Statehouse and Politics

Joyce Russell/IPR

The Republican Chair of the Ethics Committee in the Iowa Senate says he is willing to look at new ethics rules after the departure of the top Senate Republican.  

But Sen. Jerry Behn (R-Boone) questioned whether lawmakers can dictate what kind of relationships legislators can have with lobbyists.

Majority Leader Bill Dix, who is married and the father of three children, resigned his leadership post and his Senate seat after photos surfaced of him appearing to kiss a lobbyist at a Des Moines bar.  

John Pemble

Iowans say mental health services are among their top concerns when it comes to state-supported issues, and lawmakers’ comments on mental health make the issue appear bipartisan.

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer and IPR reporter Joyce Russell talk with lawmakers about how they are working to address concerns regarding mental health care in Iowa, as well as fielding calls from Iowans who have tried to get themselves or their loved ones care.

John Pemble / IPR

State lawmakers are preparing for state agency budget cuts. On Friday, Gov. Kim Reynolds’ Revenue Estimating Conference has revised its estimate of tax receipts this year.

Latest revenue projects have a little bit of good news. The Revenue Estimating Conference meets periodically to estimate how much money in taxes will be collected. This time, members revised their estimate up compared to their estimate in December. “They have a little more money to spend this year,” Russell reports.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

As President Trump imposes larger tariffs for metal, he reaffirms his opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement.  Many agricultural products from Iowa go to Canada and Mexico.  As Trump repeatedly says he's willing to start a "trade war", Gov. Reynolds is worried about a backlash.

The governor says the president's actions will have unintended consequences for Iowa farmers and manufacturers.  However, she does support making some changes to NAFTA.

John Pemble/IPR

Iowans who are getting health insurance through the individual marketplace under the Affordable Care Act would have a new option under a bill that passed  by a large margin  in  the Iowa Senate last night.   

Under the bill, the Iowa Farm Bureau would offer what are being called barebones health plans not subject to the rules of the ACA,  including covering pre-existing conditions and other  mandates.

That would be allowed because the plans are not insurance policies. 

Matthias Ripp via flickr creative commons /

If state lawmakers go through with a plan to ban traffic cameras, local governments across Iowa could face budget cuts. The changes could be a double whammy for Sioux City.

Clay Masters / IPR

President Donald Trump has announced tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Does that mean the U.S. is on the verge of a trade war? It's also been a week of departures for staffers at the White House, and Vice President Mike Pence visited Iowa.  During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Jim McCormick of Iowa State University and Dennis Goldford of Drake University about the week in politics. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

Religious groups on Iowa’s university campuses would have more freedom to choose their leaders, under a GOP-sponsored bill that advanced in the Iowa House today.

Backers say the bill will address a conflict at the University of Iowa, where a student group lost its certification after denying a leadership post to a gay student.    

Rep. Sandy Salmon (R-Janesville) calls the university’s action outrageous. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

Democrats  in  the Iowa House today  tried  to stop a bill they say will lower standards for Iowa teachers.  

Under the GOP-backed bill, graduates of Iowa teacher preparation programs would no longer be required to pass a standardized subject matter test to get a teaching license.   

Backers say the change is needed to address a teacher shortage.   

Alan Levine/Flickr

A bill being discussed at the statehouse, Senate File 2311, could mean major changes in Iowa when it comes to energy. Opponents say it would end Iowa’s energy efficiency programs, the ones that provide rebates to customers for buying energy efficient appliances and doing things like energy audits and installing new insulation.

John Pemble/IPR

A key member of the Kim Reynolds administration faces a confirmation vote in the Iowa Senate, and at least one Democrat says it is not a done deal.   

Jerry Foxhoven has directed the Department of Human Services since June, while complaints have continued to pour in about Iowa’s new privatized Medicaid system, including denial of care for patients, and delayed payments to doctors and hospitals.      

At her weekly news conference, Gov. Reynolds said Foxhoven has done a great job in his short time in office.

John Pemble / IPR file

IPR's Morning Edition Host Clay Masters checks in with Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell to talk about what's happened in the legislature and what to expect in the week ahead. 

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Gov. Kim Reynolds appointed Jerry Foxhoven as the director of the Department of Human Resources in June.  All of the governor's appointments must be confirmed by the Senate.  These appointments first must pass a Senate committee, and when Foxhoven's appointment came up for a vote all Democrats voted against.  It passed the committee, but to be confirmed Foxhoven must be voted by two-thirds of the full Senate body.  They'll probably vote sometime in April. 

Joyce Russell/lPR

Round Two for Republican-sponsored tax cuts got underway at the statehouse today.   

Gov. Reynolds’ proposal to cut taxes by $1.7 billion over the next six years got its first airing in the Iowa House, one day after the Senate approved a bigger, faster plan.   

Senate Republicans call their bill “bold” to cut taxes by a billion dollars a year.  

The GOP is characterizing the governor’s plan as sustainable, practical, and pragmatic.    

The bill cuts personal income taxes by up to 23 percent. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

State lawmakers heard preliminary plans for a new statewide system for childhood mental health care Wednesday.  Advocates say currently there is no organized way to deliver care to kids to match the statewide program for adult mental health.   

A Department of Human Services working group studied the issue over the summer.  They’re recommending a new state board to set standards for children’s mental health care statewide.   

