Iowans Lose with Senate "Loser Pays" Bill

Bill Brauch, the former director of the Consumer Protection Division in the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, warns about a “little sleeper of a bill” that would be “a nuclear weapon against judicial fairness.” -promoted by desmoinesdem

Iowa Senate Republicans have hit the ground running this session, and their agenda is replete with extreme proposals. One of them hasn’t gotten much notice yet but, if enacted, would represent the most radical change to Iowa’s judicial system since its inception.

Senate Study Bill 1008 would impose the “loser pays” standard in all civil actions in Iowa courts. This means that if you lose a civil lawsuit you not only have to pay your own attorney fees, you have to pay the other side’s attorney fees as well. Another term for this would be “instant bankruptcy!”

Imagine you are injured in a car accident and sue the other driver to seek recovery for your injuries. If the case is hard-fought both sides might run up tens of thousands of dollars in attorney fees. Say the case is a close one and you lose by a whisker – the jury thought you had a good case but your proof fell just short. Under SSB 1008, you’ll not only have to pay your own attorney fees, you’ll have to pay the other side’s as well!

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Throwback Thursday: When state lawmakers chose not to change "infamous crime" to "felony" in the Iowa Constitution

A 2008 amendment to the Iowa Constitution became a matter of debate in Griffin v Pate, the major voting rights case before the Iowa Supreme Court. The amendment changed Article II, Section 5, which as adopted in 1857 read, “No idiot, or insane person, or person convicted of any infamous crime, shall be entitled to the privilege of an elector.” The same section now reads, “A person adjudged mentally incompetent to vote or a person convicted of any infamous crime shall not be entitled to the privilege of an elector.”

Two of the seven Supreme Court justices have previously held that when approving the 2008 constitutional amendment, the legislature “ratified its own existing interpretation of that provision under which infamous crime meant a felony.” In its brief for the Iowa Supreme Court on behalf of defendants in Griffin, the Iowa Attorney General’s Office carried forward that claim: “By failing to alter the Infamous Crime Clause when other portions of Article II, section 5 were amended, the Legislature and the public ratified the definition of infamous crime as all felonies under state and federal law.” During the March 30 Supreme Court hearing on Griffin v. Pate, Solicitor General Jeffrey Thompson likewise argued “the simple answer here” is the 2008 constitutional amendment was “passed twice by the General Assembly, adopted by the people of Iowa, in the context of a legal system and historical cases and practices that said felonies are the line.”

My curiosity piqued, I decided to look into the legislative intent behind the 2008 constitutional amendment. What I found does not support the view that Iowa lawmakers envisioned “infamous crime” as synonymous with “felony” or intended to ratify such an interpretation when voting to remove offensive language from the state constitution.

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Recounts didn't change Iowa Senate district 13 and 47 results

Catching up on pre-Thanksgiving news, recounts concluded on November 24 in the two Iowa Senate districts decided by extremely narrow margins. Republican Andrew Naeve conceded to Tod Bowman, who won the open Senate district 13 by 70 votes out of nearly 20,000 cast. Naeve netted only one vote during the recount. Democrats have a almost a two to one voter registration edge in this Senate district (pdf file), so it shouldn’t have been close even in a Republican wave year. The GOP also managed to win House district 25, which makes up half of Senate district 13, after convincing one of Bowman’s unsuccessful Democratic primary rivals to run for the House as a Republican.

Democratic incumbent Keith Kreiman conceded to Mark Chelgren on November 24 after a recount in Senate district 47 failed to change Chelgren’s 12-vote lead out of just over 19,000 cast. Kreiman had served two terms in the Iowa Senate and five terms in the Iowa House before that. Democrats have a voter registration advantage in Kreiman’s district, though not as large as in Senate district 13. Kreiman underperformed House Democratic incumbents Mary Gaskill (district 93) and Kurt Swaim (district 94), whose each represent half of his Senate district.

Democrats will be hoping that the redistricting puts Chelgren on the ballot in 2012, rather than after a full four-year term. Most even-numbered years, half of the 50 seats in the chamber are up for grabs, but in the first election after a new map is adopted, some “extra” races take place in Senate districts containing zero or more than one incumbent.

