# Iowa Legislature

What's in a name? For some teenagers, a lot

Photo of Academy of Mount St. Ursula in The Bronx, New York is by Bernie Scolaro and published with permission.

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

In the fall of 1972, I was a shy 9th grader entering Mt St. Ursula high school in The Bronx. My legal name was Mary Bernadette, but I always went by my middle name, Bernadette. The first day of classes, teachers had us standing in the front of their rooms until our names were called to be seated according to their seating charts. Each time I heard “Mary” called out, I corrected the teacher and said that I go by my middle name “Bernadette.” First day, every class. I was so embarrassed.

Friends I met in high school soon started calling me Bernie, which has stuck to this day. I never asked to shorten my name to Bernie, since my parents always felt it sounded too “boyish.” However, I did feel that Bernie much more suited my personality, and Bernadette was a bit too formal for this tomboy who liked sports.

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Using Iowa's property taxes to solve a non-existent problem

Johnson County Supervisor Kurt Friese weighs in on how the Republican voter ID bill, House File 516, will affect county budgets, and by extension property taxpayers. The bill is pending in the state House, after GOP senators passed a different version from the bill approved earlier in the lower chamber. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Voter fraud in Iowa, and more specifically voter impersonation, is so statistically insignificant that it is essentially non-existent. It has zero impact on the outcome of our elections. None. Nada. Zip. Bupkis.

Requiring voters to show ID at their polling place accomplishes exactly nothing to protect the integrity of the election. There is one thing it does accomplish, however: lower voter turnout, especially among minorities and the elderly. That is among the reasons why the Supreme Court blocked North Carolina’s version of the law ahead of last fall’s general election, and why it would likely do so with the Iowa proposal.

Before it comes to that, though, House File 516 will raise your property taxes in order to solve a non-existent problem.

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Iowa passenger rail follow-up and discussion thread

In the final days of the 2011 Iowa legislative session, funding for passenger rail was one of the last disputes House Republican and Senate Democratic negotiators resolved. The final deal called for no passenger rail money in the state budget for fiscal year 2012, but left “intent” language describing future state funding to match federal grants for a train route between Iowa City and Chicago. At that time, news reports indicated that legislators would need to allocate $6.5 million toward passenger rail in fiscal year 2013 to keep this project alive, plus $10 million total in subsequent years.

Before the Iowa House and Senate adjourned last week, I saw no mention of passenger rail funding in any reports about the infrastructure budget for fiscal year 2013, which begins on July 1. Wondering whether no news was bad news, I started asking around. What I learned is after the jump, along with new links on the potential for passenger rail across Iowa.

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Time to recognize solar's huge potential in Iowa

Iowa’s potential to be the “Saudi Arabia of wind” is widely acknowledged, but the state’s capacity to harness solar power for producing electricity or thermal heating is a better-kept secret. A five-year program to install 300 megawatts of solar power could create nearly 5,000 jobs and add more than $332 million in value to Iowa’s economy, according to a new report commissioned by the Iowa Policy Project, the Iowa Environmental Council, Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Vote Solar Initiative.

After the jump I’ve posted the summary of the new report. Click here to download the full report (18-page pdf).

Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson (known to be cautious about calculating economic impacts) did the analysis for the report.

In his analysis, ISU’s Swenson estimated during the five years of installing 300 MW of solar the average annual impact would be:

• $174 million value added to the economy

• $302 million increased industrial output

• $99 million increased labor income.

Those numbers include sizable indirect effects – spinoff economic effects caused by the initial investment.

“Growth in the solar industry means direct jobs for more than just rooftop installers but also for electricians, builders, contractors, engineers, technicians, financiers, lawyers, marketers and salespeople,” the report stated.

Swenson’s estimate does not include new manufacturing jobs in the solar industry that might be created if Iowa adopted incentives to produce more solar power.

State Senator Joe Bolkcom has introduced a bill to spur more solar installation in Iowa:

Other states have jump-started the growth of solar panel manufacturers by providing tax credits to businesses and homeowners who buy from manufacturers in their states, Bolkcom said.

His proposal in Senate File 99 is not that specific, but it would provide up to $10 million in state-sponsored rebates to home-owners and businesses to help defray the cost of installing solar energy panels. The grants would cover 30 percent of the cost of installation, up to a maximum of $15,000 for farms and businesses and up to $3,000 for residences.

Later this month, the Iowa Policy Project’s David Osterberg is planning to take some state legislators on a tour of solar sites in Waterloo, Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. I hope to see bipartisan support for expanding solar power generation here.

So far, the main energy policy moving through the Iowa legislature during the 2011 session relates to nuclear power. In 2010, lawmakers approved a bill to allow MidAmerican Energy “to pass along up to $5 million per year in study expenses to customers for three years” as it studies potential locations for a new nuclear power plant. Now MidAmerican and utility industry groups are pushing “Construction Work in Progress” legislation that “would allow Iowa public utilities to charge ratepayers higher rates now to cover potential future costs of a yet to be constructed nuclear reactor, even if such a reactor is never built.” The Iowa House Commerce Committee unanimously approved one of the bills this week, and a companion bill has support in the Iowa Senate. Paul Deaton explains here and here why these bills are a bad idea. I recommend clicking through to read both posts, but here’s an excerpt:

The State of Georgia may build the first new nuclear plant in 30 years and adopted a CWIP [Construction Work in Progress] . Iowa legislators should study the impact the Georgia CWIP has on ratepayers. Other CWIPs were passed in South Carolina and Florida and they should also be studied. People familiar with the Georgia CWIP say Iowa’s proposed legislation shifts more risk to customers than does Georgia. There are other things to consider regarding CWIPs before the legislature passes one.

It boils down to this. If MidAmerican Energy builds a nuclear power generating station, for each billion dollars in costs, on average, $1,597 will be passed along to each of MidAmerican’s 626,223 Iowa retail customers. Are Iowa households ready for this? Are Iowa households ready to foot the bill knowing that a nuclear power generating station may never be built?

Nuclear power is expensive compared to other methods for generating electricity. It is “not viable” without huge government subsidies and “shifts financial risks to taxpayers.”

Iowa could expand solar power without passing along millions of dollars in costs to utility company customers. Hundreds of megawatts of solar power generating capacity could be brought online in Iowa over a few years, whereas a new nuclear plant would not be completed until 2020. Moreover, a nuclear plant would probably employ several hundred people in one locality. (Iowa’s only existing nuclear power plant employs roughly 500 people in the Palo area.) Ramping up Iowa’s solar capacity could create jobs for thousands of people spread out all over the state, wherever buildings are retrofitted to accommodate solar power.

Any comments about energy policy are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Today’s Des Moines Register contains an outstanding guest piece by Mark Cooper, senior fellow for economic analysis at Vermont Law School’s Institute for Energy and the Environment. Click through to read the whole thing. I’ve posted some excerpts below.

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The case of the missing Republican fundraising

Last week Democratic and Republican candidates for the Iowa legislature filed disclosure reports on their campaign contributions and expenditures. For most candidates, those reports covered the period from June 2 through July 14. For the few candidates who didn’t file reports on the Friday preceding the June primary, the July 19 reports covered campaign fundraising and expenses between May 15 and July 14.

John Deeth posted cash-on-hand totals for candidates in most of the Iowa House and Senate battleground districts. The numbers are encouraging for Democrats, because our candidates lead their opponents in cash on hand in most of the targeted districts.

As I read through the July 19 contribution reports, I noticed something strange. Republican candidates in various targeted Iowa House and Senate districts reported improbably low fundraising numbers. As a general rule, candidates strive for impressive fundraising to demonstrate their viability, and cash on hand in July indicates which candidate will have more resources during crunch time. However, I got the impression that several of the Republican Iowa House and Senate candidates made little effort to obtain campaign contributions during the latest reporting period. Follow me after the jump for some examples and possible explanations.  

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Big fundraising deadline and other events coming up this week

The next reporting period for Iowa candidates ends on Wednesday night, so now’s a good time to contribute to Democratic campaigns if you are able and willing. The easiest way to donate is through ActBlue. Iowa’s federal and statewide candidates are here, Iowa House candidates are here, and Iowa Senate candidates are here. Donations made before the end of July 14 will count for the current reporting period.

Event details for political and environmental gatherings this week are after the jump.

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Wellmark customers will pay more starting May 1

Approximately 80,000 Iowans will face substantial health insurance premium hikes beginning May 1. An independent review has confirmed the “need” for Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield to raise rates by an average of 18 percent. The higher rates were intended to go into effect on April 1, but last month Governor Chet Culver ordered a delay pending an review of the matter. The Des Moines Register reports today,

[Iowa Insurance Commissioner Susan] Voss said in a memo to Culver that Wellmark’s losses supported “the need for the rate increase” based on two separate actuarial analyses conducted by INS Consultants, a Philadelphia actuary. The group also found that the insurance division’s rate review process is actuarially “acceptable” and “reasonable” compared with INS’s methodology.

Birny Birnbaum, head of the Center for Economic Justice, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group in Texas, said it’s unlikely that INS would disagree with the rate increase.

“While INS is technically independent, there is no way the firm would contradict and embarrass the agency which hired the firm,” Birnbaum said Monday. “If INS were to contradict the insurance division, it would likely not be hired in the future by the Iowa Insurance Division or any other insurance regulator.”

Speaking to the Register, State Representative Janet Petersen touted legislation passed during the 2010 session, which is intended to give consumers more information and warning regarding health insurance premium increases. After the jump I’ve posted some key points from Senate File 2201 and Senate File 2356.

These bills contain a lot of good provisions but probably won’t solve this particular problem for many Iowans. Wellmark dominates the insurance market in this state. Giving people a few weeks to shop around won’t magically allow them to find a better deal. In addition, health insurers can still exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions until 2014. The only real choices Wellmark’s individual customers have are: 1) pay a lot more, like my family, or 2) downgrade to a policy that’s less comprehensive and/or involves higher out-of-pocket costs for medical care.

Iowa House Republican leader Kraig Paulsen showed his creative side yesterday, finding a way to blame Democrats for Wellmark’s rate hikes:

Paulsen pointed out that the Democrat-controlled Legislature has voted in recent years to impose several health insurance mandates, such as coverage of cancer clinical trials and prosthetics.

“It’s indisputable that those add to rates. That’s just the way it works,” he said.

Health insurance mandates drive up costs for Iowans, Paulsen said.

“Mandates aren’t necessarily requirements that insurance companies sell something. They’re requirements that purchasers buy something,” he said.

One legislative proposal would have allowed state-regulated health insurance companies to provide mandate-free coverage “for those who want a less comprehensive product,” Paulsen said.

That idea by House Republicans failed, as did a proposal to study allowing out-of-state insurers to offer policies in Iowa, which could help Iowans find cheaper policies, he said.

Come on, Mr. Paulsen, who ever anticipates needing prosthetics someday, or being in a position to benefit from a cancer clinical trial? Anyway, that cancer clinical trial bill passed both the Iowa House and Senate unanimously. Also, allowing out-of-state insurers to sell policies here would spark a “race to the bottom” in terms of consumer protection.

Share any relevant thoughts in the comments.

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Democrats looking more likely to hold Iowa House district 21

First-term Democratic State Representative Kerry Burt announced yesterday that he won’t run for re-election in Iowa House district 21, which comprises part of Waterloo and some rural areas in southern Black Hawk County (map here). The state Attorney General’s Office filed charges against a group of parents including Burt, who allegedly gave false addresses to avoid paying higher tuition fees for their children to attend the Price Laboratory School in Cedar Falls. Burt said in a statement, “I look forward to my day in court.  I believe I am innocent and strongly believe my name will be vindicated once all of the relevant facts come to light. […] I am extremely grateful to the citizens of Waterloo for allowing me to serve and look forward to continuing my public service in the future.”

I wish Burt the best but won’t deny that I’m one of those relieved Democrats John Deeth mentioned here. I’ve been hoping for some time that Burt would not seek re-election, not only because of the tuition scandal but because of his drunk driving arrest in February 2009.

After the jump I cover the recent electoral history of House district 21 and reasons Democrats can feel optimistic about holding the seat.

