# Iowa Senate



GOP lawmakers abandon Iowa's civil rights legacy

Ralph Rosenberg served in the Iowa legislature from 1981 through 1994 and was director of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission from 2003 through 2010.

The Iowa legislature turned its back on our state’s proud civil rights legacy with last week’s passage of Senate File 2385, which neuters the effectiveness of the civil and human rights agencies and eliminates specific commissions dedicated to marginalized populations.

This combination undercuts Iowa values of respect and protecting the dignity of all Iowans. The bill compounds the removal of legal authority to proactively act on civil and human rights violations, by broadcasting a national message about how the Iowa government devalues diversity in religion, race, ethnic background, gender, or national identity. (Other pending Republican legislation reinforces this message, by calling for K-12 schools to teach history from a Western Civilization perspective, or limiting diversity, equity, and inclusion programming on college campuses.)

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Proposed constitutional amendment is undemocratic

State Senator Dan Dawson floor manages a proposed constitutional amendment on April 10.

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

Tax bills in the Iowa legislature have always been approved or disapproved by simple majorities. If most legislators want to raise taxes, or lower them, they do it the usual way: take a vote, up or down, and whichever side gets the most votes wins. That’s how democracy works.

But this year, Republican legislators voted to change that.

First the Iowa House in late March, and then the Iowa Senate earlier this month, approved House Joint Resolution 2006, a proposed amendment to the Iowa Constitution that would require a two-thirds majority in each house of the legislature to raise state income taxes.

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Government officials again forget they work for us

Des Moines City Hall, photographed by James Steakley in 2009. Photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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

The Iowa legislature took an important step last week in voting to toughen penalties for state and local officials who violate a key government transparency tool, Iowa’s open meetings law.

Unfortunately, lawmakers’ actions may not be enough to reverse the love for secrecy that too many government boards and councils demonstrate. The latest example comes from Des Moines. 

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Its time for coming attractions to end

From left: Iowa House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl, Florida Governor RonDeSantis, Iowa Senate President Amy Sinclair, Governor Kim Reynolds. Photo first published on Reynolds’ political Facebook page on December 18, 2023.

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

My grandson and I go to a lot of Marvel movies. We sit in the front, bathed in superhero heroism. But before the feature, there’s always coming attractions. The first three or four trailers are loud and enticing. Usually we whisper, “That looks great. We should try to go.” By the eighth, we’ve found the bottom of our popcorn, our drinks are gurgling empty, and the coming attractions seem to look alike.

During what should have been the three coldest, snowiest months in Iowa, my wife and I escaped to Florida, the land of Iowa legislative “coming attractions.”

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They've done enough damage

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

It’s after midnight. You’ve yawned and stretched. You’ve heard the same story twice. There’s no move to leave. They’ve settled in. Your yawns become deeper, and more obvious. 

Still, they linger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Want stronger CAFO regulations? Then stop Senate File 2370

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

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

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

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

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This AEA direct service provider has many unanswered questions

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

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

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

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

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State of Iowa completes key financial reports on time

For the first time in four years, the state of Iowa submitted its Annual Comprehensive Financial Report and its Single Audit for the previous fiscal year without months of delays. The Iowa Department of Administrative Services released the comprehensive financial report covering fiscal year 2023 (July 2022 through June 2023) in late December, and the State Auditor’s office published the Single Audit on March 29.

The Annual Comprehensive Financial Report typically comes out within six months of the end of a fiscal year. But Iowa State University’s switch to the Workday system for accounting in fiscal year 2020 created enormous difficulty in compiling accurate financial data. As a result, the state’s comprehensive report for FY2020 came out nine months behind schedule.

For the next two years, turnover within the Department of Administrative Services delayed work on the comprehensive report, which came out more than seven months late for FY2021 and eight months late for FY2022.

The Single Audit is a mandatory report covering federal dollars spent by state agencies and universities. It typically comes out in late March but can’t be issued before the comprehensive report is complete. So beginning in FY2020, Iowa’s Single Audit was months late for three years in a row.

