a recent fall Saturday morning. They started talking, one on one, as Hayes’ mom and grandmother beamed.

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Larry McBurney, Jason Menke running in Iowa House district 44

Two Democrats are actively campaigning for a open Iowa House seat covering much of the city of Urbandale.

Urbandale City Council member and U.S. Air Force combat veteran Larry McBurney launched his campaign for House district 44 in September, soon after State Representative John Forbes, who has represented much of this area since 2013, announced he will run for Polk County supervisor in 2024.

Urbandale School Board member Jason Menke made his legislative campaign official on October 10.

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Iowa House district 22 primary: Samantha Fett vs. Garrett Gobble

Education is shaping up to be a defining issue in an open-seat race for a strongly Republican Iowa House district.

State Representative Stan Gustafson, who currently represents House district 22, is planning to retire at the end of his current term. Samantha Fett, a former Carlisle school board member and chapter leader of Moms for Liberty, announced last month that she will seek the Republican nomination. Fett has spoken at several Iowa House or Senate meetings during the past two years, urging lawmakers to approve various education-related or anti-LGBTQ bills.

Garrett Gobble announced his candidacy for the same district in a September 8 Facebook post. He previously represented part of Ankeny in the Iowa House for one term. A recent guest commentary for the Des Moines Register indicated that Gobble hopes Governor Kim Reynolds and groups focused on school policies will stay out of his upcoming race.

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David Young's narrow win in House district 28 cost everyone too much

Tom Walton chairs the Dallas County Democrats, was a Democratic primary candidate for Iowa House district 28 in 2022, and is an attorney.

In the 2022 election for Iowa House district 28, Republican David Young showed up again in Iowa politics, after losing Congressional races in 2018 and 2020. Young won the Iowa House seat covering parts of Dallas County by only 907 votes, after the Iowa Democratic Party spent only about a quarter as much on supporting its nominee as the Republican Party of Iowa spent on behalf of Young.

Each of those winning votes cost his campaign about $331 based on campaign finance data. All told, Young and the Republican Party spent nearly half a million dollars on his race. As this article demonstrates, his election cost everyone too much—in money spent and loss of freedoms.

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My mom died because she couldn't get an abortion

Tracy Jones is a progressive political activist in Davenport. These comments are a longer version of testimony she delivered at an Iowa House public hearing on July 11 (see video below). She is pictured here on the left, speaking to State Representative Luana Stoltenberg.

In the spring of 1972, my mom was a pregnant 32-year-old with three young children. My sister was eleven years old, my brother was eight, and I was fifteen months old. Our mom had just experienced the collapse of her second marriage, and her pregnancy was not my dad’s.

I can only imagine the shame, fear and guilt that must have clung to her. Our mom was raised in a conservative and religious household. I’m certain an abortion wasn’t the first thing on her mind, but she knew her medical history. She had difficult pregnancies and suffered from severe preeclampsia with each.

As the pregnancy progressed, it became clear that this would be the pregnancy that would kill her. She needed an abortion but was living in a state where it wasn’t legal.

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Iowa GOP lawmakers to pass new abortion ban on July 11

UPDATE: The bill text was published on the legislature’s website on July 7. It closely matches the 2018 law, which would ban most abortions after fetal cardiac activity can be detected. Original post follows.

Governor Kim Reynolds has called a special session of the Iowa legislature for July 11, “with the sole purpose of enacting” new abortion restrictions. The move suggests Republicans will approve something comparable to the 2018 law that would ban almost all abortions after about six weeks, with very limited exceptions, rather than a total ban preferred by some GOP lawmakers.

The Iowa Senate approved the 2018 abortion ban along party lines. Of the six Iowa House Republicans who voted against that legislation, only one (State Representative Jane Bloomingdale) still serves in the legislature. Most of the 64 current House Republicans had not yet been elected to the body during the 2018 session. However, I expect nearly all of them will support a six-week ban, as will their Senate GOP colleagues.

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Iowa governor passes over GOP foe of school vouchers for judgeship

Governor Kim Reynolds got just about everything she wanted from the Iowa legislature during the 2023 session. But she signaled this week that she isn’t ready to let bygones be bygones when it comes to Republicans who have stood in her way.

The governor’s office announced three District Court judicial appointments on June 16, including Michael Carpenter for District 8A, covering ten counties in southeast Iowa. The other person nominated for that judgeship was former State Representative Dustin Hite.

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Garrett Gobble preparing to run in new Iowa House district

Former Iowa House Republican Garrett Gobble recently filed paperwork to run for the legislature in 2024—but not in the Ankeny-based district he represented for two years.

Gobble lost his 2022 re-election bid in House district 42 by 23 votes to Democrat Heather Matson, whom he had narrowly defeated in 2020.