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Past time to stop texting while driving

Governor Chet Culver today signed into law the ban on texting while driving. This chart at the Iowa Senate Democrats blog shows the relevant prohibitions and exceptions. The House Democrats blog summarizes key points:

House File 2456 prohibits the use of all electronic and mobile devices while driving for those under the age of 18.  Persons over 18 may not use a hand-held electronic device to read, write, or send a text message while driving. Violators will be charged with a simple misdemeanor and a $30 fine.  If texting is the cause of an accident that results in serious injury or death, penalties increase up to a $1000 fine and 180 day license suspension.

Law enforcement cannot stop or detain a person only for suspected violations of texting and local governments are not allowed to adopt their own ordinances.  When the new law takes effect on July 1, law enforcement will begin an education campaign and will only write warning citations for the first year before the enhanced penalties and fines begin to apply.

Click here for the full text and bill history of House File 2456. It’s a reasonable compromise between a broad texting ban approved by the Iowa Senate in February and an Iowa House version that would have applied only to teenage drivers. State Representative Curt Hanson, a retired driver’s education teacher, headed the committee that drafted the compromise language. Texting is dangerous for older drivers as well as for teens.

The new law specifies that police cannot pull someone over solely for a suspected texting violation because while this bill was under consideration, some activists alleged that the texting ban would give officers another excuse for racially-motivated traffic stops and arrests. A group paid for robocalls in some House Democrats’ districts, seeking to generate calls against the new law. Excerpt from one such call, which you can listen to here: “This has nothing to do with safety–they just want another reason to pull you over and to harrass you.”

While the texting ban is a step in the right direction, drivers ought to go further and stop using their cell phones while the vehicle is moving. Driving while talking on the phone has been shown to be as dangerous as drunk driving. Cell phones are estimated to cause 1.4 million crashes a year in the U.S., and hands-free phones are no safer for drivers than hand-held phones. For more background, read the New York Times series of reports last summer on the dangers of cell phone use while driving. I know someone who is normally a good driver but rear-ended another vehicle recently while glancing down to see who was calling her cell phone.

Politically, restricting cell phone use while driving won’t be possible in Iowa until some high-profile accident claims lives here. Too often it takes a tragedy (with sympathetic victims) to spur lawmakers to act.  

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End of 2010 legislative session thread

The Iowa House and Senate adjourned for 2010 today, wrapping up the legislative session in just 79 days. In the coming weeks I will post about various bills that passed or failed to pass during the session. For now, you can read wrap-up posts at Iowa Independent, IowaPolitics.com, the Des Moines Register and Radio Iowa.

Democratic legislative leaders said the House and Senate “succeeded in responsibly balancing the budget without raising taxes while laying the groundwork for Iowa’s economic recovery.” Governor Chet Culver described the session as “a real victory for Iowans, particularly hardworking Iowa families.” He also hailed passage of an infrastructure bill including the final installment of the I-JOBS state bonding program. AFSCME Iowa Council 61 praised several bills that passed this year, such as the government reorganization bill, the early retirement program and a budget that saved many public employees’ jobs.

Republicans and their traditional interest-group allies saw things differently, of course. House Minority Leader Kraig Paulsen, Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley and Iowans for Tax Relief all emphasized the use of one-time federal dollars to help cover state spending. Their talking points have made headway with Kathie Obradovich, but the reality is that much of the federal stimulus money was intended to backfill state budgets, and rightly so, because severe state spending cuts can deepen and prolong an economic recession.

Overall, I am not satisfied with the legislature’s work in 2010. Despite the massive costs of reconstruction after the 2008 floods, legislators lacked the political will to take any steps forward on floodplain management. Despite the film tax credit fiasco, not enough was done to rein in tax credits. Many other good ideas fell by the wayside for lack of time during the rushed session. (It strikes me as penny-wise and pound-foolish to save $800,000 by shortening the legislative calendar from 100 to 80 days.) Some other good proposals got bogged down in disagreements between the House and the Senate. Labor and environmental advocates once again saw no progress on their key legislative priorities, yet this Democratic-controlled legislature found the time to pass the top priority of the National Rifle Association. Pathetic.

On the plus side, the 2011 budget protected the right priorities, and most of the projects funded by the infrastructure spending bill, Senate File 2389, are worthwhile. Some good bills affecting public safety and veterans made it through. In addition, Democrats blocked a lot of bad Republican proposals. Credit must also go to the leaders who held their caucuses together against efforts to write discrimination into the Iowa Constitution.

Any relevant thoughts are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Read Todd Dorman on the Iowa House’s “parting gift to local government officials who like to play secret agent on your dime.”

What will it take to get the gun show loophole closed?

How many more tragedies need to happen before elected officials have the guts to close the gun show loophole? The latest high-profile beneficiary of this loophole was the mentally ill attacker in the recent shootings near the Pentagon.

Law enforcement officials say [John Patrick] Bedell, a man with a history of severe psychiatric problems, had been sent a letter by California authorities Jan. 10 telling him he was prohibited from buying a gun because of his mental history.

Nineteen days later, the officials say, Bedell bought the Ruger at a gun show in Las Vegas. Such a sale by a private individual does not require the kind of background check that would have stopped Bedell’s purchase.

Republican politicians fall all over themselves trying to prove how loyal they are to the National Rifle Association. Some are against any kind of background checks for people who want to carry firearms in public. Too many Democrats are afraid to stand up to this NRA-approved extremism. Meanwhile, a Republican pollster’s recent survey of gun owners shows that they understand the need for reasonable limits:

Mr. Luntz queried 832 gun owners, including 401 card-carrying N.R.A. members, in a survey commissioned by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the alliance of hundreds of executives seeking stronger gun laws. In flat rebuttal of N.R.A. propaganda, the findings showed that 69 percent of N.R.A. members supported closing the notorious gun-show loophole that invites laissez-faire arms dealing outside registration requirements.

Even more members, 82 percent, favored banning gun purchases to suspects on terrorist watch lists who are now free to arm. And 69 percent disagreed with Congressionally imposed rules against sharing federal gun-trace information with state and local police agencies.

Fortunately, it looks as if a proposal to make it easier for Iowans to carry concealed weapons is unlikely to advance during this year’s legislative session. That bill’s main advocate is Iowa House Republican Clel Baudler. He serves on the NRA’s board and doesn’t even support steps to remove guns from domestic abusers. (Last fall, Baudler suggested that murder victim Tereseann Lynch Moore might not have been killed by her estranged husband if she had been carrying her own gun.) Not that Baudler is an isolated case; a disturbing number of Iowa Republican legislators opposed a recent bill to get guns out of the hands of convicted domestic abusers and people subject to a restraining order.

CORRECTION: I spoke too soon above. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy have idiotically revived the NRA’s pet bill, which “would give Iowa one of the loosest gun-permit laws in the country.” Bad for public safety, bad politics. No one who wants to increase the number of Iowans carrying concealed weapons is going to vote for Democrats.

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Republican "family values" on display in Iowa House

The good news is, an important public safety bill went to Governor Chet Culver’s desk on March 11. Senate File 2357 was one of Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller’s legislative priorities this year. The bill prohibits Iowans from owning guns and ammunition if they have been convicted of a domestic violence crime or are subject to a protective order. Since 1995, 205 Iowans have been killed in domestic violence incidents; that figure represents nearly one-third of all murders recorded in Iowa during that period. Miller has also pointed out that firearms caused 111 of the 205 Iowa deaths in domestic abuse murders since 1995. Moreover, firearms were involved in nearly two-thirds of Iowa’s domestic violence deaths in 2007 and 2008. Records show 46 of the 205 Iowans killed in domestic abuse murders since 1995 have been bystanders. It’s easier to kill a bystander with a gun than with a knife or other weapon.

Federal law already bans those convicted of domestic violence or subject to a protective order from owning a gun. However, the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence has noted,

We need additional state law so that local law enforcement officers have the legal authority help enforce the firearm ban. Without additional state law there are only two ATF agents in the entire state who can act to enforce the federal law […] Without local law enforcement involved abusers will not and are not abiding by the federal firearms ban.  

Various law enforcement entities backed SF 2357, but most Republicans in the Iowa legislature didn’t cooperate with this effort to address a major violent crime problem. While Republicans were unable to defeat the bill, their votes on the Senate and House floor showed more deference to extremist gun advocates than to the potential victims of domestic abusers.

Eleven of the 18 Iowa Senate Republicans voted against SF 2357 when the upper chamber approved it on February 25, and a twelfth Republican joined them when the Senate considered an amended version on March 11. Roll calls can be found in pdf files for the Senate Journal on those dates. Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley and third-district Congressional candidate Brad Zaun were among the Republicans who voted no.

The March 10 Iowa House debate on SF 2357 exposed even more disturbing aspects of Republican “family values.” House Republicans voted unanimously to inject the same-sex marriage debate into this unrelated bill.

Then they voted unanimously to add a provision that might deter victims from seeking a protective order.

Then all but one of them voted to help domestic abusers get their guns back more quickly.

Then they unanimously supported language to give abuse victims access to self-defense courses, as if that’s the real solution to the domestic violence problem.

Then more than half the Republican caucus voted against the final bill.

The gory details can be found here; highlights are after the jump.

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Iowa Cities, State Legislators Opposed Flood Plain Management Steps

(Unbelievable. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

As Iowa citizens brace themselves for another spring flood season, Iowa mayors, city council members and state lawmakers are doing everything they can to STOP even modest flood prevention planning from going forward in the Iowa Legislature. If you’re scratching you head and wondering why, it may be time to contact your elected officials and ask them. The following is an action alert sent out yesterday by the Iowa Environmental Council.  You can follow the link to a sample message to send to state lawmakers or copy and send to your elected city officials…

…more…after the jump…

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Dream recruit may spark Republican infighting in Senate district 45

Iowa Republicans have landed Sandy Greiner, their dream candidate against first-term Democratic State Senator Becky Schmitz in Senate district 45. The southeast Iowa district includes all of Washington, Jefferson, and Van Buren counties, plus part of Wapello and Johnson counties (map here). Schmitz defeated Republican incumbent David Miller by 184 votes in 2006, but the area leans slightly Republican in terms of voter registration.

Greiner represented Iowa House district 89, which makes up half of Senate district 45, for four terms (1993 to 2001). She then served for two years in the Iowa Senate before redistricting prompted her to return to House district 89 for another three terms (2003-2009). Consequently, she starts the race with high name recognition in the area and will be able to campaign almost as an incumbent. Republican blogger Craig Robinson sounds ready to declare this seat won for the GOP.

Greiner will be a stronger opponent for Schmitz than the three Republicans who had previously declared for the seat (Richard Marlar, Randy Besick and Dan Cesar). However, I would not assume that local Republicans will be united behind her this fall. Greiner is linked to business elites who have battled with activists on the religious right for control over the direction of the Iowa GOP.

Join me after the jump for more background on Greiner and why I suspect some social conservatives will fight her candidacy.

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House Democrats may not have the votes for "fair share"

John Deeth attended the League of Women Voters’ forum in Coralville on Saturday, and he buried an interesting nugget toward the end of his liveblog:

Chris Bonfig asks about HF 2420; Mascher, Dvorsky, Schmitz, Lensing, Bolkcom yes; Jacoby, Marek no. Jacby: “The first part of the bill is marvelous, the [second] part needs some work.”

House file 2420, formerly known as House Study Bill 702, is the reworked “fair share” legislation. The idea behind “fair share” is that employees who don’t belong to a union would have to reimburse the union for services provided, such as collective bargaining and handling grievances. A “fair share” bill passed the Iowa Senate in 2007 but stalled in the Iowa House, where the Democratic majority was 53-47 at the time. The current Democratic majority is 56-44, but none of organized labor’s legislative priorities passed during the 2009 legislative session because of opposition from a “six-pack” of House Democrats.

This year’s “fair share” proposal has been scaled back and would apply only to state employees. (Many labor advocates agree with Iowa AFL-CIO president emeritus Mark Smith, who has argued that the measure should apply to all private sector and public sector unions.) Iowa Republicans and business groups are fiercely opposing “fair share,” even though it would not apply to private businesses.

State Representative Dave Jacoby represents a relatively safe district in Johnson County. If he just announced at a public forum that he’s not backing HF 2420, I don’t see much chance of the “six-pack” members supporting the bill. That would leave House Democrats short of the 51 votes needed for passage.

