2017 Legislative Session

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Legislation that limits the amount an injured employee can be compensated has passed the Iowa House along party lines. Republicans say changes to Iowa’s more than century-old workers’ compensation law are needed to keep the state's business climate competitive.

"I believe it’s a situation where we’re seeing rates go up across industry sectors," says GOP Representative Gary Carlson of Muscatine. "If I look at where Iowa used to be at the fifth or sixth lowest in the United States, and now we’re up in the 24th highest."

Flickr / Vance Shtraikh

Legislation that allows private companies in Iowa to test employees’ hair for drug use has passed out of the House Labor Committee along party lines with Republican support. 

"This is about testing for chronic long-term use," says Representative Jarad Klein of Washington County. "Is there a chronic long-term history of abuse of an illegal substance that would give them pause?"

Democrats raise concerns regarding the fairness and the efficacy of testing.

John Pemble/IPR

There was bad economic news from the statehouse today and budget writers are making plans to adjust.

A panel of economic experts revised downward their projections of growth in state tax receipts for the fiscal year that ends in June.  

They estimate growth of less than 3%, while the budget was based on expected growth of nearly four-and-a-half percent.   

Holly Lyons with the Revenue Estimating Conference stresses the state is not heading into a recession.

Joey Gannon/flickr

After bitter partisan debate, the Iowa House last night approved a bill to change the rules for Iowa workers filing asbestos-related lawsuits.   

Critics say workers exposed to the cancer-causing substance could be harmed by the bill.   

But backers say meritless cases are clogging up the courts.

keokuk, iowa
WIKICOMMONS / Billwhittaker

The Lee County Board of Supervisors will consider an ordinance Tuesday that would raise the county’s minimum wage to $8.20.

Meanwhile, a bill working its way through the Iowa Legislature would prohibit minimum wage increases by local governments. The Iowa House of Representatives passed the bill on to the Senate last week.

Sebastiaan ter Burg / Flickr

More than 30 states have enacted some form of a voter identification requirement in recent years, and Iowa could join that list, as a contentious voter ID bill continues to be discussed at the statehouse.

On this legislative day edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer is joined by IPR statehouse correspondent Joyce Russell to host a conversation with lawmakers working on this proposal in Des Moines. They also talk with Indiana Public Broadcasting reporter, Brandon Smith, who describes the impact that similar voter ID legislation has had in Indiana over the last decade.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey says the state’s poultry producers are reviewing their biosecurity measures now that new cases of avian flu have been reported in other states.   

The disease caused millions of dollars in losses in Iowa in 2015, with the destruction of as many as 31 million birds.  

“We have seen this new case in Tennessee, and a couple low-pathogenic cases in Tennessee and Wisconsin,” Northey said.     “I'm sure everybody's checking their biosecurity plans again.”

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad today condemned anti-immigrant comments that appeared in a weekend tweet from Republican 4th District Representative Steve King.   

King wrote in support of anti-immigration Dutch Parliamentarian Geert Wilders who wants to ban the Quran in the Netherlands and shut down mosques.   

“Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny,” King tweeted.   “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else's babies.”

John Pemble / IPR

This week, the House passes a bill expanding gun rights.  Among the things it will allow includes a person with a permit can bring a concealed pistol to city council meetings, but not school board meetings.  Similarly, one can be brought inside the state Capitol. 

Representative Matt Windschitl leads the effort to pass this bill. During the debate he says, “If I had my druthers, a law-abiding Iowan would be able to carry a firearm wherever they are lawfully present.”

Michael Leland/IPR

Supporters of Iowa’s bottle deposit law say an overwhelming majority of Iowans think the law is good for the state, and regularly return bottles and cans.  They released results of a poll conducted by Selzer & Company, suggesting 88-percent of people in the state think the law is good.  It also found about three-quarters of respondents saying they regularly return cans and bottles to get their deposits back, or give the empties to someone else to redeem.

Handi Lutfi speaks at minimum wage rally
Katarina Sostaric / IPR

A crowd gathered in downtown Iowa City Wednesday to protest a bill that would reverse minimum wage increases in four Iowa counties.

Protesters chanted, “Can’t survive on $7.25,” because the minimum wage would be set back to the federal and state level of $7.25. Johnson County’s minimum wage is currently $10.10 an hour.

Handi Lutfi said when Johnson County raised its minimum wage, her family’s income was brought above the poverty line.

Kay Henderson/Radio Iowa

After lengthy and sometimes emotional debate, the Iowa House last night approved a wide-ranging gun rights bill and sent it over to the Senate for their consideration. 

Republicans argued it restores Iowans’ Second Amendment rights that have long been denied.   Democrats called it dangerous and predicted more gun violence if it becomes law.  

It was an exciting day for Rep. Matt Windschitl (R-Missouri Valley).

Joyce Russell/IPR

Opponents of a bill banning a higher minimum wage which is working its way through the Iowa House far outnumbered supporters at a public hearing at the statehouse last night.    

The bill would rescind minimum wages approved in Polk, Linn, Johnson, and Wapello Counties that are higher than the statewide wage of $7.25 an hour. 

Low-income Iowans and their advocates, religious groups, child advocacy groups, and students all spoke out against the bill and in favor of a higher minimum wage.

Michael Leland/IPR

People testifying at a hearing on a proposed voter ID bill were divided on whether the bill would protect election integrity or keep significant numbers of people away from the polls.  Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate was the first to testify before the House State Government Committee Monday night.  He says the bill is about protecting elections, and nothing else.

“No eligible voter will be denied their right to vote by this legislation,” Pate said.  “I am adamant about that fact, and I will fight to ensure that voters are not disenfranchised.”

