# State Legislature



Proposed constitutional amendment is undemocratic

State Senator Dan Dawson floor manages a proposed constitutional amendment on April 10.

Rick Morain is the former publisher and owner of the Jefferson Herald, for which he writes a regular column.

Tax bills in the Iowa legislature have always been approved or disapproved by simple majorities. If most legislators want to raise taxes, or lower them, they do it the usual way: take a vote, up or down, and whichever side gets the most votes wins. That’s how democracy works.

But this year, Republican legislators voted to change that.

First the Iowa House in late March, and then the Iowa Senate earlier this month, approved House Joint Resolution 2006, a proposed amendment to the Iowa Constitution that would require a two-thirds majority in each house of the legislature to raise state income taxes.

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Government officials again forget they work for us

Des Moines City Hall, photographed by James Steakley in 2009. Photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

The Iowa legislature took an important step last week in voting to toughen penalties for state and local officials who violate a key government transparency tool, Iowa’s open meetings law.

Unfortunately, lawmakers’ actions may not be enough to reverse the love for secrecy that too many government boards and councils demonstrate. The latest example comes from Des Moines. 

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A raise for Iowa lawmakers is long overdue

State Representative Joel Fry floor manages a bill on raising elected officials’ salaries on April 18

Before adjourning for the year on April 20, the Iowa Senate did not take up a last-minute bill from the House that would have given state legislators and statewide elected officials a $10,000 raise, effective 2025.

Lawmakers should not wait until the closing days of the next session to address this issue. Stagnant, relatively low salaries are a real barrier to bringing more diverse perspectives and life experiences to the statehouse.

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Its time for coming attractions to end

From left: Iowa House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl, Florida Governor RonDeSantis, Iowa Senate President Amy Sinclair, Governor Kim Reynolds. Photo first published on Reynolds’ political Facebook page on December 18, 2023.

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com  

My grandson and I go to a lot of Marvel movies. We sit in the front, bathed in superhero heroism. But before the feature, there’s always coming attractions. The first three or four trailers are loud and enticing. Usually we whisper, “That looks great. We should try to go.” By the eighth, we’ve found the bottom of our popcorn, our drinks are gurgling empty, and the coming attractions seem to look alike.

During what should have been the three coldest, snowiest months in Iowa, my wife and I escaped to Florida, the land of Iowa legislative “coming attractions.”

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Iowa House speaker not looking for AEA funding fix

House Speaker Pat Grassley speaks to reporters on April 11 (photo by Laura Belin)

Iowa House Republicans are unlikely to push for changing the new state law on services currently provided by Area Education Agencies (AEA), House Speaker Pat Grassley indicated in his latest public comments on the topic.

While some GOP lawmakers are concerned about a provision that could divert tens of millions of dollars from the AEA system, Grassley told reporters on April 11 that giving school districts more control over media and education services funding was consistent with the bill’s original purpose.

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They've done enough damage

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com  

It’s after midnight. You’ve yawned and stretched. You’ve heard the same story twice. There’s no move to leave. They’ve settled in. Your yawns become deeper, and more obvious. 

Still, they linger.

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Want stronger CAFO regulations? Then stop Senate File 2370

Downstream of the Dunning’s Spring waterfall in Decorah; photo by Ralf Broskvar, available via Shutterstock.

Diane Rosenberg is executive director of Jefferson County Farmers & Neighbors, where this commentary first appeared.

Given Iowa’s 721 polluted waterways, it’s clear current factory farm rules and regulations don’t adequately safeguard water quality or public health. Stronger regulations on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are needed to protect water quality from worsening.

Yet a section of Senate File 2370—passed by the Senate along party lines and now pending in the Iowa House—would permanently prohibit the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) from strengthening CAFO regulations. The bill, which Governor Kim Reynolds’ office introduced, would codify the governor’s Executive Order Number 10, issued last year. That order required every state agency to conduct a comprehensive overhaul of the Iowa Administrative Code in order to promote private sector development.

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"Take time to read this bill": House Dem flagged AEA funding "oversight"

Barely a week after Governor Kim Reynolds signed an overhaul of Iowa’s Area Education Agencies, House Republicans are looking for ways to change the law’s provisions on media and education services funding, State Representative Brent Siegrist confirmed on April 4.

Siegrist was among the House Republicans who worked closely on House File 2612, having previously served as executive director of the AEA system. He described the language giving school districts the ability to divert funding from media and education services as “just an oversight.”

He and his colleagues should have listened more carefully during the March 21 debate. Democratic State Representative Sharon Steckman flagged this very problem, despite having little time to review the 49-page amendment Republicans rushed to pass.

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Iowa's latest hypocrisy in the name of religion

Governor Kim Reynolds signs Senate File 2095 at a FAMiLY Leader event on April 2. Photo posted on her political Facebook page and X/Twitter feed.

Henry Jay Karp is the Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Emanuel in Davenport, Iowa, which he served from 1985 to 2017. He is the co-founder and co-convener of One Human Family QCA, a social justice organization.

Welcome back, Iowa, to the Middle Ages, when the rule of the church was as absolute as the rule of the king! The so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which Governor Kim Reynolds signed on April 2 at a Christian organization’s private dinner, is a prime example of Iowa’s legislative hypocrisy, enacted in the name of religion.

Advocates portrayed Senate File 2095 as a defense of “religious freedom”—a freedom that already was guaranteed in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as well as Article I, Section 3 of Iowa’s constitution. In reality, the legislation defends the freedom to discriminate and persecute in the name of religion.

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Christian Nation? Which one?

President Donald Trump listens to a prayer offered by the Rev. Franklin Graham on September 20, 2019. Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead, available via Wikimedia Commons.

Dan Piller was a business reporter for more than four decades, working for the Des Moines Register and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He covered the oil and gas industry while in Texas and was the Register’s agriculture reporter before his retirement in 2013. He lives in Ankeny.

“Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name and will deceive many.” Jesus Christ, Matthew 24. 

“Evangelical Christianity has been hijacked by people who, if Jesus appeared at their door, would give him the boot.” – Former President and former Baptist Jimmy Carter

Devout Christians who hoped they could get through the Holy Week between Palm Sunday and Easter free from politics were sorely disappointed.

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Davenport leaders need to put down their shovels

Screenshot from KWQC’s video of the Iowa House Government Oversight Committee’s March 27 meeting. Randy Evans is speaking from the right side of the far end of the table.

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

City officials in Davenport have managed to accomplish the impossible this year: They have gotten Republicans and Democrats in the state legislature to agree on something.

The two parties have bickered over topics like changes to the Area Education Agencies, liability protection for farm chemical manufacturers, removing gender balance requirements for state boards, and providing state tax money to arm teachers.

But the D’s and R’s came together in the House in February, voting 92-2 to increase the penalties for government officials who violate Iowa’s open meetings law. The bill, House File 2539, also requires a judge to remove a member of a government board who has twice violated the meetings law.

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State of Iowa completes key financial reports on time

For the first time in four years, the state of Iowa submitted its Annual Comprehensive Financial Report and its Single Audit for the previous fiscal year without months of delays. The Iowa Department of Administrative Services released the comprehensive financial report covering fiscal year 2023 (July 2022 through June 2023) in late December, and the State Auditor’s office published the Single Audit on March 29.

The Annual Comprehensive Financial Report typically comes out within six months of the end of a fiscal year. But Iowa State University’s switch to the Workday system for accounting in fiscal year 2020 created enormous difficulty in compiling accurate financial data. As a result, the state’s comprehensive report for FY2020 came out nine months behind schedule.

For the next two years, turnover within the Department of Administrative Services delayed work on the comprehensive report, which came out more than seven months late for FY2021 and eight months late for FY2022.

The Single Audit is a mandatory report covering federal dollars spent by state agencies and universities. It typically comes out in late March but can’t be issued before the comprehensive report is complete. So beginning in FY2020, Iowa’s Single Audit was months late for three years in a row.

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Why this school psychologist is leaving Iowa

Amy Endle began her career in Iowa and has been a school psychologist with an Area Education Agency since 2012. She emailed the message enclosed below to all members of the Iowa House and Senate on March 23.

Dear Iowa Legislators 

I hope this message finds you well. I am writing to inform you of my family’s difficult decision to leave Iowa after 12 years of residency and return to our native Wisconsin. I have proudly served Iowa children, parents, and schools as a school psychologist since moving to Iowa in 2012. 

This decision was not made lightly and is driven by concerns directly impacting our livelihood and the educational future of our 3 children. The core reason for our departure stems from the increasing insecurity surrounding the sustainability of a gutted Area Education Agency (AEA) system. The knee-jerk decisions passed by legislators more interested in pleasing the governor than serving children in Iowa have not only affected the professional stability of highly trained education specialists, but have also cast a shadow over my family’s future in Iowa.

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Iowa House Democrats strangely quiet on eminent domain bill

Protester’s sign against a pillar in the state capitol on February 27 (photo by Laura Belin)

What’s the opposite of “loud and proud”?

Iowa House Democrats unanimously voted for the chamber’s latest attempt to address the concerns of landowners along the path of Summit Carbon Solutions’ proposed CO2 pipeline. But not a single Democrat spoke during the March 28 floor debate.

The unusual tactic allowed the bill’s Republican advocates to take full credit for defending property rights against powerful corporate interests—an extremely popular position.

It was a missed opportunity to share a Democratic vision for fair land use policies and acknowledge the progressive constituencies that oppose the pipeline for various reasons.

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Uncontested races are undemocratic

Jess Piper speaks at a Progress Iowa event at the Tom and Ruth Harkin Center in Des Moines on March 22 (photo by Laura Belin)

Jess Piper is the Executive DIrector of Blue Missouri. She is a former high school teacher and former nominee for Missouri’s House district 1. She lives on a small farm in northwest Missouri with her family and is the author of The View from Rural Missouri newsletter, where this essay first appeared.

Uncontested races are undemocratic. They are also immoral. If we say we stand with all communities, we have to prove it by showing up on every ballot.

