State Representatives and their clerks watch Iowa House 2017 Opening Day remarks.
State Representatives and their clerks watch Iowa House 2017 Opening Day remarks.
Photo credit: Jacob Hall
State Representatives and their clerks watch Iowa House 2017 Opening Day remarks.
State Representatives and their clerks watch Iowa House 2017 Opening Day remarks.
Photo credit: Jacob Hall

Republicans concluded on Saturday their first legislative session controlling both chambers in the Iowa Legislature. Kathie Obradovich at the Des Moines Register had some harsh words for House and Senate Republicans after the session ended:

Republicans, in their first year of one-party control in the Statehouse, showed all the restraint of a swarm of mosquitoes at a nudist colony. They gorged themselves on long-stymied conservative priorities, interest-group agendas and partisan payback. They didn’t notice or didn’t care that many Iowans were itching to swat them.

I like Kathie; I find that she is usually reasonable (incredibly reasonable compared to Rekha Basu). I don’t think she lived in Iowa when Democrats were in charge, so I’ll cut her some slack. Models of restraint they were not. Mandatory Iowa Core standards for public and accredited non-public schools, LGBT agenda expansion, I-Jobs, and numerous other liberal partisan agenda items ramrodded through the Legislature at the time.

I saw another print headline for an eastern Iowa newspaper indicating how Republicans pursued a conservative agenda.

I don’t recall seeing the same complaints or observations from the press when Democrats were in charge

Is it shocking that Republicans will try to pass a Republican agenda? Also, did they forget voters gave Republicans the majority in the Iowa Senate and expanded their majority in the Iowa House? Do members of the press think Iowans did they so they would enact Democrat policies?

You would have thought Iowa’s conservatives hit the mother lode.

Just how much of a conservative agenda did Republicans pass this year?

I wrote a wish list of sorts for the legislature back in November. Hearing the moanings of Democrats and the Iowa Press (but I repeat myself), I wondered how much of that list I could check off. I realize I don’t speak for all conservatives and I don’t believe every conservative would agree with everything on it. I do think, with the top priorities given below, it reflects a conservative agenda shared by many.

Eight Action Items for the Iowa Legislature

1. Action to Preserve Religious Liberty

Suggestions I made in November:

  • Back in 2010, I was involved in trying to help bring a Religious Freedom Restoration Act which was obviously going to go nowhere with a split legislature. It is time to revisit this and mirror the language of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act that passed in 1993.
  • Revisit Iowa Civil Rights Code and strengthen religious liberty language in that bill. Since a federal court already weighed in that the state should not try to determine whether a church’s activity is “religious” or not, strip that language from the code. There should also be clear language that does not compel individuals or business owners from participating in an activity that would violate their religious liberty. So, for instance, a restaurant may not refuse to serve a meal to an LGBT person but can deny a catering request for a same-sex wedding ceremony.

Nothing happened on this front. I still hold out hope for 2018, but, for whatever reason, it did not occur in 2017.

2. Action to protect privacy.

Suggestions I made in November:

  • Strip gender identity from Iowa Civil Rights Act or, at the very least, make it clear that the state will not interfere with businesses enforcing their dress codes. Also, no one should not be compelled to allow biological men to use the women’s facilities and vice versa. If companies want to decide to do that themselves that is their business. Schools should not be compelled to allow biological males into girls’ locker rooms and restrooms. They should not be forced to allow biological males to participate in girls sports and vice versa. In a nutshell – use common sense, something that seems to have flown out the window.
  • Introduce explicit language into the Iowa Code that protects student privacy from data mining in schools. Make it clear that schools shall not share student data outside the school to third parties, the federal government and radically reduce what information a school is required to share with the state department of education.

Again nothing, nada, zip this session.

3. Action to expand educational liberty.

The suggestions I made in November:

  • Pass education savings accounts that parents can use for educational purposes such private school tuition, homeschool curriculum, online classes, tutors, etc.
  • Tax deductions for homeschooling curriculum and materials. If a family does not opt to use education savings accounts, they should, at the very least, be able to receive the same kind of tax deductions that school teachers get for their classroom materials.
  • Repeal the Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, and associated assessments. Start an open, transparent process for the minimum, quality standards to be written by Iowans with Iowa teacher, school administrator, and parent feedback through public forums and online comments that will be made available to the public. The final draft of the standards then should be approved by the legislature. Give local school boards the option of voting to use those standards or create higher standards of their own.
  • Expand open enrollment to any family and student regardless of race or income.
  • I would be thrilled with any bill that will return power back to locally elected school boards.

Education Savings Accounts died. Bills dealing with Common Core, etc. did not get out of committee.  They did not pass new tax deductions for homeschoolers (I don’t even think there was a bill filed). They also didn’t address open enrollment.

