2019 Iowa legislative recap: Constitutional amendments

Bleeding Heartland continues to catch up on the legislature’s significant actions during the session that ended on April 27. Previous posts related to the work of the Iowa House or Senate can be found here.

Republicans showed little interest in amending the Iowa Constitution during the 2019 session. Only one amendment passed both chambers. If and when that proposal appears on a statewide ballot, it will spark a costly and divisive campaign about gun rights and regulations.

The Senate and House debate over the pro-gun amendment is the focus of the first half of this post. Arguments raised on both sides will surely return in future television commercials and mass mailings.

The rest of the post reviews this year’s unsuccessful attempts to change the constitution. One amendment (backed by Governor Kim Reynolds) made it through the Iowa House, and four others advanced from a House or Senate committee but did not come up for a floor vote. The rest did not get through a committee, even though some of the same ideas went further last year.

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Iowa House approves small steps on medical cannabis

“Is it perfect? No, it’s not perfect. Are we moving in the right direction? Absolutely,” Democratic State Representative Wes Breckenridge said shortly before Iowa House members approved a bill to improve our state’s medical cannabis program.

House File 732 would allow some Iowans to use more potent products and would make it easier for some patients to apply for a registration card. The House passed the bill by 96 votes to three after Breckenridge and Republican State Representative Jarad Klein praised each other’s consensus-seeking.

But for a suspenseful few minutes during the March 26 floor debate, the future of the bill was in doubt because of a first-term Republican’s far-reaching amendment.

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2019

The Iowa House opened its 2019 session today with 54 Republicans and 46 Democrats. State Representative Michael Bergan was sworn in for a second term, even though his Democratic opponent Kayla Koether is contesting the outcome. A special committee will consider her complaint in the coming weeks.

The new state representatives include 66 men and 34 women (24 Democrats and ten Republicans, record numbers for both parties).

Four African Americans (Democrats Ako Abdul-Samad, Ruth Ann Gaines, Ras Smith, and Phyllis Thede) will serve in the legislature’s lower chamber; the other 96 lawmakers are white. No Latino has ever been elected to the Iowa House, and there has not been an Asian-American member since Swati Dandekar moved up to the state Senate following the 2008 election. Democratic State Representative Liz Bennett is the only out LGBTQ member of the lower chamber. To my knowledge, Abdul-Samad (who is Muslim) is the only lawmaker in either chamber to practice a religion other than Christianity.

After the jump I’ve posted details 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 significant changes since last year.

Some non-political trivia: the Iowa House includes two Smiths (both Democrats), while the other 98 members have different surnames. As for popular first names, there are six Davids (four go by Dave), four Marys (one goes by Mary Ann), three Roberts (a Rob, a Bob, and a Bobby), three men named Thomas (two go by Tom), three Johns and two Jons, and three men each named Gary and Brian. There are also two Elizabeths (a Beth and a Liz) and two men each named Bruce, Chris, Jeff, Michael (one goes by Mike), and Charles (a Chuck and a Charlie).

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Ethics board investigating pro-Republican law-breaking in Iowa House race

A pro-Republican mailing to thousands of Warren County households last month was not only sleazy, but also unlawful.

The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board will investigate who paid to send a letter attacking Democratic State Representative Scott Ourth “to every mailbox in Iowa House district 26” and “what campaign finance laws were violated in the process.”

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Iowa Republicans left many Democratic lawmakers unchallenged

The Republican Party is not fielding a candidate in more than two dozen Democratic-controlled Iowa House or Senate districts, while Democrats have left only seven GOP-held legislative seats uncontested. The disparity in party strategies is a departure from the last midterm election, when each party failed to nominate a candidate in more than two dozen state House districts alone.

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