Iowa lawmakers pass another unconstitutional "Ag Gag" bill

Iowa legislators just can’t quit violating the constitution in the service of livestock farmers and their lobby groups.

Two months after a federal judge comprehensively dismantled Iowa’s 2012 law prohibiting “agricultural production facility fraud,” the state House and Senate approved a bill creating the crime of “agricultural production facility trespass.” Governor Kim Reynolds has indicated she will sign the legislation. (UPDATE: She signed it on March 14.)

Although the drafters modeled the new bill after portions of an Idaho statute that survived a legal challenge, federal courts could and should strike down this law. Like the previous “ag gag” legislation, its primary purpose is to suppress speech reflecting certain viewpoints.

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Iowa Senate broadens ethics code, but not transparency rules

Iowa state senators have amended their chamber’s ethics code following a high-profile complaint against Democratic Senator Nate Boulton, which was dismissed late last year.

The new language cover actions occurring outside the capitol building and allows citizens to file a complaint more than three years after an incident. However, the updated code would still lead to dismissal of a complaint like Sharon Wegner’s allegations against Boulton.

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Country's strictest abortion ban fails first Iowa court test

Iowa’s law banning most abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected violates the state constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process, Polk County District Court Judge Michael Huppert ruled on January 22.

The Iowa Supreme Court will almost certainly agree that the law is unconstitutional. But it is unclear whether the high court will keep its decision grounded in the Iowa Constitution, as the District Court did. If the Iowa Supreme Court strikes down the law citing provisions of the U.S. Constitution, they will open the door to appeal in the federal courts.

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Senate Republicans throw transparency out the window

Iowa Senate Republicans have abandoned longstanding rules that ensured subcommittee meetings would be open to the public and announced at least 24 hours in advance, and that committee chairs would allow votes on all germane amendments to bills.

Senate committees had operated under those rules since the 2005 legislative session, when each party had 25 senators. The rules remained standard practice throughout ten years when Democrats controlled the upper chamber and the first two years of a Republican majority following the 2016 elections.

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Who's who in the Iowa Senate for 2019

The Iowa Senate convened for its 2019 session on January 14 with 32 Republicans and 18 Democrats. A record eleven senators are women (six Democrats and five Republicans), up from six women in the chamber at the start of the last legislature’s work.

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. Note that Democratic Senator Nate Boulton will serve on committees after all. Minority Leader Janet Petersen had declined to assign him to any committees last month.

A few words about demographics: all current state senators are white. To my knowledge, the only African American ever to serve in the Iowa Senate was Tom Mann, elected to two terms during the 1980s. No Latino has ever served in the Iowa legislature; in 2014, Nathan Blake fell 18 votes short of becoming the first. No Asian American has served in the Iowa Senate since Swati Dandekar resigned in 2011.

Some non-political trivia: the 50 Iowa senators include two Smiths (a Democrat and a Republican) and two Taylors (both Democrats). As for first names, there are three Marks, three Zachs, and two men each named Dan, Jim, Tim, Tom, and Jeff.

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