I live in Missouri. I understand supermajorities and the consolidation of power under a supermajority, but I also understand how we get ourselves out of this mess. It isn’t the conventional wisdom of flipping a couple of seats. It’s running everywhere no matter the fact that most of these uncontested seats won’t flip in one cycle.

I hate the phrase “the long game,” but this is literally the long game. It takes time and patience and money and fortitude. It also takes candidates with grit. If anyone has grit, it’s a Missouri Democrat—especially a rural Missouri Democrat. 

I should know. I ran in 2022.

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A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com    

There’s a beloved children’s book titled, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Alexander wakes up with gum in his hair, and it gets worse from there. 

After Governor Kim Reynolds’ Condition of the State speech on January 9, Area Education Agencies woke up with gum in their hair and it became a “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year.”

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Iowa House GOP's "big wins" won't avert big problems for AEAs

Representative Skyler Wheeler floor manages the AEA bill on March 21 (photo by Laura Belin)

UPDATE: The Iowa Senate approved the final House version of this bill on March 26, and the governor signed House file 2612 the following day. Original post follows.

Iowa House leaders attempted to wrap up work last week on the thorniest issue of the 2024 session: overhauling the Area Education Agencies (AEAs) to comply with Governor Kim Reynolds’ demand for “transformational change.” Less than three hours after a 49-page amendment appeared on the legislature’s website on March 21, the majority party cut off debate and approved a new version of House File 2612 by 51 votes to 43.

State Representative Skyler Wheeler hailed many provisions of the revised AEA bill as “wins” for House Republicans during the floor debate. House Speaker Pat Grassley likewise celebrated “big wins in this legislation” in the March 22 edition of his email newsletter.

Nine Republicans—Eddie Andrews, Mark Cisneros, Zach Dieken, Martin Graber, Tom Jeneary, Brian Lohse, Gary Mohr, Ray Sorensen, and Charley Thomson—didn’t buy into the official narrative and voted with Democrats against the bill.

I doubt any of them will regret that choice. If House File 2612 becomes law, it could irreparably harm the AEAs’ ability to provide a full range of services to children, families, educators, and schools.

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It's time for GOP politicians to stop ripping off Iowa taxpayers

Former State Senator Joe Bolkcom served on the Senate Ways and Means Committee for 24 years, including ten years as chair.

For the past eight years, Iowa taxpayers have been victims of a political scheme to collect our hard-earned taxes for services we never received.

Instead of investing our money in priorities to make Iowans stronger and more prosperous, Governor Kim Reynolds and our Republican-controlled legislature have hoarded our tax dollars into a colossal $5.5 billion surplus to redistribute to their favorite fat cat donors and special interest pals.

In a normal, functioning democracy, citizens expect their taxes will be spent to make their lives better. In Iowa, that should include adequately funding our local public schools; more inspectors to make sure our nursing homes are safe for seniors; better maintained state parks; more mental health, alcohol and drug treatment in all 99 counties; affordable colleges and universities; safer roads and prisons; improved maternal health; and serious efforts to clean up our polluted lakes and rivers.

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No, the feds are not threatening to take over special education in Iowa

State Senator Lynn Evans speaks in the Iowa Senate on March 18.

David Tilly is a former deputy director of the Iowa Department of Education. He emailed this message to all 150 Iowa legislators on March 20. His previous messages to lawmakers about proposed changes to Area Education Agencies are available here, here, and here.

Open letter to Iowa Legislators:

I am David Tilly. I was Deputy Director at the Iowa Department of Education between 2012 and 2020. I oversaw the Division of PK-12, which encompasses special education responsibility and oversight in Iowa. I am writing today to address a rumor that appears to be circulating about the AEA bills. Specifically that the Iowa Department of Education must be given both more authority and more compliance resources over special education or the “feds” might come in and “take us over.” This statement is patently false. That is not how Federal Special Education Monitoring of states works. The Iowa Department of Education currently has all of the monetary resources and authority necessary to effectively monitor special education in Iowa.

Please excuse the long-detailed email, but it’s important to set the record straight.

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What were these government officials thinking?

State Senator Dan Dawson presents Senate File 2349, regarding defense subpoenas, during floor debate on February 27. Screenshot from official video.

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

What were they thinking? That is a question I ask myself a lot lately.

Those were the first words out of my mouth when the Manhattan district attorney had to postpone Donald Trump’s New York criminal trial on the alleged hush-money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels — the delay necessitated because government lawyers had dropped the ball.

I muttered those words during several days of court hearings in Georgia into Atlanta prosecutor Fani Willis’ affair with a subordinate prosecutor — the one she chose to lead the criminal case against Trump and a dozen other defendants for trying to undo that state’s 2020 presidential election results.

And those words come to mind about bills the Iowa legislature is considering that would affect criminal cases like those brought against state university athletes for their online wagers on sporting events.

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Will Koch avoid paying millions in fertilizer plant taxes?

Scott Syroka is a former Johnston city council member.

It’s unclear whether Koch Industries would avoid paying utility replacement taxes worth millions of dollars every year if it acquires OCI Global’s Iowa Fertilizer Company plant in Wever (Lee County).

According to Chuck Vandenberg’s February reporting for the Pen City Current, the Iowa Fertilizer Company plant’s current owner, OCI Global, paid between $2 to 3 million in utility replacement taxes in 2023 alone.

To understand why it’s unknown whether Koch Industries would be required to pay these taxes if it acquires the plant, we must look back in the history books.

After deregulation spread across the country in the 1980s, including in the electric and natural gas industries, the Iowa legislature responded in 1998 by passing Senate File 2146, the Property Tax Replacement and Statewide Property Tax Act.

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Summit Carbon partner ethanol plants to pursue SAF opportunities in Iowa

Sample hog from which N. K. Fairbank & Co’s lard is made, via the Boston Public Library and Wikimedia Commons

The Song of King Corn, by C. A. Murch (Verses 1 and 5)

The dews of heaven,
The rains that fall,
The fatness of earth,
I claim them all.
O’er mountain and plain
My praises ring,
O’er ocean and land
I am King! I am King!

Would you dethrone me?
Not so, not so.
Still the golden tide
Shall swell and flow;
The earth yield riches,
The toilers sing,
In the golden land
Where Corn is King.

Nancy Dugan lives in Altoona, Iowa and has worked as an online editor for the past 12 years.

Disclosure: Dugan has filed several objections into the Summit Carbon Iowa Utilities Board dockets in opposition to the pipeline. Her most recent objections can be found here and here. She has neither sought nor received funding for her work.

On March 11, Kaylee Langrell, stakeholder relations manager for TurnKey Logistics, and Grant Terry, senior project manager for Summit Carbon Solutions, appeared before the Worth County Board of Supervisors to explain the newly expanded pipeline route incorporating POET and Valero ethanol plants in Iowa. Forty-six minutes into the meeting, Langrell stated the following:

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A draft that is a refreshing breeze

Images of Thomas Paine, Juvenal, and Trofim Lysenko all taken from Wikimedia Commons.

Herb Strentz was dean of the Drake School of Journalism from 1975 to 1988 and professor there until retirement in 2004. He was executive secretary of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council from its founding in 1976 to 2000.

This Bleeding Heartland post offers four perspectives on the dreadful Iowa legislature and on fears of the outcome of the November general elections. Three small doses come from Thomas Paine, known as the poet or penman of the American Revolution; Juvenal, a poet in First Century Rome; and Trofim Lysenko, a Soviet agronomist, who was not much of a poet and even less of a scientist.

The larger fourth dose is the draft of A Social Statement on Civic Life and Faith. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is considering this draft for September adoption by the Task Force for Studies on Civic Life and Faith. The text is relevant to laws approved by Iowa lawmakers or pending in the state legislature, and to political campaigns now under way across the country.

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Iowa superintendents sound alarm about AEA changes

Superintendents from more than 30 Iowa school districts warned state legislators on March 17 that major changes to Area Education Agencies (AEAs) “will have grave consequences for the students we serve.”

In a message enclosed in full below and available here (pdf), the superintendents told lawmakers they “are deeply concerned about the proposed changes to the AEAs, especially the shift towards a ‘Fee-for-Service’ approach.” They highlighted the value of the existing AEA model, particularly for rural school districts that “rely heavily on AEAs for critical support.”

Caleb Bonjour, superintendent of the Gladbrook-Reinbeck Community School District, told lawmakers that those who signed are a “non-comprehensive list of superintendents” opposing legislation “that could drastically affect our Area Education Agencies.” Gladbrook-Reinbeck covers some rural areas in Black Hawk, Grundy, and Marshall counties.

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Iowa governor's 2024 legislative agenda in limbo

State legislators escort Governor Kim Reynolds into the Iowa House chamber on January 9, 2024. Photo by Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Des Moines Register (pool).

Governor Kim Reynolds had every reason to be confident about her legislative plans this year. Republican lawmakers approved most of her priorities in 2023, including some that had previously stalled in the Iowa House, such as a “school choice” plan and damage caps for medical malpractice awards.

Ten weeks into the 2024 legislative session, only two policies the governor requested have made it through both chambers. Nearly a dozen other bills still have a chance to reach her desk with few changes.

But Reynolds’ top priority—downgrading the Area Education Agencies (AEAs) and centralizing power over special education in her administration—will be dramatically scaled back, if it passes at all.

Three bills the governor introduced and promoted in public remarks or on social media are almost certainly dead for the year. Those include her effort to enshrine “separate but equal” treatment of LGBTQ Iowans.

Leaders moved several of Reynolds’ bills to the “unfinished business” calendar in one or both chambers on March 14, keeping them eligible for floor debate despite missing an important legislative deadline. The rest of the governor’s proposals involve taxes or spending, and are therefore “funnel-proof.”

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Let Iowans with disabilities Work Without Worry

Supporters of the Work Without Worry bill lobby at the state capitol on March 12. From left: Derek Fike, State Representative Josh Turek, Jordan True, Julie Russell-Steuart, and Jen Sinkler.

