Don't make more than 52,000 Iowans wait until 2023 to vote

Governor Kim Reynolds asked Iowa lawmakers today to start the process of amending the state constitution to remove the lifetime ban on voting by those who have committed “infamous crimes,” which under current law are defined as all felony offenses.

A constitutional amendment would be the best long-term fix for an unfair system that disproportionately affects racial minorities and those lacking the funds to navigate the restoration process. So the Iowa House and Senate should certainly heed the governor’s call. But it’s difficult to get a constitutional amendment through both chambers of the legislature, and the soonest an amendment could be enacted would be November 2022.

Reynolds and state lawmakers can and should take immediate steps to allow tens of thousands of Iowans to participate in this year’s local elections, the 2020 caucuses, and the primary and general elections of 2020 and 2022.

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2019

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

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

Four African Americans (Democrats Ako Abdul-Samad, Ruth Ann Gaines, Ras Smith, and Phyllis Thede) will serve in the legislature’s lower chamber; the other 96 lawmakers are white. No Latino has ever been elected to the Iowa House, and there has not been an Asian-American member since Swati Dandekar moved up to the state Senate following the 2008 election. Democratic State Representative Liz Bennett is the only out LGBTQ member of the lower chamber. To my knowledge, Abdul-Samad (who is Muslim) is the only lawmaker in either chamber to practice a religion other than Christianity.

After the jump I’ve posted details on the Iowa House majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing House committees. Where relevant, I’ve noted significant changes since last year.

Some non-political trivia: the Iowa House includes two Smiths (both Democrats), while the other 98 members have different surnames. As for popular first names, there are six Davids (four go by Dave), four Marys (one goes by Mary Ann), three Roberts (a Rob, a Bob, and a Bobby), three men named Thomas (two go by Tom), three Johns and two Jons, and three men each named Gary and Brian. There are also two Elizabeths (a Beth and a Liz) and two men each named Bruce, Chris, Jeff, Michael (one goes by Mike), and Charles (a Chuck and a Charlie).

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Iowa House committee will hear Koether's election contest (updated)

Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer confirmed on January 9 that a special committee will consider Kayla Koether’s contest of the House district 55 election. According to the certified results, Republican State Representative Michael Bergan leads Koether by nine votes, 6,924 to 6,915. Koether is fighting to have 29 uncounted absentee ballots from Winneshiek County opened and tallied, in light of evidence from the U.S. Postal Service that voters mailed those ballots by the legal deadline.

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Iowa Senate needs to understand: religious freedom also applies to atheists

Justin Scott is the state director for the Iowa chapter of American Atheists. -promoted by Laura Belin

The notion of religious freedom — what it is, what it isn’t and what it should be — is being tested here in Iowa.

In April 2017, the Iowa House of Representatives respected my religious rights when I delivered the first atheistic invocation in that body’s history. The Iowa Senate, however, has denied my repeated requests to perform a similar invocation. In so doing, the Senate is not only directly discriminating against me, but also violating the Constitution, which protects all faiths equally.

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