Iowa legislature

chuck palmer
Office of the Governor

Iowa Department of Human Services Director Charles (Chuck) Palmer announced Wednesday he will retire June 16.

His retirement comes as the House and Senate Government Oversight Committees prepare to investigate the department. DHS and its handling of child abuse complaints has been drawing increased scrutiny after two teen girls died. They were adopted out of the state foster care system and were severely malnourished.

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

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."

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.

John Pemble

In all but four Iowa counties, employers must pay a minimum wage of $7.25/hour - the same as the federal minimum wage.

Recently, Johnson, Linn, Polk and Wapello Counties struck out on their own and passed resolutions to raise their minimum wage above that level. Now, the Iowa legislature is in the process of reigning in those counties by passing a GOP-led measure that would ban individual counties from deciding their own minimum wages.

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.

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

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.  

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. 

John Pemble/IPR

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad is signaling support for changes to the state’s collective bargaining laws, that some say would weaken them. In his Condition of the State address this morning, the governor took aim at public employee health plans.

“The cost of these benefits has grown dramatically because of our antiquated collective bargaining system that has led to over 500 healthcare plans,” says Branstad, "many of which are inefficient and way too costly for public employees and Iowa taxpayers."

John Pemble / IPR

State lawmakers opened the 2017 legislative session this morning as Republicans took control of both the House and Senate for the first time in 20 years. As lawmakers were sworn in and official business began, River to River Host Ben Kieffer and Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell sat down with legislative leaders from both parties to discuss priorities.

John Pemble / IPR

The Iowa legislature starts its new session on Monday. It’s the first time Republicans have controlled both chambers and the governor’s office since 1997. IPR’s Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell lays out some of the big issues at the capitol this year.

John Pemble/IPR

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.     

Joyce Russell/IPR

Popular new network transportation services such as Uber and Lyft now face state regulations for the first time, which backers say will provide protection for drivers and passengers alike.  

Under a new law that went into effect January 1st, the companies will have new requirements for insurance, background checks, and zero tolerance for drug and alcohol use.  

SmartSign/flickr

Lifetime handicapped parking permits will soon be a thing of the past, thanks to a new state law cracking down on abuse of the permits.    

Starting January 1st, the bright blue placards for the permanently disabled will be good for only five years, after which they will need to be renewed.  

Acting Department of Transportation Director Mark Lowe says there are approximately 530,000 lifetime permits in circulation.

He says that includes some abuse.

John Pemble/IPR file photo

The bipartisan women’s group grooming women for political office is adjusting its goal of having Iowa’s legislature 50 percent women three years from now.

Women will hold only about a quarter of the 150 seats when the Iowa General Assembly convenes next month.

Mary Ellen Miller, the executive director of the group calling itself 50-50 in 2020, says it now appears that goal is out of reach.

Timothy Freund/flickr

A statehouse committee today heard impassioned testimony in a dispute over a proposed new season for hunting wild turtles in Iowa.  

After action by the legislature, the DNR proposes a nearly year-long season to trap a limited number of the reptiles which conservationists say are threatened with possible extinction.  

New rules outlining the season were under discussion at the Iowa Administrative Rules Review Committee.

Conservationists say the proposed season is too long.

Joyce Russell/IPR

State lawmakers will have the tough job of cutting this year’s state budget when they convene in January, after new projections Monday from the Iowa Revenue Estimating Conference. 

The REC predicts that tax receipts will grow by 4.2 percent in the current fiscal year that ends June 30.

That’s $96 million less than earlier estimates.    

Department of Management Director Dave Roederer says to accommodate the shortfall, the governor will be recommending how to cut this year’s budget by roughly $100 million.

Joyce Russell/IPR

The new Republican president of the Iowa Senate says his party is discussing a new statewide minimum wage law after some Iowa cities and counties acted independently to increase their minimum wage.     

The statewide wage was last raised in 2007 to $7.25 an hour when Democrats controlled the legislature and the governor’s office.     

Senate President Jack Whitver (R-Ankeny) says lawmakers are hearing concerns that the wage is now different, depending on which county or city you live in.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A top Republican in the Iowa legislature is calling for a comprehensive review of state tax policy, including cutting taxes, now that his party is in full control at the statehouse.   

House GOP leader Chris Hagenow (R-Windsor Heights)  answered questions at a meeting of the Iowa Taxpayers Association today.  

“I think we need a completely fresh look at tax policy in this state top to bottom and we're going to go through that,”  Hagenow said.  “Fundamentally, it’s 'are we going to find a way to reduce the tax burden  of Iowa taxpayers?'”  

Marco Antonio Coloma/flickr

A tax break Iowans enjoy on digitally-delivered goods is under consideration at the statehouse.