A statement of organization filed with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board last month indicates Gobble will be a 2024 Republican candidate in Iowa House district 22, which covers Norwalk, Cumming, Carlisle, and other areas of Warren County outside Indianola.

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Iowa schools may never recover from 2023 legislative session

Two Republican trifectas, 50 years apart, reshaped Iowa’s K-12 schools. But whereas the legislature and Governor Robert Ray put public education on a more equitable, better funded path during the early 1970s, this year’s legislative session left public schools underfunded and unable to meet the needs of many marginalized students.

Governor Kim Reynolds capped a devastating year for Iowa’s schools on May 26, when she signed seven education-related bills, including two that will impose many new restrictions while lowering standards for educators and curriculum.

In a written statement, Reynolds boasted, “This legislative session, we secured transformational education reform that puts parents in the driver’s seat, eliminates burdensome regulations on public schools, provides flexibility to raise teacher salaries, and empowers teachers to prepare our kids for their future. Education is the great equalizer and everyone involved—parents, educators, our children—deserves an environment where they can thrive.” 

Almost every part of the first sentence is false or misleading.

As for the second sentence, this year’s policies make it less likely that any of the named groups will thrive, aside from a small subset of parents who share the governor’s political and religious outlook.

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Luana Stoltenberg's first legislative session in review

Alexandra Dermody is a Davenport based Gen Z activist, nonprofit director, and small business owner who lives in Iowa House district 81.

Luana Stoltenberg, a Republican who traveled to Washington, DC for Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally on January 6, 2021, has completed her first legislative session as the representative for House District 81.

While she presents herself as a pro-life activist and author, it is essential to examine her legislative record and consider the implications of her key votes and sponsored bills.

Let’s take a closer look at Stoltenberg’s voting history:

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Seven bad policies Iowa Republicans slipped into budget bills

Second in a series on under-covered stories from the Iowa legislature’s 2023 session.

During the seven years of the Iowa GOP trifecta, the majority party has often enacted significant public policy through eleventh-hour appropriations bills. Just before adjourning in 2019, Republicans amended spending bills to change the judicial selection process, restrict medical care for transgender Iowans on Medicaid, and block Planned Parenthood from receiving sex education grants.

A lengthy amendment to a budget bill approved in the closing hours of the 2020 session made it harder for Iowans to vote by mail and sought to restrict some companies from bidding on electric transmission lines projects.

The Iowa Supreme Court sent the legislature a message in March, blocking the 2020 provision on transmission lines, on the grounds that it was likely passed through unconstitutional “logrolling.”

Republican legislators weren’t pleased with the ruling known as LS Power, but seem to have adapted to it. This year’s “standings” appropriations bill was relatively short and focused on spending and code corrections—a far cry from the usual “Christmas tree” featuring unrelated policy items from lawmakers’ wish lists.

Nevertheless, many surprises lurked in other bills that allocated spending for fiscal year 2024, which begins on July 1.

This post focuses on seven provisions that appeared in budget bill amendments published shortly before Iowa House or Senate debate. Most of this policy language never appeared in a stand-alone bill, allowing Republicans to avoid the scrutiny that comes with subcommittee and committee discussions. Democratic legislators had little time to review the proposed budgets before votes on final passage, which mostly fell along party lines.

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Opposing Luana Stoltenberg: Fighting for a better Iowa

Alexandra Dermody is a Davenport based Gen Z activist, nonprofit director, and small business owner who lives in Iowa House district 81.

Republican State Representative Luana Stoltenberg of Davenport has completed her first legislative session as the member from House District 81, covering part of Davenport. As a staunch social conservative with a troubling track record—including traveling to Washington, DC for Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally on January 6, 2021—Stoltenberg’s bid for office warrants a strong opposition.

Here are the reasons voters should replace her next year:

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Six ways the GOP budget shortchanged Iowans with disabilities

The biggest stories of the Iowa legislature’s 2023 session are well known. Before adjourning for the year on May 4, historically large Republican majorities in the Iowa House and Senate gave Governor Kim Reynolds almost everything on her wish list. They reshaped K-12 public schools; passed several bills targeting LGBTQ Iowans; enacted new hurdles for Iowans on public assistance; cut property taxes; reorganized state government to increase the power of the governor and “her” attorney general; and undermined the state auditor’s ability to conduct independent audits.

Many other newsworthy stories received little attention during what will be remembered as one of the Iowa legislature’s most influential sessions. This post is the first in a series highlighting lesser-known bills or policies that made it through both chambers in 2023, or failed to reach the governor’s desk.


As the Iowa House and Senate debated one appropriations bill after another last week, Democrats repeatedly objected to plans that imposed status quo budgets or small increases (well below the rate of inflation) on services for disadvantaged Iowans.