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Why this school psychologist is leaving Iowa

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

Dear Iowa Legislators 

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

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

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A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: The Iowa Senate approved the final House version of this bill on March 26, and the governor signed House file 2612 the following day. Original post follows.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open letter to Iowa Legislators:

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

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

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Iowa superintendents sound alarm about AEA changes

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

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

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

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Iowa House and Senate Republicans are not on the same page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Iowa governor's 2024 legislative agenda in limbo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Opposing ranked choice voting is undemocratic

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

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

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

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

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Immigration extremists rule red states

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

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

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

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Iowa Republican misleads about bill threatening IVF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Let's keep talking about taxes

Iowa dollars

Al Charlson is a North Central Iowa farm kid, lifelong Iowan, and retired bank trust officer. The Waverly Democrat previously published a version of this commentary on February 28.

Iowans get it. We understand that we have to pay for the public services needed to maintain the quality of life we want for ourselves and our neighbors. A fundamental responsibility of our elected leaders at all levels is to maintain a system of state and local taxes which will raise the funds needed and do so in a way that is fair.

As discussed in an earlier column, major changes now being considered in the Iowa legislature would fall short of raising the revenue needed. 

The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency’s Analysis of Governor Kim Reynolds’ Budget Recommendations for Fiscal Year 2025 (which runs from July 1, 2024 through June 30, 2025) shows that if her plan were enacted, general fund spending would exceed tax revenue by $625 million. The governor intends to use surplus carryforward to pad the total available revenues to spend next year.

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On collusion—not separation—of church and state

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

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

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

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

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Iowa Senate Republicans just made blood donations a partisan issue

Following two days of contentious debate in the Iowa Senate, the chamber’s calendar for Wednesday, February 21 appeared to be stacked with non-controversial bills.

Then State Senator Jeff Edler rose to offer Senate File 2369, an “act relating to autologous and directed blood donations.”

The blood donation bill may not be as impactful as other legislation Senate Republicans approved last week: proposals to undermine Iowa’s state auditor, reduce Medicaid eligibility for pregnant Iowans, make state funded crisis pregnancy centers less accountable, enable discrimination if grounded in religious beliefs, and repeal the gender balance requirement for state boards and commissions.

Yet Senate File 2369 is important—not only because of its potential impact on the blood supply, but for what it reveals about legislative culture in the eighth year of Iowa’s Republican trifecta.

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Power players in Iowa Senate are aiding and abetting

Bonnie Ewoldt is a Milford resident and Crawford County landowner.

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

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

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

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Davenport secrecy inspires Iowa House bill on sunshine laws

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

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

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

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

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Activists twist religious freedom laws to enable discrimination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Senate bill would hurt Iowa's public sector unions and schools

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

America thrives on competition. We love it when victory hangs in the balance. Super Bowl Sunday is almost a national holiday that we celebrate with parties and betting. Court TV is a guilty pleasure for millions. Local, statewide, and national elections earn attention. Whatever the result, we want the competition to be fair.

Senate File 2374, which the Iowa Senate Workforce Committee approved along party lines last week, would cripple public sector unions while once again attacking public schools.

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Iowa's revised abortion rules still more political than medical

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

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

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

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Iowa legislature's clock runs out on feeding hungry kids

Interactive School Nutrition Dashboard created by the Iowa Hunger Coalition

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

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

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A constructive proposal to improve Iowa's AEAs

A mother of a child with disabilities speaks to members of an Iowa Senate subcommittee on January 31 about Governor Kim Reynolds’ plan to overhaul Area Education Agencies. (photo by Laura Belin) The full Iowa Senate Education Committee is scheduled to consider an amended version of the governor’s bill on February 14.

David Tilly is a former deputy director of the Iowa Department of Education. He emailed this text to all 150 Iowa legislators on February 3. His previous messages to lawmakers about proposed changes to AEAs are available here and here.

Dear Iowa State Senators and State Representatives:

My name is David Tilly. I am the parent of a child with a disability, a school psychologist and for the last 8+ years of my career I worked as the Deputy Director at the Iowa Department of Education. I’d like to use my time today to begin discussion of how we might use the energy that has been generated by the AEA bills toward a positive result.

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Proposed library bill is another attack on ideas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Banning Satanic displays, worship would violate Iowa's constitution

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

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

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

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Can you hear us, Governor Reynolds?

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

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

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

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

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Governor's bill would harm not only AEAs, but public schools broadly

Alexandra Bylund speaks at an Iowa Senate subcommittee on January 31. Photo by Ty Rushing/Iowa Starting Line

Alexandra Bylund is a senior at West Des Moines Valley High School and a student member of the West Des Moines school board.

Governor Kim Reynolds’ proposal to overhaul Area Education Agencies would limit the capacity and power of public schools across Iowa. This bill grossly targets not only special education programs, but general education, which would detrimentally affect the quality of instruction available to students.

