# Nate Boulton



Republicans reach deal on cutting Iowans' unemployment benefits

Iowa House and Senate Republicans have been at an impasse this month, as Senate Republicans refused to advance spending bills in an effort to pressure the House to approve a plan to divert more public education funds to private schools.

But in a sign of progress in backroom negotiations, GOP lawmakers finalized agreements on three bills April 26. The Senate approved the House version of a bill cutting unemployment benefits, while the House passed Senate versions of legislation on child care and an ethanol mandate for gasoline retailers.

Forthcoming Bleeding Heartland posts will cover the child care and ethanol bills.

Republicans in both chambers had agreed on most of the unemployment benefits package in March. The centerpiece of House File 2355 is a proposal Governor Kim Reynolds highlighted during her Condition of the State address in January: reduce the maximum unemployment benefits in one year from 26 weeks to sixteen weeks. The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency (LSA) estimated the shortened window would reduce payments to jobless Iowans by nearly $69.2 million during fiscal year 2023 and nearly $70.9 million the following year.

Most states provide up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, while only a few provide as little as Iowa will after Reynolds signs this bill into law.

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Iowa Republicans close to deal on cutting unemployment benefits

The Iowa House and Senate approved similar bills on March 23 that would substantially cut unemployment benefits for jobless Iowans. The legislation, a priority for Governor Kim Reynolds, had been stalled for weeks, raising questions about whether Republican leaders could find the votes to pass it in the House.

Both versions of the legislation include the centerpiece of the proposal Reynolds highlighted during her Condition of the State address in January: reduce the maximum unemployment benefits in one year from 26 weeks to sixteen weeks. Currently, most states provide up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits per year, while only a handful of states provide a maximum of sixteen weeks or fewer.

The revised bill, House File 2355, also includes provisions that would force Iowans to accept new jobs for lower pay sooner, and would make it easier for Iowans to be denied benefits entirely.

A House amendment offered by State Representative Mike Bousselot removed language that would have denied Iowans benefits the first week they were unemployed. Senate Republicans put the one-week waiting period back in the bill before approving it.

All House and Senate Democrats voted against the bills, as did two Republicans in each chamber: State Representatives Martin Graber and Charlie McClintock, and State Senators Zach Nunn and Jeff Reichman.

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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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