Joyce Russell/IPR

A bill to address Iowa’s low ranking among states for services for the mentally ill was unanimously approved today by the Iowa House.    

The bill expands treatment options across the state to address crisis situations which fall short of the need for hospitalization.  

A bipartisan coalition of providers, patients, advocates, and law enforcement came up with the recommendations.   

Rep. Shannon Lundgren (R-Dubuque)  said mental health and substance abuse disorders have touched every Iowa family. / Flickr

The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms, but Iowa is one of a handful of states that does not mention this right in its constitution.

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer and IPR correspondent Joyce Russell talk with lawmakers for and against the proposal to add the right to bear arms to the Iowa Constitution. 

Gov. Kim Reynolds has said a major overhaul of the Iowa tax code is important to her this legislative session. The Senate has released its plan. IPR Morning Edition Host Clay Masters talks with Joyce Russell about what to expect this week at the capitol.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

During Gov. Kim Reynolds' weekly press conference, she talks about the shooting in a Florida high school that killed 17 people. She reintroduces a Department of Homeland Security public campaign "If You Something, Say Something" as a result of the murders in Florida.

John Pemble/IPR

Republicans in the Iowa Senate Thursday put a tax cut bill on the fast track which would cost the state treasury a billion dollars a year.   Business groups are generally excited about making Iowa’s tax climate more competitive.   Democrats question how the state can afford the tax cuts without catastrophic effects on public services including education. 

Sen. Randy Feenstra (R-Hull) has been dreaming about this tax cut bill for a long time.

Iowa General Assembly

By a vote of 33 to 16, the Iowa Senate Wednesday night approved a bill to crack down on protesters who cause disruption to critical infrastructure in the state.

The bill is backed by Energy Transfer, developer of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which was damaged along its Iowa route by protesters opposing the project.

The pipeline was built to carry crude oil from North Dakota diagonally across 18 Iowa counties.

The bill creates a new offense of sabotage against critical infrastructure. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

One by one, the presidents of Iowa’s public universities gave severe warnings to lawmakers today about declining state support for higher education, and what it will mean for the institutions in the future.  

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld told the House Appropriations Committee that over the past 20 years, the state budget, the student body, and consumer price index have all grown, while state support for the U of I today is a few million dollars less than it was back then.  

John Pemble/IPR file photo

Iowa Senate Republicans are proposing a tax overhaul plan that it says would provide $1 billion a year in individual and corporate tax relief. 

It proposes lowering the top individual tax rate from 8.98 percent to 6.3 percent beginning in 2019.

“Working families in Iowa deserve big, bold tax relief,” said Sen. Randy Feenstra (R-Hull).

The proposal, called the Iowa Working Families Tax Relief Act, also lowers the state’s corporate tax rate, which is currently 12 percent.

Iowa General Assembly

On a vote of 30 to 20, the Iowa Senate passed a bill to allow longer bus rides for schoolchildren in large rural districts struggling with transportation costs.  

Under the bill, both elementary and secondary students could ride up to 75 minutes one way. 

Longer bus rides would be allowed if public hearings are held and parents are notified 30 days before a route is changed.

Currently, younger children’s rides are limited to 60 minutes.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Advocates for schools, social services, and the courts turned out at the capitol today for a public hearing on mid-year budget cuts.   

Tax receipts have not met projections so lawmakers are negotiating how much to cut the Regents universities, human services, and most other areas of state government.  

A Senate bill would cut university funds for this academic year by $14 million.    That’s after this year’s budget was already reduced by $30 million.    

Iowa State University student Kody Olson is worried the cuts will result in higher tuition.

John Pemble/IPR file photo

Taxes are getting a lot of attention at the statehouse and there were a few controversial bills that fell by the wayside last week and some that are moving forward. IPR's Joyce Russell reports on the week at the capitol. 

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

This is the final week for most bills to pass a committee and become eligible for debate in a chamber. It's known as "funnel week." Exceptions are for bills in appropriations, ways and means, government oversight, and administrative rules, which is why most budget bills are approved at the end of a session.

On this show, we focus on two bills. One that passed and one that didn't pass through the senate judiciary committee.  Both are among the most controversial bills that come before lawmakers, dealing with abortion and capital punishment.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A bill to protect doctors who do not provide patients with diagnostic information that could prompt some to seek an abortion has advanced in the Iowa House.

House Republicans are focusing on the so-called wrongful birth bill as a pro-life initiative this year. 

“It’s something the caucus would like to address,” said House Speaker Linda Upmeyer.  

Under the bill, a woman would not be able to sue a doctor for withholding information about fetal abnormalities.  

Cannon Air Force Base

Consolidated rural school districts that require long bus rides for students would get help with transportation costs under a bill that cleared the Republican-dominated House Education Committee at the statehouse Wednesday.

Transportation costs per student vary from $100 in urban districts to $900 or more in districts that cover large geographic areas.

Under the bill, the state would spend $11.2 million next year to buy down per-pupil busing costs so no district pays more than $432 per student.

John Pemble / IPR

Opioid use is a growing problem across the country, and Iowa is no exception. During this hour of River to River, we’ll hear about legislation being considered at the statehouse to curb issues created by the use of opioids in Iowa. 

Iowa Public Radio's Joyce Russell, Republican State Senator Dan Dawson, Republican State Representative Shannon Lundgren, Republican State Representative Dave Heaton, and Democratic State Representative Chuck Isenhart all join the conversation.