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Gevo plant in South Dakota will use 300 million gallons of water annually

Nancy Dugan lives in Altoona, Iowa and has worked as an online editor for the past 12 years.

A Gevo official confirmed on February 2 that the company expects to use 300 million gallons of water per year, or 700 gallons per minute, at its planned Lake Preston, South Dakota Net-Zero 1 (NZ1) plant and an adjacent green hydrogen facility known as the Dakota Renewable Hydrogen (DRH) Project.

When asked if the water use estimate provided was for the NZ1 plant, the DRH plant, or both, Heather Manuel, vice president of corporate communications for Gevo, replied, “Both – we have an agreement with Kingbrook Rural Water for our water supply and do not require a permit.”

On February 6, 2023, Summit Carbon Solutions announced its partnership with Colorado-based Gevo, although that arrangement is not yet reflected on the South Dakota pipeline route. Sabrina Zenor, director of stakeholder engagement and corporate communications for Summit, stated on January 25 that Gevo would be added to the proposed CO2 pipeline route when the company resubmits its application to the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission. The commission denied Summit’s initial application last September.

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The word “groomer” has become a slur

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

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

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

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

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

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Plan for Iowa AEAs relied on consultant's faulty analysis

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

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

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

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

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Iowa lawmakers advance misguided proposals, ignore big problems


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dubuque-based Iowa Senate seat no longer solid blue

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

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

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

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Iowa GOP leaders refuse to investigate nursing home abuse and neglect

John and Terri Hale own The Hale Group, an Ankeny-based advocacy firm working for better lives for all Iowans. Contact them at terriandjohnhale@gmail.com. An earlier version of this commentary appeared in the Des Moines Register and Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Twenty-seven years ago, the Quad-City Times published a six-part series on neglect and abuse in nursing homes. The articles told the stories of residents whose physical and mental health needs were not met, who were subjected to verbal or physical abuse by staff or other residents, and had been injured or had died.

The stories were tragedies. And sadly, tragic stories still regularly appear in Iowa Capital Dispatch and other Iowa media written by Clark Kauffman—the same journalist who authored the stories in 1996.

For more than 27 years, horrific stories of neglect and abuse have stemmed from far too many nursing facilities that have employed too few workers; failed to adequately compensate, train, and respect workers; routinely accepted exceptionally high levels of employee turnover; lobbied elected officials to increase annual appropriations of tax dollars but to also minimize oversight of their efforts; avoided criminal prosecution for their misdeeds; and have put the desire for profit ahead of the needs of the Iowans they exist to serve.

In 27 years, little has changed. At too many facilities, neglect, abuse and dehumanization of older Iowans continue.

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Religion in politics: the biggest threat to our liberties

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

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

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

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

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Sizing up a Matt Blake/Brad Zaun race in Iowa Senate district 22

UPDATE: Zaun told the Des Moines Register on October 6 that he will seek re-election in 2024. Original post follows.

A parade of presidential candidates visiting the Iowa State Fair overshadowed some important election news this week. Urbandale City Council member Matt Blake announced on August 17 that he’s running to represent Senate district 22, giving Democrats a strong contender in what will be a top-tier Iowa legislative race.

In a news release, Blake said “Iowa is not heading in the right direction,” and characterized the Republican-controlled legislature’s actions as “out of step with what Iowans want and deserve.” 

Republican State Senator Brad Zaun has represented the Urbandale area in the legislature since 2005. He has not publicly announced whether he intends to seek a sixth term in the Iowa Senate and did not respond to Bleeding Heartland’s phone or email messages seeking to clarify his plans.

Whether Blake ends up competing against Zaun or in an open seat, Senate district 22 is clearly Iowa Democrats’ best opportunity to gain ground in the upper chamber. The party currently holds only sixteen of 50 districts, its smallest Iowa Senate contingent in about 50 years.

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Iowa Senator Adrian Dickey arrested during RAGBRAI

Republican State Senator Adrian Dickey was arrested on July 24 and charged with interference with official acts after he refused to move along a Sac County road during the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI).

According to a complaint signed by Sgt. Jonathan Meyer of the Sac County Sheriff’s office, Dickey was among a large group of bicycle riders who “had stopped in the middle of the road” on Quincy Avenue. The complaint said after the group had been there for about an hour and a half, Meyer “advised a subject to move on as we needed to open the road.”

