Rest in peace, John Landon

State Representative John Landon passed away on July 29, his family announced. He was serving his fifth term representing Iowa House district 37, covering part of Ankeny. In tributes posted publicly, many Republican colleagues commented on Landon’s kindness and work ethic, including Governor Kim Reynolds, Secretary of State Paul Pate, House Speaker Pat Grassley, and Garrett Gobble, who now represents the other Ankeny House district.

Landon had chaired the House Administration and Regulation Appropriations Subcommittee since 2015, and also served this year on the Commerce and Transportation committees. Although he missed much of the 2021 legislative session while being treated for the illness that claimed his life, he was able to floor manage the bill setting the fiscal year 2022 budget for a number of state agencies and the offices of the governor, secretary of state, and state auditor.

Democratic State Representative Bruce Hunter, who served on the budget panel Landon led, told Bleeding Heartland on July 30 that Landon was “the nicest guy in the House” and someone who reached across the aisle when bills or amendments were being considered.

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How Iowa taxpayers fund private schools, boondoggle for the rich

Peter Fisher is research director for Common Good Iowa. -promoted by Laura Belin

The Iowa legislature recently made a very generous tax credit even more costly and more generous, at the same time expanding a boondoggle for wealthy taxpayers.

As that credit grows more expensive, the rest of the taxpayers must either pay more to make up the difference, or deal with a reduction in public school funding or other state services.

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Liz Bennett, Breanna Oxley face off in open Iowa Senate primary (updated)

Catching up on some news from before the holiday weekend: a competitive Democratic primary is shaping up for an open Iowa Senate seat covering part of Cedar Rapids. Four-term State Representative Liz Bennett confirmed on June 30 that she will run for the district that State Senator Rob Hogg has represented since 2007. Hogg won’t seek re-election in 2022, he announced last month. Iowa has yet to adopt a new political map, but this district will cover some part of the city of Cedar Rapids.

Bennett is the ranking Democrat on the Iowa House Economic Growth Committee and a member of the Human Resources, Natural Resources, and Information Technology committees, as well as the Transportation, Infrastructure and Capitals Appropriations subcommittee. Having won four previous state legislative races, she will be the early favorite in the Iowa Senate primary.

Bennett is also the first out LGBTQ woman elected to the Iowa legislature and the only out LGBTQ person now serving at the statehouse. Only one out LGBTQ person has ever served in the Iowa Senate: Matt McCoy, who did not seek re-election in 2018.

Breanna Oxley, a public school teacher and education activist, was first to declare her candidacy for the Cedar Rapids Senate district on June 15. She told Bleeding Heartland last week she is staying in that race. Her endorsers include former U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack, former State Senator Swati Dandekar, and former Linn County Supervisor Linda Langston.

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Pissed off: New Iowa law makes fake urine a crime

Marty Ryan covers a new law that received little attention early this year. -promoted by Laura Belin

A private sector employee from Iowa goes across the border on a Friday after work to Illinois. His friends offer a blunt, and he takes a hit. He thinks nothing of it, because recreational use of pot is legal in Illinois. On his way home on Sunday, he realizes that there could be a random drug test early in the week. He’s heard marijuana will stay in his system for up to 30 days, so he purchases a package of fake urine at a vape shop.

Monday morning, he is asked to take a drug test. He manages to get the fake urine into the beaker without anyone seeing him.

Days later, a lab result indicates that he may have used fake urine. Depending on a union contract, an employee handbook, or company policy that has been posted conspicuously, the employee may be disciplined, or in a severe case terminated. Now, he can also be arrested for a simple misdemeanor.

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Iowa's new qualified immunity law may not hold up in court

“Iowa’s law enforcement will always have my respect, and I will always have their back,” Governor Kim Reynolds declared while signing Senate File 342 on June 17. Sections 12 through 16 of the wide-ranging policing bill establish a “qualified immunity” standard for Iowa. Effective immediately upon the governor’s signature, state employees or law enforcement officers who violate individuals’ constitutional rights can be sued only if their conduct violated “clearly established” law, such that “every reasonable employee would have understood” the act was illegal.

The provisions were crafted to match decades-old federal qualified immunity standards, and to override an Iowa Supreme Court ruling that was more favorable to Iowans whose rights have been violated by police.

The new law will almost certainly be challenged. And while the conservative majority on the Iowa Supreme Court often defers to other branches of government, the justices may find that Senate File 342’s language on qualified immunity is incompatible with the Iowa Constitution.

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Democrats keep majority on Johnston city council

Bryan Burkhardt won the June 22 special election for a Johnston City Council seat despite a strong write-in campaign by local Republicans on behalf of Jim Gorsche. Unofficial results posted by the Polk County auditor’s office showed 1,032 votes for Burkhardt (51.1 percent), 783 write-in votes (38.8 percent), all but six of which were for Gorsche, and 203 votes for Adam Haar (10.1 percent).

Turnout was just under 14 percent, not bad for a summer local election, which received little media coverage.

Burkhardt, a Des Moines Area Community College professor and small business owner, will serve the remainder of Scott Syroka’s term, which runs through 2023. Elected to the council in 2019, Syroka resigned early this year to serve as deputy director of communications in the Biden-Harris administration’s Office of Personnel Management. John Temple has been filling the vacancy on the council since February; he didn’t compete in the special election.

Local elections are nonpartisan in Iowa, but Burkhardt and Haar, the top two vote-getters in the city’s May 25 primary, both had support from area Democrats. Gorsche finished third in the four-way primary.

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