Iowans with disabilities or special needs were not a priority in the education and health and human services budgets that top Republican lawmakers negotiated behind closed doors.

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Exclusive: Iowa governor's office hides the ball on its own spending

Iowa House and Senate Republicans have agreed to increase the allocation for Governor Kim Reynolds’ office by more than 20 percent, even as many state agencies are receiving status quo budgets for fiscal year 2024, which begins on July 1.

Senate Appropriations Committee chair Tim Kraayenbrink acknowledged during floor debate on April 26 that Republicans do not know how the governor’s office plans to use an additional $500,000 standing appropriation for FY2024.

It was an extraordinary moment, but not a surprising one. For years, Reynolds’ staff have avoided disclosing how the governor’s office was covering expenses that greatly exceeded the funds allocated by the legislature, by nearly $900,000 in fiscal year 2020 and roughly the same amount in fiscal year 2021.

The Reynolds administration has also made it increasingly difficult to uncover details about the governor’s office spending through open records requests. Budget reports for fiscal year 2022, which ran from July 2021 through last June, were provided in a different format from previous years, concealing how much other state agencies provided to compensate Reynolds’ staffers. In response to a records request, the governor’s office claimed to have no invoices for such payments.

Nevertheless, documents obtained by Bleeding Heartland indicate that other state agencies contributed about $670,000 to cover salaries and benefits for Reynolds’ staffers during fiscal year 2022. The governor’s office was able to cover another $115,000 in expenses by continuing to understaff the Office of State-Federal Relations, for which other state agencies are charged a fixed fee.

In other words, even an additional $500,000 appropriation, bringing the governor’s office general fund budget to $2.8 million for the coming fiscal year, probably would not be enough to cover all expenses.

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Who knew there were two sides to waste, fraud, and abuse?

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

I thought the often-repeated desire to weed out waste, fraud and abuse from government spending was something Republicans, Democrats, and independents could all agree on in Iowa.

Boy, am I naive.

A bit of recent Iowa government history illustrates this contradiction between our elected officials’ statements and their actions.

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How two more GOP bills will change public education in Iowa

Reshaping K-12 education has been a major theme of the Iowa legislature’s 2023 session. In January, Republican majorities quickly approved Governor Kim Reynolds’ plan to divert hundreds of millions of public dollars to private schools. In March, the House and Senate passed a “bathroom bill” prohibiting transgender people from using school facilities that align with their gender identity.

Last week, House and Senate Republicans finished work on another two major education bills. Senate File 496 will impose many new restrictions on public schools, while Senate File 391 will lower standards for teachers and librarians and relax several high school curriculum requirements.

The Senate approved both bills on straight party-line votes. Four House Republicans (Michael Bergan, Chad Ingels, Megan Jones, and Hans Wilz) joined Democrats to vote against Senate File 496. Ingels and all Democrats present opposed Senate File 391.

Reynolds is certain to sign both bills and claim victory for her stated goals of empowering parents and giving school districts more flexibility. This post will explain how key provisions changed before final passage, and which parts of each bill didn’t make the cut.

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Could the Tennessee debacle happen in Iowa?

Republicans who control the Tennessee House of Representatives used their supermajority this month to expel two Black lawmakers for “disorderly behavior.” State Representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson had helped lead a protest against gun violence in the House chamber, disrupting legislative work for a little less than an hour.

The power play was quickly revealed as a miscalculation. Jones and Pearson gained national acclaim and many new supporters. They were back at work within a week, after local government bodies reappointed them to the state House.

Meanwhile, the overreaction generated a tremendous amount of negative media coverage. Many reports noted that Tennessee Republicans had ousted two young Black men, while a third Democrat who took part in the same protest (an older white woman) barely survived the expulsion vote.

The episode also brought greater scrutiny to Tennessee’s Republican lawmakers. This week, a vice chair of the House GOP caucus resigned from the legislature after a Nashville-based television station uncovered evidence that he had sexually harassed at least one intern. An ethics committee had investigated that matter in secret, and the House speaker had imposed no consequences for the grotesquely inappropriate behavior.

Watching all of this unfold, I wondered whether anything like this scenario had happened, or could happen, to an Iowa lawmaker.

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Iowa caucus business is private party business

Joseph Howe is a political strategist and former Libertarian Party of Iowa state chair with experience working on campaigns as a state director such as Gary Johnson 2016 and Rick Stewart 2022. He also served as the Polk County co-chair for Rand Paul’s campaign in 2016. In addition to his political work, Joseph is a financial services operations manager and resides in Beaverdale with his wife Amanda and son John.

