Statehouse and Politics

iowa capitol
John Pemble/IPR

An Iowa lawmaker wants a review of the state’s public records law. The statements come as government watchdogs are trying to access records in the case of a woman killed by a police officer.

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DNA exonerations for unjustly convicted defendants aren’t happening in Iowa the way they are in other states, and Iowa’s DNA statute has something to do with that.  

That’s what officials at the Iowa Public Defender’s office are arguing, after an unsuccessful attempt this year to update the law to make it more likely that innocent people could be freed.     

Assistant State Public Defender Kurt Swaim says Iowa is one of only a few states in the country with no  DNA exonerations.

Kate Payne / IPR

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed into a law a tax overhaul she says will put more money in the pockets of virtually every Iowan. Despite concerns from Democratic state lawmakers and some voters, Reynolds says the changes are significant and sustainable.

John Pemble / IPR

The Director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics is critiquing Senator Nate Boulton’s initial response after the Des Moines Register reported on his alleged sexual improprieties.    

Boulton withdrew from the race for the Democratic nomination for governor today. 

On Wednesday he apologized to the women who said he had inappropriately touched them at a bar or at parties.   

But his campaign pointed out that he had not harassed women at work.

The Republican-sponsored tax reform bill that passed on the last day of the legislative session included some tax advantages for private schools that didn’t get much attention during the debate.  That was a victory for private K-12 education advocates, who lost a bigger battle this year.  A bill to give state dollars directly to families for private and parochial school tuition, what advocates call education savings accounts and critics call school vouchers, failed to advance.  

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

The legislature went 18 days past the planned 100 when it finally adjourned on May 5th.  The biggest reason for the delay is because House and Senate Republicans took a long time to find agreement on a new tax plan. It will gradually phase in tax reductions over a six year period. The final reductions in taxes will happen in 2023 and 2024 if economic triggers are met.

In 2019, tax collections will be reduced by $100 million, while it is estimated $66 million will come in from new taxes on digital services.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Gov. Reynolds today defended a bill she signed that will scale back energy efficiency programs in Iowa.  

Critics say the money available for rebates and retrofits will be cut by as much as two-thirds.

That’s even though the Iowa Energy Plan that Reynolds oversaw championed energy efficiency as an important piece of energy policy.  

Reynolds said the final bill was the result of compromise with Republican legislators.

John Pemble / IPR

The Iowa legislature adjourned on Saturday. Sexual harassment and workplace behavior was a topic that hung over the session. Last year, former Republican Senate caucus staffer Kirsten Anderson received a $1.75 million lawsuit settlement. She alleged she was fired in 2013 hours after filing a complaint regarding sexual harassment.

John Pemble/IPR

The 2018 session of the Iowa legislature came to a close Saturday, creating a new record length for overtime sessions when one party controls the House, the Senate, and the governor’s office.  Lawmakers put the finishing touches on the state budget and approved what Republicans call the most significant tax reform in a generation.

The tax bill, with an eventual price tag of $2.8 billion, passed the House and Senate on strict party-line votes, the last bill to be approved. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

A partisan fight has erupted between the Republican legislature and Democratic Attorney General Tom Miller as lawmakers try to finalize a state budget and adjourn for the year.   

Republicans have warned the AG to back off civil suits against the Trump administration, or face a cut in his office budget.  

Miller has joined numerous multi-state challenges against the administration over a range of issues.  

Sarah Boden/IPR File

Abortion opponents in the Iowa legislature have added language to a budget bill that will divert more federal funds away from Planned Parenthood because the organization performs abortions. 

Under the bill, Planned Parenthood would no longer be eligible for grants for sex education programs.  That follows last year’s legislation banning family planning grants for abortion providers.

If the new legislation becomes law, the health care provider would lose approximately $130,000 from the federal Community Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention program.      

Joyce Russell/IPR

The 2018 tax cut debate continued at the statehouse Wednesday with a “walk-through” of the general outlines of a plan agreed to by Republicans in the House, Senate, and governor’s office.

Democrats lashed out against the latest version of the bill cutting income taxes and eventually corporate taxes by $2.8 billion over six years.

It’s a must-do for majority Republicans before they bring the overtime 2018 legislative session to a close.   

Iowa General Assembly Website

Iowa’s decades-old energy efficiency programs will be reduced by about two-thirds under a bill that gained final approval in the Iowa Senate last night, in spite of a last-ditch effort by Democrats to defeat it.  

The Senate approved SF2311 on a strict party-line vote of 28 to 20.    It goes now to the governor. 

Under the bill, a smaller portion of Iowans’ electric and gas bills will go into an energy efficiency fund that pays for rebates for energy efficiency appliances and retrofitting homes.   

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Reynolds Monday took questions on an upcoming outside review of the Iowa Finance Authority, where Director Dave Jamison was fired after serious allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace.  

Reynolds announced Friday that Des Moines attorney Mark Weinhardt will investigate the conduct that led to Jamison’s firing and any similar incidents during his tenure as executive director.

Initially Reynolds implied that firing Jamison was enough to address the allegations.  

She says she now seeks an outside review on the advice of the attorney general.

John Pemble / IPR

Lawmakers are in the third week of overtime at the Iowa capitol. Late on Friday afternoon, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds announced she and the House and Senate had reached a tax cut deal. It came on the heels of new information regarding sexual harassment at the Iowa Finance Authority.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Gov. Kim Reynolds Thursday released a redacted letter from a state employee describing overt sexual harassment over three years by former Iowa Finance Authority Director Dave Jamison, who is also a longtime friend of the governor. 