The individual refused to move and “advised me to arrest him,” Meyer wrote. The sergeant, who has specialized in traffic enforcement, then “advised him that the road way down the road was open and then could go that way.” But the subject (identified as Adrian Dickey) “kept arguing with me about what he was going to do.” The sergeant eventually arrested Dickey and took him to the Sac County jail, where he was charged with interference with official acts.

Sac County court records indicate that Dickey was released after posting a cash bond of $300.

Dickey could not immediately be reached for comment. This post will be updated if he responds to phone or email messages.

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The six-week abortion ban and freedom of religion

Janice Weiner is a Democratic state senator representing Iowa City and a member of the Iowa Senate State Government Committee, where Republicans ran the bill that received final approval as House File 732.

During the time-limited debate on Iowa’s six-week abortion ban on July 11, the Iowa Senate—predictably—ran out of time. You can’t say everything that truly needs to be said, argue all the inaccuracies and vague language and failures and exceptions that sound good on paper but have shown themselves, across this country, to be paper tigers, in a matter of hours.

One important argument that fell on the “time certain” cutting room floor: freedom of religion. I’ve reorganized the freedom of religion portion of my constitutional arguments speech into this article.

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Abuse charge highlights reforms needed at Iowa Board of Medicine

In a textbook case of “too little, too late,” the Iowa Board of Medicine appeared to move on July 3 to stop a physician who was recently charged with sexual abuse of a child.

The board did not disclose the name of the physician at the center of “an agreement not to practice,” approved by unanimous vote after an hour-long, closed-session discussion. But the meeting was widely believed to pertain to Dr. Lynn Lindaman.

The Department of Public Safety announced Lindaman’s arrest on June 28. Charging documents accuse him of touching the “privates” of a child born in 2015, first over the child’s clothing and the next day through “skin to skin contact.”

Late last week, the Board of Medicine revealed plans to discuss an agreement with an unnamed physician at a virtual meeting set for 5:30 pm on July 3. The pre-holiday dump is a well-known government tactic for keeping bad or embarrassing news from reaching a wide audience.

It’s not the first time Lindaman has been charged with this kind of crime. A jury determined in 1976 that he had committed “lascivious acts” with a 13-year-old child. Sherri Moler, the victim in that case, had “pleaded and begged” many times for the Iowa Board of Medicine to stop Lindaman and other abusers from practicing. Board members didn’t listen. Neither Governor Kim Reynolds nor the Republican-controlled legislature demanded action.

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Iowa GOP lawmakers to pass new abortion ban on July 11

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

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

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

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Thoughts on Iowa Senate Democrats electing new leader Pam Jochum

A British prime minister once said that a week is a long time in politics. Iowa Senate Democrats proved the adage true on June 7, when they elected State Senator Pam Jochum as minority leader, replacing State Senator Zach Wahls.

Wahls was first elected to the legislature in 2018 and had led the caucus since November 2020. Jochum was first elected to the Iowa House in 1992 and to the Senate in 2008 from districts covering Dubuque. When Democrats last controlled the chamber, she held the second-ranking position of Senate president from 2013 through 2016. More recently, she has served as one of four assistant minority leaders.

A week ago, a Senate Democratic leadership election was not on anyone’s radar. Wahls was the guest on the latest edition of the Iowa PBS program “Iowa Press.”

The June 7 caucus meeting was scheduled to address an uproar that unfolded over the weekend.

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Iowa schools may never recover from 2023 legislative session

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

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

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

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

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

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Seven bad policies Iowa Republicans slipped into budget bills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Six ways the GOP budget shortchanged Iowans with disabilities

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

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


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

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

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Keeping Iowa in the dark on water quality is not acceptable

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

If you watch the Iowa legislature in action, you will see some truisms time and again. 

Such as: Each political party is in favor of transparency and accountability—until they gain the majority. Then those politicians see many reasons why transparency and accountability are problematic.

Another: If you don’t know where you are going, any path will get you there.

And then there is today’s truism: Don’t ask a question if you are afraid of the answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ag/natural resources budget holds surprises on public lands, water quality

Robin Opsahl covers the state legislature and politics for Iowa Capital Dispatch, where this article first appeared.

The Iowa Senate passed the agriculture and natural resources spending bill on April 25 with a provision Democrats said could limit the acquisition of public lands.

Senate File 558 passed the Senate 33-16, appropriating more than $43 million in funds for the state’s agriculture and natural resources departments. The funding figures were approved via amendment, as the Senate Appropriations Committee passed spending bills without numbers in early April.

