Photo Credit: Jason Mrachina (CC-By-NC-ND 2.0)

Yesterday, I shared my top five highlights from the 2018 Iowa Legislative session. Today, I want to share my top five disappointments. As I mentioned yesterday, this list is subjective. Your list will be different than mine depending on your perspective, ideology, and priorities. I’m a Christian who identifies as a conservative. I believe in limited government and individual liberty. It is that lens through which I view the legislative session.

Here are the disappointments as I see it.

1. Still no protection for Iowans’ religious liberty and right to conscience.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) – HF 2209 and SF 2338 – stalled out in both chambers of the legislature.

The who’s who of big business has lined up against RFRA in Iowa. This opposition should not surprise anyone. They did it in Georgia. They did it in Arkansas. They even came out in droves against a common sense bathroom/privacy law in North Carolina.

Bills like these represent a line in the sand for me with legislative Republicans, they are either a “Chamber Republican” (kowtow to the Chamber of Commerce and Big Business), or they are constitutional conservatives who care about personal and religious liberty.

With Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple landing in Iowa, Silicon Valley pressure is being brought to bear on legislation like this, and state legislators need to withstand this.

The frustrating thing to me is that RFRA is not discrimination. It does not allow Iowans to violate the law. RFRA provides some legal resource for Iowans who are under compulsion by the state to act in a way that would violate their religious beliefs or personal conscience. Those Iowans could still lose their appeal.

President Bill Clinton who signed the federal RFRA bill in 1993 that SF 2238 is modeled after said this, “What (RFRA) basically says is that the Government should be held to a very high level of proof before it interferes with someone’s free exercise of religion.”

Iowa House and Senate Republicans could not pass this bill with the majorities they had. Sad.

I hope that the Supreme Court decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission expected this summer will be a ruling for the protection of religious liberty and would send a clear message about protecting religious freedom and right to conscience. Iowans shouldn’t have to rely on the courts, however.

2. Top-Down, Awful Academic Standards Still Remain.

HF 2317, a bill sponsored by State Representative Sandy Salmon (R-Janesville), would have repealed Iowa’s current science standards. Those standards are aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards. It also would have prevented the adoption of new social studies standards that are aligned to the C3 Framework for Social Studies State Standards. Then it would have made the Iowa Academic Standards, including the Common Core math and English language arts standards, voluntary for public and accredited non-public schools.

That bill did not survive the first funnel, so it did not receive a committee vote. It did make it out of subcommittee which is, sadly, a milestone in trying to see Common Core repealed in Iowa since 2010.

Iowa House Republicans hold a 14 to 9 advantage on the Education Committee; three to four Republicans blocked the passage of the bill Caffeinated Thoughts was told.

I had a list of suspects based on my general knowledge of Republicans on the committee who have supported bills like these in the past. An off-the-record comment from someone with knowledge of the Republican caucus indicated to me I was on target. Also, these Representatives never replied to an email I sent asking their position on the bill. Considering my background on this issue is pretty well known you’d think if they supported the bill they would have replied back.

Those State Representatives are Cecil Dolecheck (R-Mount Ayr), Mary Ann Hanusa (R-Council Bluffs), and Megan Jones (R-Spencer). If you live one of their House districts, I encourage you to educate them on this issue.

3. Education Savings Accounts were shot down.

Efforts to introduce education savings accounts (ESA) to expand school choice in Iowa started in the Iowa House when State Representative Walt Rogers, the Iowa House Education Committee Chair, introduced HSB 651, entitled the Iowa Student Opportunities Act, included not only education savings accounts but expanded charter schools as well. It passed out of subcommittee, but the legislation did not survive the legislature’s first funnel deadline.

The Iowa Student Opportunities Act was reintroduced in the Iowa Senate as SSB 3206 by State Senator Charles Schneider (R-West Des Moines), the Senate Appropriations Committee Chair. Appropriations bills are not subject to funnel deadlines and since there is an appropriations component to education savings accounts they were able to reintroduce it.

There was a discussion about including it with the tax reform package, but that didn’t happen. The way the bill was written it would have made a minimal impact on the budget, but it messed with the sacred cow of public K-12 funding which grows every year despite complaints. In the meantime taxpayers with school-aged children who don’t utilize the public school system will continue to have to pay twice for their child’s education. Current law keeps students whose families can’t afford private school or sacrifice losing income to homeschool trapped in public school.

And the public school community still whines about its funding.

4. No Action to Pass Constitutional Amendment to Limit State Spending

The Iowa Senate passed SJR 9 in 2017 on a bipartisan vote of 38 to 10. It did not pass in the Iowa House. So this goes back to square one in the 88th General Assembly since a proposed constitutional amendment has to pass in two concurrent general assemblies before it goes before voters.

SJR 9‘s spending limitation called for a state fiscal year (July 1 – June 30) that would be the lesser amount of these two figures:

  1. 99 percent of the adjusted revenue estimate for the following fiscal year for the general fund.
  2. 104 percent of the current fiscal year net revenue estimate for the general fund.

The Governor would be required to use the limitation in the preparation and approval of the budget. The Legislature would be expected to use that amount in the budgeting process as well.

This amendment is desperately needed as our revenue has not kept pace with state spending and our current spending limitation in Iowa law is weak.

5. Article V Convention Resolution Killed in the Iowa Senate

The Iowa House passed HJR 12 last year calling for an Article V convention 58 to 38. The Iowa Senate State Government Committee recommended passage of the Senate Companion version SJR 8 in February and the HJR 12 in March.

The resolution calls for an Article V convention as outlined in Article V of the Constitution to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution that impose fiscal restraints and limits the power and jurisdiction of the federal government. The resolution also calls on Congress to propose similar amendments.

Twelve states: Alaska, Arizona, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Louisana, Indiana, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida have passed their petition to Congress. Ten additional states, including Iowa, have passed the Article V resolution in at least one chamber. Another fifteen states have active legislation during the 2018 state legislative session.

The Constitution requires two-thirds of state legislatures to call a convention to propose amendments. Any amendments passed by the convention, which would be limited to the scope presented in the state legislatures’ petitions would then need to be ratified by three-fourths of the states.

I thought this was going to be a no-brainer since the Iowa Senate is the more conservative chamber, but unfortunately opposition from people I’m typically aligned with won out (which made this even more frustrating, as well as, the hubris shown after it was shot down). I understand a difference of opinion, but I was disappointed to see how the opposition was fear-based and relied on misinformation.

An Article V convention is not a constitutional convention. They don’t have the mandate to rewrite the U.S. Constitution; this assertion is utterly false. There would not be a runaway convention because the convention would be limited to consider amendments based on the topic addressed by the petition. James Madison did not speak out using an Article V convention, but another constitutional convention, so that is simply historically inaccurate.

If our founders were concerned about an Article V convention why in the world would they include it in the Constitution? I’ll have to write more about this later.

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