Legislative Recap: What You Need to Know About the First Week of the 2017 Session

As the first week of Iowa's 2017 legislative session comes to a close, River to River host Ben Kieffer checks in with Iowa Public Radio statehouse correspondent Joyce Russell to get an idea of what's on tap in the Iowa House and Senate.

Proposal to change confirmation process

With Governor Terry Branstad nominated by President-elect Donald Trump to be the next U.S. Ambassador to China, Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds is in line to take over the governorship. When she does, Reynolds will become Iowa’s first female governor, leaving a vacancy in the lieutenant governor position.

Iowa is one of 42 states that does not require a lieutenant governor to be confirmed by the legislature – something Democratic lawmaker, State Senator Tony Bisignano (D-Des Moines) would like to see changed.

Bisignano introduced a bill this week that would require a simple majority vote by the Iowa House and Senate to confirm any potential lieutenant governor.

“With the Republicans in charge, there’s no way Kim Reynolds' choice [for lieutenant governor] could be voted down, but it could give Democrats a chance to stand up and maybe say some not good things about them,” Russell says, “and that’s why it doesn’t seem likely to me that Republicans are going to go along with this.”

Planned Parenthood funding

Planned Parenthood currently receives a federal-state match of Medicaid dollars. (While the funding goes towards family planning services only and does not fund abortion procedures, Planned Parenthood does provide abortions.)

In the past, Republicans have tried to eliminate funding to the family-planning organization through budget bills, but with a majority in the House and Senate, 2017 might be the year Planned Parenthood loses funding in Iowa.

Governor Branstad unveiled a proposal this week that would cost Iowa millions of federal dollars typically slated for family planning services. His plan to make up for the loss includes tapping a federal block grant that currently goes towards adoption, foster care, and other social services. Critics say it’s sacrificing federal money, since Iowa could instead receive $3 million in federal Medicaid funding.

“I don’t see anything that’s going to stop this, although Planned Parenthood is gearing up for a fight over it,” Russell says.

Firearms law

State Senator Bill Dix (R-Shell Rock), majority leader in the Iowa Senate, introduced an amendment to the Iowa Constitution that clarifies the right to bear arms.

The amendment would go further than the U.S. Constitution in defining the right to bear arms, by prohibiting mandatory registration and licensing to acquire a firearm.

“But, you know, a constitutional amendment doesn’t happen overnight,” says Russell. “It would have to pass both the House and Senate, two successive general assemblies, and then it goes for a vote of the people. So this would be down the line, but with a Republican majority, it looks like it’s probably going to pass.”

Also on this News Buzz edition of the show:

Press Citizen and Des Moines Register reporter Jeff Charis-Carlson explains how deep budget cuts may impact higher education; the Animal Legal Defense Fund ranks Iowa second-worst in the nation when it comes to animal legal protection; IPR’s Sarah Boden explains concerns voiced in Iowa Chief Justice Mark Cady’s Condition of the Judiciary address; a sociologist at Iowa State University talks about new research on homicidal thinking; and four-time Olympian swimmer Jason Lezak talks with Ben Kieffer ahead of his visit to Iowa.