Senate Democrats criticized Republicans for releasing the amendment filling the blanks on the bill the morning of its debate on the Senate floor, without allowing time for review or public comment. State Senator Sarah Trone Garriott said the bill’s provision on public lands is “very concerning.”

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

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

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

Boy, am I naive.

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

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How two more GOP bills will change public education in Iowa

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

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

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

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

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Could the Tennessee debacle happen in Iowa?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Republicans shatter another Iowa Senate norm

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

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

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

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

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

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Iowa Senate Republicans hit new low for transparency

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

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

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

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

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

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New education bill is a Frankenstein monster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Iowa Republicans bolster case against own anti-trans law

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

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

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A quiet Iowa House victory for public lands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New GOP plan for I-WILL sales tax misses mark

Pam Mackey Taylor is the Director of the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club.

In 2010, about 63 percent of Iowa voters approved a state constitutional amendment creating the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. The amendment stipulated that revenue from the first three-eighths of a percent of any state sales tax increase would go to the trust fund.

Companion legislation established how those funds would be allocated: 23 percent for natural resources, such as natural areas, wildlife diversity, recreation, and water resources; 20 percent for soil and water conservation; 14 percent for watershed protection; 13 percent for the Resource Enhancement and Protection fund (commonly known as REAP); 13 percent for local conservation agencies; 10 percent for trails; and 7 percent for lake restoration.

The campaign to successfully get the constitutional amendment and the legislation was called the Iowa Water and Land Legacy, or I-WILL. During the first few years after adoption of the constitutional amendment, the I-WILL coalition attempted to persuade the legislature to raise the sales tax to fund the program. But the fund remains empty, because state lawmakers have not increased the sales tax.

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What the stamen said to the pistil

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

I read in the Cedar Rapids Gazette that Iowa Senate Education Committee chair Ken Rozenboom told his colleagues, “We want everyone to be clear about the role that parents have in their child’s education.”

Rozenboom was floor managing Senate File 496, the wide-ranging education bill that originally came from the governor’s office. The Senate approved the bill March 22 on a party-line vote of 34 to sixteen. It’s now pending in the House Education Committee.

Among many provisions, the bill bans books that include a sex act (emphasis added). Erin Murphy reported for the Gazette,

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Is Brad Zaun repeating Jake Chapman's mistake?

Six of Iowa’s 34 Republican state senators introduced a resolution this week urging the federal government “to investigate and arrest” officials running the Washington, DC jail where some involved in the January 6 attack on the Capitol are being held pending trial. Senate Resolution 8 characterizes conditions at the jail as a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment” and akin to “the most notorious concentration camps of World War II, the gulags of the former Soviet Union, the prison camps of Communist China, and the torture camps of North Korea.”

Five of the six senators who co-sponsored this resolution represent solidly Republican districts, where Donald Trump received more than 60 percent of the vote in the 2020 presidential election.

Then there’s Brad Zaun.

It’s the latest sign Zaun is not moderating his behavior to reflect the mostly-suburban Senate district 22, where he is expected to seek re-election next year. That’s a risky approach for the five-term Republican from Urbandale, given that voters in Senate district 14 sent the arch-conservative Senate President Jake Chapman packing in 2022.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Iowa governor sides with anti-vaxxers, not cancer experts

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

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

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

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

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Where things stand with bills targeting Iowans on public assistance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three factors seem most important.

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Iowa leaders, don't ruin kids' lives

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

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

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

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Iowa Senate votes to increase governor's influence over courts

Governor Kim Reynolds is one step closer to controlling a majority of votes on all of Iowa’s judicial nominating commissions, following Iowa Senate passage of Senate File 171 on February 8.

Voting 34 to 15 along party lines, the chamber approved the bill, which would give the governor an extra appointee on commissions that recommend candidates for lower court appointments, and remove district chief judges from those bodies.

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The twelve Iowa Republicans who voted against school vouchers

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

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

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

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

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Bruce Rastetter weighs in with Iowa lawmakers on school vouchers

One of Iowa’s largest Republican donors, whose company is seeking to build a carbon dioxide pipeline across Iowa, has urged state lawmakers to pass Governor Kim Reynolds’ “school choice” proposal.

Bruce Rastetter sent identical emails to numerous members of the Iowa House and Senate, from both parties, on January 19. The message (enclosed in full below) called the plan for state-funded accounts to cover private school costs “historic” and “important to families all across Iowa.”

