Dems contesting far more Iowa House, Senate seats than in 2010 or 2014

Democrats are fielding a nearly full slate of Iowa House and Senate candidates this year, leaving far fewer GOP-held seats unchallenged than in the last two midterm elections.

The improvement is particularly noticeable in the Iowa House, where Republicans have an unusually large number of open seats to defend. Twelve of the 59 GOP state representatives are retiring, and a thirteenth seat (House district 43) is open due to Majority Leader Chris Hagenow’s move to safer Republican territory in Dallas County.

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2018

The Iowa House opens its 2018 session today with 58 Republicans, 41 Democrats, and one vacancy, since Jim Carlin resigned after winning the recent special election in Iowa Senate district 3. Voters in House district 6 will choose Carlin’s successor on January 16. UPDATE: Republican Jacob Bossman won that election, giving the GOP 59 seats for the remainder of 2018.

The 99 state representatives include 27 women (18 Democrats and nine Republicans) and 72 men. Five African-Americans (all Democrats) serve in the legislature’s lower chamber; the other 95 lawmakers are white. No Latino has ever been elected to the Iowa House, and there has not been an Asian-American member since Swati Dandekar moved up to the Iowa Senate following the 2008 election.

After the jump I’ve posted details on the Iowa House majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing House committees. Where relevant, I’ve noted significant changes since last year.

Under the Ethics Committee subheading, you’ll see a remarkable example of Republican hypocrisy.

Some non-political trivia: the Iowa House includes two Taylors (one from each party) and two Smiths (both Democrats). As for first names, there are six Davids (four go by Dave), four Roberts (two Robs, one Bob, and a Bobby), four Marys (one goes by Mary Ann), three Johns and a Jon, and three men each named Gary and Charles (two Chucks and a Charlie). There are also two Elizabeths (a Beth and a Liz) and two men each named Brian, Bruce, Chris, Todd, and Michael (one goes by Mike).

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Near-total support for medical cannabis bill in Iowa Senate

What a difference two years makes: the Iowa Senate approved a comprehensive medical cannabis bill today by 45 votes to five. Almost two years ago to the day, a similar bill covering fewer medical conditions barely passed the Senate with just one Republican (Brad Zaun) joining 25 of the 26 Democrats. State Senator Tod Bowman was the lone Democrat not to support the 2015 cannabis legislation, and he was the only Democrat to vote against Senate File 506 today, joined by Republicans Mike Breitbach, Dan Dawson, Julian Garrett, and Mark Costello. (Garrett had voted for the bill in the Senate Appropriations Committee last week.)

Bleeding Heartland covered the important provisions of Senate File 506 here. Whereas the current law allows the use of cannabis oil to treat a few seizure conditions but doesn’t provide for in-state production, the new bill would cover thousands more Iowans, permit licensed users to obtain cannabis in more forms (but not smokeable marijuana), and create conditions for manufacturing and selling medical cannabis in Iowa.

Before final passage, senators adopted two amendments by voice vote. Language introduced by Republican Tom Greene added polyarteritis nodosa to the list of covered conditions and reduced the maximum number of licensed medical cannabis manufacturers in Iowa from twelve to four. Republican Mark Chelgren’s amendment removed a passage that would have allowed patients to register for a nonresident card in Minnesota and obtain medical cannabis from a manufacturer in that state.

Iowa House Republican leaders may not allow a vote on this bill without amendments to limit its scope. However, they will face pressure to do something before adjournment, because the current law expires on July 1. During today’s floor debate, several senators urged colleagues in the lower chamber to send the legislation to Governor Terry Branstad, Steffi Lee reported for CBS-2 in Cedar Rapids.

Advocacy groups representing Iowans affected by various diseases or medical conditions are lobbying in favor of Senate File 506, while some organizations representing law enforcement or medical professionals are registered against it, including the Iowa Pharmacy Association. Ironically, the only two pharmacists serving in the legislature are strong supporters of the bill. Greene floor-managed Senate File 506, and Democratic State Representative John Forbes has been one of the lower chamber’s leading advocates for medical cannabis reform for years.

