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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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2012

Although the 60 Republicans and 40 Democrats in the Iowa House haven’t changed since last year, I thought it was worth updating this post, because some committee assignments have changed, and House Democrats reshuffled their ranking members somewhat.

Majority and minority leadership teams are after the jump, along with all members of standing House committees. All 100 House districts are on the ballot every two years, so I’ve noted the new district numbers for state representatives seeking re-election in 2012, as well as which House members have said they will retire after this year’s legislative session.

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Planned Parenthood PAC rates Iowa lawmakers, praises Petersen and Wessel-Kroeschell

Planned Parenthood Voters of Iowa published its scorecard of Iowa legislators and gave its “Champion Award” to two Iowa House Democrats: State Representatives Janet Petersen and Beth Wessel-Kroeschell.

Details from the 2011 legislative update are after the jump. Planned Parenthood of the Heartland President and CEO Jill June described this year as “the worst legislative session for women in my 25 years at Planned Parenthood.”

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Making abortion statement trumps stopping abortion clinic

On a mostly party-line vote, the Iowa House passed the country’s most restrictive late-term abortion ban yesterday. The move put House Republicans on record opposing abortions after 20 weeks gestation, but in effect ends any chance that Omaha-based Dr. Leroy Carhart will face legal obstacles to opening a new abortion clinic in Iowa.

Details on yesterday’s House vote and the amended Senate File 534 are after the jump.  

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Weekend open thread: Abortion and pregnancy edition

This week Governor Terry Branstad declared April to be “Abortion Recovery Month” in Iowa. Anti-choice organizations and crisis pregnancy centers were invited to the proclamation signing, and women who regret their abortions spoke at a press conference. Human beings have complex reactions to significant life events, and I feel empathy for anyone who feels sad about important choices. However, it is inaccurate to suggest that all women who exercise their legal right to an abortion need to go through a “recovery” process. The American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion concluded in a 2008 report that “among adult women who have an unplanned pregnancy the relative risk of mental health problems is no greater if they have a single elective first-trimester abortion than if they deliver that pregnancy. […] the TFMHA reviewed no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors.” Some mental health professionals believe that “emotional issues, especially feelings of guilt, begin to rise along with anti-choice efforts to restrict abortion.”

The Iowa House approved a 20-week abortion ban at the end of March. The bill is modeled on a Nebraska statute and is intended to deter an Omaha-based doctor from opening a new abortion clinic in Council Bluffs. It has stalled in the Senate Government Oversight Committee. Committee Chairman Tom Courtney said in mid-April that it was too late in the legislative session to adequately review the bill this year, and he would prefer to take it up in 2012. Council Bluffs Mayor Tom Hanafan, a Democrat, recently urged the Senate to act on the bill before adjourning. The mayor does not want his city to become “home to a clinic that specializes in later term abortions.” Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, who represents the Council Bluffs area, has said he would not block the abortion bill from coming to a vote and is letting the normal committee process work.

Women who are pregnant and planning to stay pregnant should be aware that April is cesarean awareness month. At the request of Iowa chapters of the International Cesarean Awareness Network, Branstad issued a proclamation to that effect. The c-section rate in Iowa rose to 30.2 percent in 2009, the most recent year for which statistics are available. That is way above the optimal level, but the national average is even higher at 32.9 percent. The central Iowa chapter of the International Cesarean Awareness Network posted statistics for c-sections and vaginal births after cesareans (VBACs) in Iowa hospitals here. Unfortunately, more than three quarters of Iowa hospitals prohibit pregnant women from even attempting VBACs. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People 2010 initiative set a goal of reducing the cesarean birth rate for low-risk women to 15 percent for women giving birth for the first time and 72 percent for women who have had a prior cesarean birth. Having a doula present during labor has been proven to reduce the need for cesareans and other major interventions.