Jordan True chairs the Iowa Democratic Party’s Disability Caucus. He emailed the message enclosed below to Republican members of the Iowa House Appropriations Committee on March 13.

Honorable Representatives of the House Appropriations Committee,

Please support appropriations for HF 2589 Work Without Worry by asking Chair Gary Mohr to assign to a subcommittee and schedule a vote as soon as possible in the Appropriations Committee. Although this bill has survived the funnel, please help employed people with disabilities get this through appropriations, through the House, and onto the Senate by the end of March. 

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Opposing ranked choice voting is undemocratic

Sample ballot used in Maine (which has a ranked choice voting system) in 2018

Jason Benell lives in Des Moines with his wife and two children. He is a combat veteran, former city council candidate, and president of Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers.

Ranked choice voting should be the bare minimum for a society interested in the most representative and responsive government. It is extremely frustrating to see Iowa Republican legislative leaders work against a more balanced and representative approach to democracy by banning ranked choice voting as part of the election bill numbered House File 2610 and Senate File 2380.

Opponents of ranked choice voting never give any reason or provide any citation supporting their position. It simply reflects a commitment to “the way its always been done,” along with fear mongering about some amorphous specter of fraud—even though the method of counting votes has nothing to do with fraud or misrepresentation. 

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Immigration extremists rule red states

Gerald Ott of Ankeny was a high school English teacher and for 30 years a school improvement consultant for the Iowa State Education Association.

Well, well. The 2024 State of the Union is behind us. As I expected, President Joe Biden was ready and roaring to enter the fray. He tackled his opponent in the proverbial end zone and brushed aside MAGA supporters as if they were linebackers on a junior high school squad. As expected, the southern border was center stage, amidst a gazillion other gigantic topics.

Given that most Americans thought Biden would slump into a stupor while standing behind the podium, they must have been astounded that exactly the opposite happened. Vice President Kamala Harris seemed thrilled, smiling and clapping like a cheerleader at a National Championship Game. U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson looked puzzled and confused, turning from glum to dispirited to angry with each tick of the clock.

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Iowa Republican misleads about bill threatening IVF

As the Iowa Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on the near-total abortion ban Republicans enacted last year, state House and Senate Republicans are advancing several bills to further their anti-abortion agenda. The latest example is House File 2575, which rewrites the criminal statute on causing a non-consensual pregnancy loss. House members approved the bill on March 7, voting mostly along party lines.

Republican State Representative Skyler Wheeler denied during Iowa House debate that what he called a “fetal homicide” bill could jeopardize the legality of in vitro fertilization (IVF). He either doesn’t understand the plain meaning of the legislation he floor managed, or was trying to mislead the public about its potential impact.

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Educators don't need guns

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com    

Educators need a lot of things. They need adequate on time school funding, parental support, dedicated school boards, administrators who’ll back them, copy paper, supplies, adequate preparation time, professional pay, positive working conditions, technology, and a legislature who supports public schools and doesn’t interfere with real teaching and learning.

They don’t need guns.

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Iowa Democratic caucus a limited success—but much work remains

John Deeth has volunteered for the Johnson County Democrats and been involved in caucus planning since 2004. He was the lead organizer for the Johnson County caucuses in 2016 and 2020 and is doing the same work for 2024. Deeth has also worked in the Johnson County Auditor’s Office since 1997.

While I was never going to be satisfied with the Iowa Democratic Party’s first effort at a party-run primary (“mail-in caucus” in IDP’s language), which wrapped up March 5 with a results announcement, there were at least some successes.

In fairness, with Iowa Republicans still First In The Nation on their side and opposed to any substantive changes to accommodate the new calendar that removed Iowa from the early Democratic states, IDP didn’t have many realistic options other than what they did: a January 15 in-person caucus for party business only to comply with state law, and a later mail-in process to comply with Democratic National Committee rules.

I recommended that plan myself long before IDP implemented it.

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Whip count fail: Iowa House leaders suffer defeat on stormwater bill

Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley confers with Majority Leader Matt Windschitl on March 6 as votes for a bill limiting local government authority stall at 49.

For the second time in three years, a bill backed by top Iowa House Republicans failed to gain the 51 votes needed on the House floor. Senate File 455, which would restrict local government authority to regulate topsoil and stormwater, topped out at 49 votes in favor during floor debate on March 6. By the time the clerk closed the machine a few minutes later, yes votes had dropped to 44.

Such events are rare in any legislature, because leaders typically don’t bring a bill to the floor unless they know it will pass. No bill favored by the majority has failed an Iowa Senate floor vote for many years.

The last time Iowa House GOP leaders lost a floor vote was in March 2022, on an amendment that combined liability protection for trucking companies with limits on private employers requiring employees or customers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Republicans had a 60-40 majority at that time; the GOP advantage in the chamber has since grown to 64-36.

Majority Leader Matt Windschitl quickly filed a motion to reconsider Senate File 455, indicating leaders plan to call another vote on the bill soon. Even so, the episode revealed surprisingly deep opposition to this legislation in Republican ranks.

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Iowa can do better than "Right to Work"

Jen Pellant is president and field coordinator of the Western Iowa Labor Federation. This essay is slightly adapted from a speech she gave at a February 26 rally at the state capitol. Photo of Jen Pellant speaking at that event is by Al Womble, political director of the Iowa Federation of Labor.

This year’s Iowa legislative session has brought us yet another attack on Chapter 20 of the Public Employee Relations Act of 1974. Once again, extreme Republican lawmakers are attempting to roll back labor protections for public employees by making it easier for employers to de-certify their unions. These protections were originally forged by a bipartisan coalition of Iowa’s elected officials and led to more than 40 years of middle-class prosperity and good state/state employee relations in this state.

Yet here we are after the draconian cuts to Chapter 20 that occurred in 2017, and apparently it wasn’t enough to kill off public sector unions. Iowa’s public employees are tired of losing ground and attempting to defend what’s left. It’s time to go back to the beginning and look at the bigger picture. That’s why I stood in the capitol rotunda last week and talked about the grandaddy of all union-busting laws: so-called “Right to Work” legislation, and why it’s time for Iowa to repeal it.  

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Let's keep talking about taxes

Iowa dollars

Al Charlson is a North Central Iowa farm kid, lifelong Iowan, and retired bank trust officer. The Waverly Democrat previously published a version of this commentary on February 28.

Iowans get it. We understand that we have to pay for the public services needed to maintain the quality of life we want for ourselves and our neighbors. A fundamental responsibility of our elected leaders at all levels is to maintain a system of state and local taxes which will raise the funds needed and do so in a way that is fair.

As discussed in an earlier column, major changes now being considered in the Iowa legislature would fall short of raising the revenue needed. 

The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency’s Analysis of Governor Kim Reynolds’ Budget Recommendations for Fiscal Year 2025 (which runs from July 1, 2024 through June 30, 2025) shows that if her plan were enacted, general fund spending would exceed tax revenue by $625 million. The governor intends to use surplus carryforward to pad the total available revenues to spend next year.

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Iowa GOP lawmakers want their politics in your kid's classroom

Ed Tibbetts, a longtime reporter and editor in the Quad-Cities, is the publisher of the Along the Mississippi newsletter, where this article first appeared. Find more of his work at edtibbetts.substack.com

Republicans in the Iowa legislature say they don’t want politics in your kid’s classroom. But that’s not true. They don’t mind politics in your kid’s classroom—as long as it’s their politics.

The proof was in full view on February 28 in the Iowa House.

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On collusion—not separation—of church and state

Photograph of the painting The Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch, 1890

Herb Strentz was dean of the Drake School of Journalism from 1975 to 1988 and professor there until retirement in 2004. He was executive secretary of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council from its founding in 1976 to 2000.

Another nightmare of Iowa legislation is upon us in Senate File 2095 and House File 2454, companion bills lumped together as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (often known as RFRA). 

The legislation would be more appropriately labeled FACT, for Fearful, Arrogant, Callous Threats to Iowans’ civil rights. That’s because Senate File 2095 would turn upside down the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that Congress approved and President Bill Clinton signed in 1993.

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Iowa Senate Republicans just made blood donations a partisan issue

Following two days of contentious debate in the Iowa Senate, the chamber’s calendar for Wednesday, February 21 appeared to be stacked with non-controversial bills.

Then State Senator Jeff Edler rose to offer Senate File 2369, an “act relating to autologous and directed blood donations.”

The blood donation bill may not be as impactful as other legislation Senate Republicans approved last week: proposals to undermine Iowa’s state auditor, reduce Medicaid eligibility for pregnant Iowans, make state funded crisis pregnancy centers less accountable, enable discrimination if grounded in religious beliefs, and repeal the gender balance requirement for state boards and commissions.

Yet Senate File 2369 is important—not only because of its potential impact on the blood supply, but for what it reveals about legislative culture in the eighth year of Iowa’s Republican trifecta.

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Power players in Iowa Senate are aiding and abetting

Bonnie Ewoldt is a Milford resident and Crawford County landowner.

The Iowa House is considering a bill designed to combat “organized retail theft” of property from stores. Lawmakers supporting the measure said they wanted to deter looting, which has happened in some U.S. cities. Law enforcement has not always intervened. 

Iowans may naively think such lawlessness cannot happen here. But it could. 

Summit Carbon Solutions has been using strong-arm tactics to take farmland for a pressurized CO2 pipeline. Meanwhile, power players in the Iowa Senate, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver and Senate Commerce Committee Chair Waylon Brown, block all attempts at legislative intervention. 

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Activists twist religious freedom laws to enable discrimination

Connie Ryan is Executive Director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa and Action Fund. She first published a version of this essay in the Des Moines Register.

Religious freedom is one of our country’s most fundamental rights. Religious freedom is also already protected through the First Amendment to the U.S Constitution as well as Article I, Section 3 of our state’s constitution. The rule of law is also important.