When Jacoby praised the first part of the bill but not the second part, he appeared to be supporting reimbursement for grievance services but not for bargaining services, which are more costly for the union to provide. Click here for the full text of HF 2420. It states that “reasonable reimbursement” for bargaining services “shall not exceed sixty-five percent of the regular membership dues that the nonmember would have to pay if the nonmember were a member” of the union. The bill caps reimbursement for grievance services at ten percent of the union’s regular membership dues.

In February, Iowa House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy suggested that a new “prevailing wage” bill is more likely to pass this session than “fair share.” In 2009 the “six-pack” sank a prevailing wage bill, but this year House Labor Committee Chairman Rick Olson prepared a compromise version that would require payment of prevailing wage on a smaller number of projects. Olson told the Cedar Rapids Gazette that the “softer” version of the prevailing wage bill addresses the objections raised last year by conservative House Democrats.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

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Republican "family values" on display in Iowa Senate

Last Thursday, the Iowa Senate approved a bill that would improve the health and well-being of Iowa working mothers and their children. In addition, this bill would reduce many employers’ health care costs while lowering employee turnover and absenteeism. Unlike legislation that pits business interests against the needs of working families, this bill would be a win-win.

Nevertheless, almost the whole Republican caucus voted against Senate File 2270, which promotes workplace accommodations for employees who express breast milk.

Follow me after the jump for background on this bill and Republican opposition to it.

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Massive Iowa Legislature linkfest (post-funnel edition)

The Iowa Legislature has been moving at an unusually fast pace during the shortened 2010 session. It’s time to catch up on what’s happened at the statehouse over the past three weeks. From here on out I will try to post a legislative roundup at the end of every week.

February 12 was the first “funnel” deadline. In order to have a chance of moving forward in 2010, all legislation except for tax and appropriations bills must have cleared at least one Iowa House or Senate committee by the end of last Friday.

After the jump I’ve included links on lots of bills that have passed or are still under consideration, as well as bills I took an interest in that failed to clear the funnel. I have grouped bills by subject area. This post is not an exhaustive list; way too many bills are under consideration for me to discuss them all. I recommend this funnel day roundup by Rod Boshart for the Mason City Globe-Gazette.

Note: the Iowa legislature’s second funnel deadline is coming up on March 5. To remain alive after that point, all bills except tax and appropriations bills must have been approved by either the full House or Senate and by a committee in the opposite chamber. Many bills that cleared the first funnel week will die in the second.  

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Who is the most clueless Iowa legislator?

A couple of years ago, I would have said State Representative Dwayne Alons (House district 4). Longtime Bleeding Heartland readers may remember Alons as the guy who asserted during a committee hearing on greenhouse gas emissions that global warming would be good for Iowa because warmer temperatures helped ancient Mayans grow taller and stronger than today’s men and women. The following year, Alons remarked, “We shouldn’t be as concerned, actually, about warming, especially now that we have modern refrigeration and air conditioning.”

Alons sets the bar high in terms of cluelessness, but after reading this piece by Jason Hancock today, I think State Representative Jason Schultz (House district 55) could give him a run for his money. Schultz has introduced House File 2313, which stipulates,

 1  1    Section 1.  NEW SECTION.  602.1100  Judicial authority.

 1  2    1.  A judicial officer shall not use judicial precedent,

 1  3 case law, penumbras, or international law as a basis for

 1  4 rulings.  A judicial officer shall only use the Constitution

 1  5 of the United States, the Constitution of the State of Iowa,

 1  6 and the Code of Iowa as the basis for any ruling issued by such

 1  7 judicial officer.    The only source material that may be used

 1  8 for interpreting the Constitution of the United States by a

 1  9 judicial officer in this state shall be the Federalist papers

 1 10 and other writings of the founding fathers to describe the

 1 11 intent of the founding fathers, and if such source material is

 1 12 used, the full context of the source material must be used by

 1 13 the judicial officer.

 1 14    2.  This section is not reviewable by the court.

 1 15    3.  A violation of this section by a judicial officer shall

 1 16 be considered malfeasance in office and subjects the judicial

 1 17 officer to impeachment under chapter 68.

Bad ideas are not in short supply at the Iowa Capitol, but Schultz has taken things to a new level of stupidity here. No precedent and no case law, really? I have never heard of a so-called “strict constructionist” who would prohibit judges from citing previous court rulings in forming their opinions. In effect, Schultz is saying judges have to reinvent the wheel in almost every case. Yet conservative jurists usually lean toward respecting precedent.

Schultz would not allow any judge to consult historians’ work on the Constitution or the Federalist Papers either, as if there can be no ambiguity about what 18th-century language was meant to convey.

Mr. desmoinesdem reminds me that even U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a critic of citing foreign law in U.S. courts, has cited international law before when interpreting a treaty. In a recent case Scalia even cited the Babylonian Talmud, which is more than 1,000 years old.

If you’re wondering why Schultz wants to ban “penumbras,” that term alludes to the idea that there is a right to privacy, even though the Bill of Rights does not contain the word “privacy.”

Schultz’s bill isn’t going anywhere, and Drake University law professor Mark Kende notes that it would be unconstitutional in any event.

Like many Iowa Republicans, Schultz appears not to have a solid grasp of the judicial review concept. His support for a bill that would restore elections for Iowa Supreme Court justices indicates that he’s not sold on judicial independence. But even in the context of bad Republican ideas, House File 2313 stands out. Schultz is angry that the Iowa Supreme Court cited Iowa case law in its Varnum v Brien ruling last year, so the solution must be to ban judges from considering case law.

Not only is Schultz ignorant, he also demonstrated an impressive mean streak by introducing a bill this session “that would remove protections for gay, lesbian and transgender students from an anti-bullying law passed in 2007.” (More on that here.)

Iowa politics-watchers, who do you think is the most embarrassingly ill-informed member of the Iowa legislature? Make your case in this thread or e-mail me confidentially: desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com.  

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Iowa Senate approves government reorganization bill

Last night the Iowa Senate passed Senate File 2088, which would reorganize state government, after four hours of debate. All 32 Democrats in the chamber voted for the bill, along with three Republicans: Shawn Hamerlinck, Larry Noble and Pat Ward.

Click here for the full text of the bill. According to analysis by the Legislative Services Agency, Senate File 2088 would reduce state spending from the general fund by $74 million in fiscal year 2011 and $36 million the following year (here’s the link to the fiscal note on the bill). In addition, “Other funds, including local government pots of money, would save $44 million next budget year and just under $14 million the following year.” Jennifer Jacobs posted some of the key provisions and amendments at the Des Moines Register’s blog.

Unlike the 1985 state government reorganization, the current bill does not merge any state agencies. It doesn’t close any of Iowa’s four mental health institutes, but downsizes the one at Clarinda. That switch outraged legislators from southwest Iowa, because the Iowa Department of Human Services had recommended closing the Mount Pleasant Mental Health Institute in southeast Iowa instead.

Senate File 2088 requires bulk purchasing and centralized payroll and technology systems for most state agencies but exempts the three state universities from those provisions.

Rod Boshart recapped one of the more contentious episodes during last night’s debate:

The debate stalled when 11 majority Democrats joined the 18-member GOP minority in supporting an amendment to block a proposal to move the community empowerment program for early childhood education from the neutral state Department of Management to the Department of Education.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, switched his vote to be on the prevailing side then called a closed-door caucus after which senators voted 31-19 to reconsider the issue and approve the move of empowerment to the education agency by a 27-23 margin.

I wasn’t familiar with the Iowa Community Empowerment program, which is geared toward families with children under age six. Since early education programs are part of the Iowa Empowerment Board’s mission, it seems logical to bring the program to the Department of Education.

The original bill had eliminated the Property Assessment Appeal Board, but an amendment to keep that body intact passed by 46 to 4. Politically, that was a smart vote for the senators. Many Iowans are likely to see property tax increases this year, so it’s not a good time to make it more difficult for citizens to challenge their assessments.

Several Republicans have expressed doubt that the bill would guarantee the promised savings. Democrats rejected a number of Republican amendments, including one that would have increased health insurance costs for state employees and one that would have required a two-thirds vote in the legislature to approve any state bonding. (Such a threshold would have prevented last year’s passage of the I-JOBS infrastructure bonding initiative.) A complete bill history, including all amendments considered, is here.

Earlier in this session, the Iowa Senate approved Senate File 2062, a separate bill on early retirement incentives. That measure is expected to save about $57.4 million in fiscal year 2011, “including a $26.4 million savings to the state’s general fund.” That bill passed on a bipartisan 41-7 vote. The full text is here, and the bill history is here.

UPDATE: Over at Iowa Independent, Lynda Waddington reports,

Mental health advocates haven’t gotten everything they wanted in relation to new state policies governing psychiatric medications for individuals receiving state assistance. But they scored a big win Monday night when the Iowa Senate approved new language that ensures existing patients’ medications won’t be automatically switched in order to save the state money.

Read her whole story for more details and background.

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Weekend open thread with events coming up this week

The Iowa caucuses take place this Saturday, January 23, beginning at 1 pm. Democrats can click here and enter your zip code to find your caucus location. If you’ve never attended an off-year caucus, I recommend the experience as a way to meet some of the most committed activists in your precinct and have input on the party platform and party machinery. Polk County Democratic Party executive director Tamyra Harrison explained the benefits of attending an off-year caucus in more detail here. The level of energy and excitement won’t match the 2008 caucus, but on the plus side, you won’t be packed like sardines into a stuffy room.

Some non-profit advocacy organizations have drafted resolutions for supporters to offer at their precinct caucuses. If adopted, these resolutions will be forwarded to the county platform committee. For example, 1000 Friends of Iowa is encouraging supporters to offer this resolution on responsible land use.

This thread is for discussing anything on your mind this weekend.

There are Martin Luther King Jr. remembrances going on in many Iowa cities today and tomorrow; check your local news outlet for details. To mark King’s birthday, Democratic Senate candidate Bob Krause pledged to develop “a comprehensive strategy for alleviating the Iowa incarceration disparity,” in light of the fact that “Iowa has a per capita incarceration rate for blacks that is fourteen times the incarceration rate for whites.”

I appreciated this letter to the editor by Frank McCammond of Redfield, which the Des Moines Register published on January 15:

Marian Riggs Gelb’s Jan. 3 guest column (“Protect Iowa’s Liquid Gems”) calls for thank-you notes to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources for designating a few streams in northeast Iowa for protection as “outstanding waters.”

It was a nice suggestion. However, where do I write the note about letting the rest of the state’s river systems be turned into open sewers by the farm and livestock interests and by towns that won’t fix their sewage systems?

(Gelb’s guest column is here, and the Iowa Environmental Council has more information on the “outstanding Iowa waters” designation here.)

After the jump I’ve posted more about events coming up this week. Roxanne Conlin began her 99-county tour last week, but I couldn’t find any event details or calendar on her campaign website.

UPDATE: Duh! Forgot Johnson County’s special election on Tuesday. Go vote for Janelle Rettig for county supervisor. John Deeth has been providing great coverage of the race at his blog. Lori Cardella is like school in the summertime–no class.

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Update on Iowa Senate district 41 race

Davenport business owner Roby Smith formally announced yesterday his plans to challenge State Senator David Hartsuch in the Senate district 41 Republican primary, Ed Tibbetts reported in the Quad-City Times. Smith will not run as a moderate like former Senator Maggie Tinsman, whom Hartsuch defeated in the 2006 primary. He said he shares Hartsuch’s views on abortion and same-sex marriage but will emphasize a “pro-business” and “pro-education” stance. Smith will campaign as a more electable Republican; he said yesterday that “Democrats smell blood in the water.”

Two Democrats, Rich Clewell and Dave Thede, have already announced plans to run in this Scott County district, which is evenly divided politically. A takeover would be fantastic for long-term Democratic prospects of holding the Iowa Senate, as Republicans only have a handful of strong pickup opportunities this year in my opinion. Democrats currently hold 32 of the 50 Senate seats.

Speaking of competitive Iowa Senate races, does anyone know whether Republicans have declared candidates against Rich Olive in Senate district 5 or Becky Schmitz in Senate district 45? If so, please post a comment in this thread or e-mail me: desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com.