John Pemble/IPR file photo

Iowa lawmakers are quickly moving several high profile bills to Governor Terry Branstad's desk. During this hour of River to River, Iowa Public Radio’s Dean Borg talks with statehouse reporters about what’s happened so far this session and the live wire politics surrounding what still remains.

Iowa Public Radio’s Joyce Russell, James Lynch of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Bill Petroski of the Des Moines Register, and Kay Henderson of Radio Iowa join the conversation. 

Clay Masters / IPR

Water utilities clashed with their cities at a public hearing at the capitol Monday over a bill that would dismantle the Des Moines Water Works board and create a regional utility. Critics of the bill say it is about stopping a controversial lawsuit that targets large-scale agriculture.

John Pemble / IPR

Bills in the Iowa legislature that did not meet a self-imposed deadline last week are now dead. That means action likely won’t be taken on bills dealing with the death penalty and a medical marijuana program. “There’s no surprise that some of the top GOP priorities are very much alive and moving forward,” says IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell. Here’s some of the highlights moving forward.

johnson county building
Katarina Sostaric / IPR

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors will vote Tuesday on a resolution that would prevent county resources from being used to enforce immigration laws.

Under the draft resolution, the sheriff’s office would not actively try to detect undocumented immigrants. Johnson County would also refuse to detain people based on requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This does not prevent federal agents from enforcing immigration laws in the county.

John Pemble/IPR

Racial profiling by Iowa law enforcement officers was the subject of a hearing at the statehouse this week though time ran out for a bill to address the issue. 

Instead, senators will request an interim committee to study how to outlaw taking someone’s race into account when a traffic stop is made.  

Banning racial profiling is a top priority of the NAACP.

John Pemble / IPR

This is the first funnel week of the session, where bills that have not come before a committee are eliminated. It also provides party leaders a chance to reflect on what they've accomplished and what they can realistically expect to see coming to the House or Senate floor for debate.  Senator Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids), minority leader, says the Republicans' remaining agenda is "nonsense." House Speaker Linda Upmeyer (R-Clear Lake) says Hogg's use of "hyperbole" is an example of the Democrats having a tough time refuting the success of a Republican-dominated session. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

A bill advanced at the statehouse Thursday to outlaw the so-called sanctuary policies Iowa communities may adopt that could protect undocumented immigrants.   

Advocates for immigrants crowded into a committee room to oppose the bill.

The bill makes it illegal to adopt a policy that discourages enforcement of federal immigration laws.  

Under a Des Moines Public School resolution, immigration officials would not have access to students except through the superintendent.  

Alex Proimos/flickr

Governor Branstad’s goal to open up more competition in the health care industry ran into some serious trouble at the statehouse Wednesday.   

A bill to clear the way for more for-profit health care facilities failed to clear a Republican-dominated panel.   

The governor wanted to do away with the state’s Certificate of Need program that requires new health care facilities to prove there’s a need for their services.  

John Pemble/IPR file photo

A bill to stiffen penalties for protesters who block Iowa roadways advanced in the Iowa Senate Tuesday, a reaction to an incident along Interstate 80 in Iowa City last November.     

Roughly 100 protesters shut down the eastbound lanes for about half an hour, objecting to the election of Donald Trump.  

The bill would increase penalties for blocking a roadway where the speed limit is 55 miles per hour or higher.  

Free speech advocates objected to the bill.

Momento Mori/flickr

A bill to lower the penalties for first-time possession of small amounts of marijuana cleared a Republican-dominated panel in the Iowa Senate Tuesday.   

The same bill passed the Senate with broad bipartisan support when Democrats were in control two years ago, but it was not considered in the Republican-controlled House.     

The bill’s sponsor says he is serious about getting it passed again under the new Republican majority.   

Joyce Russell/IPR

The Mayor of Pleasant Hill was at the statehouse Monday arguing against a wide-ranging gun rights bill backed by the National Rifle Association and making its way through the Iowa House.  

After an outcry from the public, the bill’s sponsor has removed some controversial provisions, but there’s still plenty in the legislation to concern gun safety advocates.

Pleasant Hill Mayor Sara Kurovski is a registered Republican who holds a permit to carry a weapon.  

Paul Weaver / Flickr

Republican lawmaker Rep. Matt Windschitl of Missouri Valley is pushing comprehensive changes to Iowa's firearms law this year. 

Specifically, House Study Bill 133 seeks to add "stand your ground" provisions, institute lifetime permits to carry, allow children under 14 years of age to use handguns under adult supervision, and preempt local ordinances that restrict firearms use or declare themselves “gun-free zones."

John Pemble / IPR

The self-imposed deadline for lawmakers to get bills out of committee known as “funnel week” is now upon the Iowa legislature.  Here’s what to know going into this important step at the capitol this week, according to IPR’s Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell.

ep_jhu/flickr

Iowa’s laws on drug-endangered children would be updated to address the state’s opioid epidemic under legislation the House and Senate are considering.  

Authorities say more kids are being affected by their caregivers’ abuse of painkillers.  

Currently, Iowa’s child protection policies focus heavily on methamphetamine, its manufacture, distribution, and use.    

John Pemble / IPR

There is lingering bitterness from last week's long debate about changing Iowa's collective bargaining laws.  On Monday afternoon, Democratic senators use their points of personal privilege to voice their disappointment and to ask more questions about the authorship of the bill.

John Pemble/IPR

News that scholarships will be rescinded for students at the University of Iowa because of state budget cuts sparked controversy  at the statehouse Thursday. 

Democrats are blaming Republicans for a bill that cut $8 million from the UI budget for this year.  

News came to UI families in a letter from President Bruce Herrald.

“This devastating cut has forced us to consider every expenditure,” Herrald said.    

Some 2500 students will  see their financial aid packages reduced  by an  average of more than $1700 for the school year that starts in the fall.  

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