2017 Legislative Session

Barry Dale Gilfry / Flickr

The 2017 Iowa legislative session was historic in the sense that Republicans held a state government trifecta for the first time in 20 years, and the session carried some major themes including labor issues and family planning services.

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with statehouse reporters across the Midwest to see what plans and proposals are being considered in their neck of the woods, as well as the political dynamics of their chambers after the 2016 election.

The abortion-access advocacy organization NARAL Pro-Choice America is urging Gov. Terry Branstad to veto legislation it says threatens women's health and plays politics with women's lives.

Senate File 471 requires women to wait three days before receiving an abortion and have an ultrasound before the procedure. It also bans abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy. 

"There is still time for the governor to do the right thing," says NARAL's James Owens. "This bill introduced ideology into the doctor’s room and tries to shame women away from accessing basic healthcare." 

Gage Skidmore

On this special "Pints and Politics" edition of River to River, Iowa Public Radio's Ben Kieffer co-hosts a discussion with Gazette opinion page editor Jennifer Hemmingsen.

Thursday evening, they gathered at NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids to talk politics with columnists Lynda Waddington and Todd Dorman, as well as political reporter James Lynch of The Gazette. They discussed President Donald Trump’s first one-hundred days, as well as the main takeaways of the 2017 Iowa legislative session.

John Pemble / IPR

The first half of the 87th General Assembly ends Saturday morning, April 22nd, at 7:15. The chambers are mostly silent as amendments and budget bills are finalized in committees. In the middle of the night, House leaders give their sine die speeches a few hours before adjournment. By daybreak, debate begins for the last bills of the session. One expands medical marijuana and the other is the standing appropriations budget bill.

John Pemble

For the first time in 20 years, Republicans held majorities in the Iowa House, Iowa Senate, with a Republican in the governor’s office.

On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer hosts a discussion on what was accomplished this legislative session with panelists: Kathie Obradovich of the Des Moines Register, James Lynch of The Gazette, Barbara Rodriguez of the AP, and Iowa Public Radio statehouse correspondent, Joyce Russell.

Joyce Russell/IPR

In a heated exchange with reporters, Governor Branstad today defended GOP lawmakers for approving $150,000 in transition expenses for Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds as she assumes the governorship.      

Democrats called the appropriation extravagant in a year when budgets are being cut across state government.    

But Branstad compared the fund to past transition appropriations.

“The same Democrats when they controlled everything, gave $170,000 for [Gov. Chet] Culver's transition,” Branstad said.

His voice rising higher, Branstad implied that sexism was involved.

John Pemble / IPR

The Iowa legislature adjourned for the 2017 legislative session on Saturday, after pulling an all-nighter on Friday. Iowa Public Radio’s Clay Masters spoke with IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell.

WIKICOMMONS / Anatomy of the Human Body

A new law limits the amount of compensation an Iowa worker can receive for a shoulder injury.  Critics say the change makes workers disposable, but proponents point out that the law also provides tuition so injured employees can retrain for new careers.

 

In January, 2016, 51-year-old Bill Bennett of Pleasantville fell at work and tore the rotator cuff on his right shoulder. The injury makes his dominant right arm useless for movements as basic as pouring a cup of coffee.

John Pemble/IPR

After working through Friday night, the Iowa legislature wrapped up its 2017 legislative session, what some are calling historic for the sheer number of Republican initiatives approved.       

The majority party left a few major priorities undone with promises to take them up next year.  

With Republicans in charge of both chambers and the governor’s office for the first time in nearly 20 years, the way was cleared for major initiatives to take flight.   

John Pemble / IPR

  

It's the last full week of the 2017 legislative session with many long and complicated discussions about next year's budget.  This week's show stays clear of most of the budget discussion and we can present a final show next focusing on the budget with a wrap up of the past 15 weeks.

For this second to last show in the series, we focus on some of the final non-budget bills passing both chambers.