Whether or not they are able to become pregnant, all sexually active people should be aware that April is STD Awareness Month. The Centers for Disease Control has lots of relevant facts and figures here. Planned Parenthood of the Heartland clinics across Iowa are encouraging people to get themselves tested for sexually transmitted diseases.

This is an open thread. What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers?

UPDATE: State Representative Kurt Swaim is not running for re-election in the new House district 82, which covers Davis and Van Buren counties and most of Jefferson County, including Fairfield. Swaim and fellow Democrat Curt Hanson were both placed in that district, but most of the population lives on Hanson’s current turf. Swaim was one of four House Democrats to vote for the 20-week abortion ban, one of three House Democrats to vote for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and one of nine House Democrats to vote for a bill banning secret recordings on Iowa farms. Hanson voted against all of those bills.

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Iowa ban on secret farm recordings could end up in court

The Iowa House on Thursday approved House File 589, which establishes new civil and criminal penalties for various offenses on farms, including unauthorized audio or video recordings. Nine House Democrats joined all of the Republicans present to pass the bill on a 66 to 27 vote. Click here for the full bill text (here’s a pdf version). The House Journal includes the roll call on this bill. The Democrats who voted yes were Deborah Berry (district 22), Dan Kelley (district 41), Helen Miller (district 49), Dan Muhlbauer (district 51), Brian Quirk (district 15), Roger Thomas (district 24), Kurt Swaim (district 94), Andrew Wenthe (district 18), and John Wittneben (district 7). Most of them represent largely rural or small-town areas, except for Berry, whose district includes part of Waterloo.

I’ve posted some of the controversial language in House File 589 after the jump. The bill raises constitutional questions; last year the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law banning depictions of animal cruelty, citing First Amendment concerns. Yesterday in Des Moines,

Dan Hauff, investigations director for Chicago-based Mercy for Animals, said the law is likely unconstitutional under the First Amendment. He said it would inhibit investigative journalists from reporting on animal cruelty, environmental hazards and food safety issues on farms. He said the organization might bring litigation if the bill becomes law, but he hoped it wouldn’t make it that far.

Senator Tom Harkin said yesterday he hadn’t studied details on House File 589, but he argued against the idea behind the policy.

“Thankfully, because of whistleblowers and others doing undercover work, we are finding out about a lot of the abuses that are taking place in animal agriculture – and some of those abuses have just been awful,” Harkin said during a conference call with reporters.

House Agriculture Committee Chair Annette Sweeney, a cattle farmer who is the lead sponsor on this bill, defended the legislation, saying, “We are completely concerned about the health and well-being of our animals on our farms, and if we have individuals coming onto our farms and filming and not telling us they’re there, we are sincerely worried about the health and biosecurity.” Speaking for Democrats who voted against House File 589, State Representative Pat Murphy argued that “the overwhelming majority of farmers and people who own breeding facilities in Iowa operate very reputable businesses and treat their animals well,” but “you have to wonder” what the few who have problems at their facilities want to hide.

Des Moines-based advertising specialist Michael Libbie considers this bill a big public relations mistake:

[P]assing such legislation controlling and making the filming and distribution illegal makes ag look….bad.  Very bad. […]

At a time when agriculture needs more, not less, friends and at a time when so many people have horrible misconceptions about farming and nearly zero relationships with farmers and ranchers…this bill is ill advised.  Bad idea for agriculture, bad idea for farmers and ranchers….this will only fuel the fires of those who already think animal agriculture is evil.  And for those who don’t, they  just might start wondering, “So, what is going on they don’t want me to know about?”

I expect the Iowa Senate to approve this bill with minimal changes, and Governor Terry Branstad to sign it. Ultimately, courts will probably decide whether House File 589 or similar legislation being considered in Florida goes too far in restricting free speech.

UPDATE: A Bleeding Heartland reader commented by e-mail that Republicans like James O’Keefe’s secret sting videos (against NPR or ACORN, for example). Why should big ag receive special protection against that kind of exposure?

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