Iowa Senate Republicans approved Senate File 2095, known as the religious exemptions law or “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” on February 20. But even some Republicans have major concerns with the legislation.

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Iowa House bill would mandate long list of U.S. history topics

Rick Morain is the former publisher and owner of the Jefferson Herald, for which he writes a regular column.

House File 2544 survived last week’s funnel deadline in the Iowa legislature and is eligible for floor debate in the state House of Representatives. If I were a public school social studies teacher in Iowa and this bill were to become law, I would begin to wonder how I could continue to teach what I know about American history and government.

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A mother's perspective: How AEA reform will hurt Iowa's children

Heather Sievers is the founder of Advocates for Iowa’s Children and an Altoona mother of a child of rare disabilities. Photo of Heather with her daughter Rowan was provided by the author and published with permission.

I am speaking out to educate our communities and give voice to thousands of families across the state who are begging our Iowa legislators to stop the Area Education Agency (AEA) education reform bill from being passed into law during the 2024 legislative session.

Having spent years building my professional experience in effective health care transformation, performance and process improvement in large systems, I know we are not doing this the right way. We are not taking time to perform a credible and thorough study to determine what reform is needed before enacting a bill. A change of this magnitude cannot be rushed, or it will inevitably fail. The risk is too high to gamble on our children’s well-being and their futures. 

Any harm to our children as a result of the decisions made this legislative session will never be forgiven, nor forgotten. Our integrated AEA system works and is a national treasure. Many states aspire to implement a system like we have, and my personal story demonstrates that our system works. 

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Senate bill would hurt Iowa's public sector unions and schools

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com   

America thrives on competition. We love it when victory hangs in the balance. Super Bowl Sunday is almost a national holiday that we celebrate with parties and betting. Court TV is a guilty pleasure for millions. Local, statewide, and national elections earn attention. Whatever the result, we want the competition to be fair.

Senate File 2374, which the Iowa Senate Workforce Committee approved along party lines last week, would cripple public sector unions while once again attacking public schools.

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Iowa's revised abortion rules still more political than medical

The Iowa Board of Medicine has unanimously approved a new version of administrative rules related to a near-total abortion ban Republicans hope to enforce in the future.

The law, known as House File 732, is currently enjoined under a Polk County District Court order, which the state has appealed. If the Iowa Supreme Court eventually allows the ban to go into effect, the administrative rules would provide some guidance to physicians on how to approach the law’s (mostly unworkable) exceptions.

The revisions approved during a February 15 teleconference meeting address some objections physicians raised when the board discussed the rules in November and January. However, they do not change the reality that the rules don’t match how doctors normally interact with patients seeking to terminate a pregnancy.

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Iowa legislature's clock runs out on feeding hungry kids

Interactive School Nutrition Dashboard created by the Iowa Hunger Coalition

At least four bills that would have helped needy Iowa families feed their children didn’t make it through the state legislature’s first “funnel.”

Most bills not related to taxes or spending are considered dead for the 2024 session if not approved by at least one Iowa House or Senate committee by February 16. Efforts to expand access to meals didn’t receive a subcommittee hearing, let alone consideration by a full committee. That was true even for one school lunch bill with 20 Republican co-sponsors.

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Abdul-Samad retiring, Rob Johnson running in Iowa House district 34

Left: State Representative Ako Abdul-Samad in February 2024. Right: Rob Johnson (photos cropped from their Facebook pages)

The longest-serving Black legislator in Iowa history will retire at the end of this year. State Representative Ako Abdul-Samad announced on February 15 that he will not seek another term in the Iowa House, Stephen Gruber-Miller reported for the Des Moines Register.

Abdul-Samad has represented part of the city of Des Moines since 2007. Speaking at a Black History Month event at the capitol, he explained his decision:

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A constructive proposal to improve Iowa's AEAs

A mother of a child with disabilities speaks to members of an Iowa Senate subcommittee on January 31 about Governor Kim Reynolds’ plan to overhaul Area Education Agencies. (photo by Laura Belin) The full Iowa Senate Education Committee is scheduled to consider an amended version of the governor’s bill on February 14.

David Tilly is a former deputy director of the Iowa Department of Education. He emailed this text to all 150 Iowa legislators on February 3. His previous messages to lawmakers about proposed changes to AEAs are available here and here.

Dear Iowa State Senators and State Representatives:

My name is David Tilly. I am the parent of a child with a disability, a school psychologist and for the last 8+ years of my career I worked as the Deputy Director at the Iowa Department of Education. I’d like to use my time today to begin discussion of how we might use the energy that has been generated by the AEA bills toward a positive result.

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Discriminating against transgender people does not make anyone safer

Laura Hessburg is Director of Public Policy for the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence. This commentary is slightly adapted from comments she delivered at the public hearing on House File 2389 on February 12.

The Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV) urges legislators to reject House File 2389, a bill permitting and enabling discrimination against trans individuals. We believe this bill is harmful, unnecessary, and appalling for a variety of reasons. Our remarks address the harmful impact it will have on ensuring crime victims have equal access to support services and emergency shelter.

ICADV supports 22 local victim service provider agencies across Iowa, including eight domestic violence shelters, providing support services to victims of violent crime (domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, human trafficking, homicide). The largest source of funding for this work comes from federal grants. As a condition of receiving federal funding, agencies are required to ensure equal access to accommodations and services as per non-discrimination provisions in federal law under the Violence Against Women Act, the Fair Housing Act, and HUD equal access regulations. This bill puts agencies in direct conflict with federal grant obligations and state law—and for many victims, this confusion creates another barrier to accessing support services.

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Proposed library bill is another attack on ideas

Photo by Bruce Lear of the public library in Alden, Iowa.

UPDATE: None of the bills that threatened to undermine the independence of public libraries made it past the Iowa legislature’s first “funnel” deadline on February 16. Original post follows.

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com   

Most Iowa towns have a few things in common: a gas station, a bar, a sprinkling of different church flavors, and a public library.  

Now, almost all of Iowa’s 500 public libraries are governed by a board of trustees. The library trustees make policy and oversee the collection. They are volunteer boards that function independently but are appointed by city councils.

That all could change if House Study Bill 678 becomes law. 

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Banning Satanic displays, worship would violate Iowa's constitution

Jason Benell lives in Des Moines with his wife and two children. He is a combat veteran, former city council candidate, and president of Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers.

Last week, Republican State Senator Sandy Salmon introduced Senate File 2210, “An act related to the Satanic displays or Satanic worship on property of the state and its political subdivisions.”

The bill is designed from top to bottom to ban satanism from being practiced, observed, or even acknowledged in public, including in Iowa schools, libraries, and public rights-of-way. A more clear and precise violation of the Iowa Constitution’s Article 1, Section 3 regarding religion couldn’t have been drafted better for future legal textbooks.

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Can you hear us, Governor Reynolds?

Jenny Turner speaks during an Iowa House subcommittee on the governor’s AEA bill on January 31. Photo by Laura Belin

Jenny Turner is a public school mom and a school speech therapist. She lives in West Des Moines.

Governor Kim Reynolds is not happy that Iowans have opinions about her attempt to gut Iowa Area Education Agencies. She even held a press conference—a rare occurrence—about her AEA plan on January 31, a few hours before Iowa House and Senate subcommittees were scheduled to consider her bill.

The governor has been desperately blitzing social media with graphics to try to persuade people.

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Iowa House bill would allow vigilante justice in schools

Bernie Scolaro is a retired school counselor, a past president of the Sioux City Education Association, and former Sioux City school board member.

On January 4, a 17-year-old Perry High School student killed one 6th grader and injured five others (one of whom later died) before taking his own life. In response to school shootings, Siouxland Christian School in Sioux City has decided to train and arm school staff members.

However, no evidence indicates that having more guns reduces violence. In fact, it stands to reason that more guns will create more potential for school shootings, even if only accidentally.

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Governor's revised plan for Iowa AEAs is still very bad

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com    

In 7th grade, I tried to build a shadowbox. I had plans, but I lacked skill. After struggling for weeks, the deadline loomed, and my shadow box was a shadow of what it was supposed to be.

I turned it in. My shop teacher frowned, sized it up and said, “Work on it a little more.” I did.

After a week of measuring, sawing in the wrong places, and hammering my fingers more than once, I tuned it in again.

This time the frown was a silent grimace. In true shop teacher bluntness, he said, “It’s still really bad.” Then remembering he was supposed to encourage, he said, “You’ll get it next time.” 

I didn’t.

My 7th grade shadowbox is like the rewrite of Governor Kim Reynolds’ “AEA Destruction Act,” Senate Study Bill 3073. The governor’s proposed amendment is still really bad.

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Governor's bill would harm not only AEAs, but public schools broadly

Alexandra Bylund speaks at an Iowa Senate subcommittee on January 31. Photo by Ty Rushing/Iowa Starting Line

Alexandra Bylund is a senior at West Des Moines Valley High School and a student member of the West Des Moines school board.

Governor Kim Reynolds’ proposal to overhaul Area Education Agencies would limit the capacity and power of public schools across Iowa. This bill grossly targets not only special education programs, but general education, which would detrimentally affect the quality of instruction available to students.

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Gevo plant in South Dakota will use 300 million gallons of water annually

Nancy Dugan lives in Altoona, Iowa and has worked as an online editor for the past 12 years.

A Gevo official confirmed on February 2 that the company expects to use 300 million gallons of water per year, or 700 gallons per minute, at its planned Lake Preston, South Dakota Net-Zero 1 (NZ1) plant and an adjacent green hydrogen facility known as the Dakota Renewable Hydrogen (DRH) Project.

When asked if the water use estimate provided was for the NZ1 plant, the DRH plant, or both, Heather Manuel, vice president of corporate communications for Gevo, replied, “Both – we have an agreement with Kingbrook Rural Water for our water supply and do not require a permit.”