Iowa General Assembly

Two of Governor Branstad’s re-appointments to the Iowa Board of Medicine failed to get the votes needed for confirmation in the Iowa Senate last night, going down to defeat over the issue of abortion.  

In 2013 Board Chair Diane Clark, a public member from Lake Mills, and Dr. Hamed Tewfik, a physician from Iowa City,  voted to stop Planned Parenthood’s telemed abortion program, which allows women to obtain medical abortions from remote locations without a physician present.  

Senator Janet Peterson (D-Des Moines) led the opposition to the appointees.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A last minute Republican-sponsored budget bill introduced this week at the statehouse should ensure that Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds has the resources she needs to take over as governor.  

Reynolds will assume the office when Governor  Branstad leaves to become U.S. Ambassador to China.    

At the request of the Branstad/Reynolds administration, the bill appropriates $150,000 for transition expenses.    

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Charles Schneider (R-West Des Moines) says with so many budgets getting cut this year, the request was carefully considered:

Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs

A program to encourage the installation of art in Iowa’s public buildings is on the chopping block at the statehouse.  

A Republican-sponsored budget bill eliminates the Art in State Buildings program enacted under the leadership of Republican Governor Robert Ray back in 1979.   

Works of art can be  viewed  at more  than 160 public buildings in Iowa, many of them by Iowa artists, as a result of the program that captures  one-half of one percent of the cost of public buildings to commission paintings or sculptures.  

vaping 360/flickr

Electronic cigarettes and other so-called vaping products sold to Iowans on the internet would be regulated for the first time under a last-minute spending bill as the GOP majority strives toward adjournment of this year’s legislative session.      

Under the bill, sellers would be required to obtain a permit to sell the alternative nicotine products online.

Sellers would be required to certify the buyer is at least 18 years old.  And the products would be subject to the state sales tax.      

John Pemble / IPR

Former Iowa lawmakers are expressing dismay at the partisanship on display at the statehouse, although they say Iowa reflects a national trend.  Former Speaker of the Iowa House, Republican Brent Siegrist says the legislature has become much more partisan than during his time there.

"There's still 150 well-meaning people up there. Even when you disagree with them, they're there to do the job that they think they're sent to do, but it is more divided and more ideologically rigid than when I was there, and I think that takes a toll."

Joyce Russell/IPR

After two hours of sometimes contentious debate, the Iowa House today voted 56 to 41  to legalize the sale and use of fireworks in Iowa, going along with the Senate, and clearing the way  to send the bill down  to the Governor for his signature.   

Opponents warned of fires, injuries, and other traumas if the governor signs the bill.  

Rep. Matt Windschitl (R-Missouri Valley) managed the bill, arguing for the personal freedom of Iowans.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad today signed what’s being called one of the strongest anti-texting laws in the country.  

It’s part of a broader effort to combat distracted driving, which is contributing to an increase in traffic fatalities in Iowa.

The bill will make texting while driving a primary offense so law enforcement can pull over a driver for looking at a hand-held screen for texts or social media or e-mail.   

John Pemble/IPR

The chief administrator for the judicial branch of state government is warning court employees across the state of possible layoffs or reduced courthouse hours, if a proposed GOP judicial branch budget is approved at the statehouse.   

In a memo to staff, David Boyd briefed employees on the proposed budget for next year which reduces judicial branch spending by $3 million compared to this year. 

Boyd said tough decisions will need to be made.

John Pemble / IPR

As the end of the session nears, leaders are often asked a simple "yes or no" about the likelihood of a bill becoming law.  The Senate president says a bill that would change how independent water utilities are managed isn't moving forward.  This bill's passage would affect the Des Moines Water Works, for example. 

Sarah Boden/IPR

A Republican-dominated panel at the statehouse last night approved a human services budget that changes how family planning programs are paid for across the state.  

The bill will eliminate state funding that used to go to clinics that also perform abortions, including Planned Parenthood.  