There was a home rule bill that passed that gives local school districts more flexibility with spending. That bill was a positive step. They reduced funding for nonpublic school transportation which was negative. They did protect education funding overall from being cut, unlike every other department budget. We’ll still hear whining about education funding.

4. Action to protect life. 

My wish list for the 2017 session.

  • Decertify Planned Parenthood as a Medicaid provider.
  • Defund all abortion providers of any and all taxpayer funding.
  • Pass a webcam abortion ban.
  • Pass a late-term abortion ban.
  • Pass parental notification, a waiting period, and ultrasound bills.
  • Pass Personhood trigger language to go into effect if/when Roe v. Wade is struck down.
  • Any bill that makes adoption easier for parents.

Hey, some progress here which we can applaud. A 20-week abortion ban passed including a three-day waiting period. That same bill also strengthens the requirement for doctors to offer a mother the opportunity to see an ultrasound and hear the heartbeat of her unborn child.

Also, the Legislature reallocated roughly half of taxpayer funding from abortion providers to federally qualified health centers, so there was progress. Next year legislators will need to finish the job by reallocating Title X dollars, as well as, individual grants rewarded to abortion providers.

Life at conception did not happen this year, so that will have to be a priority next to fully reallocating taxpayer money away from abortion providers.

5. Action to expand economic freedom.

My suggestions:

  • Decrease onerous business regulations. Governor Branstad got the ball rolling on that some, but a Republican legislature can do more.
  • The state needs to stop picking winners and losers. Eliminate business income tax and level the playing field for everyone.
  • Pass a simple flat individual income tax or repeal the income tax and pass a Fair Tax.

Nothing happened with tax reform, and that isn’t surprising given the budget deficit. Some bills addressed burdensome regulations on small businesses, worked toward reducing frivolous lawsuits and created uniform employment law.

6. Reduce the size and scope of government. 

My suggestions:

  • Address and possibly revise requirements for particular types of state licenses – Example: barbers, hairdressers, etc.
  • Reduce the amount of regulatory and rule-making authority that unelected commissions and boards have.
  • Eliminate taxpayer-funded lobbying. If executive branch departments want to lobby on behalf or against bills before the legislature, they must do it on their own time either when they are off duty or by taking time off. The executive branch already has a lobbyist – the Governor – who can veto any legislation he doesn’t like and who expresses his agenda to the Legislature through the Condition of the State address, department reports, and budget submissions. Far too often I have gone to lobby for particular legislation as a citizen to find my taxes paying for a legislative liaison (lobbyist) from the Department of Education who is working against me. It’s ridiculous.
  • Create a study group to determine how state government can be further streamlined to be more efficient.

There was one bill that dealt with licensure, but it received was overly broad and received lots of blowback and was pulled.

Collective bargaining reform that passed this session wasn’t on my wish list, and that is something that will help streamline government. So I can’t say this priority didn’t see progress, it did.  They also passed legislation to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer dollars.

7. Action to increase personal liberty.

My suggestions:

  • Pass constitutional carry.
  • Eliminate traffic enforcement cameras.
  • Lift the ban on fireworks.

Constitutional carry did not pass, but gun rights activists saw a gun omnibus bill pass (the largest in Iowa history), so that’s a win as far as I’m concerned. They also lifted the ban on fireworks so another win. The Iowa Senate, unfortunately, rejected the prohibition of traffic enforcement cameras.

The legislature expanded the medical cannabis oil law was, but I wouldn’t consider that just a Republican priority. Also, now craft distillers have the same freedom that craft beer microbreweries and wineries have. This bill isn’t conservative or Republican. It’s simply fair.

In the negative column, they made texting while driving a primary offense which is next to impossible to enforce and gives police a reason to pull you over anytime they see a phone held up. (I do think people should not text while driving, but there some things we shouldn’t do while we drive that are not illegal.)

8. Place a check on Judicial Activism

My suggestions:

  • Pass an amendment to the Iowa Constitution repealing Article V. Sections 15-16 and replacing it with the federal system of judicial appointments. The Governor should be allowed to nominate any judge he or she desired with the advice and consent of the Senate. The Missouri Plan that we currently use gives too much control over to the Iowa Bar Association and the current judiciary.
  • The legislature needs to use its Constitutional authority to limit the jurisdiction of the Judiciary and take up the practice of revisiting legislation deemed unconstitutional by the Court to either revise the law or provide further clarification to the Court when a disagreement exists. The Legislature must be diligent in reminding the court that they, not the court is the only Constitutional lawmaking body.

There was no action taken in this regard.

Conclusion:

Don’t get me wrong there were some things we can celebrate this session (and I’m sure I missed a few things). Did Iowa’s conservatives hit the mother lode this session?

Hardly.

 

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