On February 6, 2023, Summit Carbon Solutions announced its partnership with Colorado-based Gevo, although that arrangement is not yet reflected on the South Dakota pipeline route. Sabrina Zenor, director of stakeholder engagement and corporate communications for Summit, stated on January 25 that Gevo would be added to the proposed CO2 pipeline route when the company resubmits its application to the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission. The commission denied Summit’s initial application last September.

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No one needs a civility lecture from Jeff Shipley

Photo by Greg Hauenstein of protesters at the Iowa state capitol on January 31, 2024.

“If you wish to enjoy civil rights, being able to act and behave civilly is a prerequisite,” State Representative Jeff Shipley tweeted on January 31, shortly after his latest effort to take civil rights protections away from transgender Iowans went down in flames.

Even for a practiced troll like Shipley, it was a remarkably ignorant and obnoxious statement.

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The word “groomer” has become a slur

Gerald Ott of Ankeny was a high school English teacher and for 30 years a school improvement consultant for the Iowa State Education Association.

Want to be called a “groomer”? Try reading a library book like Teach Her a Lesson, a new thriller by attorney Kate Flora. Flora “peels back the horror of a teacher being falsely accused by a student of initiating a long-standing sexual relationship.” So says reviewer Frank O Smith. It would seem a book only for teachers and parents, but it’s not. It could easily and appropriately find its way into a school library (excerpt). I hope it does.

Or try recommending The Passing Playbook on a public Facebook page. It’s a new young adult novel by Isaac Fitzsimmons (excerpt). Book reviewer Alaina Leary says Fitzsimmons explores privilege, identity, the complicated relationships we create through family and friends, and discovering the potential our voices have with charm and passion. 

“Teens everywhere will love this one,” says one review. Meaning Moms for Liberty would likely hate it. Says Leary, “It’s about fifteen-year-old Spencer Harris, a proud nerd, an awesome big brother, and a David Beckham (British soccer champion) in training. He’s also transgender.”

Hands down, the term “groomer” has become a slur, as foul as the “N” word or “f*g.” Its frequent use, as an insult, is often meant to imply teachers are potential sex offenders. Ironically, House File 2056 would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to work unsupervised in child care centers while caring for children under age 5.

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Governor's latest attack on trans Iowans can't be constitutional

Photo by Laura Belin from a rally outside the Iowa capitol on March 5, 2023

UPDATE: On February 6, Republicans advanced this bill from an Iowa House subcommittee. A few hours later, the full House Education Committee amended the bill to remove the driver’s license section, then approved it along party lines. Democrats requested a public hearing, which took place on February 12 (video). Following committee passage, the bill was renumbered as House File 2389. Original post follows.

Governor Kim Reynolds didn’t give LGBTQ Iowans even one full day to celebrate the downfall of a bill to remove gender identity protections from Iowa’s civil rights law.

The latest legislative proposal from the governor’s office would lay the foundation for “separate but equal” treatment of transgender Iowans and what one advocate called an “astonishing government violation of privacy rights.”

Although House Study Bill 649 contains some language designed to bolster the state’s potential defense in court, there’s no way the governor’s newest effort to codify discrimination against LGBTQ people could be constitutional.

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Plan for Iowa AEAs relied on consultant's faulty analysis

Members of the public at a January 31 Iowa House subcommittee considering House Study Bill 542, the governor’s bill on Area Education Agencies. (photo by Laura Belin)

David Tilly is a former deputy director of the Iowa Department of Education. He gave Bleeding Heartland permission to publish a follow-up letter he emailed to all 150 Iowa state legislators on January 30. His first message to lawmakers regarding Governor Kim Reynolds’ proposed changes to Area Education Agencies is available here.

My name is David Tilly and I was the Deputy Director at the Iowa Department of Education between 2012 and 2020. When I wrote my first comments to you regarding the AEA bill(s), I had only seen the bills themselves and was somewhat confused regarding the rationales for some of the bill components. The underlying report upon which this bill’s proposals are based was released recently through a Freedom of Information Act Request and posted here. This report was written by Guidehouse Inc., a respected national and international company. The report is quite well done in many regards. After reading this report, I am able to provide more specific analysis and more detailed recommendations on improving special education results in Iowa.

There appear to be three thematic issues (and a host of smaller inaccuracies) with the report that cause the report’s recommendations to be problematic. Fortunately, all 3 major issues can be fixed. The issues are: 1. The analysis is incomplete 2. The analysis/recommendations rely on unproven assumptions and 3. The analysis does not recognize the benefits inherent in the uniqueness of Iowa’s Education System structures. I will expand on each of these.

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Oh say can you see: Things can get worse

“By Dawn’s Early Light,” Photomechanical print by Edward Percy Moran, public domain from the Library of Congress, available via Wikimedia Commons

Herb Strentz was dean of the Drake School of Journalism from 1975 to 1988 and professor there until retirement in 2004. He was executive secretary of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council from its founding in 1976 to 2000.

To nourish patriotism, some Iowa legislators want to force public school students to sing a song with lyrics gloating about “the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave” that doomed slaves who, in exchange for freedom, fled to the British side in the War of 1812.

That is one take on House Study Bill 587, a proposal to mandate daily classroom singing of a verse or all four verses from our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

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Gender identity bill belongs in dustbin of failed, dehumanizing ideas

Photo by Nuva Frames, available via Shutterstock

Nick Covington is an Iowa parent who taught high school social studies for ten years. He is also the co-founder of the Human Restoration Project, an Iowa educational non-profit promoting systems-based thinking and grassroots organizing in education. Editor’s note: An Iowa House Judiciary subcommittee voted 3-0 on January 31 not to advance this bill.

House File 2082 sought to make Iowa the first state in the country to remove gender identity as a protected class under the Iowa Civil Rights Act and reconstruct it as a “disability.” That framing spreads harmful misinformation under the medical model of disability and undermines our shared goal of creating a safe and inclusive future for Iowa’s families and young people. 

We should understand that HF 2082 is both cruel and unnecessary, as transgender identity is not a disability and disability is also a protected class under Iowa Civil Rights law. 

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Are trans Iowans losing their civil rights? Will I be next?

Bernie Scolaro is a retired school counselor, a past president of the Sioux City Education Association, and former Sioux City school board member.

An Iowa House subcommittee will consider House File 2082 on January 31. Republican State Representative Jeff Shipley introduced this bill, which would remove gender identity as a protected class under the Iowa Civil Rights Act.

I wanted to start with some anecdotal story about a time when I had rights and lost them, but I could not come up with anything. Then I realized, of course I haven’t experienced this. Rights are not usually given and then taken away randomly. One might lose a driver’s license after drunk driving or speeding, but not because the government arbitrarily decided one should no longer be eligible to drive. That’s part of the problem with HF 2082.

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Iowa lawmakers advance misguided proposals, ignore big problems


Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

These days, with political campaigns that seem to go on forever, Iowans may not recognize the significance of what occurred at polling places across the state on November 5, 1968.

Voters approved an amendment to the Iowa Constitution that day, ending the legislature’s practice of meeting only every other year. Biennial sessions had been a fact of civic life in Iowa since statehood 122 years earlier. 

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Trans Iowans face broadest civil rights threat in years

UPDATE: After this post was published, the Iowa Business Council, Technology Association of Iowa, and Greater Des Moines Partnership registered against the bill.

SECOND UPDATE: Subcommittee members voted 3-0 on January 31 not to advance this bill. Original post follows.

An Iowa House Judiciary subcommittee will soon consider the broadest threat to trans rights since lawmakers added gender identity protections to the Iowa Civil Rights Act in 2007, the first year of a Democratic trifecta. House File 2082 would remove gender identity as a protected class, while redefining “a diagnosis for gender dysphoria or any condition related to a gender identity disorder” as a disability under the civil rights act.

Eighteen organizations are already registered against the bill, which is scheduled for a subcommittee hearing on January 31.

But as the Republican-controlled legislature’s attacks on transgender Iowans continue to escalate, some groups that helped hold the line against past efforts to rewrite the civil rights code are on the sidelines, for now.

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Governor's AEA plan would harm Iowa children, families, and school districts

David Tilly is a former deputy director of the Iowa Department of Education. He gave Bleeding Heartland permission to publish a letter he emailed to all Iowa state legislators on January 24 regarding Governor Kim Reynolds’ proposed changes to Area Education Agencies. The governor’s bill has been introduced as Senate Study Bill 3073 and House Study Bill 542.

An open letter to Iowa State Senators and Representatives regarding the AEA System:

My name is David Tilly and I was the Deputy Director at the Iowa Department of Education (IDE) between 2012 and 2020. I administered the state education budget for PK-12 Education at the IDE during those years, and I managed all of the Department’s PK-12 programs and staff. I am a special educator by training (my Ph.D. is in School Psychology) and I worked for over 30 years in Iowa at all levels of the education system. Through these experiences, I learned quite a bit about how Iowa’s education system works.

I have analyzed SSB3073/HSB542 (changes to AEAs) carefully and I will begin my comments with the punchline: If implemented as written, these bills will harm Iowa children, families and small school districts.

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Iowa Utilities Board bill includes a good idea—and a lost cause

Wally Taylor is the Legal Chair of the Sierra Club Iowa chapter.

The Iowa Utilities Board has proposed companion bills on energy production in the Iowa legislature this year. The Sierra Club is focused on two provisions in House Study Bill 555 and Senate Study Bill 3075: including battery storage as part of an energy production facility, and designating nuclear power as an alternate energy production facility.

One of the primary criticisms of renewable energy, specifically wind and solar, is that they provide power intermittently. In other words, wind turbines don’t provide power when the wind isn’t blowing, and solar panels don’t provide power when the sun isn’t shining.

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In rapid reversal, House clerk grants me press credentials

My five-year effort to gain a seat on the Iowa House press bench ended less than five days after the Institute for Free Speech filed a federal lawsuit on my behalf.

House Chief Clerk Meghan Nelson informed me shortly after 5:00 pm on January 23 that the Iowa House approved my application for work space, and a spot has been reserved for me in the press box on the floor of the House chamber.