Rastetter is the founder and CEO of Summit Agricultural Group. Its affiliate Summit Carbon Solutions is seeking to build a CO2 pipeline linking 30 ethanol plants in five states, and Rastetter has signed appeals to landowners in the pipeline’s path as Summit seeks voluntary easements. Summit has filed for but not yet received a permit from the Iowa Utilities Board. Its plan (along with other carbon pipeline proposals) has aroused intense opposition in rural Iowa.

Summit’s lobbyists have not registered a position on the school voucher bill, which Iowa House and Senate committees approved this week. Republican leaders are expected to bring it up for floor votes in both chambers next week.

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Five ways Kim Reynolds changed her school voucher plan

As expected, Governor Kim Reynolds devoted a significant share of her Condition of the State speech on January 10 to her plan to divert more public funds to private K-12 schools across Iowa.

Although the central purpose of the plan remains the same—giving state funds to families who choose to send their children to a private school—the latest version is vastly larger in scope, and will be more costly.

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Who's who in the Iowa Senate for 2023

The Iowa Senate began its 2023 session on January 9 with 34 Republicans and sixteen Democrats, the largest majority seen in the chamber for about five decades. Five of the last seven Iowa general elections have been Republican waves.

Fourteen senators (nine Republicans, five Democrats) were just elected to the chamber for the first time in November. Seven of them (four Republicans and three Democrats) previously served in the Iowa House.

Fifteen senators are women (eight Democrats and seven Republicans), up from twelve women in the chamber prior to the 2022 election and more than double the six women senators who served prior to the 2018 election.

Democrat Izaah Knox is the second Black state senator in Iowa history. The first was Tom Mann, a Democrat elected to two terms during the 1980s. The other 49 senators are white. No Latino has ever served in the chamber, and Iowa’s only Asian-American senator was Swati Dandekar, who resigned in 2011.

Democrat Janice Weiner became the first Jewish person to serve in the Iowa Senate since Ralph Rosenberg left the legislature after 1994. Democrat Liz Bennett became the first out LGBTQ state senator since Matt McCoy retired in 2018.

I enclose below details on the majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing Iowa Senate committees. Where relevant, I’ve mentioned changes since last year’s legislative session. The Senate has added a new Technology Committee and renamed what used to be “Labor and Business Relations” as the Workforce Committee.

Some non-political trivia: the 50 Iowa senators include two Taylors, a Democrat and a Republican. As for first names, there are three Jeffs and two men each named Mark, Mike, and Dan.

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Unlike Whitver, Miller-Meeks put herself in legal jeopardy

During the first election cycle after redistricting, it’s typical for many Iowa politicians to move, seeking more favorable territory or to avoid a match-up against another incumbent. What set this year apart from a normal campaign under a new map: major controversies related to those address changes.

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver faced a formal challenge to his voter registration, after a resident of his new district claimed he didn’t meet the constitutional requirement to be on the November ballot.

And this week, Iowa Starting Line’s Pat Rynard was first to report that U.S. Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks declared herself to be living at a friend’s house, on the last day she could change her voter registration without showing proof of address.

While Whitver played it close to the line, he successfully laid the groundwork for his voter registration change. Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald determined last week that Whitver’s declared residency at a condo in Grimes was valid. The top Iowa Senate Republican also avoided any voter fraud allegations by not casting a ballot in the 2022 primary or general elections.

In contrast, the circumstances surrounding Miller-Meeks’ address change raise legitimate questions about whether she committed election misconduct or perjury, which are both class “D” felonies in Iowa.

Staff for Miller-Meeks did not respond to Bleeding Heartland’s inquiries about her voter registration. Nor did State Senator Chris Cournoyer, whose Scott County home the member of Congress now claims as a residence.

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Lessons of 2022: Iowa's a red state—for now

First in a series interpreting the results of Iowa’s 2022 state and federal elections.

The red wave many pundits expected on November 8 didn’t materialize in most of the country. But it certainly crashed over Iowa.

Governor Kim Reynolds was re-elected by a massive 225,000 vote, 19-point margin, according to unofficial results, and she carried Republican candidates along with her.

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Fourteen Iowa Senate races to watch on election night 2022

Editor’s note: This analysis has been updated with unofficial results from all the races. Original post follows.

The major parties have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the most competitive 2022 Iowa House and Senate races.