Federal education grant summons ghost of labor bill past

UPDATE: The Iowa House passed this bill on a party-line vote on Friday, and Culver signed it the same day.

Democratic state legislators are rushing to pass a bill that will allow Iowa to apply for a federal education grant of up to $175 million. The application is due on Tuesday, and Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. day, so Governor Chet Culver needs to be able to sign the bill this weekend.

The Iowa Senate approved Senate File 2033 on Wednesday. Senate Education Committee Chair Becky Schmitz summarized key provisions relating to the “Race to the Top” grant:

Specifically, the legislation before you today will:

   *     Remove the cap and repeal date for charter schools in Iowa.  Currently, Iowa Code has a 20 charter school cap and a repeal date for all charter schools on July 1, 2011.  […]

   *     Allow schools to develop Innovation Zone Schools and Consortiums -This legislation adds innovation zone schools and consortiums to the ways that schools districts can foster innovation in more schools.

Senate Republicans voted against this bill, and House Republicans will do the same when it’s considered today. They want to see Iowa relax current restrictions on who can operate a charter school. Additionally, they argue that it’s unwise to apply for one-time federal funds to support ongoing education expenses. The GOP talking point of choice is to call this bill “Race for the Cash.”

Republicans also claim the bill would shift authority toward “union bosses” because of provisions that are not directly linked to the federal grant application. More on that story is after the jump.

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Culver "Condition of the State" speech thread

Governor Chet Culver addresses the Iowa House and Senate this morning. Kathie Obradovich’s latest column emphasizes that Culver has broken with tradition this year by not submitting his draft 2011 budget to lawmakers before the big speech. (The governor submitted a draft budget for fiscal year 2010 in late December 2008.) Obradovich concludes that Culver needs to be in the “spotlight” without focusing on the budget.

She doesn’t mention other factors that seem likely to have delayed the budget draft. The Tax Credit Review Panel, which Culver appointed after the film tax credit fiasco, only just submitted its recommendations on January 8. I can’t imagine how the governor’s staff would put together a draft budget without knowing which tax credits deserve to be continued, scaled back or eliminated. Another possible source of delay is the State Government Reorganization Commission made up of Iowa House and Senate members, which voted on a list of cost-saving measures last month. Those measures would affect assumptions on state spending in the coming fiscal year.

Republican former governor Terry Branstad bragged to Obradovich that he always submitted his budgets early, adding that state legislators now face a shorter session without having the budget in hand.

However, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal told Radio Iowa this week that lawmakers will move a major bill on reorganizing state government before they start work on next year’s budget. It makes sense, because you can’t make accurate spending projections without knowing how state agencies will be restructured.

I’ll update this post later with more details of Culver’s speech.

UPDATE: The Burlington Hawk Eye posted the transcript. He asked legislators “to pass a supplemental appropriations bill early this session to restore some of the cuts to the Department of Public Defense” (Culver cut the current-year budget across the board in October.) For the fiscal 2011 budget, Culver asked lawmakers “to fully fund community college job training, and to adequately fund the Department of Workforce Development. And, to create more ‘green collar jobs,’ of the future, to fully fund the Iowa Power Fund.” Longer excerpts from the speech are after the jump.

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Weekend open thread: Legislative preview edition

The legislative session begins this week, and budget issues are likely to dominate the proceedings.

Some state tax credits will be scrapped and others curtailed if lawmakers enact recommendations released on Friday by a commission Governor Chet Culver appointed. State Senator Joe Bolkcom, who chairs the Ways and Means Committee in the upper chamber, has vowed to pass as many of the recommendations as possible. I expect major pushback from corporate lobbyists against many of the proposals, however.

House Speaker Pat Murphy is not ruling out significant layoffs of state workers. It really is unfair to balance the budget mostly on the backs of state workers, especially since demand for state services increases during a recession.

I was surprised to see Culver’s chief of staff, John Frew, suggest a scaled-back version of “fair share” legislation could pass this session. If Democrats don’t have the votes for a prevailing wage bill, I can’t imagine they’ll get 51 votes for fair share, but I hope I’m wrong.

Kathie Obradovich previews other issues that are likely to come up during the legislative session.

Democratic leaders insist a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage is off the table, but Republicans will use every trick in the book to try to bring the issue to the floor.

Roxanne Conlin plans to visit all 99 counties in her Senate campaign, just like Senator Chuck Grassley has been doing every year for the past three decades.

In other news, Iowa may be on the verge of coming out of the deep freeze. I read today that the highest temperature recorded anywhere in Iowa since January 1 was 20 degrees Fahrenheit one day in Keokuk (southeast corner of the state). How are you surviving the cold? I’ve been wearing slippers, wool sweaters and extra layers. My kids still insist they are comfortable running around the house in pajamas and bare feet. Our dog could walk for miles, even on the days when it’s been below zero F when I’m out with him.

This thread is for anything on your mind this weekend.

Another Democrat will run in Iowa Senate district 41

Iowa Senate Democrats will need to play a lot of defense this year, but as I’d hoped, it looks like we will be making a serious play for Senate district 41. First-term incumbent Dave Hartsuch has more in common with Steve King than with the moderate Republicans who have long flourished in Scott County.

The Des Moines Register reported yesterday that Democrat Rich Clewell will run against Hartsuch:

Clewell has served on the Davenport school board since 2001 and now is vice president. He’s a wildlife biologist who recently retired from the federal Department of Defense. He has a bachelor’s degree from Iowa State University and is an Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam.

He can be contacted at (563) 359-4598 or clewell4senate@gmail.com.

About six weeks ago educator Dave Thede switched parties and announced plans to run against Hartsuch as a Democrat. Speaking to Ed Tibbetts of the Quad-City Times,

[Clewell] said the state faces difficult economic challenges and his collaborative nature would be a benefit at the Statehouse. He also said the state shouldn’t lose sight of long-term needs, including education. […]

Clewell said his school board experience includes working with other boards and on legislative issues.

He said he and Thede hold many of the same views but a primary would “pinpoint where there are differences.” He said he couldn’t say what those are now, but he added he wouldn’t be critical of Thede’s relative newness to the party.

Meanwhile, Davenport businessman Roby Smith plans to challenge Hartsuch in the GOP primary. I haven’t seen any report indicating whether Smith will run as a moderate alternative. Whatever the outcome of the primaries, this seat should be competitive in the fall; Tibbetts notes, “Each party has about 13,200 registered voters [in Senate district 41]. Independents outnumber both by 3,600 people.”

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Democrats, please get payday lending reform right

Key Democratic lawmakers will push for new limits on payday lending during the Iowa legislature’s upcoming session, which starts on January 12. State Senator Joe Bolkcom, who chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee, called for restricting the “loan shark rates” the industry typically charges. The Iowa Catholic Conference also supports limiting the interest rate for payday loans to 36 percent. That’s welcome news. Although 36 percent interest is still quite high, it’s a lot better than the 300 to 400 percent interest rates payday lenders are in effect currently charging customers.

In 2007, the Iowa legislature had smaller Democratic majorities yet managed to pass a bill capping interest rates on car-title loans at 21 percent. (Former Governor Tom Vilsack and Attorney General Tom Miller had advocated that reform for a long time, but Republican leaders refused to allow a vote in the Iowa House when they controlled the chamber.)

In theory, it shouldn’t be hard for House Democrats to find 51 votes out of their 56-member caucus to pass payday lending reform. However, at yesterday’s press conference with Senator Bolkcom, State Representative Janet Petersen expressed doubt that an interest rate cap could pass the House Commerce Committee, which she chairs.

I hope we’re not in for another round of a few Iowa House Democrats blocking legislation that would serve the public interest. More thoughts on this issue are after the jump.

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Competitive race coming in Iowa Senate district 9

First-term Democratic State Senator Bill Heckroth of Waverly announced yesterday that he will seek re-election in Iowa Senate district 9, which includes Butler and Bremer counties, along with parts of Black Hawk and Fayette counties. After the jump I’ve posted Heckroth’s press release, containing background on his career and his achievements in the legislature.

Senate district 9 is one of the Iowa GOP’s better pickup opportunities next year. Traditionally, Republicans have had a voter registration edge in this district, although I don’t know the current numbers. Republican Bob Brunkhorst represented Senate district 9 before retiring in 2006. Heckroth won the open-seat contest against Tom Hoogestraa by a reasonably comfortable margin of 1,346 votes, or 52.4 percent to 46.5 percent (pdf file). Then again, 2006 was a Democratic wave election.

Heckroth’s opponent next year will be Bill Dix, who announced his candidacy yesterday. Dix spent ten years in the Iowa House representing district 17, which makes up half of Senate district 9 and includes all of Butler plus part of Bremer county. Click here for state legislative district maps.

Dix rose to the level of Iowa House Appropriations Committee chairman. When Jim Nussle ran for governor in 2006, Dix sought the Republican nomination in the first Congressional district. He came up short against Mike Whalen in the GOP primary, but did well in the counties that are in Senate district 9 (pdf file), especially Butler County. Dix has been working at his family farm since 2006, but he told Charlotte Eby that the state’s budget problems “caused me to say we need to fix the mess, and I’m excited about coming and bringing what I can to put Iowa back on the right track.”

Ed Failor of Iowans for Tax Relief attended Dix’s press conference yesterday, which suggests that this statehouse campaign will be a fundraising priority for Republicans and their interest-group allies.

For those in northeast Iowa who want to get involved with Heckroth’s re-election campaign, he has listed contact phone numbers and e-mail addresses in the press release after the jump. That release also has details on Heckroth’s upcoming campaign kick-off events in Oelwein on November 8, in Waverly on November 9, and in Allison on November 12.  

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Democrats, don't cop out when asked about marriage

Between now and the end of the 2010 legislative session, self-styled “defenders of marriage” will urge Democrats in the Iowa House and Senate to approve a constitutional amendment banning same-sex couples from marrying. Bryan English, director of public relations and outreach for the Iowa Family Policy Center, wrote a guest post for The Iowa Republican blog about his recent efforts to convince Democratic State Senator Dennis Black (district 21).

English and I disagree on most political issues, including the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling in Varnum v Brien, but in this piece he shines a light on talking points Democrats should avoid when confronted by opponents of marriage equality.

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Gronstal: Legislators see few benefits from film tax credit

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal discussed the film tax credit fiasco on this weekend’s Iowa Press program, and it sounds like defenders of the tax credit will be fighting an uphill battle during next year’s legislative session:

“I think we’re going to get this investigation from the Attorney General and from the State Auditor. I think we’re going to do a good evaluation of the program and if we can’t show a real benefit to the state of Iowa – and not just a few part-time jobs, but a real long-term benefit to the state of Iowa – I think it’s 50-50 as to whether this program continues.”

According to Gronstal, he and other legislators right now “see very little in terms of potential benefits” to the state from the film tax credits which have been awarded already.  […]

Gronstal says he may regret having voted to create the program and he expects some political fall-out from this episode.

“People will be disappointed in that, but I think it’s the responsibility of the legislature – we try things in economic development. Everything we try doesn’t work and it’s perfectly o.k. to occasionally decide, ‘You know, we’ve (gone) down a road and that road doesn’t make as much as sense as we thought it made,’” Gronstal says. “And so we’re going to go back and change that.”

Gronstal also defended Governor Chet Culver, saying “once he found out about [problems with the film tax credit] he acted quickly and put the program on hold and got people to investigate.”

Gronstal expressed surprise that a flood of applications for film tax credits this spring allowed producers to get around the $50 million annual cap the legislature approved for the program. (Note to legislators: next time you cap a tax credit, make the law go into effect immediately on being signed by the governor.)

Culver has ordered a comprehensive review of all Iowa tax credits, and Gronstal made clear that legislators will subject these programs to additional scrutiny in the coming year:

“If you can show that a tax credit creates a climate, for instance, the research activities tax credit – if you can show that that keeps an industry here in the state of Iowa and builds long-term jobs and high-wage, high-skills jobs in this state where there’s a net benefit to the state by having that set of jobs come along with it, yeah, that makes sense,” Gronstal says.  But Gronstal says if you can’t show that, then the tax credit should be repealed.

A critical analysis of Iowa’s tax credits is overdue, but better late than never. State revenues continue to lag behind projections because of the recession. Repealing wasteful tax credits could reduce the size of state spending cuts during the 2010 fiscal year. Iowa Republicans would like to plug the budget gap entirely through spending cuts, but they forget that deep spending reductions by state and local governments can also be a drag on the economy.  