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Dubuque-based Iowa Senate seat no longer solid blue

State Senator Pam Jochum presents a resolution on brain health during Iowa Senate debate on January 17. Photo first published on her Facebook page.

Catching up on some legislative campaign news: Iowa Senate Minority Leader Pam Jochum announced on January 12 that she won’t seek re-election this November. Jochum is the longest-serving current Iowa Democratic legislator, with sixteen years of experience in the state House followed by sixteen in Senate. Her colleagues chose her to lead the sixteen-member caucus last June. The last four years Democrats held a majority in the chamber, Jochum served as Senate president (the second-ranking position).

While the open seat in Iowa Senate district 36 leans Democratic, the Dubuque area is no longer as blue as it has been for much of the last century. Depending on who wins each party’s nomination, this could be a race to watch in November.

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Iowa needs more thoughtful, inclusive approach to AEA reform

Dr. Andy Crozier is superintendent of the Central Lee Community School District. Author photo provided courtesy of the district.

I am writing to express my concerns about Governor Kim Reynolds’ recent announcement regarding the proposed reform of the Area Education Agency (AEA) system during her Condition of the State speech.

The suggested changes include moving AEAs under the Iowa Department of Education, narrowing their focus to special education, and allowing school districts to decide whether to opt into AEA services.

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The Condition of the State is a scary surprise

Governor Kim Reynolds delivers the Condition of the State address on January 9, 2024. Photo by Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Des Moines Register (pool).

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com   

We love surprises when we anticipate they’ll be positive. But we dread the surprise of a car not starting on a subzero morning, a call at 2 a.m. from a loved one crying, or a doctor’s hushed prognosis. We laugh when people jump out at a party shouting surprise because we know we’re safe. But we scream if a group jumps out surprising us while we’re on a midnight walk.

Governor Kim Reynolds’ Condition of the State speech last week was a scary surprise party for public educators and parents.

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Iowa Department of Corrections asks for cannabis exemption

Carl Olsen is the founder of Iowans for Medical Marijuana.

The Iowa Department of Corrections filed two study bills this week, asking Iowa legislators to make an exception to the state’s medical cannabis program, Iowa Code Chapter 124E.

Senate Study Bill 3020 and companion House Study Bill 524 call for amending the statute so the state can

Revoke a medical cannabidiol registration card issued to a person who becomes committed to the custody of the director of the Iowa department of corrections or placed under the supervision of the Iowa department of corrections.

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It's time to look for ways to reduce tragic toll of guns

Photo of Perry High School is by Richc80, available via Wikimedia Commons

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

Like many Iowans, my thoughts have been rather chaotic since the horrible news from Perry High School last week.

The events were so sad and senseless. A 17-year-old student was dead, having shot himself. An 11-year-old sixth-grader, known for his big smile and cheerful outlook, was dead from three gunshot wounds. Seven other students and school employees, including the high school principal, were wounded by the teenager.

Americans are numb to the number and frequency of school shootings and other mass killings. Our leaders appear to be paralyzed. Yes, they express their sadness and concern, but thoughts and prayers are not enough.

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Iowa House speaker hints at new law on "sexually explicit" books in schools

Republican lawmakers may take additional steps to remove “sexually explicit material” from schools, Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley indicated on January 8. Speaking to fellow legislators, Grassley also blamed schools for politicizing what he called “a simple solution to protect Iowa’s students from inappropriate material.”

Grassley was the only House or Senate leader to address the school book bans in opening remarks on the first day of the legislature’s 2024 session. His comments came ten days after a federal court blocked the state of Iowa from enforcing a ban on library books and classroom materials that describe or depict sex acts.

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Iowa legislative predictions from the Magic 8 Ball

Photo of Magic 8 ball is by ChristianHeldt, available via Wikimedia Commons

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com  

When my kids were younger, we had a Magic 8 Ball. If you asked a Yes or No question and shook it, up popped an answer like, “Without a doubt,” “Outlook not so good,” or “Concentrate and ask again.” 

The Iowa legislature’s 2024 session began on January 8. Like last year, public education may well be on top of the agenda. With that in mind. I thought I’d introduce the Bruce Lear Magic 8 Ball. My version is next generation, so there’s an explanation with each answer. 

Like all predictions, they may be flat wrong, and they sure aren’t inevitable, especially if the education community unites and acts.

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Who's who in the Iowa Senate for 2024

Iowa Senate chamber, as photographed by Nagel Photography, available via Shutterstock

The Iowa Senate convened in Des Moines on January 8 for the first day of the 2024 legislative session. Although the balance of power remains the same (34 Republicans, sixteen Democrats), I’m publishing a new version of this post to note changes in leadership or among the chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing Senate committees.

Fourteen senators (nine Republicans, five Democrats) were elected to the chamber for the first time in 2022. Seven of them (four Republicans and three Democrats) previously served in the Iowa House.

Fifteen senators are women (eight Democrats and seven Republicans), up from twelve women in the chamber prior to the 2022 election and more than double the six women senators who served prior to the 2018 election.

Democrat Izaah Knox is the second Black state senator in Iowa history. The first was Tom Mann, a Democrat elected to two terms during the 1980s. The other 49 senators are white. No Latino has ever served in the chamber, and Iowa’s only Asian-American senator was Swati Dandekar, who resigned in 2011.

Democrat Janice Weiner became the first Jewish person to serve in the Iowa Senate since Ralph Rosenberg left the legislature after 1994. Democrat Liz Bennett became the first out LGBTQ state senator since Matt McCoy retired in 2018.

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2024

Photo by Carl Olsen of the Iowa House chamber in 2020

Iowa House members return to Des Moines on January 8 for the opening day of the 2024 legislative session. Although the balance of power remains the same (64 Republicans, 36 Democrats), I’m publishing a new version of this post to note small changes in leadership or among the chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing House committees. Where relevant, I’ve noted changes since last year’s session.

Thirty-eight House members (24 Republicans and fourteen Democrats) are serving their first term in the legislature. Two Republicans previously held other legislative offices: Craig Johnson served one and a half terms in the Iowa Senate, and David Young served two terms in Congress.

The House members include 71 men and 29 women (sixteen Democrats and thirteen Republicans), down from 31 women who served in 2021 and 2022. The record for women’s representation in the Iowa House was 34 female lawmakers in 2019.

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Best of Bleeding Heartland's original reporting in 2023

Before Iowa politics kicks into high gear with a new legislative session and the caucuses, I want to highlight the investigative reporting, in-depth analysis, and accountability journalism published first or exclusively on this site last year.

Some newspapers, websites, and newsletters put their best original work behind a paywall for subscribers, or limit access to a set number of free articles a month. I’m committed to keeping all Bleeding Heartland content available to everyone, regardless of ability to pay. That includes nearly 500 articles and commentaries from 2023 alone, and thousands more posts in archives going back to 2007.

To receive links to everything recently published here via email, subscribe to the free Evening Heartland newsletter. I also have a free Substack, which is part of the Iowa Writers Collaborative. Subscribers receive occasional cross-posts from Bleeding Heartland, as well as audio files and recaps for every episode of KHOI Radio’s “Capitol Week,” a 30-minute show about Iowa politics co-hosted by Dennis Hart and me.

I’m grateful to all readers, but especially to tipsters. Please reach out with story ideas that may be worth pursuing in 2024.

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Iowa’s vision of the future: Down the barrel of a gun

Gun violence doesn’t originate at the schoolhouse door, and it won’t be solved there. Our policy making and political rhetoric urgently need to reflect this reality.

Nick Covington is an Iowa parent who taught high school social studies for ten years. He is also the co-founder of the Human Restoration Project, an Iowa educational non-profit promoting systems-based thinking and grassroots organizing in education.

Around 7:45 on the morning of January 4, I was headed home after dropping my daughter off at her elementary school when I thought nothing of pulling over for an Iowa Highway Patrol car, lights and sirens blaring, headed west. Hours later, as reports came in, I saw state troopers were among the first on the scene at Perry High School, at the edge of a small Iowa town about 30 minutes due west of my own. A 17-year old student had inaugurated another year of gun violence in American schools, killing a 6th grader and injuring five other students and two staff before taking his own life.

Those dopplered sirens were an unsettling connection between my ordinary morning drop-off routine and the nightmare that had visited families of a nearby community; another sign of the persistent and unique exposure to gun violence that only the United States allows. 

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The 23 most-viewed Bleeding Heartland posts of 2023

Iowa’s Republican legislators, Governor Kim Reynolds, and Senator Chuck Grassley inspired the majority of Bleeding Heartland’s most-read posts during the year that just ended. But putting this list together was trickier than my previous efforts to highlight the site’s articles or commentaries that resonated most with readers.

For fifteen years, I primarily used Google Analytics to track site traffic. Google changed some things this year, prompting me to switch to Fathom Analytics (an “alternative that doesn’t compromise visitor privacy for data”) in July. As far as I could tell during the few days when those services overlapped, they reached similar counts for user visits, page views, and other metrics. But the numbers didn’t completely line up, which means the Google Analytics data I have for posts published during the first half of the year may not be the same numbers Fathom would have produced.

Further complicating this enterprise, I cross-post some of my original reporting and commentary on a free email newsletter, launched on Substack in the summer of 2022 as part of the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative. Some of those posts generated thousands of views that would not be tabulated as visits to Bleeding Heartland. I didn’t include Substack statistics while writing this piece; if I had, it would have changed the order of some posts listed below.

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Court blocks Iowa's "staggeringly broad" book bans, teaching restrictions

UPDATE: Attorney General Brenna Bird filed notice of appeal to the Eighth Circuit on January 12. Original post follows.

The state of Iowa cannot enforce key parts of a new law that sought to ban books depicting sex acts from schools and prohibit instruction “relating to gender identity and sexual orientation” from kindergarten through sixth grade.

