Statehouse and Politics

A series of town hall meetings addressing the problem of bullying in schools wrapped up  in Marshalltown.  

Governor Branstad Monday reacted with anger to a federal judge’s ruling affecting egg production in Iowa and five other states.  The judge threw out a lawsuit challenging California’s law on how hens can be housed.  

Iowa leads the U.S. in egg production. California’s law says laying hens must have enough space to fully extend their limbs, and any state like Iowa with different standards can’t sell eggs in California. Branstad says the law violates the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. constitution:

The head of an  Iowa Senate committee  looking into the hiring and firing practices of the Branstad  administration is warning that the governor’s department heads may   face tough prospects for reappointment in the Iowa Senate.    

A two-day hearing got underway at the state capitol with job protections for state workers hanging in the balance.     State employees are fighting back after the Branstad administration reclassified their jobs so they can be fired without cause.   

The Branstad team changed the status of some  350 jobs in a reorganization of state government they say is legal and is saving the taxpayers money.   Administrative law judge Ann Smicek  is hearing the case of four state employees who lost their job protection.

Photo by John Pemble

 

The social activist group Nuns on the Bus got a boost today for their 36 city tour to encourage voter registration.  They are launching the trip from Des Moines accompanied by Vice-President Joe Biden.  Speaking from the terrace of the State Capitol, Biden calls for the raising of the minimum wage.  “The middle class is in real trouble.  It was devastated by this recession.  It was already losing ground the previous ten years.” says Biden.

 

Clay Masters / IPR

Former Secretary of State and one-time Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton returned to Iowa Sunday for the first time since her 3rd place finish in the Iowa Caucuses in 2008.   She was the featured speaker at retiring  Democratic Senator Tom Harkin’s annual steak fry.  Even Harkin admitted she stole the show. 

Senator Harkin took the stage before some ten thousand activists and said this is a hell of a crowd:

“And to think you all came here just to see me,” Harkin joked with the crowd.  “Who am I kidding? You've had some steak now it’s time for some sizzle.”

Democrats in the Iowa Senate failed to stop a new rule at the Iowa Department of Administrative Services that   they say will  chip away at Iowa’s merit system of employment.    The rule would let state agencies lay off some permanent employees ahead of temporary workers in the event of a reduction in force.   

The new rule survived a challenge before the legislature’s administrative rules review committee.   DAS Human Resource Officer Michell Minnehan said sometimes it makes sense to keep temporary workers on.

Iowa’s Crime Victim Assistance Program was under scrutiny before a Republican-dominated committee at the statehouse.     The committee’s chairman says he got his questions answered about whether money was being misspent.   

A group known as Ready for Hillary is offering an all-expense paid trip to Iowa and the 37th annual Tom Harkin Steak Fry later this month.    Bill and Hillary Clinton will be the featured guests, and Hillary Clinton’s backers  want a big turnout.      

The head of  Iowa Workforce Development Teresa Wahlert  took questions for nearly two hours from the Iowa Senate Oversight Committee.   One senator calls the agency dysfunctional, but Wahlert defends her leadership style.  

The Iowa Senate Oversight Committee questioned current and former judges  who rule on unemployment benefits for laid-off state workers.    Senators are  looking into allegations that management at Iowa Workforce Development favors  employers over employees in contested cases.   

State officials who oversee unemployment benefits for laid-off workers  say they are beefing up their fraud investigations, even as unemployment claims have fallen.   Half the investigative staff quit when they took advantage of an early retirement offer.  

Ryan Henderson

Governor Terry Branstad is defending his reluctance to grant asylum to unaccompanied children fleeing extreme violence in Central America.

"It would be wrong for us to send a signal that if you come here illegally, we're just gonna disperse you throughout the country and you don't have to go home."

Social justice advocate Connie Ryan Terrell of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa says many in Iowa’s faith community are disappointed with Branstad's decision, since the state has a history of welcoming immigrants.

Jan Egil Kristiansen

Today’s Quinnipiac University poll shows if the election for U.S. Senate were held today, 44 percent favor Democrat Bruce Braley and 40 percent favor Republican Joni Ernst.