Iowa Republican legislators,

I am writing as a fellow proponent of limited government intervention and individual freedom, to express my concerns about House File 716, the bill aimed at regulating political parties’ caucuses, which was recently introduced in the Iowa House of Representatives.

It is important to remember that the true purpose of a caucus is to organize county parties. That can get lost in the media attention around presidential candidates and the money involved. The caucus process is the first step in organizing at the county and precinct level, which is critical to building strong and representative political parties. Would most Iowans who truly support limited government put money and prestige ahead of small “r” republican principles?

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What's done, what's left as Iowa legislature's 2023 session winds down

The Iowa House and Senate finished work this week on several priority bills for Republicans, and leaders are closer to agreement on the next state budget.

The accelerating pace raises the prospect that the Iowa legislature may adjourn for the year close to the session’s scheduled end date of April 28. Stalemates over policies related to education and COVID-19 vaccines pushed the last two legislative sessions well into overtime; the 2021 session ended on May 19, and last year’s work wrapped up on May 24.

This piece highlights where things stand with high-profile bills approved in either the House or Senate this week, and other legislation that will likely be part of late deal-making. Forthcoming Bleeding Heartland posts will focus on many of those bills separately.

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Keep Iowa's public schools NRA-free

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring.

When I was a kid, Mom warned, “Make sure you keep a screen door between you and the Fuller Brush man. They won’t leave, and all they do is to sell, sell, sell.”

I remember that caution as I’m reading House File 654, the bill Iowa House Republicans recently approved. Among other things, the “firearms omnibus” would encourage public schools to implement age-appropriate gun safety instruction from grades K-12, “based on the eddie eagle gunsafe program developed by the National Rifle Association.”

It’s not the curriculum I question, it’s the messenger and what’s behind bringing the NRA into Iowa’s public schools.

Once in the door, they’ll “sell, sell, sell.” And the NRA is not just peddling brushes. 

They’re selling gun culture.

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Republicans shatter another Iowa Senate norm

Iowa Senate debate on a proposal to relax child labor regulations stalled late in the evening of April 17, after the Republican floor manager Adrian Dickey and Majority Leader Jack Whitver refused to answer a Democratic senator’s questions about an amendment published earlier in the day.

After hours of delay, the Senate resumed its work and approved the child labor bill (Senate File 542) shortly before 5:00 am on April 18, with Republicans Charlie McClintock and Jeff Taylor joining all Democrats in opposition.

The snag in last night’s proceedings is not limited to one controversial issue.

According to Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, Whitver told him Senate Republicans would no longer answer questions during floor debate, in light of a recent Iowa Supreme Court decision. That ruling (known as LS Power) has also made Iowa House Republicans more cautious about answering questions in public, a debate on a firearms bill revealed last week.

The majority party’s new approach could leave Iowa lawmakers less informed as they vote on complex legislation. Floor debate may be the only time Democrats can clarify their understanding of certain provisions, since managers’ amendments containing big changes sometime appear just hours before a vote on final passage. Over the next few weeks, Senate Republicans are expected to unveil their spending plans for fiscal year 2024 right before lengthy budget bills are bought to the chamber floor.

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Isn't it ironic?

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring.

Way back in 1996, Alanis Morrissette asked, “Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?” She might have been thinking about a “black fly in your Chardonnay,” but today her question is relevant for Iowa Republican legislators.

Here’s a good definition of the term: “Irony occurs in literature and in life whenever a person says or does something that departs from what we expect them to say or do.”

Ronald Reagan hasn’t roamed the Oval Office for 34 years, yet even now, you’ll hear GOP candidates quote the Gipper: “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” 

They love to quote it. They just don’t love to do it.

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Ethics board fines, reprimands Eddie Andrews again

The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board voted unanimously on April 6 to fine Republican State Representative Eddie Andrews $250 and reprimand him for distributing campaign materials in 2022 that lacked the attribution statements required by law.

In a separate complaint, the board vacated a $500 fine previously assessed to Andrews, but kept an official reprimand in place, citing his campaign’s “failure to cooperate with the Board’s investigation.”

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Iowa Senate Republicans hit new low for transparency

Iowa Republican lawmakers aren’t sticklers for tradition. They have used their trifecta to destroy a collective bargaining process that stood for more than four decades, and to overhaul a nearly 60-year-old judicial selection system on a partisan basis.

Iowa Senate Republicans have shattered norms in other ways. In 2021, they stopped participating in budget subcommittee meetings that had been a routine part of legislative work since at least the 1970s. Last year, they kicked all journalists off the chamber’s press bench, which had been designated for the news media for more than a century.

Senate Appropriations Committee members hit a new low for transparency last week. Led by chair Tim Kraayenbrink, Republicans advanced seven spending bills with blank spaces where dollar amounts and staffing numbers would normally be listed.

