Anti-abortion constitutional amendment clears first Iowa House hurdle

Iowa Republicans have enacted most of their legislative agenda with little trouble during the past four years of full control of state government. But a few priorities eluded them, including a constitutional amendment that would pave the way for future abortion bans. Unable to find 51 votes in the state House for that measure last year, the GOP settled for mandating a 24-hour waiting period before all abortions.

The 2020 elections increased the GOP’s majority in the lower chamber from 53-47 to 59-41. Republicans didn’t waste time returning to unfinished business: a new version of the attack on reproductive rights cleared an Iowa House Judiciary subcommittee on January 19.

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2021

The Iowa House opened its 2021 session on January 11 with 59 Republicans and 41 Democrats, a big improvement for the GOP from last year’s 53-47 split.

The House members include 69 men and 31 women (21 Democrats and ten Republicans), down from a record 34 women in 2019 and 33 women last year.

Six African Americans (Democrats Ako Abdul-Samad, Ruth Ann Gaines, Ras Smith, Phyllis Thede, and Ross Wilburn, and Republican Eddie Andrews) will serve in the legislature’s lower chamber. Republican Mark Cisneros is the first Latino elected to the Iowa legislature, and Republican Henry Stone is only the second Asian American to serve in the House. The other 92 state representatives are white.

Democrat Liz Bennett is the only out LGBTQ member of the Iowa House. To my knowledge, Abdul-Samad (who is Muslim) is the only lawmaker in either chamber to practice a religion other than Christianity.

I’ve posted details below 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 changes since last year.

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How many Iowa candidates "won" under rules Republicans forced on unions?

Sixth in a series interpreting the results of Iowa’s 2020 state and federal elections.

Republican lawmakers and Governor Terry Branstad set out to cripple public sector unions in 2017 by enacting a law that eviscerated bargaining rights and established new barriers to union representation. Under that law, public employees must vote to recertify their union in each contract period (in most cases, every two or three years). Anyone not participating in the election is considered to have voted against the union. So a successful recertification requires yes votes from a majority of all employees in the bargaining unit.

The law hasn’t accomplished its goal of destroying large unions that typically support Democratic candidates. The vast majority of bargaining units have voted to recertify in each of the past four years. This fall, all 64 locals affiliated with the Iowa State Education Association voted to keep having that union negotiate their contracts. AFSCME Council 61, which represents most Iowa state and local government workers, was nearly as successful, with 64 out of 67 units voting to recertify.

I decided to return to a question Bleeding Heartland first pondered in 2017: how many candidates for other Iowa offices could declare victory under the system Republicans forced on labor unions?

I found that even after Iowa’s highest-turnout election in decades, our state would have no representation in Congress if contenders needed a majority vote among all constituents. “Winners” could be declared in about a third of state legislative races.

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Iowa SOS will need permission for future emergency election changes

Secretary of State Paul Pate will need approval from the Legislative Council in order to use his emergency powers to alter election procedures, under a bill Governor Kim Reynolds signed on June 25.

While Republicans have a majority on that legislative body, it’s not clear they would use that power to prevent Pate from repeating steps that led to record-breaking turnout for the June 2 primary.

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Republicans found shortcut around Iowa Supreme Court on abortion

Spirits lifted in the pro-choice community when Iowa House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl did not call up a constitutional amendment on abortion shortly after the legislature reconvened this month.

Republican leaders wanted to pass the amendment, which had advanced from committee months earlier. When a high-profile bill doesn’t come to the floor, it often means the majority party doesn’t have the votes for final passage.

Indeed, at least three of the 53 House Republicans resisted immense pressure to vote for legislation designed to overturn an Iowa Supreme Court ruling protecting “the constitutional right of women to terminate a pregnancy.”

Unfortunately, the holdouts agreed to a last-minute abortion restriction that may provide a faster way to undo the high court’s work.

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Iowa Senate Republicans advance plan to ban abortion

Republicans on the Iowa Senate State Government Committee have approved a proposed constitutional amendment that could eventually clear the way for a total ban on abortion.

Senate Joint Resolution 21 would add language to the Iowa Constitution clarifying that the document “shall not be construed to recognize, grant, or secure a right to abortion or to require the public funding of abortion.”

An earlier version cleared the Senate State Government Committee in March 2019. But for reasons they never explained publicly, Republican leaders did not bring the measure to the Senate floor during last year’s legislative session.

Governor Kim Reynolds urged lawmakers to act on this issue in her Condition of the State address earlier this month: “We must protect life by making clear, through an amendment, that our constitution does not grant a right to abortion.”

The goal is to make all future abortion restrictions immune from court challenges.

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