This post highlights seven state Senate districts where one or both parties have spent large sums, and another seven where even without a big investment by Democrats or Republicans, the results could shed light on political trends.

All voter registration totals listed below come from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, as reported on November 1. All absentee ballot figures come from the Secretary of State’s office, as reported on November 7. All past election results come from the map Josh Hughes created in Dave’s Redistricting App.

All figures for in-kind spending by the Iowa Democratic Party or Republican Party of Iowa come from filings with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board. I focus on in-kind spending, because candidates in battleground Iowa legislative races typically give most of their funds to the state party. The party then covers the bulk of the large expenditures for direct mail and/or television, radio, and digital advertising.

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Iowa Senate district 14: A "rap sheet" that speaks for itself

Herb Strentz reflects on Republican Jake Chapman’s claim that his Democratic opponent Sarah Trone Garriott is a “radical activist.”

Fear-mongering and baseless campaign attacks against candidates for public office are not restricted to Iowans who dare to seek election while being Black—as is the case for Deidre DeJear, Iowa’s Democratic candidate for governor.

Yes, commentators from Bleeding Heartland to the Des Moines Register’s editors have rightly condemned Governor Kim Reynolds’ ads against DeJear as race-baiting.

And yes, “politics ain’t beanbag.” It’s not for the thin-skinned.

That “beanbag” contrast is as true today as it was in 1895, when Finley Peter Dunne quoted his fictional character, Mr. Dooley, pontificating about rough-house Chicago politics.

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Exclusive: Labor relations board shifts staff, cases to other agency. Is it legal?

Iowa’s Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) is transferring most of its staff and caseload to the state Department of Inspections and Appeals.

Since the mid-1970s, PERB members and administrative law judges have adjudicated labor disputes within state and local government or school districts. Following the changes, administrative law judges now working for PERB will handle other matters, while other employees at Inspections and Appeals will hear cases that were previously in PERB’s jurisdiction.

State officials have not announced the changes, which are scheduled to take effect on September 30. It’s not clear who initiated or authorized the plan. Staff in the governor’s office and Department of Inspections and Appeals did not respond to any of Bleeding Heartland’s inquiries over the past three weeks. PERB members Erik Helland and Cheryl Arnold likewise did not reply to several emails.

State Senator Nate Boulton, a Democrat with extensive experience as a labor attorney, has asked Attorney General Tom Miller for an official opinion on whether “it is an illegal shift of an essential PERB duty” to assign its responsibilities “to an unrelated state agency.”

Boulton also asked Miller to weigh in on the legality of Governor Kim Reynolds’ recent appointments to PERB. As Bleeding Heartland previously reported, Reynolds has circumvented the Senate confirmation process by keeping one of the three PERB positions unfilled, so she can name her preferred candidates to a vacant slot while the legislature is not in session.

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Republicans spending big on Des Moines area legislative races

The Republican Party of Iowa has reserved more than $1.1 million in television air time for six candidates seeking Iowa legislative seats in the Des Moines metro area, and will likely spend hundreds of thousands more to promote them on television during the final stretch of the campaign.

Documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission show the GOP plans to spend more than $650,000 on broadcast tv supporting Jake Chapman and Mike Bousselot, who are running in the party’s top two central Iowa Senate targets.

The party also will spend six-figure sums on tv ads for four Iowa House candidates in Polk or Dallas counties, whose commercials began airing last week.

Those numbers do not include any funds the GOP will spend on direct mail, radio, or digital advertising for the same candidates.

This post focuses on early tv spending on legislative races in the Des Moines market. Forthcoming Bleeding Heartland posts will survey other battleground Iowa House or Senate districts.

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Governor appoints board member Iowa Senate already rejected

In another end run around the Iowa Senate confirmation process, Governor Kim Reynolds has named Cheryl Arnold to serve on Iowa’s Public Relations Board (PERB), which adjudicates labor disputes within state and local government or school districts.

The governor’s office has not publicly announced the nomination, and at this writing, the board’s website lists only one member (Erik Helland) on what Iowa law designates as a three-person board. Reynolds informed Secretary of the Iowa Senate Charlie Smithson about Arnold’s appointment in a letter dated August 15, which Smithson provided to Bleeding Heartland.

Arnold previously served as chair of the PERB for a little more than a year. She left the position after Iowa Senate Democrats voted against her nomination near the end of the 2020 legislative session. Appointments subject to Senate confirmation need a two-thirds vote for approval, giving Democrats the power to block nominations while in the minority.