U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Locher issued a preliminary injunction on December 29, putting what he called “staggeringly broad” provisions on hold while two federal lawsuits challenging Senate File 496 proceed. The judge found the book bans “unlikely to satisfy the First Amendment under any standard of scrutiny,” and the teaching restrictions “void for vagueness under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

However, the state may continue to enforce a provision requiring school administrators to inform parents or guardians if a student seeks an “accommodation that is intended to affirm the student’s gender identity.” Judge Locher found the LGBTQ students who are plaintiffs in one case lack standing to challenge that provision, since “they are all already ‘out’ to their families and therefore not affected in a concrete way” by it.

Governor Kim Reynolds and Attorney General Brenna Bird quickly criticized the court’s decision. But neither engaged with the legal issues at hand.

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Iowa GOP leaders refuse to investigate nursing home abuse and neglect

John and Terri Hale own The Hale Group, an Ankeny-based advocacy firm working for better lives for all Iowans. Contact them at terriandjohnhale@gmail.com. An earlier version of this commentary appeared in the Des Moines Register and Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Twenty-seven years ago, the Quad-City Times published a six-part series on neglect and abuse in nursing homes. The articles told the stories of residents whose physical and mental health needs were not met, who were subjected to verbal or physical abuse by staff or other residents, and had been injured or had died.

The stories were tragedies. And sadly, tragic stories still regularly appear in Iowa Capital Dispatch and other Iowa media written by Clark Kauffman—the same journalist who authored the stories in 1996.

For more than 27 years, horrific stories of neglect and abuse have stemmed from far too many nursing facilities that have employed too few workers; failed to adequately compensate, train, and respect workers; routinely accepted exceptionally high levels of employee turnover; lobbied elected officials to increase annual appropriations of tax dollars but to also minimize oversight of their efforts; avoided criminal prosecution for their misdeeds; and have put the desire for profit ahead of the needs of the Iowans they exist to serve.

In 27 years, little has changed. At too many facilities, neglect, abuse and dehumanization of older Iowans continue.

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Religion in politics: the biggest threat to our liberties

Illustration by Jena Luksetich from Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers is published with permission.

Jason Benell lives in Des Moines with his wife and two children. He is a combat veteran, former city council candidate, and president of Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers.

Over the last dozen or so years in Iowa, we have seen a new assault on citizens’ rights, putting the future of our state in a precarious situation. It seems every other week there are reports and new sets of statistics tarnishing what was once a sterling record for Iowa on the well-being of its citizens. We have seen Iowa lose its destination status for those looking for an excellent public education as well as a dearth of coverage for mental health care. Iowa now ranks the worst in the country for OB/GYN coverage per capita and is consistently cited as an example of what not to do when it comes to stewardship of our waterways.

On top of these dire statistics, we are also seeing unprecedented assaults on the civil liberties of Iowans, from banning books in schools (and prompting at least two costly lawsuits because of it) to banning transgender Iowans from participating in sports to restricting the right to privacy and health care for half of the state’s population.

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Exclusive: Agencies spent $1 million on Iowa governor's office costs last year

In March, Governor Kim Reynolds hailed passage of her state government reorganization plan, saying it would be “an important step” to “reduce the size and cost of government.”

The governor’s commitment to making government smaller and less costly hasn’t extended to her own staff.

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, other agencies spent more than $1 million to cover operating costs in the governor’s office, documents Bleeding Heartland obtained through public records requests show. Those funds allowed the governor’s office to spend nearly 50 percent more than its budget appropriation of $2.3 million for fiscal year 2023.

Reynolds’ chief of staff Taryn Frideres told state lawmakers in February that increasing the governor’s office allocation for the current fiscal year by about $500,000 (a 21 percent bump) would be “more transparent” and ensure that “our actual appropriation is closer to our expenses, so that we can budget in a more straightforward way.”

But records Bleeding Heartland reviewed indicate that the $2.8 million general fund appropriation Republicans approved for fiscal year 2024 will fall far short of what the governor’s office will spend on staff salaries and other expenses.

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A close look at Iowa's very political—not medical—proposed abortion rules

Iowa’s near-total abortion ban remains blocked by court order. But new details emerged last week about how some provisions might be enforced if the Iowa Supreme Court finds the law constitutional (as the state has requested), or lifts the temporary injunction on the ban while litigation proceeds.

One thing is clear: despite repeated references to “standard medical practice” in the document the Iowa Board of Medicine considered on November 17, the proposed abortion rules bear little resemblance to how physicians actually care for patients seeking an abortion.

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Court finds Iowa's garbage search law unconstitutional

A Polk County District Court has ruled that the Iowa legislature “overstepped” when it enacted a law allowing police to search garbage outside a home without a warrant.

In a November 13 order granting a defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained through trash grabs, Chief Judge Michael Huppert found the 2022 law “void as inconsistent with the language of article I, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution as interpreted by the Iowa Supreme Court.”

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Why Iowans can't force a statewide vote on abortion rights

Ohio residents voted to add reproductive rights protections to the state constitution on November 7, passing the measure known as Issue 1 by 56.3 percent to 43.7 percent. When that language goes into effect, it will prevent enforcement of a law Ohio’s Republican trifecta enacted in 2019, which would prohibit almost all abortions after fetal cardiac activity can be detected.

Iowa Republican lawmakers approved and Governor Kim Reynolds signed a similar near-total abortion ban in July. A Polk County District Court blocked enforcement of that law, and the state has asked the Iowa Supreme Court to dissolve that injunction and uphold the law as constitutional.

Voters in Michigan, California, and Vermont approved reproductive rights constitutional amendments in 2022, and activists hope to place similar measures on the November 2024 ballot in other states, such as Arizona, Florida, Nebraska, and Missouri.

Some Bleeding Heartland readers have asked why Democrats aren’t trying to do the same in Iowa, where polls indicate a strong majority of adults believe abortion should be mostly or always legal, and the state’s partisan lean is roughly the same as Ohio’s.

The answer is simple: there is no mechanism for Iowa voters to place a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot.

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What Republicans get wrong about health care for transgender minors

Gordie Felger is a volunteer member of two LGBTQ+ organizations (CR Pride and Free Mom Hugs) and a One Iowa volunteer activist. He is a friend of many LGBTQ+ folks and an ally to the community. He also writes about the state of Iowa politics at “WFT Iowa?”

Far-right Republican lawmakers across the nation renewed their crusade against transgender people. Instead of solving critical issues like food insecurity, housing, and affordable health care, Iowa Republicans prioritize trampling the human rights and dignity of Iowans.

But why? Politicians make public statements about “protecting children,” but statements can hide true motives. The following examples show that lawmakers’ understanding of transgender people does not align with the reality of transgender lives.

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Iowa nice, except if you're blind

Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter is a freelance journalist from the American Midwest. She covers social justice stories, especially pertaining to disability. Her work has appeared in Parents, Mother Untitled, The Omaha World Herald, The Insider and elsewhere. You can follow her on X/Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Iowa is known for being nice. Old-fashioned values seem rooted in the ground, tracing back to 1846. An idyllic landscape, simple and plain, yet beautiful, as depicted in American Gothic. Stop in this fly-over state for a pork tenderloin sandwich, or a Maid Rite, and don’t forget, its state fair is the greatest state fair.

Set against this backdrop of American dreams is a Republican party introducing bill after bill that have altered Iowa in both subtle and blatant ways. The GOP-controlled legislature approved many controversial bills during the 2023 session. One with potentially great consequences for blind Iowans was Senate File 514, the state government realignment sought by Governor Kim Reynolds.

STREAMLINING, OR A “POWER GRAB”?

The state paid nearly one million dollars for Virginia-based Guidehouse to help develop a plan to streamline state government. Although the final Guidehouse report did not make any recommendations related to the Iowa Department for the Blind (IDB), the bill the governor proposed to state lawmakers included one important change.

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MAGA nanny state thrives in Iowa

Joe Bolkcom represented Iowa City in the Iowa Senate from 1999 through 2022.

Iowans will soon elect city council and school board members. Hundreds of candidates have put themselves forward as they campaign on ideas to address unique local challenges and needs. 

These local elected officials are the backbone of making our small government democracy work. They make decisions for all of us about how our public schools operate, what roads get built and repaired, how public safety, water, sewer and library services are provided, and how to pay for it all.  

In a healthy democracy that’s how things are supposed to work. Unfortunately, we do not live in healthy democracy.

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Larry McBurney, Jason Menke running in Iowa House district 44

Two Democrats are actively campaigning for a open Iowa House seat covering much of the city of Urbandale.

Urbandale City Council member and U.S. Air Force combat veteran Larry McBurney launched his campaign for House district 44 in September, soon after State Representative John Forbes, who has represented much of this area since 2013, announced he will run for Polk County supervisor in 2024.

Urbandale School Board member Jason Menke made his legislative campaign official on October 10.

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Ron Reagan's message would surprise Linn County Republicans

Gerald Ott of Ankeny was a high school English teacher and for 30 years a school improvement consultant for the Iowa State Education Association.

The image at the top of this post comes from the Linn County Republicans’ graphic promoting their upcoming October fundraiser. The event is billed as a Reagan Breakfast starting at 7:00 AM. We all know Reagan won’t be there. The former president, never one to get up that early, has been dead for nearly 20 years. 

A Reagan impersonator, the self-described MAGA presidential candidate Larry Elder, is the guest speaker. 

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Laws that ban books run contrary to Iowa's history, legacy

Banned Book Week runs from October 1 to October 7, 2023. The following letter, released on September 14, was co-signed by The Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature Board of Directors, Mayor Bruce Teague on behalf of the City of Iowa City, The Iowa City Public Library Trustees, The Iowa City Public Library Friends Foundation, The Coralville Public Library, The North Liberty Library, Think Iowa City, Iowa Small Library Association executive board, Prairie Lights, One Iowa, The Tuesday Agency, Iowa City Poetry, the Iowa Library Association, and Corridor Community Action Network.