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Iowans not eager to overturn marriage equality

Marriage equality is here to stay in Iowa, if the latest statewide poll for the Des Moines Register is any guide:

Forty-one percent say they would vote for a [constitutional amendment to] ban [same-sex marriage], and 40 percent say they would vote to continue gay marriage. The rest either would not vote or say they are not sure. […]

The overwhelming majority of Iowans – 92 percent – say gay marriage has brought no real change to their lives. […]

The poll shows that 26 percent of Iowans favor April’s unanimous court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, 43 percent oppose it and 31 percent don’t care much or are not sure.

Despite the 43 percent opposition to the ruling, 61 percent of Iowans say other issues will influence their decision on whether to vote to retain Iowa Supreme Court justices in the 2010 elections.

Selzer and Co. surveyed 803 Iowans between September 14 and 16, and the poll has a margin of error of 3.5 percent.

I recommend clicking through to view the chart showing the breakdown by party affiliation on this issue. Among independents, only 44 percent either oppose or strongly oppose the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision that cleared the way for marriage equality, while 32 percent “don’t care much” and 22 percent either favor or strongly favor it.

Many Iowa Republicans are convinced that they can gain traction in next year’s legislative elections by bashing statehouse Democrats who oppose a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. However, the Republican candidate fell just short in the recent special election in Iowa House district 90, even though the National Organization for Marriage poured nearly $90,000 into ads supporting the Republican because of the marriage issue. (The NOM plans to be involved in next year’s Iowa elections as well.)

A poll commissioned by The Iowa Republican blog in July indicated that two-thirds of Iowans wanted a public vote on same-sex marriage, but that poll framed the question as follows: “The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled gay marriages can legally be conducted in the state. Whether you agree or disagree with the decision, do you think Iowa voters should have the chance to vote on a traditional marriage amendment to the constitution or is the issue best decided by the Supreme Court?” Todd Dorman was right to point out that it would have been more enlightening to ask respondents how they would vote on a marriage amendment.

The Register’s poll could strengthen the hand of Republicans like Doug Gross, who have been saying all year that the GOP should downplay divisive social issues and focus on the economy in next year’s elections. On the other hand, 51 percent of Republicans surveyed by Selzer and Co strongly oppose the Supreme Court decision, while 11 percent just oppose the decision, 27 percent don’t care much and only 10 percent either favor or strongly favor it. Gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats promises to issue an executive order on day one halting same-sex marriages if elected, and he will find plenty of support among the Republican rank and file.

I’ve been telling my friends, “Don’t worry, be happy,” since the Iowa Supreme Court announced its Varnum v Brien decision in April. I figured that with each passing year, more Iowans would understand that no one is harmed and thousands are helped by granting gays and lesbians civil marriage rights. I also felt that Republicans would not be able to win many races on this issue in 2010, let alone in subsequent years. Still, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a poll this year showing majority support for overturning the Supreme Court ruling. Learning that a constitutional amendment on marriage lacks majority support even now makes me that much more optimistic. (UPDATE: Forgot to add that Iowa has a lengthy constitutional amendment process.)

Now it’s imperative to defeat Proposition 1 in Maine this November. Please help if you can.

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Burt gets fine, probation for drunk driving

State Representative Kerry Burt received a year of probation and a $625 fine after pleading guilty to drunk driving, the Des Moines Register reported on August 21. He will also be required to take a class for drunk drivers. Burt released a statement apologizing for his actions and promising never to let it happen again. I’ve posted that statement after the jump. It doesn’t sound like he’s planning to resign.

I would like Democrats to find a new candidate for House district 21 next year. The Register pointed out that State Senator Robert Dvorsky was re-elected in 2006 despite a drunk driving arrest earlier that year, but Dvorsky had spent nearly two decades in the Iowa legislature at that time and represents a safe Democratic district. Burt is in his first term and defeated a Republican incumbent by a narrow margin in 2008. He is also among several people being investigated for giving false addresses in order to evade tuition payments at the University of Northern Iowa’s Malcolm Price Laboratory School.

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The Iowa legislature can't enforce its own disclosure rules

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement on Wednesday filed an ethics complaint against the Iowa Pharmacy Association, which entertained Governor Chet Culver and numerous state legislators in February but did not disclose the reception until after journalists started asking questions five months later. State Representative Kerry Burt, who attended the event, was arrested later that night for drunk driving. From an August 5 Iowa CCI press release:

Iowa CCI’s initial research has uncovered 26 additional late-filing disclosure violations by lobbyist groups during the 2009 legislative session.  This amount represents nearly one-third of the 90 reports that were filed in 2009.

“Today we are focusing on the Iowa Pharmacy Association because its disclosure violation is the most egregious example of abuse of the law by special-interest lobbyists, particularly because they only filed after they were caught,” [Iowa CCI’s State Policy Organizing Director Adam] Mason said.

This emerging and growing political scandal raises new questions about the ability of the House and Senate Ethics Committees to accurately monitor and regulate these types of events.

In 2005, state lawmakers voted to strip oversight powers from the nonpartisan State Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board and task the House and Senate Ethics Committees with oversight responsibilities.  Since then, the number of reported filings have gone down, as has the reported amount of money spent at lobbying events.

I called Mason today with more questions and learned that Iowa CCI filed the complaint with the secretary of the Iowa Senate and the chief clerk of the Iowa House. According to Mason, the Iowa House and Senate Ethics Committees cannot investigate this kind of disclosure violation in the absence of a complaint filed by a third party.

The trouble is, no third party would typically be in a position to set this process in motion. If not for Burt’s bad judgment and bad luck, the public would never have known that the Iowa Pharmacy Association wined and dined policy-makers in February. Iowa CCI has been comparing the disclosure reports filed against the social calendar for legislators from the 2009 session, but Mason told me that not all details about entertainment offered to state legislators are available to the public. Some industry groups provide free travel, food or drinks to lawmakers when the legislature is out of session.

More disturbing, no one on the House or Senate Ethics Committees seems to be taking responsibility for enforcing the disclosure rules. In April, Senate Ethics Committee Vice Chairman Dick Dearden admitted that no one checks the reception disclosures against the legislators’ social calendar. The Des Moines Register reported at the time that Dearden “does not recall any organization ever being punished for not filing reception disclosures properly.”

Legislators should stop pretending to care about money in politics and start addressing real problems with our current system of campaign finance and lobbying. A good start would be to give oversight powers back to the State Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.

I’ve posted Iowa CCI’s full press release after the jump.

UPDATE: Forgot to link to Jason Hancock’s piece on this subject at Iowa Independent.

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Pharmacy group didn't disclose reception for governor, lawmakers

Groups that throw receptions for Iowa legislators are supposed to file a disclosure report within five business days of the event, but the Iowa Pharmacy Association filed paperwork for its February 10 reception only this week. Why now? Journalists have been asking about the event that preceded State Representative Kerry Burt’s drunk driving arrest around 2 am on February 11. Burt told an Ankeny police officer that he’d been drinking with the governor that evening.

I agree with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement; the Iowa Pharmacy Association’s disclosure violation once again demonstrates the need for campaign finance reform. I’ve posted a press release from Iowa CCI after the jump. Excerpt:

Several years ago, state lawmakers voted to strip oversight powers from the nonpartisan State Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board and task the House and Senate Ethics Committees with oversight responsibilities.  Since then, the number of reported filings have gone down, as has the amount of money spent at lobbying events.

“What other profession in the state is allowed to regulate themselves,” asks Ed Rethman, Iowa CCI member from West Des Moines.  “Are doctors allowed to license themselves?”

The Des Moines Register reported in April that many interest groups are providing free food and drink to legislators without properly disclosing how much they spend on these events. Usually, the public never finds out about these events, because no one gets arrested afterwards.

Wining and dining legislators is only one of many ways to buy influence at the Iowa statehouse. Many interest groups hire expensive lobbyists. Some pay legislators’ expenses for out of state trips. Then there’s good old-fashioned contributions to political parties and campaign funds, which are unlimited in Iowa. These methods bury a lot of good ideas and get some bad ideas signed into law.

Meanwhile, what passes for campaign finance reform in the Iowa legislature is a joke.

Any suggestions for making progress on this issue are welcome in this thread.  

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More details on extra help for Iowa's unemployed

I recently discussed how Iowa is fully utilizing federal stimulus funds to expand unemployment benefits, unlike many other states, which are leaving all or part of that money on the table.

The Iowa Senate highlighted steps taken during the 2009 session to extend unemployment benefits, which went into effect on July 1:

· Improving and expanding services for unemployed Iowa workers. By making reforms to Iowa’s unemployment insurance program, our state will receive $70.8 million from the federal government to extend benefits for unemployed workers in training programs. It makes sense to support Iowans who are trying to upgrade their skills by attending community college and other types of training.

· Paying unemployment claims for replacement workers who become unemployed when Iowa National Guard and Reserve members return to their local jobs after active duty. When our soldiers come home, the state should help the replacement workers without penalizing employers.

· Providing $18.9 million to workforce field offices across Iowa. Iowa has 55 workforce centers, which provide job counseling, training, placement and other assistance. These services help laid off workers move forward and help local businesses find the employees they need.

For more details, read the full text of Senate File 197 here.

Note: the $70.8 million in federal funding for expanded unemployment benefits came from the economic stimulus bill, or American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. All House Republicans, including Iowa’s Tom Latham and Steve King, voted against that bill, as did almost all Senate Republicans, including Chuck Grassley.  

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Legislators not sold on new junk food rules for schools

In April the Iowa State Board of Education approved new nutrition standards:

A special task force drew up the standards, which set limits on calories, fat content, sugar and other nutritional measures. Carbonated beverages are banned. Caffeinated beverages and sports drinks are banned in elementary schools.

But the rules do not apply to food provided by school lunch or breakfast programs, items sold at concession stands or certain fundraisers or items provided by parents, teachers or others for class events.

Although I would have preferred tougher guidelines, these rules were a step in the right direction. To be more precise, they would have been a step in the right direction. After protests from some school officials, the State Board of Eduation “delayed most of the standards from going into effect until the 2010-11 school year.”

By that time, the regulations may have been relaxed, judging from what happened last week in the state legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee (unofficial motto: “Where good rules go to die”). The rest of the story is after the jump.

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Pharmacy board declines to reclassify marijuana in Iowa

I missed this story earlier in the week, but caught it at the Huffington Post on Friday:

The Iowa Board of Pharmacy sidestepped a court ruling this week, which had ordered it to consider whether the state should reclassify marijuana as having medical value. […]

The effort to reclassify marijuana in Iowa is led by the American Civil Liberties Union and local medical marijuana users. […]

The pharmacy board was fully informed by assistant attorney general and counsel to the board Scott Galenbeck of its job. “Judge Novak’s ruling states,” Galenbeck read to the board, “‘The board must determine whether the evidence presented by petitioner is sufficient to support a finding that marijuana has accepted medical use in the United States and does not lack accepted safety for use in treatment under medical supervision.’ A couple sentences before that the judge stated if the board believes that evidence presented by petitioner was insufficient to support such a finding it should have stated such in its order.”

The board had previously rejected the ACLU effort. The civil liberties group appealed to the district court, setting up this week’s rematch.

Yet the Iowa board, instead of asking whether it has “accepted medical use in the United States,” asked whether Iowa should approve of it, which is not a question for the board but for the Iowa legislature.

A bill to legalize the medical use of marijuana was introduced in the Iowa Senate this year. More details about that are after the jump.

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How one industry's political investments paid off

When Governor Chet Culver took final action on the last two dozen bills from the 2009 legislative session, my biggest disappointment was his decision to sign Senate File 433, a bill that “eliminates a broad range of fines against Iowa nursing homes that fail to meet minimum health and safety standards.”

Governors rarely veto bills that pass out of the state legislature unanimously, as this one did. However, when Culver didn’t sign Senate File 433 right away, I hoped he was seriously considering the advice of the Iowa Department of Elder Affairs and the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals. Both of those state agencies opposed the bill.