Officials with the Iowa Department of Revenue today briefed a panel of state lawmakers who are charged with reviewing the tax credits that cost the state treasury hundreds of millions of dollars a year.    

DOR economist Amy Harris said Iowans currently do not pay sales tax when they download e-books, movies, or software from the internet.   

Joyce Russell/IPR

A workgroup studying how to protect drug-endangered children is considering changes in state law to address caregivers involved with illegal and legal drugs.   

The current law was designed to protect kids in homes where methamphetamines were being used, sold, or manufactured.           

Under a proposed bill, a wider variety of controlled substances could lead to a child abuse assessment.     

Janee Harvey with the DHS Child Welfare Bureau says currently cocaine, heroin, or opioids are treated differently from meth.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A three-year-old state law to crack down on theft of public funds from Iowa’s smallest cities has not cut down on fraud.   

Six-hundred small towns are now getting surprise visits from the state auditor’s office.     

The law mandates an audit at least every eight years.   

State Auditor Mary Mosiman says so far city employees are stealing public funds at about the same rate.

“I have to say we haven’t seen any reduction,” Mosiman said.   “When people want to commit fraud they figure out a way to try to do it until it's brought to the attention.”

House GOP caucus

Republicans in the Iowa House have voted to re-install the leaders who oversaw last week’s GOP success at the ballot box.

Republicans now enjoy at a 59 seat majority in the House after defeating two Democratic incumbents last week.

Meeting in private on Wednesday, they re-elected Rep. Linda Upmeyer of Clear Lake as Speaker of the House and Rep. Chris Hagenow of Windsor Heights as majority leader.   He will direct the House debate calendar.

House Republicans will meet next month to discuss specifics on the agenda.

John Pemble/IPR

The Republican party did well in statehouse races across the country Tuesday, and the Iowa GOP did its part for the victory.   

Republicans took control of the Iowa Senate, continuing a nationwide trend over the past several years.   

Daniel Diorio with the National Conference of State Legislatures says Republicans now control two-thirds of all House and Senate chambers nationwide. 

“Republicans are at their all-time high for state chamber control,” Diorio said.   “So they have really dominated ever since 2010 state legislatures across the country.”

John Pemble/IPR

The Iowa Republican Party is celebrating a victory in the Iowa Senate.  

After Tuesday’s voting,   Republicans picked up six seats to win a new 29 to 19 majority, the first time the GOP has controlled both Houses of the legislature since the 2002 election.  

It’s the first time since the 1996 election that Republicans held the trifecta:  the governor’s office and both the House and Senate.      

Senate minority leader Bill Dix, soon to be majority leader, addressed a cheering crowd at the GOP watch party in Des Moines.

Sign on the side of County Road E41 in Story County, Iowa.
Flickr / Carl Wycoff

Iowa is generally considered a swing state, but polling indicates that Iowans will likely be reelecting U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley and deliver the state’s six electoral votes to presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Jeff Kaufmann, Chair of the Iowa Republican Party, adds it’s also possible the state’s two most moderate districts will reelect their freshman Republican congressman, and the state Senate could very well flip to a GOP majority. Since it's unlikely Republicans will lose control of the House, the Iowa General Assembly and the governorship may soon be controlled by the GOP. 

John Pemble/IPR

Democrats in the Iowa Senate who stood in the way of gun rights bills are now facing opposition for re-election in several districts around the state.  

The Iowa Firearms Coalition is working to defeat the incumbents, in hopes of achieving a Republican majority in the Senate.

Last year the Republican-controlled House approved bills to protect the confidentiality of gun permit holders, and to eliminate age restrictions for children handling guns with adult supervision.    In 2015 a wide-ranging gun bill would have eliminated background checks for private handgun sales.

WonderWhy/flickr

Governor Branstad says a higher minimum wage in some parts of the state but not others is causing problems for businesses and local governments.   

He says he’ll work with the legislature to try to agree on a higher statewide minimum wage.

Linn, Polk, Wapello, and Johnson Counties have approved a higher countywide minimum wage.    But not all towns in those counties have gone along.  

Also, the governor says, some cities straddle county lines.  

Amy May / Iowa Public Radio

Hillary Clinton took four of five states that held primaries last night in the Northeast, bringing her closer to having a lock on the democratic nomination for president. Kedron Bardwell, Associate Professor of Political Science at Simpson College says he thinks challenger Bernie Sanders' supporters will support Clinton in the general election. 

"The Sanders supporters for the most part will stick with Hillary," he says. "The issues that Sanders cares about - it's not as if the Democratic Party has changed their positions that these issues are important."

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