The unprecedented maneuver ensured that advocates, journalists, and Democratic senators will have no time to thoroughly scrutinize GOP spending plans before eventual votes on the Senate floor. Nor will members of the public have a chance to weigh in on how state funds will be spent during fiscal year 2024, which begins on July 1.

Bleeding Heartland was unable to find any former Iowa legislator, lobbyist, or staffer who could remember anything resembling this year’s Senate budget process.

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New education bill is a Frankenstein monster

Gerald Ott of Ankeny was a high school English teacher and for 30 years a school improvement consultant for the Iowa State Education Association.

What started as Governor Kim Reynolds’ bad idea has become worse. Her “parents’ rights” bill, passed by Republicans in the Iowa House and Senate, is back to the Senate because the versions differ. A committee of both may take up the bills—keeping the worst, I’m sure.

Des Moines Register reporter Katie Akin correctly characterized the House-approved version of Senate File 496 as “a Frankenstein-like education bill.” It’s like saying a giraffe has a long neck, a pig has a full stomach, or a shark has sharp teeth.

This monster has bite, and it chews an arm and leg off public education, educators, and each local school’s historic purposes and practices.

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What's in, what's out of Iowa governor's big education policy bill

Both chambers of the Iowa legislature have approved versions of Governor Kim Reynolds’ so-called “parental empowerment” bill, which would rewrite many state policies related to public schools. The state Senate changed some parts of the bill before approving Senate File 496 along party lines on March 22.

The House adopted a more extensive rewrite before passing the bill on April 4, by 55 votes to 42. Six Republicans (Michael Bergan, Austin Harris, Chad Ingels, Megan Jones, Brian Lohse, and Hans Wilz) joined all 36 House Democrats to vote no.

This post walks through the provisions in the governor’s initial proposal (Senate Study Bill 1145), noting how each section changed during Iowa Senate debate, and again when House Republicans approved a 38-page amendment before sending the legislation back to the upper chamber.

Reynolds is likely to get most of what she asked for, but the bill that eventually lands on her desk may contain quite a few additional changes to Iowa Code.

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Iowa Republicans bolster case against own anti-trans law

As Iowa Republican lawmakers advanced Governor Kim Reynolds’ wide-ranging education bill this month, they expanded on language spelling out parents’ right to make decisions affecting their own child.

The latest version of the bill inadvertently admits that Iowa’s new law banning gender-affirming care for minors violates a “fundamental, constitutionally protected right.”

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A quiet Iowa House victory for public lands

The Iowa House State Government Committee did not take up a controversial public lands bill during its last meeting before the legislature’s second “funnel” deadline. Failure to act means the bill almost certainly will not move forward this year.

Senate File 516 would have required the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to “prepare a statewide, long-range plan that shall prioritize the maintenance and protection of significant open space property throughout the state.” The state Department of Transportation would have been directed to “prepare a long-range plan for the development, promotion, management, and acquisition of recreational trails throughout the state.”

The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation advocated for the bill, on the grounds that “the state of Iowa should concentrate on management of currently owned land and reduce the efforts to acquire more public land.” Conservationists pointed out that Iowa has less public land than the vast majority of states.

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Iowa House passed carbon pipelines bill: What’s in, what’s out, what’s next

Jennifer Winn is an Iowa Organizing Associate with the national advocacy organization Food & Water Watch. She is based in Sioux County, Iowa.

On March 22, the Iowa House approved legislation to restrict carbon pipelines by a 73-20 bipartisan vote. Though substantially watered down through a last-minute amendment, House File 565 would restrict the use of eminent domain for the hazardous carbon pipelines threatening Iowa.

Unlike many divisive policies passed through the peoples’ chamber this year, the fight against the proposed carbon pipelines has united Iowans from across the state. Polling released last week confirmed, for the second year in a row, that a majority of Iowans don’t want land to be seized for carbon pipelines. The latest Iowa Poll by Selzer & Co for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom found that 78 percent of Iowans oppose eminent domain for carbon pipelines. According to polling commissioned by Food & Water Action, 80 percent of voters favorable to Governor Kim Reynolds oppose eminent domain for the carbon pipelines.

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Iowa House Democrats, think outside the box on pipelines

Julie Russell-Steuart is a printmaker and activist who chairs the Iowa Democratic Party’s Disability Caucus. The Iowa House is expected to debate an eminent domain bill (House File 565) on March 22.

Currently, we have a robust nonpartisan movement of people backing legislation that would restrict the use of eminent domain to construct carbon dioxide pipelines across Iowa.

The latest Iowa Poll by Selzer & Co for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom shows an overwhelming majority of Iowans—82 percent of Democrats, 72 percent of Republicans, and 79 percent of independents—are against letting corporations use eminent domain for a land grab to build pipelines. Most Iowans realize these corporations do not have their best interests in mind. From the devaluing of our century farms to the strong risk of a rupture that would endanger lives and health, Iowans have been speaking up about these risks all over the state.