Instead of listening to the public officials who have the most in-depth knowledge of nursing home regulations and violations, Culver sided with a corporate interest group:

Former state legislator John Tapscott, who now advocates for Iowa seniors, said the new law is an example of what the nursing home industry can buy with its campaign contributions.

“It only proves that our legislative leaders and governor are willing to sell out the most vulnerable of our citizens – the sick and elderly residing in nursing homes – for a few thousand campaign dollars,” he said.

Click “there’s more” to read about the substance of this bill and the winning strategy of the Iowa Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes. I couldn’t have written this post without an outstanding series of reports by Clark Kauffman of the Des Moines Register last November (see also here and here).

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Review of the 2009 Iowa legislative session (good lobbyist edition)

first in a series on the legislative session that ended on April 26

Last week I planned to highlight this editorial from the Des Moines Business Record, but I didn’t get around to it. Fortunately, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement jogged my memory today by linking to the same piece on the Iowa CCI Twitter feed.

The Business Record’s unsigned editorial advises readers to check “the list of exemptions in House File 712” if you want to know who has the best lobbyists in Iowa:

After a 19-year struggle by Attorney General Tom Miller, after all of the other 49 states took care of this issue, Iowa’s citizens are being granted the right to sue anyone who defrauds them. With some exceptions:

Insurance companies. Attorneys. Financial institutions. Doctors. Veterinarians. Architects. Banks. Retailers that advertise a product with advertising prepared by a supplier. Print publications and broadcast outlets, in connection with the ads they run. Telephone companies. Cable TV providers. Public utilities. Funeral directors. Real estate agents. Charity volunteers. Physical therapists. Optometrists. Anyone whose conduct is permitted by government. And more.

With exemptions like these, who needs the phone number of a lawyer?

Here’s a hint for Democratic legislative leaders: it’s not a good sign when even a business publication is mocking you for protecting businesses at the expense of consumers.

Seriously, what public interest is served by exempting so many industries and businesses from fraud lawsuits filed by individuals? I doubt “frivolous lawsuits” are a big problem in the 49 other states that allow consumers to seek legal remedy for alleged fraud.

The Business Record notes that the bill prevents class action lawsuits from being filed unless the Attorney General’s Office approves. It quotes the bill manager, House Representative Kurt Swaim, as saying the bill will help reduce the backlog of approximately 4,000 and 5,000 fraud complaints Iowans file with the Attorney General’s Office each year.

Swaim said he wished the bill didn’t have so many exemptions. But he said it still would allow consumers to act in the areas that draw the most complaints, such as car repair, home remodeling, debt collection and mortgage brokering.

Sorry, that’s not good enough in my opinion. I know business lobbyists spent a lot of time with Democrats at the statehouse this year, but next session legislators should listen to them a bit more skeptically.

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What's the best way to buy influence at the statehouse? (w/poll)

A story in the Sunday Des Moines Register got me thinking about how money affects what happens and doesn’t happen in the Iowa House and Senate. The gist of the article is that many interest groups are providing free food and drink to legislators without properly disclosing how much they spend on these events.

State officials concede the disclosure law is not enforced. Senate Ethics Committee Vice Chairman Dick Dearden, D-Des Moines, said he does not recall any organization ever being punished for not filing reception disclosures properly.

“I don’t know if anyone ever checks them,” Dearden said. […]

Filings from groups that complied with the law show interest groups have spent $187,000 this year to arrange at least 66 events. That is about 4 percent less than was spent during last year’s legislative session and 15 percent less than in 2007.

Reported spending on the legislative parties peaked at $264,000 in 2005, when the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board oversaw the disclosures.

Enforcement has since shifted to the House and Senate ethics committees, and reported spending has declined each year since. […]

Tracking exactly which or how many organizations filed their reports properly is difficult because there is no master list of receptions and no state officials are charged with verifying the filings.

[Charlie] Smithson [executive director of the Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board] said groups were never punished for failing to file when his board oversaw the disclosures, but his staff reviewed the Legislature’s social calendar regularly and reminded groups to send proper documents.

It’s not encouraging to learn that no one is enforcing our disclosure rules. I know legislative receptions are probably not the most important way to buy political influence, but someone should be making groups comply with the rules.

After the jump I briefly examine a few of the ways an interest group with an agenda and a pile of cash could use that money. There’s also a poll at the end–please vote!

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Iowa legislature pretends to care about money in politics

On March 18 the Iowa House voted 96 to 0 to pass a bill banning candidates from using campaign funds to pay themselves or immediate family members a salary. This measure closes the so-called “Ed Fallon loophole,” named because Fallon received $13,750 from his gubernatorial campaign between June and November 2006 after losing the Democratic primary.

The Iowa Senate approved Senate File 50 in February (also unanimously). Governor Chet Culver is expected to sign the bill and may have done so already, but I did not find confirmation of that on the governor’s website.

Looking at the text of Senate File 50, I noticed that it defines “immediate family member” as “the spouse or dependent child of a candidate.”

I’ve been told that at least 20 members of the Iowa House (including Democrats and Republicans) employ either their spouse or child as a clerk. Apparently it is fine for spouses and children of state legislators to draw a salary from taxpayer dollars, but it becomes a terrible ethical problem for a candidate to draw a salary from money voluntarily contributed by supporters.

I have more to say about this farcical bill after the jump.

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More grim economic news

Sorry to bring you down on a Friday afternoon, but the Iowa Revenue Estimating Conference released new estimates today, and it ain’t pretty:

The conference estimated that the current year’s revenues will sink by $129.7 million compared to its December estimate. Revenue for the budget year that begins July 1 will drop by $269.9 million.

The drop is in addition to December’s estimates, which cut $99.5 million in the current year and $132.6 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Charlie Krogmeier, Gov. Chet Culver’s chief of staff and a member of the conference, said federal stimulus money may help offset the blow but that the dramatically lower estimates will leave lawmakers with tough options.

It would be difficult to find enough job cuts and furloughs in the current fiscal year to fill the gap. The fiscal year ends June 30, in roughly 10 weeks. […]

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy […] and other Democratic leaders noted on Thursday that they were already planning a budget that was $130 million less than Culver’s in the upcoming fiscal year. It’s unclear how they will make up the additional $270 million loss for the current and upcoming year.

Clearly difficult choices lie ahead. I urge Iowa leaders not to implement spending cuts alone, because cutting government spending too much during a recession can make things worse.

I was encouraged to read recently that legislators are looking carefully at all of the tax incentives Iowa provides. The combined effect of all these tax incentives is larger than all state spending:

There are at least 191 tax breaks for income and sales taxes that cost or prevent Iowa from collecting almost $7.2 billion, according to a 2005 review by the Iowa Department of Revenue and Finance.

That’s more than total state spending, which is projected to be $7.1 billion next year.

Not all of these tax breaks provide good value for the lost revenue, and not all of them can be preserved with the budget shortfall we’re facing.

In other unpleasant news this Friday, the Principal Financial Group, one of Iowa’s largest employers, announced pay cuts between 2 and 10 percent, which will affect all employees, management and the board of directors. Some benefits will also be reduced.

Principal already imposed a large layoff in December, and I think they are doing the right thing by reducing pay rather than cutting more jobs now. Labor market specialists differ on whether it’s better for companies to cut pay or lay off more workers in lean times. Click here to read some arguments for reducing pay, or click here for the pro-layoff argument.

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Congratulations to Staci Appel

The assistant Iowa Senate majority leader and chair of the State Government Committee has taken on a new responsibility:

February 6, 2009

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                            

State Legislator Network Names Staci Appel Iowa State Director

State Senator Staci Appel of Ackworth has been selected to serve as Iowa State Director for the Women Legislators’ Lobby (WiLL).

WiLL President Sen. Nan Grogan Orrock (GA) announced the State Director appointment in Washington, DC, saying “Since her election to the Iowa Senate in 2006, Staci Appel has provided exemplary leadership on a number of issues important to her constituents and to Iowa.  Senator Appel has a legislative record that demonstrates a commitment to issues affecting children and senior citizens and the disadvantaged, as well as state budget and infrastructure needs.”

Orrock said that as a State Director of WiLL, Appel will work with the national non-partisan network of women legislators to influence federal legislation and budgetary policy.  Appel will work with women from all fifty states to amplify women’s voices, promote women’s leadership, and support a national agenda that promotes true homeland security and prosperity.

“With a membership base of one out of every three women legislators, WiLL is a strong voice for national policy to address family violence, to promote the health and well-being of women, children and families, to protect our environment, and to oppose bloated military spending that builds too many weapons and not enough schools,” stated Senator Orrock.

Staci Appel of Ackworth is a member of the Women Legislators’ Lobby (WiLL).  For more information about WiLL, contact Staci Appel (515) 961-6982 or the WiLL office at 202-544-5055.


Women Legislators’ Lobby (WiLL), a unique program of WAND, is a non-partisan network of women state legislators working to influence federal policy and budget priorities.

Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND) empowers women to act politically to reduce violence and militarism, and redirect excessive military resources toward unmet human and environmental needs.

Appel has already made a mark during her first term in the Iowa Senate. She helped get the Farm to School program funded during the 2007 legislative session. Last year she secured more funding for after-school programs (although those funds unfortunately got “swept” for flood relief in the summer). She also managed the smoking ban bill in the Iowa Senate and chaired the conference committee that resolved the differences between the House and Senate versions of that legislation.

I don’t know how she finds enough hours in the day, because she is also a mother of six children at home. I will look forward to learning more about her work with WiLL.

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Borrow money for infrastructure, but fix what we have first

The highlight of Governor Chet Culver’s “condition of the state” address yesterday (video here and prepared text here) was a proposal to issue state bonds to borrow up to $700 million over the next few years:

Thousands of new jobs will be created, Culver said. Every $100 million spent on highway construction alone means more than 4,000 new jobs, he said.

“We’re cutting back on the day-to-day expenditures of state government,” Culver said in his Condition of the State speech this morning. “But, at the same time, we will be investing in bricks and mortar – to create jobs and keep our economy going.”

Culver said Iowa won’t need to raise taxes to pay for the plan. The state is in the position to issue bonds, which is essentially borrowing money. Existing gaming revenue would repay the bonds, he said.

Predictably, road industry lobbyists like the spending plans while expressing some doubts about the borrowing plans.

Republicans also don’t seem to like the bonding proposal, while statehouse Democrats think it’s a good idea. State Auditor David Vaudt, who may be a Republican candidate for governor in 2010, said he needed to study the details before expressing an opinion, but noted, “What we’ve got to remember is we’ve got to dedicate and set aside a piece of revenue stream to pay that principal and interest.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal made a great point:

Gronstal deflected Republican criticism by pointing out that [Senate Minority leader Paul] McKinley, in his opening day speech, talked about a business he once owned.

“He borrowed every nickel he could and leveraged himself as far as he could because he believed in his future. I believe in Iowa’s future. I believe it makes sense now to borrow money and move this state forward,” Gronstal said.

He added: “This is probably one of the best times in our history to go out and borrow money with a dedicated repayment stream. Do you own a home? Did it make sense for you to borrow money? Or did you just pay cash?”

Gronstal is absolutely right. Iowa has a triple-A bond rating, interest rates are fairly low, and creating jobs is essential to bringing the economy back. Two-thirds of our economy depends on consumer spending, and good jobs generate the money people then spend at businesses in their communities. Construction jobs tend to be good jobs too.

Des Moines Register columnist David Yepsen, who is usually a deficit hawk, also likes the infrastructure bonding idea:

The money will be borrowed over the next few years, supervised by an oversight board and repaid with gambling profits, so no tax increases will be necessary. (If we have to have all this gambling in Iowa, wouldn’t it be nice to see something tangible in return?)

It will be the modern-day equivalent of the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, which built infrastructure we still use today, such as dams, sewers, parks and shelters. Previous American generations left us wonderful systems of interstates, canals, railroads, river locks and dams. What are we leaving our kids? Potholes, bridge collapses and sewers that pollute river ways.

Iowans are a frugal people. Perhaps we are too frugal. According to state Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald’s office, Moody’s Investors Service says Iowa’s per-capita level of public debt ranked 48th in the country last year. Iowa has $98 of state public debt per person. The national average of state debt is $1,158. You could double Iowa’s $98 of per-capita state debt to $200, and we would then rank 46th.