Up to now, the state spent just under half a million dollars, or $482,000,  for family planning services including birth control and pregnancy tests.  

The rest came from the federal government.

Jens Olaf-Walter/flickr

A controversial program to  require struggling 3rd graders to get summer reading instruction in order to be promoted to 4th grade is falling victim to  budget cuts at the statehouse.  

As part of a massive education funding bill, a GOP-led committee has eliminated the program, after failing again to find the money to help local schools pay for the summer classes.  

Critics say without a state appropriation, the program amounts to an unfunded mandate for local schools.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Breast cancer survivors and their supporters were at the capitol Thursday for a bill-signing of legislation known as Patty’s Law, named for a West Des Moines cancer patient.  

The new law directs mammogram providers to let a woman know if she has dense breast tissue, so she can get an ultrasound in addition to a mammogram.  

Advocates say dense tissue can prevent tumors from showing up.      

Fifty-nine year old Patty Bernard is suffering from stage four breast cancer.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Calling it an honor, Governor Branstad today signed into law what’s being called the most expansive gun  rights bill in Iowa history, to the applause of a roomful of supporters.  

The bill expands self-defense rights for gun owners, so-called Stand Your Ground. It also allows gun owners with permits to carry weapons into the statehouse. And it protects the confidentiality of permit holders.  

Branstad said he has always supported the second amendment.

Alan Light/flickr

A hydroscience professor at the University of Iowa is praising the work of the Iowa Flood Center, as state lawmakers consider eliminating all state funding for it.  

The center was established to conduct research following the historic floods of 2008.   

Professor Larry Weber heads the UI’s Hydroscience and Engineering department, which oversees the work of the center.

He says the center provided critical information for communities affected by last year’s flooding in eastern Iowa.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A Republican-dominated committee in the Iowa Senate today, on a nearly unanimous voice vote, approved a bill to legalize the production and sale of medical marijuana in Iowa to provide treatment for a wide range of medical conditions.   

The bill is similar to legislation approved in the past when Democrats controlled the Senate. 

It appears to have no chance of passage in the Republican-controlled House.    

Sen. Tom Greene (R-Burlington), called the bill a natural progression.

Joyce Russell/IPR

More than 200 activists converged on the state capitol today, urging more funding for water quality, conservation, and outdoor recreation across the state.  

A Republican-sponsored bill in the House would raise the state sales tax for the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund which was approved by the voters as a constitutional amendment in 2010.  

The bill also creates a water quality revolving fund by diverting dollars currently spent elsewhere in the state budget.

John Pemble

Mandatory minimum sentences require felons to serve a predefined term for certain offenses, and a proposal being considered at the Iowa Statehouse would lower mandatory sentences for certain, non-violent drug crimes.

David Wade Couch/flickr

A bill to enhance bicycle safety has failed to advance at the Iowa statehouse this year, in spite of the growing number of bicycle fatalities on Iowa roadways. 

The bill’s sponsor says he’ll continue to work after the session to reach consensus on the bill.   

The Iowa Bicycle Coalition reports 11 fatalities last year, the deadliest year for cyclists in more than a decade.   

Rep. John Wills (R-Spirit Lake) says increasing the visibility of cyclists is critical.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad says a controversial gun rights bill that gained final legislative approval last week is reasonable and fair with adequate safeguards to protect public safety.   

He says he will thoroughly review the bill before making a final decision, but he appears poised to sign it into law. 

The bill includes new legal protections for gunowners who fire to defend life or property, as well as a wide range of other gun rights provisions.     

John Pemble / IPR

  

This week, the House passed the most restrictive abortion bill in the state's history.  It bans abortions after 20 weeks except when the life of the mother is in danger.  The bill originated in the Senate two week ago, but the House makes many revisions.  In this podcast, we condense the six-and-a-half hour long debate from the chamber floor to 15 minutes.

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