Since the Iowa Legislature adjourned Sine Die last Saturday I wanted to offer nine highlights from the 2019 session of the 88th General Assembly. I already discussed my lowlights after the second funnel deadline.

1. Blocking Abortion Providers from Federal Sex-Ed Grants

In the health and human services appropriations bill, organizations that provide abortions cannot access funding from the Personal Responsibility Education Program and the Community Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention and Services program. Planned Parenthood of the Heartland recently received $260,000 for its current budget.

Also, a thistle to State Sen. Thomas Greene, R-Burlington, and State Rep. Megan Jones, R-Spencer, for joining Democrats voting against it.

2. Banning the use of Medicaid dollars for sex reassignment surgery

This responded to an Iowa Supreme Court decision overturning a ban in Iowa’s Administrative Code. The Court ruled that the administrative rule violated Iowa’s Civil Rights Act that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity. They stopped short of ruling that the ban violated the Iowa Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. I suspect we’ll see this back in court. Iowa’s taxpayers should not be on the hook for this medically unnecessary procedure.

3. Judicial Nomination Reform

The reform that hits the Governor Reynolds desk is a tweak compared to what the Iowa Senate initially passed, but it is a step in the right direction. The reform keeps the members of the district and state nominating commissions who are decided by members of the Iowa Bar but eliminates the Supreme Court justice who sits on each commission and gives the governor one more appointed member. It also limits the Chief Justice’s term to two years.

4. Campus Free Speech

Gov. Reynolds signed a bill that strengthens protections for the freedom of speech and expression at Iowa’s public universities and community colleges into law. The law prohibits viewpoint discrimination towards student organizations and prohibits institutions from punishing organizations who expect their leaders to abide by what the organization believes.

5. Limiting the Attorney General’s Power

Attorney General Tom Miller, a Democrat, has joined numerous multi-state lawsuits against the Trump Administration. The Iowa Legislature approved a measure in the justice system appropriations bill that requires the Attorney General to have the Governor, Executive Council, or Legislature to sign-off on pursuing out-of-state litigation. The attorney general is not the chief magistrate of the state and is not the voice of the state; the governor is. Legislators pointed out that recent litigation he signed on to directly contradicted action taken by the Legislature and governor. That’s wrong.

6. Keep and Bear Arms Amendment

The Iowa House and Iowa Senate passed an amendment that will enshrine Iowans’ right to keep and bear arms in the Iowa Constitution if approved a second time and ratified. It reads: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The sovereign state of Iowa affirms and recognizes this right to be a fundamental individual right. Any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.”

7. Increasing School Tuition Organization Tax Credit

Currently, the state budgets $13 million for tax credits for people who donate to one of the state’s school tuition organizations that provide scholarships for students whose family makes less than four times the federal poverty rate to attend an accredited non-public school. They raised that amount to $15 million that will make the credit available for more donors.

8. Allowing Stun Guns on Campus

The Iowa Legislature approved a bill that prohibits Iowa’s public universities and community colleges from banning stun guns except in stadiums and hospitals. This expands liberty and this bill is common sense.

9. Property Tax Transparency

The Iowa Legislature passed SF 634 that requires city councils and county boards of supervisors document and hold public hearings if they plan to increase property tax revenues through increasing the tax rate or by increasing property value assessments (or both). If the increase is more than two percent, it would need to be approved by a two-thirds rather than a simple majority of the council or board.

The original bill applied limits, but that was stripped out to pass some reform to address increasing property tax bills. While this bill is not ideal, it is a step in the right direction.

10. No More Secretary of State Mistakes on Constitutional Amendments

The Keep and Bear Arms Amendment would be headed to voters in 2020 if not for a mistake by Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate. Due to an oversight, his office failed to publish the required public notices before the 2018 elections. So gun rights advocates were back at square one.

Pate is not the only Secretary of State to do this. Chet Culver also failed to do the same thing in 2004 that delayed a ratification vote on a constitutional amendment that removed the words “idiot” and “insane” from the provision in the Iowa Constitution that referred removing voting rights from those deemed mentally incompetent.

The Legislature approved HF 674 that makes the Legislature, not the Secretary of State, responsible for publishing the notices.

Photo Credit: Angelo Mercado via Flickr (CC-By-NC-ND 2.0)

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