2017 Legislative Session

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Iowa’s Judicial Branch is the first division of state government to announce a mandatory furlough as a  result of budget cuts for the fiscal  year that ends in June.   

Court offices will close for one day and employees will take unpaid leave.  

Governor Branstad recommended a more than $7 million cut to the judicial branch.   Lawmakers scaled that back to $3 million.  

In a memo to court employees, state court administrator David Boyd unveiled how courts would absorb the cut.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

Public health experts and medical professionals crowded into a committee room at the statehouse today, presenting a united front against a bill to allow more Iowans to avoid getting their children vaccinated for preventable diseases.    

Currently, families can claim a religious exemption.   The bill would extend that to anyone with a personal conviction against vaccines.   

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A bill to cut tens of millions of dollars in spending to balance this year’s state budget is making its way through the Iowa House and Senate, and a top Democratic budget-writer is  criticizing one proposal they say will harm poor families who are already in tough circumstances.   

The bill negotiated by majority Republicans in the House, Senate, and governor’s office would cut lodging support for families who have to spend time in Iowa City while getting health care.  

John Pemble/IPR file photo

A long-held tradition of the Iowa Senate is about to shift under a rule change promoted by the new Republican majority.    

At the beginning of each day, through what’s called points of personal privilege, senators express their views on any subject, sometimes at length. 

Under new Republican rules, that will occur right before adjournment.   On many days that will be after some lawmakers and many observers have left the building. 

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Dozens of artists and representatives of arts organizations from around the state crowded a committee room at the statehouse today, urging lawmakers not to empty out a trust fund that benefits the arts in communities around the state.   

The Iowa Cultural Trust fund is on the chopping block as state lawmakers strive to cover a shortfall in the state budget for the fiscal year that ends in June. 

A tentative budget agreement would take the entire $6 million in the fund, and use it to offset cuts to a range of state agencies.

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There’s another effort underway at the statehouse to make sure student athletes in collision sports get proper evaluation in the event of a head injury.  

A bill to require a health care professional at every high school varsity football, soccer, or wrestling match got its first hearing of the year at the capitol today.   

Lawmakers are trying again to address the problem of student athletes going back into games instead of being sidelined after a head injury or possible concussion.

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Statehouse Republicans have tentatively agreed to scale back some of Governor Branstad’s biggest proposed budget cuts for the fiscal year that ends in June. 

But numerous agencies will still have to give up millions of dollars they expected to be able to spend.     

The GOP is struggling to cut more than $100 million from this year’s budget  because tax receipts have not met expectations.    

Senator Randy Feenstra (R-Hull) said for example the governor’s request to cut $25 million from the Regents schools gave legislators heartburn.

John Pemble /IPR file photo

A Republican lawmaker is proposing a change to Iowa's self-defense law, saying that Iowa needs to rewrite a so-called 'stand your ground' statute.

"I feel that we’re limiting people the ability to stand up and protect themselves," says Mark Chelgren, a Republican Senator from Ottumwa. His bill "strikes the clause under the state's reasonable force statue that 'requires one to abandon or retreat'" if s/he feels threatened. 

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A program to benefit fine arts instruction in Iowa classrooms is on the chopping block, as the Iowa legislature considers Governor Branstad’s education budget for next year.  

The governor recommends eliminating a $25,000 appropriation for a mentoring program for fine arts teachers.  

Through the Iowa Alliance for Arts Education, teachers raised money from the private sector and were expecting a matching grant from  the state.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad proposes changing how the state provides health insurance for state employees.  In his Condition of the State message earlier this month, he proposed replacing more than 400 existing plans with one statewide contract.

“Just a few adverse health outcomes can destroy the budget of a city, county or school district,” Branstad said. “By replacing this system with one, comprehensive health-care contract, we can spread the risk and dramatically reduce costs.”

It’s a statement that is confusing to educators.

John Pemble / IPR

During this weekly podcast of highlights from the Iowa legislature, nobody knows how long Governor Terry Branstad will remain in Iowa.  President Trump wants him to be the next U.S. Ambassador to China, but a timeline for the confirmation process is not set.