Culver should have told us that. Clearly, most other states saddle their citizens with more debt than is proposed here. And many are more attractive places to live, too, as our children attest when they leave for the better jobs and brighter lights elsewhere.

It’s funny to watch all these Republican legislators, who borrow all sorts of money to buy, expand or repair homes, businesses and farms, now turn prune-faced when Culver suggests doing the exact same thing in state government.

The Des Moines Register explained how Culver’s plan would work:

* Borrow $700 million in 20-year tax-exempt state revenue bonds

* Secure the bonds with about $56 million a year in gaming tax revenues

* Create a Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Authority to issue the bonds. It will be overseen by a five-member board.

* The authority would be administered and staffed by the Iowa Finance Authority.

How money will be spent:






mass transit



water quality and wastewater treatment improvements

flood control improvements

energy infrastructure

disaster-relief infrastructure

public buildings

Projects will be judged on:

Whether they are ready to proceed

How quickly the project can be started and completed

Number of jobs to be created by the project

Contribution to sustainability

On the whole, I support the idea. My main concern is that infrastructure money be spent on fixing what we already have, not on building every new road on developers’ wish lists. In the past, our legislators and state officials have focused too much on funding new roads instead of a balanced transportation policy.

The housing slump is likely to continue for at least two more years, and there is no reason to spend large sums to build new highway interchanges and major new roads through undeveloped farmland now. We should spend the money to fix stretches of existing major roads and highways and crumbling bridges, as well as on modes of transit that allow alternatives to driving. These projects will improve the quality of life for large numbers of Iowans while also creating jobs.

As for airports, I would only support spending money on needed repairs and improvements to existing airports. This is not the time to start building a bunch of small regional airports that would benefit a handful of corporate executives.

Culver emphasized that he did not plan to raise taxes, but Gronstal indicated that raising the state gas tax is still on the table.

I would like to hear more lawmakers talk about closing various tax loopholes that mainly benefit wealthy Iowans. The Iowa Policy Project has documented this and various other flaws in our current tax policies.

If you’ve got the time and the inclination, the governor’s official website has a video Culver showed during his address, called “In Deep Water: The Flood of 2008.” Iowa Public Television has House Minority leader Kraig Paulsen’s response to Culver’s address.

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Open thread on Culver's "condition of the state" address

I have to be away from my computer this morning, but please use this thread to discuss Governor Chet Culver’s annual “condition of the state” address to members of the state legislature.

Citing Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge and Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, the Des Moines Register reported that Culver is expected to announce some new proposals. Presumably those will address flood recovery and the state budget.

I’ll be interested to see whether Culver goes out on a limb to back anything really controversial. If he wants to go down in history as one of the all-time greats, he’ll need to take some risks.

Watch Iowa statehouse leaders discuss the upcoming session

I saw in the Sunday Des Moines Register that the newspaper’s editorial board will interview both parties’ statehouse leaders this week to talk about their priorities for the upcoming legislative session. People will be able to watch the interviews live at the Register’s website.

Monday, January 5:

At 10 am the Register’s editorial board will interview top Iowa Republicans in the legislature: Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley, House Minority Leader Kraig Paulsen, and House Minority Whip Linda Upmeyer.

Tuesday, January 6:

At 9:30 am the Register’s editorial board will interview top Iowa Democrats in the legislature: Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, House Speaker Pat Murphy, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

I am adding these to the list of events coming up this week, which I posted on Friday.

The session begins on January 12. Please feel free to post diaries about important bills under consideration, lobby days planned by grassroots organizations, or other related topics. Also, please send me tips or notices about upcoming events (desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com).

The Iowa Supreme Court will not end the political battle over gay marriage

At 10 am central time this morning, the Iowa Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Varnum v Brien, a case in which six couples are challenging Iowa’s law declaring that “Only a marriage between a male and female is valid.” Polk County has appealed a district judge’s ruling last year that the statute is unconstitutional. Last night jpmassar published a good overview of the legal issues underlying Judge Robert Hanson’s ruling as well as the county’s defense of the statute. (See also Osorio’s legal primer on the case.)

If you like, you can watch a livestream of the oral arguments at the Iowa Supreme Court’s website as well as at several other media sites. You can download pdf files of the district court ruling and the briefs submitted to the Iowa Supreme Court on appeal here.

My focus in this diary is not the legal arguments, but the political case that will need to be made for marriage equality once the Supreme Court has ruled on Varnum v Brien several months from now. Follow me after the jump for more.

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Iowa House Democrat committee assignments are out

At Iowa Independent Lynda Waddington posted a chart showing the committee assignments for all 56 Iowa House Democrats.

Bookmark this page so that you’ll know which lawmakers to contact on various issues during the upcoming legislative session.

It looks like all seven nine brand-new House Democrats have been named vice-chair of at least one committee or sub-committee.

UPDATE: Here is a list of all the committee chairs. Note that the Rebuild Iowa and Disaster Recovery Committee is a new standing committee:

Committee Chairs, 83rd General Assembly

Standing Committees

Administration and Rules – Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, Ames

Agriculture – Rep. Dolores Mertz, Ottosen

Appropriations – Rep. Jo Oldson, Des Moines

Commerce & Regulation – Rep. Janet Petersen, Des Moines

Economic Growth – Rep. Roger Thomas, Elkader

Education – Rep. Roger Wendt, Sioux City

Environmental Protection – Rep. Donovan Olson, Boone

Ethics – Rep. Helen Miller, Ft. Dodge

Government Oversight – Rep. Vicki Lensing , Iowa City

Human Resources – Rep. Mark Smith, Marshalltown

Judiciary – Rep. Kurt Swaim, Bloomfield

Labor – Rep. Rick Olson, Des Moines

Local Government – Rep. Mary Gaskill, Ottumwa

Natural Resources – Rep. Paul Bell, Newton

Public Safety – Rep. Jim Lykam, Davenport

Rebuild Iowa & Disaster Recovery – Rep. Tom Schueller, Maquoketa

State Government – Rep. Mary Mascher, Iowa City

Transportation – Rep. Brian Quirk, New Hampton

Veterans Affairs – Rep. Ray Zirkelbach, Monticello

Ways & Means – Rep. Paul Shomshor ,  Council Bluffs

Joint Appropriations Subcommittees

Administration & Regulation – Rep. Bruce Hunter, Des Moines

Agriculture & Natural Resources – Rep. Mark Kuhn , Charles City

Economic Development – Rep. David Jacoby, Coralville

Education – Rep. Cindy Winckler, Davenport

Health & Human Services – Rep. Lisa Heddens, Ames

Justice Systems – Rep. Todd Taylor, Cedar Rapids

Transportation, Infrastructure, & Capitals – Rep. Dennis Cohoon, Burlington

Statutory Committee

Administrative Rules Review – Rep. Marcie Frevert, Emmetsburg

UPDATE 2: If you want to know which House Republicans are serving on which committees, go to this page on the Des Moines Register’s political blog, and you’ll find a link to a pdf file with the Republican committee assignments.

UPDATE 3: Chase Martyn analyzed the Iowa House Democrat committee assignments here. Among other things, he noticed,

Almost all vulnerable Democratic incumbents have been kept off the Ways and Means committee.  In a year of budget shortfalls, Ways and Means will likely have to send some tax-increasing bills to the floor.  Members of the committee who vote to send those bills to the floor will be said to have voted for tax increases an absurd number of times because negative direct mail does not typically distinguish between committee votes and floor votes.

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Flood Recovery in Cedar Rapids

(Thanks to Representative Olson for posting this information here. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Many areas in Iowa are picking up the pieces after tornados, storms, and massive flooding.  I want to highlight some information on the widespread, intense flood damage in Cedar Rapids.  Legislative leaders from both political parties toured the damage in Eastern Iowa a couple of weeks ago.  You can find a background memo I prepared for their visit here.  Also available is information for Iowa residents and businesses affected by natural diasters.


Olson Announces Re-Election Bid in House 38

(All other Democratic candidates are welcome to post diaries announcing important campaign events or issues they plan to work on if elected. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Thursday I announced my re-election bid to represent Iowa House District 38.  You can see the full release here.  Here are some of the highlights:

Olson also cited raising the minimum wage, making health insurance available to 17,000 Iowans this year and all kids within three years, expanding voluntary preschool access, and keeping post-secondary education tuition increases the lowest in decades as legislative successes. Tyler was honored to receive the 2008 Lincoln Excellence in Governing Award from Bethel AME Church.

Olson will kickoff his re-election campaign with a reception at the Cherry Building (329 10th Avenue SE, Cedar Rapids) on Wednesday, June 11. The event runs from 4:45PM to 6:30PM. All are welcome, and more information is available at www.tylerolson.org.

We had great success on issues important to us.  I need your help to return to Des Moines.  Please consider a contribution of $20 to the campaign.  Your contribution will help me print cowboy cards to take door-to-door with me this summer and fall.

Two other pieces of legislation I floor-managed were expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and creating the Energy Cities program.  The EITC is available to working families making less than $32,263.  Last year I led legislation that became law to increase the state EITC and make it refundable, helping working families across Iowa.

Your contribution of $20 or $10 helps me continue working to increase the EITC.

The Energy Cities legislation encourages communities to gather the stakeholders (city council, board of supervisor, school district, private business, nonprofits) to develop an energy efficiency plan.  Participating communities are then given priority for certain state programs.

If you are in the Cedar Rapids area, make sure to stop by my campaign kickoff on June 11.  I hope to see you there!

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Governor Culver, please veto the odor-study bill

Our “effective” Democratic leaders in the Iowa House and Senate have pushed through the Livestock Odor Research and Air Modeling Study. The Senate passed the bill late last night.

Leigh Adcock of the Iowa Farmers Union explains why this is a “seriously flawed piece of legislation”:

Research has already been done on cost effective ways to mitigate odor.  Included are better siting methods, and the use of biofilters and covers on lagoons.  Iowa’s taxpayers should not be required to fund another round of studies on proven technologies when the legislature has not shown any willingness to act on the information already gathered from previous studies.  Instead we should require producers to implement what we already know.

Minnesota has enacted ambient air quality standards that limit hydrogen sulfide to 0.05 parts per million and is working on limiting ammonia emissions.   Missouri, Nebraska, and Colorado regulate sulfur emissions and emissions of other types.


Ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, two odor causing gases emitted from confined feedlot operations, are known to cause serious respiratory problems.

The bacteria found within particulates emitted from livestock operations create lung inflammation that leads to non-allergic asthma.  Twenty-five percent of those who work in confined feedlot operations have some form of respiratory disease, 10% higher than the United States working population as a whole.

Rekha Basu’s latest column for the Des Moines Register showed how many times the Iowa legislature has blocked action to alleviate the pollution caused by CAFOs.

Most of her examples come from the years when Republicans controlled both chambers of the legislature. It is discouraging to see that the livestock industry continues to trump public-health and environmental concerns even under Democratic control.

In the Iowa Senate, some lawmakers including Joe Bolkcom (D, Iowa City) offered good amendments, but those were rejected on a voice vote, so that we don’t even have a record of how individuals voted.

I do have the breakdown of how senators voted on the final version of the odor-study bill, and I’ve put that after the jump. It was not a party-line vote. If your senator voted against this waste of taxpayer money, please give him or her a call to say thanks.

I’m trying to dig up the final vote for the Iowa House as well and will update this diary with that information when I find it.

If I were an adviser to Governor Culver, I’d tell him to veto this bill. It’s the right thing to do on the merits. We simply don’t need more study of this problem. Spending $23 million over five years on more study wastes our money and kicks the can down the road. Using state funds to implement the measures that are working in other states would be a wiser use of taxpayer dollars.

The odor-study bill is a far cry from what the governor proposed to the legislature concerning this issue in January.

Finally, a veto would be cheered by environmentalists who are disappointed that the governor hasn’t made it a priority to push for local control over the siting of CAFOs (also known as agricultural zoning at the county level). Culver has said he is for local control, but he didn’t put much muscle behind that during the 2007 or 2008 legislative sessions.

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Action: Urge your senator to vote NO on odor-control bill

An action alert went out on the Iowa Sierra Club list this morning:

From: Lyle Krewson

Subject: HF2688 up for Senate debate

The Senate Majority Leader  gave the list of bills for today. It includes HF

2688, the Odor Control Bill–please contact your State Senator now!

