University of Iowa can't keep utilities deal secrets from auditor

The University of Iowa must comply with a subpoena from State Auditor Rob Sand seeking details on a 50-year deal to lease the university’s utility system to a public-private partnership, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously determined on April 30.

The Iowa Board of Regents approved the arrangement in December 2019 and closed on the deal in March 2020. But the university withheld many details, including the identity of “Iowa-based investors” who supposedly put up about 21.5 percent of the $1.165 billion lump-sum payment to operate the system for the next five decades.

The State Auditor’s office has been trying to enforce Sand’s subpoena since January 2020. The university and Board of Regents insisted they did not have to provide “confidential” information and disputed the validity of the subpoena.

None of the Supreme Court justices found the university’s stance convincing.

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Law blocking health care for trans Iowans facing new court challenge

Two years ago this week, on the day before the Iowa legislature completed its work for 2019, Republicans added two new discriminatory provisions to the state’s health and human services budget. Both code sections quickly spawned litigation. Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit against language designed to exclude the organization from sex education grants is now pending before the Iowa Supreme Court, after a District Court found the prohibition violated the state constitution’s equal protection guarantee.

A case challenging language that authorized discrimination against transgender Iowans on Medicaid never got that far. But on April 22, the ACLU of Iowa and the national ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project filed a new lawsuit in Polk County District Court.

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Iowa students join lawsuit over discrimination at Christian colleges

Two Iowa students are among the plaintiffs in a groundbreaking federal class action lawsuit filed this past week. The Portland-based Religious Exemption Accountability Project is suing the U.S. Department of Education and its acting assistant secretary for civil rights, seeking “to put an end to the U.S. Department of Education’s complicity in the abuses and unsafe conditions thousands of LGBTQ+ students endure at hundreds of taxpayer-funded, religious colleges and universities.”

Lauren Hoekstra and Avery Bonestroo are undergraduates at Dordt University in Sioux Center, one of 25 Christian institutions where the 33 plaintiffs are now enrolled or formerly studied.

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Governor joins suit challenging limits on state tax cuts

Governor Kim Reynolds signed Iowa on to a lawsuit challenging part of the federal government’s most recent COVID-19 relief package. Thirteen states filed suit in Alabama on March 31, charging that the American Rescue Plan “impermissibly seizes tax authority from the States.” Reynolds announced the lawsuit during a March 31 appearance on WHO Radio’s program hosted by Simon Conway. The Associated Press was first to report the news.

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Court order clears path for more diverse juries in Iowa

For decades, researchers have found that all-white juries are more likely to convict Black defendants than white defendants, and that Black people “are systematically more likely to be excluded from juries in many contexts.” In addition, studies indicate diverse juries “perform their fact-finding tasks more effectively,” and have been shown to “deliberate longer, consider more facts, make fewer incorrect facts, correct themselves more, and have the benefit of a broader pool of life experiences […].”

In a 2017 decision that gave defendants of color another way to challenge unrepresentative jury pools, the Iowa Supreme Court recognized, “Empirical evidence overwhelmingly shows that having just one person of color on an otherwise all-white jury can reduce disparate rates of convictions between black and white defendants.” Yet African Americans have continued to be under-represented in Iowa jury pools and on trial juries.

A recent Iowa Supreme Court order takes a step toward addressing that disparity in the state’s criminal justice system.

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