Six themes from the Iowa legislature's opening day in 2021

The Iowa legislature’s 2021 session began on January 11 with the usual appeals to work together for the good of Iowans. But potential for bipartisan work on high-profile issues appears limited, as the Republicans who enjoy large majorities in the state House and Senate have quite different priorities from their Democratic counterparts.

At the end of this post, I’ve posted the substantive portions of all opening remarks from legislative leaders, as prepared for delivery. The speakers focused on the following matters:

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Iowa takes big tumble in national energy efficiency rankings

Democratic legislators, environmental organizations, and consumer advocates warned in 2018 that a bill backed by Iowa’s major utilities would destroy our state’s decades-long tradition of being a “national leader in energy efficiency.” But Republican members of the Iowa House and Senate didn’t listen, and Governor Kim Reynolds ignored calls to veto Senate File 2311.

That law is the main reason Iowa dropped sharply in a new review of state policies on energy efficiency.

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U.S. census delay should not derail Iowa redistricting

The U.S. Census Bureau is unlikely to deliver state population totals on its usual timetable, Michael Wines and Emily Bazelon reported for the New York Times on November 19. The news was encouraging for those who support an accurate, complete census, because a delay beyond January 20 would stop the Trump administration’s unconstitutional plan “to remove unauthorized immigrants from the count for the first time in history, leaving an older and whiter population as the basis for divvying up [U.S.] House seats […].”

I wondered how an adjusted timetable could affect Iowa’s redistricting. Could Republicans who retained control of the Iowa House and Senate use a delay as a pretext for bypassing our state’s current nonpartisan process?

Not without changing state law.

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Sixteen Iowa Senate races to watch, with ratings

Iowans will elect 25 state senators today. Those races have attracted far less attention than this year’s Iowa House races, because Republicans have a lopsided 32-18 majority in the upper chamber and only a 53-47 advantage in the House.

Nevertheless, it’s important to keep an eye on the Senate races, because this year’s outcome will influence Democratic prospects under the new map coming in 2021.

This overview covers five districts where both parties are spending six-figure amounts, seven districts where Republicans spent a significant amount, and four more districts where the results could shed light on political trends in various parts of the state, even though neither Democrats nor Republicans targeted the race.

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Taking advantage of a disaster

Bruce Lear: Some Republicans are using difficult decisions about reopening schools during a pandemic to justify redirecting public funds toward education vouchers. -promoted by Laura Belin

One of the inevitable consequences of any disaster are scam artists who prey on the vulnerable. This pandemic is no exception.  There have been scams from surefire cures for COVID-19 peddled by medical hucksters to clever crooks plotting to steal stimulus checks.

Now comes yet another scam, only this time victim is public education, and the scam artists aren’t shadowy figures no one knows. Instead, these are federal and state Republican office holders, trying to use a pandemic as cover for ripping off public money to use for private schools for vouchers.

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Iowa SOS will need permission for future emergency election changes

Secretary of State Paul Pate will need approval from the Legislative Council in order to use his emergency powers to alter election procedures, under a bill Governor Kim Reynolds signed on June 25.

While Republicans have a majority on that legislative body, it’s not clear they would use that power to prevent Pate from repeating steps that led to record-breaking turnout for the June 2 primary.

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