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Can Iowa's "bathroom bill" withstand court challenge?

UPDATE: The governor signed this bill on March 22. Original post follows.

Republicans took another step last week toward making the Iowa legislature’s 2023 session the worst ever for LGBTQ people. After letting similar bills die without committee approval as recently as 2021, the GOP fast-tracked legislation this year that prohibits transgender people from using the school restroom or locker room that corresponds to their gender identity.

The Iowa Senate passed the latest “bathroom bill,” Senate File 482, on March 7 in a party-line vote. The Iowa House approved the bill on March 16 by 57 votes to 39, with five Republicans (Chad Ingels, Megan Jones, Brian Lohse, Phil Thompson, and Hans Wilz) joining every Democrat present in opposition.

Governor Kim Reynolds is expected to sign the bill, along with legislation banning gender-affirming health care for minors. At this writing, neither bill has been forwarded to her office.

Iowa’s GOP trifecta won’t have the final word on the subject, however. Transgender plaintiffs have challenged restrictive bathroom policies in several states, and I expect one or more Iowa students to file suit soon after Senate File 482 goes into effect.

During the floor debates in the Iowa House and Senate, lawmakers pointed to key issues courts will consider as they weigh the bill’s stated goal (protecting students’ privacy) against its adverse impact on a specific group (students whose sex listed on a birth certificate does not match their gender identity).

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Democrats blew a chance to connect with rural Iowa

Wally Taylor is the Legal Chair of the Sierra Club Iowa chapter.

Sierra Club has been opposed to the carbon dioxide pipelines that several corporations are trying to build across Iowa since the projects were first announced. The pipeline companies claim the capturing of carbon dioxide from ethanol plants will address climate change, save the ethanol industry, and provide economic benefits. There is no merit to any of these claims.

One thing we learned from the Dakota Access pipeline fight several years ago is that the crucial strategy to oppose the pipelines is to organize the impacted landowners into a unified opposition. Through the fantastic work of Sierra Club’s Conservation Program Coordinator, Jessica Mazour, the landowners have created a groundswell of opposition. Their efforts helped persuade Republican legislators to introduce bills that would restrict or prohibit the use of eminent domain for the pipelines.

State Representative Steven Holt introduced one of those bills. Initially numbered House File 368, it was renumbered House File 565 following approval by the House Judiciary Committee.

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Iowa ban on gender-affirming care would face uphill battle in court

UPDATE: The governor signed this bill on March 22. Original post follows.

Moving with unusual speed last week, Iowa Republican lawmakers approved Senate File 538, which broadly prohibits gender-affirming care, including puberty blockers, hormone treatments, and surgery, for Iowans under age 18.

Governor Kim Reynolds is expected to sign the bill soon, having used several opportunities over the past year to position herself against transgender youth.

The new law would certainly be challenged in court, as similar bans prompted lawsuits in Arkansas and Alabama.

During hours-long debates in the Iowa Senate and House, lawmakers raised points that would be central to litigation over whether banning gender-affirming care violates the constitutional rights of transgender children, their parents, and medical professionals.

For this post, I’ve pulled video clips to illustrate some of the core legal questions surrounding the bill. But there is much more of value in the passionate speeches delivered about Republicans’ latest attempt to target LGTBQ Iowans. You can watch the full Senate debate here (starting around 7:32:30) and the House debate here (starting around 1:40:45).

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Iowa House backs improvement to open records process

UPDATE: On March 30, Iowa Senate leaders placed House File 350 on the “unfinished business” calendar, keeping it alive for the 2023 legislative session. However, House File 333 is dead for this year. Original post follows.

The Iowa House has unanimously approved a bill designed to improve the process for those seeking public records from government bodies.

House File 350 would add new language to the open records law, known as Chapter 22, requiring government bodies to “promptly acknowledge” requests for public records and provide contact information for the person designated to handle the request.

The records custodian would also have to provide an “approximate date” for producing the records and an estimate for the cost involved in compiling and reviewing them. Finally, the custodian would need to inform the person seeking records “of any expected delay” in providing them.

The Iowa Public Information Board, which is charged with enforcing the state’s sunshine laws, proposed the bill using language that closely follows one of the board’s advisory opinions.

The goal is to address a recurring problem: some government bodies ignore records requests for weeks or months, leaving members of the public with no idea when or whether they will receive the material. For instance, Clark Kauffman of Iowa Capital Dispatch and Bleeding Heartland guest author Rachel Bruns both experienced lengthy delays when seeking information from the Iowa Department of Public Health.

