Lawmakers adjourn with some accomplishments, also unfinished business
DES MOINES (AP) — Iowa lawmakers on Saturday ended a legislative session that was highlighted by the passage of bills that authorize farmers to grow hemp, gamblers to bet on sports and a requirement that local governments publicize and get a supermajority vote on property tax increases.
To become law those measures still need the signature of Gov. Kim Reynolds, who saw some of her own priorities pass but others left for another day.
Reynolds received approval for her priority measure to establish a mental health care system for children, but could not get senators to approve a constitutional amendment that would restore voting rights to felons. An amendment must pass the Legislature twice before it goes to a statewide vote.
Republicans continued to hold a majority in the Legislature, but lost one member when Rep. Andy McKean announced Tuesday he was leaving the party and joining the Democrats out of frustration with President Donald Trump and a party he said has shifted too far to the right. McKean’s decision leaves Republicans with a 53 to 47 majority in the House.
The 2019 session ended a week earlier than scheduled with bills on gun rights, abortion, animal abuse penalties, traffic cameras, Medicaid work requirements and solar energy fees left unfinished.
“I think there are things that people would like to do that they still need to get some questions answered and understand why their colleagues aren’t supporting them,” said Republican House Speaker Linda Upmeyer.
Senate Democratic leader Janet Petersen in closing remarks criticized the lack of effort in the Legislature to fix the state’s privatized Medicaid program.
“Instead of focusing on health prevention and wellness efforts, our state is still reeling from the governor’s privatized Medicaid mess that has gone on for more than three years,” she said.
Here’s a look at issues considered by lawmakers:
Felon voting rights
This priority of Reynolds passed the House with a strong bipartisan vote of 95-2 but it couldn’t pass the Senate, as some senators wanted to require total repayment of restitution and exclusion of those convicted of murder, rape, or child molestation.
Lawmakers passed a bill that changes how judges for the Iowa Supreme Court and Iowa Court of Appeals are chosen to give the governor greater control and weaken the influence of attorneys. Democrats accused Republicans of attempting to stack the courts in their favor because they disagree with court rulings that overturned laws on same-sex marriage and abortion. Reynolds supported the bill.
A bill pushed by MidAmerican Energy passed the Senate but didn’t get a vote in the House. It would have required homeowners, businesses and farmers who install solar panels to pay a new monthly fee, cutting into the savings customers see and discouraging future installations. It was opposed by legislators who note farmers are enduring tough times and that new fees would deprive them of an option for saving money.
Lawmakers approved a bill to authorize casinos, under the regulation of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, to roll out betting on professional, collegiate and international sporting events, including motor racing. It excludes betting on some events, including minor leagues and in-state college team players. The bill also legalizes fantasy sports contests and internet fantasy sports betting. Reynolds must decide whether to sign it.
Lawmakers passed a property tax bill that forces counties and cities to publicize and pass by a two-thirds vote any property tax increase over 2 percent. Property tax reform was a priority for Republican leaders this session but earlier bills that limited annual tax increases faded as criticism from local government officials intensified.
A bill legalizing growing hemp was sent to Reynolds for her consideration. It allows licensed growers to cultivate the crop on up to 40 acres. Industrial hemp can be used in food, fiber, paper and other products.
Attorney general restrictions
A bill limiting the powers of the state’s attorney general developed late in the session as an amendment to a budget bill after some Republicans expressed frustration that Democrat Tom Miller joined lawsuits opposing the actions of President Donald Trump. Miller said it makes Iowa the first state to limit the attorney general to such an extreme. It requires Miller to get permission from the governor, executive council or Legislature to pursue out-of-state lawsuits. Reynolds could line-item veto it from the budget bill if she disagrees.
Childrens mental health
A priority of Reynolds, the bill creates a children’s behavioral health system, a state board and assigns new duties to the Department of Human Services. It also establishes regional mental health services provided through the adult Mental Health and Disability Services system. Reynolds plans on signing the bill.
Right to bear arms ammendment
A constitutional amendment declaring a right of the people to keep and bear arms passed this year. It also declares any and all restrictions on gun rights shall be subject to strict scrutiny, which requires a higher bar for a court to reach before gun laws can be struck down. It must be passed a second time before going to voters. It was one of several gun rights expansion bills proposed this session but many failed to move forward, including one that would have eliminated the requirement for gun permits to own or buy a gun.
Medicaid work requirements
A bill that would have required tens of thousands of Medicaid recipients to work to keep their benefits failed to advance despite support from some Republicans, who argued there was a “groundswell of support” for a work requirements. State officials said about 60,000 people could have been affected. Opponents say it could kick people off Medicaid who must stay home, such as to care for a parent with Alzheimer’s. Arkansas kicked 18,000 Medicaid recipients off their health insurance after last year’s enactment of the law.
No right to abortion in Constitution
Republican Sen. Jake Chapman introduced a bill that would amend the Iowa Constitution to declare there is no right to an abortion in Iowa. The bill came just days after an Iowa judge overturned last year’s fetal heartbeat law, which banned abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. Chapman said his bill, which didn’t advance, addresses what he considers judicial tyranny and overreach.
A Senate committee narrowly passed a death penalty bill, making it eligible for debate, but it did not advance. A similar bill last year failed to get through the committee process. The bill would have made it a capital offense to kidnap, rape and murder a minor. Iowa abolished the death penalty in 1965.
The House unanimously approved a bill that would have heightened the criminal penalties for animal abuse and neglect, animal torture and abandonment. It exempted farm livestock and some wild animals. The bill died in the Senate.
Gov. Kim Reynolds last month signed into law a bill that created a trespass charge for undercover investigators who get hired at a farm in order to report on animal living conditions. Animal welfare group that successfully sued the state for a previous ag-gag law have sued again in federal court to challenge the new law.
Conservative Republicans added a last-minute prohibition on the use of Medicaid funding to pay for sex-reassignment surgery. Backers of the amendment to a Health and Human Services funding bill say the prohibition on using federal or state money for sex reassignment surgery is a response to an Iowa Supreme Court decision. The ruling last month said the state cannot deny two transgender women Medicaid coverage for such a surgery. The bill passed despite claims by Democrats that it was a mean-spirited attempt at discrimination.