Once he makes the move, Branstad will serve at a delicate time in U.S.-China relations under President Trump, who is off to a rocky start in his relations with that country. Iowa Public Radio reporter Clay Masters looks back to a few months ago when it started to become clear what was to come for governor.

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Voting absentee would get a little more complicated under Secretary of State Paul Pate’s proposed legislation he’s  calling the Election Integrity Act.    

On Thursday, Pate briefed the House State Government Committee on the proposed bill which includes a controversial plan for Voter ID.  

In a packed committee room, Pate discussed the identification of both voters who go to the polls, and those who request an absentee ballot.  

“Because more than 40% of voters are voting absentee ballots, I want to ensure the integrity of those ballots,” Pate said.  

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Representatives of university towns are back at the capitol this year, trying to get relief from loud and drunken student parties that are disrupting life in residential areas.  

They oppose a bill that pits landlords against residents who want peace and quiet for their single-family neighborhoods.     

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A plan to cut more than $100 million out of this year’s state budget is taking up much of the oxygen at the statehouse in the opening days of the legislative session.   

As a result, lawmakers are off to a slower start than usual dealing with other bills.

Twenty-two bills on various subjects were introduced into the House today after a full week with no House Files read in.

“It is unusual,” said Republican House Speaker Linda Upmeyer (R-Clear Lake).  “Other years we've read them in sooner.”  

John Pemble

The governor laid out what will most likely be his final Condition of the State Address last week. Lawmakers had Monday off for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, but they’re back at it on Today. Here are a few items IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell is watching.

Planned Parenthood funding is in the crosshairs of Republicans. The plan to eliminate state funding for Planned Parenthood is part of the governor’s budget and has strong Republican support.

John Pemble / IPR

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

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This new podcast from Iowa Public Radio highlights the activity at the Iowa Capitol during the legislative session.

Our first week begins with the opening of the 87th General Assembly, where Republicans control the Senate, House, and the governor’s office.  In the first half hour of the session, outgoing Senate President, Democrat Pam Jochum hands Republican Senator Jack Whitver the gavel. Republican priorities this year include changing collective bargaining, implementing voter ID, and defunding Planned Parenthood.  

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As Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds prepares to succeed Governor Branstad in the state’s highest office, a Democratic state senator wants a say in who becomes the next lieutenant governor.   

Sen. Tony Bisignano (D-Des Moines) has filed a bill to require House and Senate confirmation for anyone becoming lieutenant governor without having been voted into office.   

The bill would require a simple majority vote, so Bisignano says Republicans could easily confirm Reynolds’s choice.

John Pemble

In what may be his final Condition of the State address of his career, Governor Terry Branstad urged lawmakers to prioritize K-12 funding, road safety, and water-quality.

He also signaled support for changes to the state’s collective bargaining laws and called for 2017 to be a “Year of Manufacturing” in Iowa. 

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Governor Branstad delivered what will likely be his final Condition of the State Speech at the statehouse Tuesday, outlining plans to improve education, public safety, health care and water quality.   But he also unveiled a proposal to cut more than $100 million from this year’s state budget, which hits higher education the hardest.   Majority Republicans haven’t ruled out cutting some of the areas the governor would protect.     

The governor has never been known for his prowess as a public speaker, and he got off to a rocky start.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Amid pomp and circumstance and Republican celebration, the 87th  General Assembly of the Iowa Legislature convened in Des Moines today for the 2017 legislative session.   The new Republican majority promises significant conservative change on a number of fronts.      Minority Democrats say get ready for a fight. 

The house and Senate gaveled in nearly simultaneously at 10 a.m for a day dominated by traditional opening speeches expressing hopes of working together to get things done.     

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With Republicans now in control of the Iowa House and Senate and the governor’s office, the so-called trifecta, enthusiasm for cutting taxes is running high.   GOP leaders in both chambers have been telling groups around the state of their hopes and dreams for tax cuts.   But so far Governor Branstad is not on board.     

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