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Iowa governor sides with anti-vaxxers, not cancer experts

LATE UPDATE: Republican lawmakers kept this provision in the final version of Senate File 496, which Governor Reynolds signed in May. Original post follows.

Iowa’s leading cancer researchers released sobering numbers last week. Data from the Iowa Cancer Registry indicates that Iowa has “the second-highest overall cancer incidence of all U.S. states” and is “the only state with a significant increase in cancer incidence from 2015 to 2019.”

In addition, Iowa ranks first for “rates of new cases of oral cavity and pharyngeal cancer,” often known as head and neck or mouth and throat cancers. Iowa also has the country’s second-highest rate for leukemia and ranks fifth and sixth for melanoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, respectively.

Meanwhile, Governor Kim Reynolds is forging ahead with efforts to stop requiring Iowa schools to teach junior high and high school students that a vaccine is available to prevent human papillomavirus (HPV). That virus can cause cancer in several areas of the body, including the mouth and throat.

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Where things stand with bills targeting Iowans on public assistance

Proposals that would cause thousands of Iowans to lose Medicaid coverage or federal food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are eligible for floor debate in both the Iowa House and Senate.

Republicans in each chamber’s Health and Human Services Committee changed some provisions in the bills, now numbered House File 613 and Senate File 494, then approved the legislation before the March 3 “funnel” deadline. However, the amended versions would still threaten health care or food assistance for many Iowans who now qualify.

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Iowa Republicans didn't always push anti-LGBTQ bills. What changed?

As the Iowa legislature’s first “funnel” deadline approaches, Republicans have introduced more than 30 bills targeting the LGBTQ community, roughly double the previous record. More than a dozen of those bills have either advanced from a subcommittee or have cleared a standing committee and are therefore eligible for debate in the Iowa House or Senate.

Until recently, the vast majority of bills threatening LGBTQ Iowans never received a subcommittee hearing. During the 2021 legislative session, none of the fifteen bills in that category made it through the first funnel (requiring approval by a House or Senate committee), and only a handful were even assigned to a subcommittee. Bills consigned to the scrap heap included proposed bans on gender-affirming care for transgender youth and so-called “bathroom bills,” which require transgender people to use school restrooms or locker rooms that correspond to the sex listed on their birth certificate, rather than the facilities that match their gender identity.

In contrast, this week House and Senate subcommittees rushed to pass bathroom bills and measures prohibiting gender-affirming care for minors less than 24 hours after the bills appeared on the Iowa legislature’s website.

How did these policies become a priority for Republican lawmakers in such a short time?

Three factors seem most important.

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Top Iowa Republicans deny obvious impact of anti-LGBTQ bill

UPDATE: The Iowa House approved this bill (renumbered House File 348) on March 8 by 62 votes to 35, with Republican Michael Bergan joining all Democrats to vote no. Prior to passage, an amendment slightly altered the wording. The bill now reads, “A school district shall not provide any program, curriculum, test, survey, questionnaire, promotion, or instruction relating to gender identity or sexual orientation to students in kindergarten through grade six.” Original post follows.

Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley complained this week that a centerpiece of this year’s Republican education agenda has been “misconstrued.”

Grassley and House Education Committee chair Skyler Wheeler claimed Republicans are only trying to “let kids be kids.”

Their spin defies a plain reading of the bill that would remove all teaching about gender identity or sexual orientation from Iowa’s elementary schools.

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Iowa university presidents defend diversity education

Henry Jay Karp is the Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Emanuel in Davenport, Iowa, which he served from 1985 to 2017. He is the co-founder and co-convener of One Human Family QCA, a social justice organization.

Please join me in applauding the leaders of Iowa’s three Regents universities—University of Iowa President Barbara Wilson, Iowa State University President Wendy Wintersteen, and University of Northern Iowa President Mark Nook—for their courageous stand against the Republicans on the Iowa House Education Appropriations subcommittee.

These principled leaders vigorously defended the costs and necessity of diversity education in higher education, during a hearing where Republicans “questioned whether the initiatives were worth the cost,” Katie Akin reported for the Des Moines Register.

Please indulge me as I dare to create a new term for what the Republicans, both in Iowa and around the nation, are attempting to accomplish.

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The caveman syndrome

Gerald Ott of Ankeny was a high school English teacher and for 30 years a school improvement consultant for the Iowa State Education Association.

My favorite memoir is Tara Westover’s EDUCATED: A memoir (2018). Apparently, I wasn’t alone. The book was number one on the New York Times best sellers list for over a year, and voted to the Times’ Ten Best Books for 2018. 

As Westover tells it, her parents, especially her father, were survivalists living off the grid at the base of a mountain in a Mormon pocket of southeastern Idaho. She didn’t have a birth certificate until she was nine. Her father’s distrust and disdain for government was so ferocious he barred his seven children from going to public school.

