Iowa Republicans have abandoned executive branch oversight

Governor Kim Reynolds has been lucky at key points in her political career. Terry Branstad passed over more experienced contenders to select her as his 2010 running mate, allowing a little-known first-term state senator to become a statewide elected official. Six years later, Donald Trump won the presidency and named Branstad as an ambassador, setting Reynolds up to become governor without having to win a GOP primary first.

Most important, Reynolds has enjoyed a Republican trifecta her entire four years as governor. Not only has she been able to sign much of her wish list into law, she has not needed to worry that state lawmakers would closely scrutinize her administration’s work or handling of public funds.

During the legislative session that wrapped up last month, the GOP-controlled House and Senate rejected every attempt to make the governor’s spending decisions more transparent. They declined to hold even one hearing about questionable uses of federal COVID-19 relief funds or practices at state agencies that disadvantaged thousands of Iowans.

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Five terrible bills Iowa Republicans didn't pass in 2021

The Iowa House and Senate adjourned late in the evening on May 19 after finishing most of their work for this year. (Lawmakers will almost certainly come back for a special session to consider new maps of Iowa’s legislative and Congressional districts.)

In the coming days, Bleeding Heartland will closely examine several bills that passed in the late session rush. For now, I want to review the legislation that by some minor miracle didn’t make it to Governor Kim Reynolds’ desk, in spite of support from powerful interests.

All of these bills are likely to return in some form during the 2022 session, so don’t celebrate too soon. House Republicans were unable to pass a “water quality” bill backed by agricultural groups in 2017. But the Iowa Farm Bureau and its allies spent the interim chipping away at the GOP holdouts. The bill sailed through the House early in the 2018 session. The same scenario could play out with any of the proposals discussed below.

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Governor endorses plan targeting Iowans on public assistance

A longstanding effort by Iowa Senate Republicans to reduce the number of Iowans receiving various forms of public assistance got a quiet boost last week from Governor Kim Reynolds.

For the first time, the governor’s draft human services budget included provisions that would create asset tests for federal food assistance and require the Iowa Department of Human Services to establish a new “eligibility verification system” for Medicaid and several other public assistance programs.

State Senator Jason Schultz has pushed similar legislation for several years running. Each session, Senate Republicans have approved the bills, which died in the House Human Resources Committee (see here and here).

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Iowa GOP chair once mocked "crazy" gun bill now on governor's desk

Governor Kim Reynolds will soon decide whether to sign a bill eliminating mandatory permits to carry concealed weapons in Iowa, and allowing firearms on school grounds. The legislation has been a priority for some pro-gun groups for more than a decade. But for years, bills to scrap concealed carry permits had few co-sponsors and never advanced beyond a committee in the Iowa House or Senate.

Jeff Kaufmann, who has chaired the Republican Party of Iowa since 2014, expressed concerns about the idea as the third-ranking Iowa House Republican in March 2011.

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Iowa Republicans unveil assault on early voting

UPDATE: The Iowa Senate and House approved a revised version of this bill on February 23 and 24. Original post follows.

Republican-controlled states “are increasingly not ‘laboratories of democracy,’ but ‘laboratories of democratic backsliding,’” political scientist Jake Grumbach noted in a new article by Perry Bacon Jr. for FiveThirtyEight.com.

Look no further than the Iowa legislature, where House and Senate Republicans unveiled a wide-ranging election bill on February 16. The 37-page legislation would make it much harder for Iowans to obtain and cast absentee ballots, either using the mail or voting early in person.

While House Republicans worked with Democrats to remove many voter suppression provisions from election bills the Iowa Senate had approved in 2019 and 2020, House State Government Committee chair Bobby Kaufmann is now on board with every piece of this year’s attempt to make it harder for Iowans to vote.

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