We do have amendments being offered but no amendments were included during

House debate last week.


We need you to contact your State Senator to vote NO on HF2688. Below is a

sample email that you may personalize–always be sure to include your name

and mailing address on an email to a Legislator.

You may find your Iowa State Senator by going to this weblink and using your

address or 9-digit ZIP code: http://www.legis.state.ia.us/F…

If you wish to call your State Senator, the switchboard # is: 515-281-3371.

The rest of the alert, which includes more details about this bill and some talking points for you to use, is after the jump.

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Iowa a major contributor to Gulf of Mexico "dead zone"

To our state’s shame, Iowa and other corn belt states are still the largest contributors to the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, according to a new study.

The logical thing would be to impose more regulations on the use of fertilizers and other farming practices that contribute to the problem. But don’t hold your breath for any movement on those issues at the statehouse. After all, Iowa is an agricultural state and anyone who doesn’t like it can leave in any of four directions.  

Biden picks up two more legislator endorsements

Potential sleeper candidate Joe Biden picked up two more state legislator endorsements this morning.  From a Biden for President campaign release:

“Today, Sen. Joe Biden received endorsements from two key Iowa elected officials.  State Representatives Dennis Cohoon of Burlington and Eric Palmer of Oskaloosa become the 15th and 16th Iowa State legislators to endorse Sen. Biden.  

“I am supporting Sen. Biden because he’s the most prepared to be president from Day One,” said Rep. Cohoon.  “And as a high school special education teacher for thirty years, I know Sen. Biden can accomplish the education reforms we need to get kids in preschool earlier and give them the opportunity to go to college.”

Rep. Palmer stressed Sen. Biden’s experience in world affairs and his commitment to civil rights: “The Des Moines Register talked about knowledge and experience in their endorsement. To me Joe Biden exhibits real knowledge and experience in foreign affairs and his understanding of the constitution, both qualities not exhibited by this White House.  As Vice-Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, I am particularly impressed with Sen. Biden’s expertise in constitutional law, which will be critical to getting America back on track.””

Like the release says, that brings his endorsement total to 16.  And trust me, that’s a lot in the state legislator race and puts him just behind Clinton and Obama.  That bodes well for Biden in terms of organization and contacts.  State legislators have strong local connections that help them get elected in the first place.  Their opinion matters if nothing more than to help Iowans pick a solid second choice.

Now, don’t get me wrong, these endorsements aren’t going to catapult Joe Biden into the top three.  But they could help him a lot.  If any of the three front-runners do poorly in terms of rural organizing or see troubles in viability, Joe Biden could see a boost.  And with his Iraq policy and seriousness he still captures Iowans’ attention to at least listen to him.  The question is what kind of crowd will show up to the caucuses on January 3rd.

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Pettengill Comes "Clean"

So, the newest member of the Republican House Caucus has published her first “post-flip” column on the website of the Des Moines Register.  In it she says:

All of my columns are written like a letter to my mother, because I want her to know what I’m doing and to be proud of me. And I want you to be proud of me too.

So, in her constant search for approval she has decided to participate in fundraisers with the same Republican leadership that did this:

Iowa Democrats are decrying Republican campaign tactics after two state lawmakers were falsely accused of voting for a bill to aid illegal immigrants — before the two legislators ever took office.A flyer mailed to voters attacking Democratic Reps. Bob Kressig of Cedar Falls and Dawn Pettengill of Mount Auburn said they supported a bill that would allow illegal immigrants to be eligible for in-state tuition. But the vote was taken in the Iowa House in 2004, months before Kressig and Pettengill were elected.House Minority Leader Pat Murphy of Dubuque said the attacks by Republicans have gone beyond negative campaigning to “outright lying.”“Iowans should be upset at that. Republicans have set a new low by breaking the public trust,” Murphy said.

Yes…just over one week after announcing her switch Rep. Dawn Pettengill has held a fundraiser with House Minority Leader Christopher Rants…The same Minority Leader who started the 527 that attacked her during the 2006 election for votes she did not take…


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Farm to School Program slips in under the wire

We environmentalists have been pretty downbeat about the 2007 legislative session. Even with Democrats in power, there was no action on local control over the siting of CAFOs and little progress on other issues related to water and air quality.

Some good news arrived in my in-box today, however. I had not realized that on the last day of the session, the legislature had approved and funded the Farm to School program, which will make locally-produced, nutritious food available in more Iowa schools while increasing the market for farmers using sustainable methods.

Stephanie Weisenbach, program coordinator for 1000 Friends of Iowa (website under reconstruction), fills us in on the details:

Senate File 452, introduced by Senator Joe Bolkcom from Iowa City, was stalled out for many weeks at the  legislature but ended up being amended onto other legislation at the end of the session last week.

Policy language creating the program and establishing a Farm to School Council was added to the “standings bill,” SF 601, the last bill of the session. An $80,000 appropriation to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) was added to Agriculture and Natural Resources budget bill, Senate File 551. IDALS will administer the program with two full-time staff.

The Farm to School program was established to encourage and promote the purchase of locally and regionally produced or processed food in order to improve child nutrition and strengthen local and regional farm economies. A seven-member Farm to School Council will seek to establish partnerships with public agencies and non-profit organizations to foster communication between farmers and schools, and will seek financial or in-kind contributions to support the program.

The Farm to School Program is a wonderful starting point that will address many of 1000 Friends of Iowa’s concerns about how we use our land in Iowa and pass the benefits of that knowledge on to our most precious resource…future generations.

Although I know quite a few people in the sustainable agriculture community, I wasn’t following this bill closely. Last I heard, it wasn’t going anywhere. Weisenbach lets us know who helped the most at the statehouse:

Big thanks should go to Senator Joe Bolkcom from Iowa City and Senator Robert Dvorsky from Coralville for getting the policy language in the standings bill. Representative Mark Kuhn from Charles City advanced the $80,000 appropriation and Senator Staci Appel from Carlisle was a persistent supporter during key times in the legislative process.

To thank these legislators, you can e-mail them at:

firstname.lastname AT legis.state.ia.us

I’m posting the relevant language from the bill after the jump, but I want to call particular attention to one point.

The bill establishes a farm to school council with seven members, one of whom has to be an “Iowa organic meat producer.”

Sounds like the Farm Bureau isn’t going to be able to sabotage this program by putting a CAFO operator on that council!

Also sounds like we’ve got a better chance of getting organic meat products in Iowa schools.

I’m still fairly disappointed in the legislative session overall, but this is a great step for farmers, kids, local economies and the environment.

Wonks who like to read legislative text, you’ll find the relevant portions after the jump.

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Kevin McCarthy reinforces a right-wing frame

The passage of the Civil Rights bill by the Iowa legislature is undoubtedly a victory for progressives.

I was very disappointed, though, when I opened up the Des Moines Register today and read the article on page 1 of the Metro section. Here’s the third paragraph:

“It is a historic vote,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Des Moines Democrat. “I also think it was a mainstream vote. This was not some sort of liberal social agenda. This is just saying that under housing and employment, people should not be discriminated based upon their real or perceived sexual orientation.”

What have Des Moines Register readers just learned?

1. the “liberal social agenda” is outside the mainstream

2. mainstream = good, “liberal social agenda” = not so good

3. even that Democratic guy is kind of embarrassed about the liberal social agenda

I understand what McCarthy was trying to say: this is not gay marriage, this is not even civil unions, this is no-brainer anti-discrimination protection. This should not be controversial.

But when Democratic Party leaders reinforce the idea that things supported by liberals are outside the mainstream, they are continuing the work of those like Newt Gingrich who have tried for decades to demonize liberals.

Imagine Chris Rants bragging about the passage of a bill by saying, “This was a mainstream vote. This was not some sort of conservative social agenda.”

That would never happen, because Republican leaders know better than to frame their party’s base as on the fringe of public opinion.

McCarthy could have said something along the lines of, “This was a mainstream vote. This reflects the growing consensus in the United States that it’s not ok to discriminate against someone because of their real or perceived sexual orientation.”

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Murphy, McCarthy and Oldson need to hear from us on Voter Owned Elections

I got this e-mail from Public Campaign Action Fund today. Three Democrats in the Iowa House need to hear from as many people as possible in the next two days:

The legislative session in Iowa is winding down. The General Assembly is scheduled to recess this Friday and the House leadership is trying to stall passage of the Voter Owned Iowa Clean Elections (VOICE) Act that would bring full public financing to the state’s elections. The bill is currently sitting in the House Appropriations Committee. We have the votes to bring the legislation to the floor, but we need your help.

Please call the following representatives and tell them to allow the VOICE Act, HF 805, to go to the floor.

Speaker of the House Patrick Murphy

(515) 281-3221

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy

(515) 281-3221

Rep. Jo Oldson, House Appropriations Committee Chair

(515) 281-3221

The VOICE Act would make elections in your state about voters instead of big campaign donors. House leadership would prefer to see this bill just die in committee, but we can’t let that happen. The legislation deserves a fair debate on the floor of the House.

We need your help today. Please take a few minutes to call the following legislators and tell them to support HF 805, the VOICE Act:

Speaker of the House Patrick Murphy

(515) 281-3221

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy

(515) 281-3221

Rep. Jo Oldson, House Appropriations Committee Chair

(515) 281-3221

With so much special interest money flowing into the elections in 2006, these legislators are feeling pressure to bow to their big donors instead of the interests of all voters. Put on a little pressure of your own with a few calls. Thanks for all you do.

Jeannette Galanis

National Field Director

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My "Clean Elections Letter" to Reps.

Dear Iowa Legislators,

I am writing to voice my support of VOICE (HF 805 & SF 553), and I’m urging you to do the same next week when the bill comes up in committee. Given the significant influence of money in electoral politics as of late, the time for “Clean Elections” is long overdue. The public’s faith and trust in government has been gradually eroding and VOICE would be a significant first step in damming up the erosion and begin rebuilding public trust in our elected officials and the Democratic process. “Clean Elections” exemplifies the underlying principals of the Democratic Party. Although, through discussions with Republican friends, colleagues, and family members, I’ve learned that VOICE is not a partisan issue. When explained how “Clean Elections” works, I have yet to meet an Iowa Voter, Republican or Democrat, who would not support the bill.

Now that the Democrats have the majority power, it’s time to stand up and reverse the trend of politics as usual, and at the very least, help get VOICE out of committee where the bills merits can be discussed and debated on the House and Senate floors. Iowa Voters deserve this consideration, and I hope you will use your leadership skills to help make this happen.

I look forward to your support and hearing back from you regarding your thoughts on this subject. Thanks for your time.

T.M. Lindsey

Republicans request public input...but fail to listen

( - promoted by Drew Miller)

I’m reposting a recent press release from Speaker of the Iowa House – Pat Murphy:

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

For More Information:

Dean Fiihr, 515-281-0817


Des Moines, Iowa – Four House Republicans, who requested a rare public hearing last week in the Iowa House, did not attend their own public hearing.  The members who did not attend the public hearing they requested include: Rep. Carmine Boal, R-Ankeny; Rep. Linda Miller, R-Bettendorf; Rep. Scott Raecker, R-Urbandale; and Rep. Tami Wiencek, R-Waterloo.

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Meet the Legislature: Tyler Olson (HD 38 )

(I hope this can become a weekly feature here - promoted by Chris Woods)

With a new General Assembly comes new legislators and I thought I’d take the opportunity to post once a week about some of our new incoming leaders.  In particular, I thought I’d focus on the new “youth movement” that the Iowa House Speaker Pro Tempore Polly Bukta talked about during the opening of the 2007 session:

Today, we celebrate a new youth movement in the House with a record number of eight members who are 30 and under. Think of the energy and fresh ideas these folks are bringing to our assembly!

Today we truly celebrate the fact that the People’s House looks more and more like the PEOPLE we represent.

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Legislative information on the web

( - promoted by Drew Miller)

As far as I can tell – Bleeding Heartland is off to a great start.  A big thank you goes out to Drew & Chris and anyone else who contributed to getting this off the ground.

Many of the ‘national’ community blogs (i.e. Daily Kos, MyDD…etc) have thriving “meta” discussions and collections of link resources.

In the interest of facilitating informed blogging about the Iowa Legislature I thought I would post some helpful links to resources available for bloggers…

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