Iowa absentee ballot law improved, new voter suppression plans blocked

Iowa lawmakers adjourned for the year on April 27. Bleeding Heartland continues to catch up on some of the legislature’s significant work. Previous reporting related to the 2019 legislative session can be found here.

Republicans have enacted new voting restrictions in some two dozen states this decade. Iowa became part of that trend in 2017 with a law requiring voter ID, shortening the early voting period, and imposing new absentee ballot rules that are on hold pending litigation.

The march toward voter suppression appeared set to continue, with Governor Kim Reynolds winning a four-year term and the GOP retaining control over the Iowa House and Senate last November. Senate State Government Committee chair Roby Smith introduced a horror show election bill days before the legislature’s first “funnel” deadline in March. His Republican colleagues in the upper chamber later approved a bill with most of Smith’s bad-faith proposals.

But in a plot twist, House Republicans agreed to remove all the provisions that would make it harder to vote when House File 692 came back to the lower chamber. The final version, which Reynolds signed on May 16, contained largely technical code revisions and big improvements to the process for tracking and counting absentee ballots.

Follow me after the jump for a short history of a voter suppression tragedy averted.

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Iowa Senate district 20 preview: Brad Zaun vs. Rhonda Martin

What a difference a few years makes.

Democrats did not field a candidate against State Senator Brad Zaun in 2008 or 2012. The party provided no financial assistance to Senate district 20 nominee Miyoko Hikiji in 2016. That year, the Senate Majority Fund spent almost nothing on offense, as six-figure sums went toward trying to save Democratic-held seats around the state. Zaun won a fourth term by more than a 7,000 vote margin.

With central Iowa’s suburban voters trending toward Democrats, Zaun has emerged as one of the most vulnerable Senate Republicans for the 2020 cycle. As of May 15, he has a top-tier challenger: Johnston City Council member Rhonda Martin.

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Plaintiffs challenging Iowa judicial changes face uphill climb

A Linn County attorney and eight Iowa House Democrats are challenging the new law that altered the composition of the State Judicial Nominating Commission and the term of the Iowa Supreme Court chief justice.

Republican lawmakers approved the changes as an amendment to the “standings” budget bill on the final day of the 2019 legislative session. Governor Kim Reynolds signed the bill on May 8, giving herself and future governors nearly unchecked power to choose judges for Iowa’s Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.

The plaintiffs are not claiming the legislature lacked the power to change the commission’s membership through a statute. Although most of Iowa’s judicial selection system is spelled out in the state constitution, which takes years to amend, a loophole in Article V, Section 16 specified the manner of forming judicial nominating commissions only “Until July 4, 1973, and thereafter unless otherwise provided by law.”

Rather, the lawsuit filed in Polk County District Court on May 14 cites two constitutional violations related to the process by which the law passed and one violation related to the separation of powers.

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Dark money group spent $1.25 million pushing MidAmerican's solar bill

A group that popped up this year to support MidAmerican Energy’s solar bill spent $1.25 million on television commercials alone, as well as at least $11,000 on Facebook advertising and an undisclosed sum on direct mail.

The REAL Coalition conceals its donors and board members but appears to be funded primarily by utility companies and the industry’s trade association.

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Four reasons the GOP attack on trans Iowans won't hold up in court

Republicans slipped a couple of nasty surprises into the health and human services budget on the penultimate day of the Iowa legislature’s 2019 session. One of the new provisions in House File 766 would amend the Iowa Civil Rights Act to deprive transgender and intersex Iowans of access to surgery through Medicaid or other public health insurance programs.

Governor Kim Reynolds should strike this language because denying health care to people in need is reprehensible.

If she lacks the empathy to comprehend why punching down on a marginalized group is wrong, the governor should use her item veto power for a pragmatic reason: the Iowa Supreme Court is unlikely to let this discriminatory act stand.

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