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Iowa House votes to protect speech from frivolous lawsuits

UPDATE: Although an Iowa Senate Judiciary subcommittee recommended passage of this bill, the full Judiciary Committee did not take it up before the legislature’s second “funnel” deadline on March 31. That means the bill won’t advance this year. Original post follows.

Iowa House members voted overwhelmingly on February 9 to make it easier to counter lawsuits filed in order to chill speech.

House File 177 would create a path for expedited dismissal of meritless claims stemming from exercise of the constitutionally-protected “right of freedom of speech or of the press, the right to assemble or petition, or the right of association […] on a matter of public concern.” Such cases are sometimes called “strategic lawsuits against public participation” (SLAPP), because the plaintiffs’ goal may be primarily to discourage speech or media coverage, rather than to prevail in court.

The Republican floor manager, State Representative Steven Holt, said passing an anti-SLAPP law became a priority for him after the Carroll Times Herald was sued over coverage of a local police officer who had relationships with teenage girls. Holt noted that even though the libel lawsuit was not successful, the newspaper “was left with over $100,000 in debt and nearly went out of business.”

Holt said the bill was about “protecting our small-town newspapers and media outlets.” Democratic State Representative Megan Srinivas also spoke in favor of the bill, saying it was critical to protect journalists, especially those working in small communities.

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Iowa leaders, don't ruin kids' lives

Aime Wichtendahl is a member of the Hiawatha City Council and first openly trans woman elected to government in Iowa.

When Iowa Republicans gained a trifecta in 2017, I told our city manager, “I don’t know what their economic agenda is, but I bet it has something to do with gay marriage and abortion.”

Fast forward six years and little has changed—except the legislature devotes extra time attacking transgender youth to feed their lives into the never-ending culture war dumpster fire.

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Iowa Republicans take a wrecking ball to education

Dan Henderson is a lifelong Iowan, retired educator (taught history for 30 years), writer, author, and community activist, living in Washington. A version of this post first appeared on his Substack newsletter, Things We Don’t Talk About Like Politics & Religion.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, along with her MAGA Republican colleagues in the statehouse, are rushing to try and outdo Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida in taking a wrecking ball to public education. This goal of Republican extremists stems from the conspiracy theories they see under every bush and in every classroom, as well as their basic mistrust for public school educators.

The GOP trifecta passed a historic private school voucher bill in January. It will siphon hundreds of millions of dollars from public schools, directing them toward private schools with no strings attached. No accountability, no mandates, no assurance that the money will be spent on students and their educational needs. It is a bonanza for private religious schools, and for-profit schools that will now see Iowa as fertile ground for their scam institutions.

But the wrecking ball doesn’t stop there.

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Wrong-headed bill on food assistance raises questions

Rick Morain is the former publisher and owner of the Jefferson Herald, for which he writes a regular column.

Sometimes it’s easy to understand legislative proposals. Other times, not so much. House File 3, filed early in the Iowa legislature’s 2023 session, falls in the second category. To understand its potential effect on needy people, take a quick look at two preexisting food programs whose nutritional goals differ.

First, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the federal program once called food stamps. It exists to help low-income households and those on Medicaid buy groceries.

Second, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (commonly known as WIC) aims to meet the specific nutritional needs of its designated recipients. WIC doesn’t allow recipients to use those funds for meat, sliced cheese, butter, flour, or fresh produce.

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The twelve Iowa Republicans who voted against school vouchers

Less than two weeks after making her latest pitch for “school choice,” Governor Kim Reynolds got what she wanted. The Republican-controlled legislature approved the governor’s expansive school voucher program, by 55 votes to 45 in the Iowa House and 31 votes to 18 in the Senate.

The state of play in the lower chamber was in doubt as recently as a few days ago. Reynolds had only one public event on her schedule last week, but she held private meetings with more than a few House Republicans who either opposed her plan or were on the fence about approving an unlimited new entitlement for families choosing private schools. According to the fiscal analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, which does not include all expenses, the proposal will cost Iowa’s general fund an additional $878.8 million over the next four fiscal years, with costs reaching about $345 million during the fourth year.

House leaders changed the chamber’s rules to keep the voucher bill out of the Appropriations and Ways and Means committees, where there might not have been enough Republican support to send the legislation to the floor. Senate leaders used a procedural trick to prevent any Democratic amendments from being considered.

No GOP lawmakers spoke against the bill during the floor debates in either chamber. Three Republican holdouts (State Representatives Chad Ingels, Brian Lohse, and Tom Moore) indicated during the five-hour House session that they would like to be recognized by the chair. But each turned off their light at some point before being called on to speak.

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