Jamison was fired on March 24th, less than 24 hours after the employee came forward.  

Requests have mounted since then for more information about the case, which the letter released Thursday provides.

John Pemble/IPR

This year’s legislative session, now in its second week of overtime, could set a new record for going beyond scheduled adjournment when one party controls the House, the Senate, and the Governor’s office.  

In remarks on the Senate floor Wednesday, Sen. Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids) said since the Iowa legislature has met annually, there have been nine times when one party controlled both the legislative and executive branches.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Finance managers in the Iowa House and Senate say it is costing taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars for the legislature to remain in session past its April 17th adjournment date.  

Those costs are expected to rise as the session may continue well into next week, even once House and Senate GOP negotiators reach agreement on taxes and budgets. 

Chief House Clerk Carmine Boal explains that lawmakers’ expense accounts expired on April 17th, the scheduled 100th day of the session, so they are no longer being paid per diem. 

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A stronger form of medical marijuana would become available in Iowa for a larger number of patients under a bill that advanced in the Iowa Senate today.  

It’s the second year in a row that the Senate has tried to pass a more expansive medical marijuana law than the one Gov. Branstad signed last year.   

RebelAt (Missouri); Carol M. Highsmith (Nebraska); Vijay Kumar Koulampet (Wisconsin); McGhiever (Minnesota)

On this edition of River to River, while Iowa lawmakers work on closing a budget deal that would end this year’s session, we learn about what other statehouses around the Midwest have been tackling this year.

Host Ben Kieffer talks with statehouse reporters and hosts from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Missouri, where allegations of sexual assault and blackmail against Missouri Governor Eric Greitens have dominated the political landscape.

peggy huppert and kim reynolds
Joyce Russell / IPR

Advocates for families struggling with mental illness are applauding Gov. Kim Reynolds' signing Monday of an executive order to create a new state board overseeing childhood mental illness.   

The Children’s Mental Health Board will make recommendations for a new statewide system for children who are not covered by the state program that serves adults with mental illness.  

Activists say the new program is long overdue.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Every seat in the House and half in the Senate are up for reelection later this year.  Twenty-two legislators are choosing not to come back.  In the final days of a general assembly, many give "retirement" speeches on the floor. This week Wally Horn, Bob Dvorsky, Mark Chelgren, and Rick Bertrand are honored with Senate resolutions. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

Rank and file lawmakers adjourned for the week and went home today, leaving behind key negotiators to work out a tax deal so the 2018 legislative session can come to a close. 

There is broad agreement among Republicans in the House, the Senate, and the governor’s office that income tax cuts are needed so Iowans can take full advantage of federal tax cuts.   Each of their plans provide additional tax relief beyond that, while the Senate plan cuts taxes most aggressively of the three.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

John Norris is no stranger to politics. He worked as chief of staff to former Governor Tom Vilsack, a job he retained when Vilsack became U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. Norris has also served as U.S. Minister Counselor for Agriculture to the United Nations in Rome, and has served on the Iowa Utilities Board and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Now, he’s running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

John Pemble/IPR

Iowa’s court system could soon be filling vacant judge positions across the state that have been causing delays in court proceedings, if a proposed House GOP budget becomes law.  

To balance the budget for the fiscal year that ends in June, the courts eliminated 67 positions statewide and held open judicial vacancies for an average of one year.

Under a House GOP Judicial Branch budget that advanced this week, the court system would get a $4.3 million increase in its appropriation next year.    

Joyce Russell/IPR

There were emotional remembrances from the floor of the Iowa House and Senate Tuesday as gay and lesbian lawmakers honored Iowa civil rights activist Donna Red Wing, who died Monday at the age of 67.   

Red Wing led the advocacy organization One Iowa from 2012 to 2016, and was nationally recognized for her work on behalf of the LGBT community.      

Rep. Liz Bennett (D-Cedar Rapids) recalled her own history dealing with discrimination from a young age because of her sexual orientation.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Bare bones budgets keeping state agency funding at the levels of three years ago won preliminary approval at the statehouse today, as work began in earnest on next year’s overall state budget. 

Lawmakers from both parties expressed concern about short-staffing in public safety jobs.  

On a party-line vote, the GOP-dominated House Appropriations Committee approved what they’re calling status quo funding for the justice system, which covers highway patrol, prisons, and the state crime lab.   

John Pemble/IPR

Republicans and Democrats sparred today over GOP plans to cut income and other taxes before lawmakers wrap up their 2018 legislative session.  

Separate bills in the House and Senate would cut taxes by as much as $2 billion over five years.  

Both chambers would also increase sales taxes to help cover the cost of the income tax cuts.  

Sen. Pam Jochum (D-Dubuque) is ranking Democrat on the Senate Ways and Means Committee.   Speaking on Iowa Public Radio’s River to River, she predicted low to middle income taxpayers would barely come out ahead.

iowa capitol
John Pemble/IPR

Republicans who control the Iowa House unveiled a more than $1 billion tax cut bill. And, Republicans who control the Senate have their own new $2 billion tax plan. Time is ticking on the Iowa legislative session because lawmakers’ expense accounts expire on Tuesday. IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell breaks it down. 

John Pemble/IPR

State lawmakers return to the capitol today, starting another week of negotiations within the Republican party over how much to cut state income taxes.   

The GOP-controlled House and Senate last week unveiled updated and competing tax plans.   

House members call  their tax cut bill “significant but responsible,” while the Senate’s is, in  their words “bold but prudent.”

Under the House bill, the average individual income tax cut would reach nearly 9 percent.   The bill would cost $1.3 billion over five years.  

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