With Senate districts 13 and 47 now resolved, Iowa Democrats are assured of holding at least 26 seats in the upper chamber. Republicans hold 23 seats and are favored to win the January 4 special election in Senate district 48.

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UPDATED: Recounts coming in Senate districts 13 and 47

Republican Andrew Naeve is asking for a recount in Iowa Senate district 13, the Des Moines Register reported today. According to the official canvass from Dubuque, Jackson and Clinton counties, Naeve finished 71 votes behind Democrat Tod Bowman out of nearly 20,000 votes cast.

It’s unlikely a recount would change the totals by more than a few votes, but I understand why Naeve is trying. If the Republicans could flip the result in district 13, they would have a chance for equal power in a 25-25 Senate.

As things stand, Democrats will probably hold a 26-24 majority in the upper chamber. I haven’t heard whether Democratic Senator Keith Kreiman will request a recount in district 47, where he trails Mark Chelgren by 12 votes out of more than 19,000 cast.

UPDATE: According to Saturday’s Des Moines Register, Kreiman is asking for a recount in district 47. I would too if I were behind by less than 0.01 percent of the vote.

In related news, Lieutenant Governor-elect Kim Reynolds officially resigned her state Senate seat today. Her resignation clears the way for a special election in district 48 before the Iowa legislature convenes in January. As of November 1, there were 10,444 registered Democrats, 15,257 Republicans and 14,306 no-party voters in the southern Iowa district covering Montgomery, Adams, Taylor, Union, Ringgold, Decatur and Clarke counties.

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Iowa House and Senate results nearly final

County auditors have been certifying election results this week, and the Iowa House is almost certain to be split 60-40 in favor of Republicans. Three seats were determined by extremely narrow margins. Democrat Donovan Olson does not plan to seek a recount in House district 48, where he trails Chip Baltimore by fewer than 30 votes. Republican Roger Arthur does not plan to seek a recount in House district 18, where he finished 36 votes behind Andrew Wenthe. Republican Lannie Miller has not decided whether to ask for a recount in House district 7, but John Wittneben’s margin of 32 votes is unlikely to be overturned in a recount.

The Iowa Senate is headed for a 26-24 Democratic majority. Certified election results put Democrat Keith Kreiman 12 votes behind Mark Chelgren in Senate district 47, while Democrat Tod Bowman is 71 votes ahead of Andrew Naeve in Senate district 13. If I were Kreiman, I would ask for a recount to be sure, but even a tiny margin of 12 votes (0.06 percent of the votes cast in that Senate race) probably wouldn’t be reversed.

Jennifer Jacobs reported in the Des Moines Register,

Election results show that voters angry about the Iowa Supreme Court’s gay-marriage ruling played a role in defeating Kreiman.

In 2006, Kreiman won 71 percent of the votes in his home county, Davis County. This year, 774 more Davis County residents voted on judicial retention than in 2006.

Davis County was one of seven counties where the anti-retention vote was above 70 percent.

I suspect Mariannette Miller-Meeks’ strong Congressional campaign played at least an equally important role in Chelgren’s win. Senate district 47 includes Miller-Meeks’ home base, the Ottumwa area, and she worked extremely hard all year.

Senate Republican leader Paul McKinley tried to psych out Democrats this week by saying he has “thought about” trying to convince state senators to switch to the GOP: “I think there are individuals that we know that clearly were put in tough situations over the past two or three years and might be more prone to that, but we thought about it. We’ll analyze where we are and proceed accordingly.”

Two Democrats flipping together could give Republicans a majority in the upper chamber, but I very much doubt that will happen. The moderate Democrats in the Senate caucus have more pull with Senate Majority leader Mike Gronstal than they would as junior members of a Republican majority. Also, it’s not as if McKinley could promise party-switchers a smooth ride to re-election. U.S. Representative Parker Griffith of Alabama got crushed in a GOP primary this year after deserting the Democratic Party. An incumbent in a vulnerable Iowa Senate seat would not survive a Republican primary after voting for I-JOBS and all four of Chet Culver’s budgets.

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