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Two more Democrats support gun bill in final Iowa House vote

This afternoon the Iowa House approved the amended omnibus gun bill state senators approved earlier this week. House File 517 passed by 57 votes to 35, mostly along party lines. Four Democrats (Bruce Bearinger, Scott Ourth, John Forbes, and Tim Kacena) voted for the bill. Bearinger and Ourth also supported the legislation the first time it came before the House. They explained their reasoning in comments I published here. I have asked Forbes and Kacena why they changed their minds and will update this post as needed.

Only two Republicans voted against the gun bill today. Dave Heaton and Michael Bergan also opposed last month’s version. Heaton could not abide the provisions making it more difficult for local governments to keep guns out of public buildings. His district includes Mount Pleasant, where a fatal shooting occurred during a city council meeting three decades ago. I have not seen public comments from Bergan about this issue, but will update this post if he responds to my inquiry.

Before the final vote, House members debated the Senate amendment to House File 517. Bleeding Heartland discussed the changes to various provisions here. Democratic State Representative Mary Wolfe offered an amendment to the amendment, which would have delayed until July 1, 2018 the implementation of the section allowing Iowans to carry concealed weapons on the state Capitol grounds. Her thinking: while it’s “fine” to let law-abiding Iowans carrying handguns in Capitol, the legislature has a “responsibility to visitors to ensure all permits to carry [are] valid.” The bill calls for the Department of Public Safety to create a statewide verifiable uniform permit to carry, but that process will take much longer than three months. Wolfe pointed to the risk that Iowans without permits might take advantage of the current non-uniformity of carry permits issued by county sheriffs (some with no photo). The state legislature will be held liable “if innocent people are killed by a person who is allowed to carry” a gun in the Capitol building.

Wolfe’s amendment was ruled not germane, and her motion to suspend the rules to force a vote on it failed along party lines. After that, House members approved the Senate amendment by voice vote, leading to closing speeches and the 57-35 vote on final passage mentioned above.

Matt Windschitl, who floor managed House File 517, used part of his closing remarks to go on a riff about Iowans “being lied to.” I expected a diatribe against people like me, who have raised concerns about Stand Your Ground and local pre-emption language facilitating more homicides. But in a plot twist, Windschitl’s target was Aaron Dorr, the none-too-ethical leader of Iowa Gun Owners. That group claims to be “Iowa’s only No Compromise gun rights organization.” On the House floor (beginning around the 4:42:15 mark here), Windschitl hammered Iowa Gun Owners for taking credit for a bill they did nothing to advance. “You need and you deserve the truth. Aaron Dorr is a scam artist, a liar, and he is doing Iowans no services and no favors. I feel better now,” Windschitl said, just before moving for a final vote on his bill.

UPDATE: Forbes commented via e-mail on April 7, “There were several changes made in the Senate that improved the bill and led to my support. While it is still not perfect, the Senate changes give the Governor more flexibility to restrict weapons in emergency situations, adds more safeguards for kids, and adds new protections to keep people who have committed a firearms-related crime behind bars.”

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Key senator confident Iowa Senate will pass bipartisan medical cannabis bill

Iowa’s current medical cannabis program sunsets on July 1, and no proposal to replace it advanced in a state House or Senate committee before the legislature’s first “funnel” deadline. However, appropriations bills are exempt from the funnel, and Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Charles Schneider confirmed today he is working with colleagues in both parties to make medical cannabis more available to Iowans suffering from a wider range of medical conditions.

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Iowa Republicans on voter ID: La la la, we can't hear you

Bare-knuckles partisanship is a running theme of the 2017 Iowa legislative session, so Thursday’s party-line House vote to approve new voting restrictions was unremarkable. Nor was it surprising that Republicans cut off floor debate before members discussed most of the Democratic amendments to House File 516. Before last month, House leaders hadn’t invoked the “time certain” procedural maneuver since March 2011. They’ve used it twice this year already: to destroy collective bargaining rights and now for the bill containing voter ID, signature verification, and other ways to make voting more difficult.

After listening to the March 6 public hearing and about half of the twelve hours House members debated the bill, I was struck by how Republicans stayed on the message we’ve heard from Secretary of State Paul Pate. No one will be unable to vote because of this bill, and everyone who needs a new voter ID card will get one for free.

At the hearing and on the Iowa House floor, numerous speakers offered specific examples of how the GOP proposal could prevent eligible voters from casting a ballot.

They might as well have been talking to a wall.

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