Governor resumes public events; no word on follow-up test (updated)

Governor Kim Reynolds returned to the capitol on January 18, after canceling her public events on January 13 and 14. Announcing those cancellations, staff said in a statement that the governor “is not feeling well, but has tested negative for COVID-19.” Her spokesperson Alex Murphy did not respond to subsequent messages seeking to clarify whether Reynolds was tested again over the holiday weekend.

At least five individuals associated with the Iowa House or Senate have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days, including Democratic State Senators Zach Wahls and Nate Boulton. (The legislature does not require lawmakers or staff to report coronavirus infections.) Reynolds, Wahls, and Boulton are all vaccinated and boosted for COVID-19.

The governor spent considerable time with her face uncovered around other unmasked people last week: at a crowded Iowa GOP breakfast on January 10, while delivering her Condition of the State address in the House chamber the following day, and while attending the Iowa Supreme Court chief justice’s report to lawmakers on January 12.

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Who's who in the Iowa Senate for 2022

The Iowa Senate convened for its 2022 session on January 10 with 32 Republicans and eighteen Democrats. Twelve senators are women (seven Democrats and five Republicans), up from eleven women in the chamber prior to the 2020 election and double the six women senators who served prior to the 2018 election.

I enclose below details on the majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing Iowa Senate committees. Where relevant, I’ve mentioned changes since last year’s legislative session. The biggest change: Republican Dave Rowley was elected in December to succeed Republican Zach Whiting, who resigned to take a job in Texas.

All current state senators are white. The only African American ever to serve in the Iowa Senate was Tom Mann, elected to two terms during the 1980s. No Latino has ever served in the chamber, and Iowa’s only Asian-American senator was Swati Dandekar, who resigned in 2011.

Some non-political trivia: the 50 Iowa senators include two Smiths, a Democrat and a Republican, and two Taylors, a Democrat and a Republican. As for first names, there are three Jeffs and two men each named Zach, Craig, Mark, Dan, Jim, and Tim.

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Exclusive: Governor stacked labor relations board with Republicans

Governor Kim Reynolds has kept one of three positions on Iowa’s Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) vacant for more than a year, and since October has ensured the board operates with Republican members only.

By law, the board that handles public sector labor relations “shall consist of three members appointed by the governor,” of whom no more than two “shall be of the same political affiliation.” Reynolds has left one position unfilled since August 2020 and recently replaced Democrat Mary Gannon with Republican Jane Dufoe. She serves alongside Erik Helland, a longtime Republican and former state lawmaker.

The current situation runs counter to the spirit of PERB’s partisan balance requirement and potentially allows Reynolds to circumvent the Iowa Senate confirmation process, by shifting board members who are not confirmed to an open position.

In addition, state salary records show Reynolds’ GOP appointees to PERB immediately earned higher pay than Gannon, despite the Democrat’s years of experience. For decades, under Republican and Democratic governors, PERB members not chairing the board had received identical salaries.

The governor’s communications director Alex Murphy confirmed Dufoe’s party affiliation in September, then did not respond to eight follow-up inquiries about the PERB appointments over a three-month period.

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Why did so many Democrats vote for Iowa's COVID-19 vaccine law?

Governor Kim Reynolds was “proud” to sign a bill designed to make it easier for Iowans to get around COVID-19 vaccination mandates in the workplace. State Representative Henry Stone, who floor managed the bill in the House, said Republicans worked on this legislation for months, seeking ways to lessen the impact of the Biden administration’s expected rules requiring large employers to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations or frequent testing of employees.

Democrats had no input on the proposal and did not see the bill text until hours before lawmakers debated House File 902 on October 28. Nevertheless, both chambers approved the bill by surprisingly large margins: 68 votes to 27 in the House and 45 votes to 4 in the Senate.

Why did so many Democrats vote for a bill that one supporter described as “a joke” during debate?

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First look at Iowa's new House, Senate maps in cities, suburbs

Now that Iowa’s political maps for the next decade have been finalized, it’s time to look more closely at the district lines in and near larger metro areas. Although most districts anchored in cities are safe for Democrats, these metros will include quite a few battleground Iowa House and Senate races over the next two election cycles. Several “micropolitan” districts containing mid-sized cities remain competitive as well, and a forthcoming post will cover those maps.

I’ll write more about the political landscape of individual House or Senate districts once lawmakers and other contenders have confirmed their plans for next year. Several incumbent match-ups have already been worked out, and I’m continuing to update this post. (Please send tips on candidate announcements.)

I’ve grouped each Iowa Senate district with the two state House districts it wholly contains.

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Iowa's new qualified immunity law may not hold up in court

“Iowa’s law enforcement will always have my respect, and I will always have their back,” Governor Kim Reynolds declared while signing Senate File 342 on June 17. Sections 12 through 16 of the wide-ranging policing bill establish a “qualified immunity” standard for Iowa. Effective immediately upon the governor’s signature, state employees or law enforcement officers who violate individuals’ constitutional rights can be sued only if their conduct violated “clearly established” law, such that “every reasonable employee would have understood” the act was illegal.

The provisions were crafted to match decades-old federal qualified immunity standards, and to override an Iowa Supreme Court ruling that was more favorable to Iowans whose rights have been violated by police.

The new law will almost certainly be challenged. And while the conservative majority on the Iowa Supreme Court often defers to other branches of government, the justices may find that Senate File 342’s language on qualified immunity is incompatible with the Iowa Constitution.

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