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Iowa Libertarians opt out of federal, most statewide races: What it means

Iowa’s filing period for the 2022 general election closed on August 27 with no third-party candidate qualified for the ballot in any federal race, or any statewide race other than for governor and lieutenant governor.

The landscape could hardly be more different from four years ago, when the Libertarian Party of Iowa fielded a full slate of federal and statewide candidates, and no-party candidates also competed in three of the four U.S. House districts.

The lack of a third-party presence could be important if any of Iowa’s Congressional or statewide elections are close contests.

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Governor still playing musical chairs with employment board

For a second straight year, Governor Kim Reynolds has reappointed Erik Helland to Iowa’s Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) after Helland failed to win Iowa Senate confirmation. In an apparent effort to circumvent the legally required confirmation process, Reynolds appointed Helland to a different position on the three-member board, which adjudicates labor disputes within state and local government or school districts.

She used the same maneuver last summer to name Helland as PERB chair after the Iowa Senate did not confirm him during the 2021 legislative session.

The governor has not filled the now-vacant position of PERB chair, saying in a recent letter to the top Iowa Senate staffer that her administration “has initiated, but has not yet completed, the selection process.” That leaves the board with no quorum; Reynolds has kept one position unfilled since August 2020.

The long-running vacancy allows the governor’s preferred nominees to remain on the board, even if they don’t receive a two-thirds confirmation vote in the state Senate. Asked for comment on Helland’s reappointment, the Democratic senators who reviewed the PERB nominees accused the governor of “a partisan power grab” and “rigging the appointment process so she can get her way.”

Reynolds’ spokesperson Alex Murphy did not respond to eight inquiries about the PERB appointments between late May and July 28.

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How far can Iowa Republicans go to ban abortion? (updated)

The worst-case scenario for bodily autonomy in Iowa played out over the past ten days. First, the Iowa Supreme Court on June 17 overturned its own 2018 precedent that established a fundamental right to abortion, protected by the state constitution. Then, the U.S. Supreme Court on June 24 overturned the 1973 Roe v Wade decision that established a federal constitutional right to an abortion, and the related Casey decision of 1992.

Top Iowa Republicans immediately promised further action to restrict abortion, which is now legal in Iowa up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. It’s not yet clear when they will try to pass a new law, which exceptions (if any) may be on the table, or whether a ban modeled on other state laws could survive an Iowa court challenge.

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2022 session: Iowa Republicans put politics over people


Matt Sinovic is the Executive Director of Progress Iowa, a multi-issue progressive advocacy organization.

No matter what we look like or where we live, Iowans want similar things. We want to make a good living, care for our families, and feel safe and connected to our communities.

But thanks to the policies of Iowa Republicans, that hasn’t been easy. The things that cost and matter the most—a roof over our heads, childcare for our kids, health care for our families—have long been put out of reach so wealthy corporations and billionaires can pay us less than they owe and rake in record profits.

And once again, Corporate Kim Reynolds and the Republican-led legislature have failed Iowans. As we watched the rest of America get back to work and begin to thrive, Governor Reynolds and GOP lawmakers spent the 2022 legislative session attacking working families, bullying kids, and targeting our public schools and educators. 

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Ten Iowa Democratic legislative primaries to watch in 2022

UPDATE: I’ve added unofficial results for each race.

Iowa Democrats have more competitive state legislative primaries in 2022 than in a typical election cycle. That’s partly because quite a few House and Senate members are retiring, and partly because the redistricting plan adopted in 2021 created some legislative districts with no incumbents.

In most of the races discussed below, the winner of the primary is very likely to prevail in November. However, a few of the districts could be targeted by one or both parties in the general election.

All data on past election performance in these districts comes from the Iowa House and Senate maps Josh Hughes created in Dave’s Redistricting App. Fundraising numbers are taken from the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board’s database.

This post is not an exhaustive account of all contested Democratic primaries for state legislative offices. You can find the full primary candidate list here.

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Why I’m supporting Grace Van Cleave for Iowa Senate district 17

Jamie Burch Elliott is a former director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood in Iowa.

I support pro-choice fighter Grace Van Cleave in the June 7 Democratic primary to represent Iowa Senate district 17 because we need her. Beyond that, she’s my friend. So, I’d like to tell you a little bit about her, and to ask you to vote for her in Tuesday’s primary. 

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