Additionally, Quinnipiac finds Braley polling stronger with women by 11 percentage points, and Ernst holding a 4 percent lead with men.*

John Pemble / IPR

The Iowa Legislature adjourned last week. Iowa Public Radio's Clay Masters checks in with Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell to discuss what got done this legislative year. 

A compromise budget bill  means the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo will not reopen next year.    Democrats say the  home will remain closed for the time being, regardless of the outcome of their lawsuit against the governor.  

The Branstad administration has spent close to half a million dollars on an initiative  designed to convince more companies to locate here rather than in another state.   Four industrial sites have been designated as project ready, a trend officials say is catching on around the country.  

John Pemble / IPR

The predictions are out there that Iowa's legislative session will wrap up early this week. On Mondays we check in with IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell to make sense of everything going on up at the capitol.

John Pemble/IPR

A bill to allow Iowa families to travel to other states and bring back a form of medical marijuana advanced   in the Iowa Senate.   Mothers of epileptic kids pushed  hard for the legislation, saying  cannabis oil can help relieve  their children’s seizures.

    

John Pemble / IPR

A senate subcommittee has approved a bill that would let the parents of children with a severe form of epilepsy go out of state to get an oil-based form of medical marijuana for their children.  The bill will be considered by a full senate committee sometime after five o'clock today. 

Democrats in the Iowa Senate  got the ball rolling on a bill that’s a dream come true for  environmentalists  and natural resource advocates.   The bill raises the state  sales tax for a natural resources trust fund that voters approved by constitutional amendment two years ago.  Backers added a tax cut​  to the bill to soften the blow.    

The Iowa legislature’s oversight committee questioned top administrators at the Iowa Department of Administrative Services over payments made to laid-off state workers for keeping their settlements with the state confidential.   But lawmakers still don't know where the authorization for the so-called hush money came from.

Durrie Bouscaren / Iowa Public Radio

In a procedural vote, the Iowa House turned down a million dollar appropriation to match private donations to Iowa’s food banks.   The legislature passed a similar measure last year, but Governor Branstad vetoed it.   One House Democrat spoke with unusual authority.   Representative Ako Abdul-Samaad  of Des Moines runs a soup kitchen as part of the Creative Visions social service agency he heads.  Here are some of his remarks.

In the Iowa House, the wheels fell off an agreement to freeze tuition for another year at Iowa’s Regents Universities, but only if all three schools get  a 4% increase in state funds.   Republicans have agreed to mandate the  freeze,  but not all the schools will get their promised raise.   

 

  A bill allowing Iowans to use medical marijuana in the form of cannabis oil is still alive at the statehouse. The Iowa Senate will move a medical marijuana bill before the end of the session.  

John Pemble / IPR

Despite predictions for a speedy session in which nothing of substance was accomplished, the 2014 legislative session has had plenty of controversy.  Governor Terry Branstad was a guest on IPR’s River to River on Monday.

Photo by John Pemble

  

Almost every day last week we were getting updates on these so-called confidential settlements made by  the Branstad administration. More than 400,000 dollars has been paid out to laid off staffers.   IPR's Clay Masters gets the latest on it and other ongoing legislative issues from statehouse correspondent Joyce Russell.

Democrats in the Iowa Senate  heard from four former state employees who lost their jobs in what the Branstad  administration terms  a reorganization of state government.   Democrats object to what they call mass layoffs of so-called merit employees who were hired for their expertise, not their political connections.     One worker  told of receiving money for keeping her settlement private,  a practice which  Governor Branstad has now banned.   

John Pemble / IPR

The Iowa Republican party has a new chairman. Former chair A.J. Spiker announced his resignation last month, he left to join Kentucky Senator Rand Paul’s political action committee. Over the weekend the Iowa GOP Board elected former state legislator and lobbyist for social conservative organization The Family Leader, Danny Carroll. He shares his thoughts on several issues with IPR's Clay Masters.

A bill on Governor Branstad’s to-do list is sparking controversy  at the statehouse.  The bill addresses the problem of bullying in the schools,  especially as it occurs on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.       But how much money to spend on the  problem remains a stumbling block.   Also,  a coalition of  conservative House Republicans has its  own ideas.    

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