An open letter to Governor Kim Reynolds and the Iowa legislature:

Iowa is home to one of the most literary cities on earth. It is here where the Iowa Writers’ Workshop produced some of the greatest voices in American Literature: Frank Conroy, John Irving, Wallace Stegner, Raymond Carver, Jane Smiley, Rita Dove, Ayana Mathis, Flannery O’Connor, Ann Patchett, and so many others. Iowa is also home to contemporary writers producing works of fiction and non-fiction that are both bold in truth-telling and revolutionary in voice.

It’s because of this legacy and the dedication of Iowans to producing great writing, that Iowa City was declared a UNESCO City of Literature in 2008. Often called the “Athens of the Midwest,” Iowa City has a unique set of influential literary institutions, which explore new ways to teach and  support writers. At the same time, it has long been, quite simply, a place for writers and for readers: a haven, a destination, a proving ground, and a nursery. Iowa has a history and an identity in which its citizens take enormous pride, prizing a role in celebrating and honoring writers and good writing.

On May 26, Iowa’s governor signed into law legislation that runs counter to that legacy. Senate File 496 prohibits books with written and visual depictions of sex acts from school libraries. The legislation also bans written materials and instruction on “gender identity” and “sexual orientation.” This law was passed under the pretense of protecting children, and yet what this law amounts to is a book ban that limits children’s freedom of expression and access to knowledge about the world around them.

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Iowa House district 22 primary: Samantha Fett vs. Garrett Gobble

Education is shaping up to be a defining issue in an open-seat race for a strongly Republican Iowa House district.

State Representative Stan Gustafson, who currently represents House district 22, is planning to retire at the end of his current term. Samantha Fett, a former Carlisle school board member and chapter leader of Moms for Liberty, announced last month that she will seek the Republican nomination. Fett has spoken at several Iowa House or Senate meetings during the past two years, urging lawmakers to approve various education-related or anti-LGBTQ bills.

Garrett Gobble announced his candidacy for the same district in a September 8 Facebook post. He previously represented part of Ankeny in the Iowa House for one term. A recent guest commentary for the Des Moines Register indicated that Gobble hopes Governor Kim Reynolds and groups focused on school policies will stay out of his upcoming race.

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Iowans need to step up and be LGBTQ allies

John and Terri Hale own The Hale Group, an Ankeny-based advocacy firm working for better lives for all Iowans. Contact them at terriandjohnhale@gmail.com.

“In Nature, a flock will attack any bird that is more colorful than the others because being different is seen as a threat…”

That’s a phrase from a now-trending music video titled The Village from an artist known as Wrabel. It tells the story of a transgender teen and the intense emotional challenges faced as they struggle with their own thoughts and feelings, unsupportive parents, community, church and school.

It’s a powerful video that everyone should watch—regardless of your views on LGBTQ issues, political leanings, faith, etc.  

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Sizing up a Matt Blake/Brad Zaun race in Iowa Senate district 22

UPDATE: Zaun told the Des Moines Register on October 6 that he will seek re-election in 2024. Original post follows.

A parade of presidential candidates visiting the Iowa State Fair overshadowed some important election news this week. Urbandale City Council member Matt Blake announced on August 17 that he’s running to represent Senate district 22, giving Democrats a strong contender in what will be a top-tier Iowa legislative race.

In a news release, Blake said “Iowa is not heading in the right direction,” and characterized the Republican-controlled legislature’s actions as “out of step with what Iowans want and deserve.” 

Republican State Senator Brad Zaun has represented the Urbandale area in the legislature since 2005. He has not publicly announced whether he intends to seek a sixth term in the Iowa Senate and did not respond to Bleeding Heartland’s phone or email messages seeking to clarify his plans.

Whether Blake ends up competing against Zaun or in an open seat, Senate district 22 is clearly Iowa Democrats’ best opportunity to gain ground in the upper chamber. The party currently holds only sixteen of 50 districts, its smallest Iowa Senate contingent in about 50 years.

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Not every Iowa life is sacred

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

Deanna Mahoney was like countless Iowa women through the years. She nurtured three children. She worked outside the home to supplement the family income. She loved bowling and mushroom hunting.

That is how she lived.

How she died tells us so much about the way some business owners, and too many government leaders in Iowa, have pushed aside their legal, moral and humanitarian obligations, especially to vulnerable Iowans.

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David Young's narrow win in House district 28 cost everyone too much

Tom Walton chairs the Dallas County Democrats, was a Democratic primary candidate for Iowa House district 28 in 2022, and is an attorney.

In the 2022 election for Iowa House district 28, Republican David Young showed up again in Iowa politics, after losing Congressional races in 2018 and 2020. Young won the Iowa House seat covering parts of Dallas County by only 907 votes, after the Iowa Democratic Party spent only about a quarter as much on supporting its nominee as the Republican Party of Iowa spent on behalf of Young.

Each of those winning votes cost his campaign about $331 based on campaign finance data. All told, Young and the Republican Party spent nearly half a million dollars on his race. As this article demonstrates, his election cost everyone too much—in money spent and loss of freedoms.

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Article III, Section 29: Iowa Supreme Court, legislature both got it wrong

Cato is an attorney who spent most of his career fighting for civil liberties and other public policy matters in Iowa. He is a lifelong Iowan. His legal interests include constitutional law (separation of powers), federalism, legislative procedures and public policy, and the laws of war. Editor’s note: Bleeding Heartland allows guest authors to publish under pseudonyms at Laura Belin’s discretion.

INTRODUCTION

The Iowa General Assembly changed some practices in light of the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling in LS Power Midcontinent v. Iowa, which struck down the Right of First Refusal (ROFR) portion of the 2020 Budget Omnibus Bill (House File 2643) as violating Article III, Section 29 of the Iowa Constitution. Justice Thomas Waterman wrote the decision, joined by Chief Justice Susan Christensen and Justices Edward Mansfield and Christopher McDonald. Justices Dana Oxley, Matthew McDermott, and David May recused from the case.

In the weeks following the court ruling, Republicans in both the state House and Senate refused to answer questions during floor debate regarding ambiguities in legislation and other questions relating to how certain language will play out in the real world lives of Iowans. Iowa media covered those developments in April:

Senate and House Republicans seem to have stopped answering questions because the Iowa Supreme Court’s LS Power ruling extensively quoted comments Senator Michael Breitbach made while floor managing HF 2643. They apparently believe the Court used these floor comments as justification for striking down the ROFR provision at issue in that case. 

Attorneys for the state and for intervenors filed applications on April 7, asking the Court to reconsider its conclusions and holdings in the ruling. LS Power filed its response on April 19. The Supreme Court denied the request for a rehearing on April 26 without much explanation. An amended opinion released on May 30 corrected some (but not all) factual inaccuracies in the initial ruling. 

The General Assembly adjourned its legislative session on May 4 without any action in response to the court denying the requests for a rehearing. Only time will tell how this constitutional impasse between the legislative and judicial branches gets resolved. Paths available to both branches could restore the balance of power without escalating the dispute. 

Regardless of how long it takes or how the dispute gets resolved, Iowans must never forget that your constitution exists for the sole purpose of protecting and guaranteeing your individual rights and liberties as free and independent People. Iowa Const. Art. 1, Sec. 2 (“All political power is inherent in the people. Government is instituted for the protection, security, and benefit of the people, and they have the right, at all times, to alter or reform the same, whenever the public good may require it.”). 

This article hopes to explain why the Iowa Supreme Court and Republicans in the Iowa House and Senate are both guilty of violating the Iowa Constitution, while also seeking to provide a framework to resolve the impasse between the legislative and judicial branches. Similarly, this article hopes to persuade a future litigant to nudge the court in the right direction in a future case, and to persuade the people to nudge the General Assembly in the right direction consistent with this constitutional framework. 

To that end, here is the analysis of Article III, Section 29 of the Iowa Constitution from the perspective of the Iowa People. 

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The Lavender Scare 2.0

Gordie Felger is a volunteer member of two LGBTQ+ organizations (CR Pride and Free Mom Hugs) and a One Iowa volunteer activist. He is a friend of many LGBTQ+ folks and an ally to the community. He also writes about the state of Iowa politics at “WTF Iowa?”

In the early 1950s, the Eisenhower administration fired or barred thousands of gay, lesbian, and transgender people from federal government jobs. It was the Cold War era when fear of Communists, called “The Red Scare,” overtook America.

A questionable connection between Communists and “homosexuals” arose from the following “reasoning.” Communists would threaten to out “homosexuals,” blackmailing them into giving state secrets to communist governments. Therefore, “homosexuals” posed a national security risk. This was called “The Lavender Scare.”

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Governor turns up pressure on Iowa Supreme Court over abortion ban

Abortion became legal again in Iowa on July 17, after a Polk County District Court blocked the state from enforcing a near-total ban Governor Kim Reynolds had signed into law three days earlier.

Reynolds immediately vowed to “fight this all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court where we expect a decision that will finally provide justice for the unborn.”

It was the latest example of Reynolds striking a defiant tone toward the jurists who will eventually decide whether the Iowa Constitution allows the government to make abortion almost impossible to obtain.

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My mom died because she couldn't get an abortion

Tracy Jones is a progressive political activist in Davenport. These comments are a longer version of testimony she delivered at an Iowa House public hearing on July 11 (see video below). She is pictured here on the left, speaking to State Representative Luana Stoltenberg.

In the spring of 1972, my mom was a pregnant 32-year-old with three young children. My sister was eleven years old, my brother was eight, and I was fifteen months old. Our mom had just experienced the collapse of her second marriage, and her pregnancy was not my dad’s.

I can only imagine the shame, fear and guilt that must have clung to her. Our mom was raised in a conservative and religious household. I’m certain an abortion wasn’t the first thing on her mind, but she knew her medical history. She had difficult pregnancies and suffered from severe preeclampsia with each.

As the pregnancy progressed, it became clear that this would be the pregnancy that would kill her. She needed an abortion but was living in a state where it wasn’t legal.

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