Statehouse and Politics

Joyce Russell/IPR

A Republican-dominated panel at the statehouse this week approved another gun rights bill, part of a package of legislation backed by the Iowa Firearms Coalition.  

A bill to make weapons permits confidential will now be considered by the full House Judiciary Committee.  

Missouri Valley Republican Matt Windschitl, a leading gun rights advocate in the legislature, says it’s a matter of privacy for gunowners.

Save Medicaid Action

Democrats in the Iowa Senate today ratcheted up their challenge to Governor Branstad’s plan to privatize Medicaid, the state’s health care program for the low-income and disabled.  

They introduced a bill to repeal the initiative, but Republicans are standing by the Governor’s proposal.  

Democrats say privatizing Medicaid will disrupt long-standing relations between patients and providers and compromise patient care.   Their bill would cancel the contracts with three for-profit, out of state companies chosen to manage the program.     

Wendy/flickr

Republicans in the Iowa House are backing a special kind of prescription painkiller they say will help cut down on opioid abuse.   

GOP lawmakers have introduced a bill to encourage the use of tamper-proof pills for doctors to prescribe for patients likely to abuse. 

Such patients will sometimes alter the pain pills for recreational use.   

Keota Republican Jared Klein says specially formulated painkillers will discourage that.

Photo by John Pemble

Governor Branstad’s proposal to pay for millions of dollars in water quality improvements now has some competition in the Iowa House and it’s coming from the governor’s fellow Republicans. 

Branstad wants to extend a penny sales tax for schools that is set to expire. 

The tax currently goes into a special fund for school infrastructure.  

Under Branstad’s plan, some of the growth in the fund would be used to clean up Iowa’s waterways.  

House Education Committee Chair, Republican Ron Jorgensen, says he needs more information on the governor’s proposal.

S Pakhrin / Flickr

In 1948, two small lines in a congressional bill meant quite a big deal for Iowa’s sole Native American tribe. In an unfunded mandate from the federal government, the Act of 1948 designated Iowa would take over judicial jurisdiction of the Meskwaki settlement from the federal government.

John Pemble/IPR

At the statehouse this week, Democrats and Republicans will try to reach accord on K-12 school funding for the school year that starts in the fall.  

The legislature is already late in approving the aid, which by law should have been passed in the last legislation session.

Once again this year, Democrats seek a larger increase for schools than Republicans.      

Democratic Senator Majority Leader Mike Gronstal recalls last year the two parties fought for weeks on a bipartisan compromise, only to have it vetoed by the governor.

Stephen Chin/flickr

Another gun rights bill got its first airing at the statehouse today, with majority Republicans on a three-member panel signing on, and the lone Democrat objecting.  

The bill would allow loaded firearms on snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles on both public and private property.     Currently, a gun must be unloaded and in a case.  

Richard Rogers with the Iowa Firearms Coalition says there are two problems with the current law.

John Pemble/IPR

The head of education spending in the Iowa Senate has dim hopes for increased funding for the state universities next year, and he predicts the Regents will not be able to freeze tuition.    

Governor Branstad’s budget includes 8 million new dollars for the universities, with the Board of Regents deciding how to divide it up among the three schools.    

But Arlington Democrat Brian Schoenjahn says that should be the legislature’s job.

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Nineteen states have adopted policies that leave questions about criminal history off a first round job application. Legislation to “ban the box” is now being considered in Iowa, with civil rights groups for the move, and some business leaders speaking out against it. During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Justin R. McCarthy, a welder with a felony conviction on his record, about finding work after being released from federal prison.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A 12-year old girl was the star witness at the capitol today (Monday) for a bill to ease access to handguns for children.  

A Republican-dominated panel approved the bill to allow children under 14 to handle pistols and revolvers under the supervision of a parent, just as they can for rifles.  

Meredith Gibson is a competitive shooter from Johnston.   She and her father say the bill will promote gun safety for kids.

UCI UC Irvine/flickr

A Democratic-backed bill in the Iowa Senate designed to improve access to contraceptives, especially in rural Iowa, passed a first hurdle at the statehouse Wednesday.     

Under the bill, women on Medicaid, the government health care program for low-income Iowans, would receive a full year of birth control pills, instead of the current limit of three months.   

Robins Democrat Liz Mathis says for rural women, getting to a pharmacy that often can be an impediment. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

A bill to make it easier for convicted criminals to re-enter the workforce after they’ve served their time was under discussion at the statehouse. 

So-called “Ban the Box” legislation is a top priority of the NAACP.  

Some job applications include a box to check if the applicant has a criminal history.   Advocates say for some that automatically impedes re-entry into normal society.  

Betty Andrews with the NAACP says blacks are affected most because of their disproportionate numbers in the criminal justice system.

Photo by John Pemble

There were signs from the statehouse today that Governor Branstad’s new water quality initiative may face a tough slog in the legislature, in both the Republican House and the Democratic Senate. 

The Governor wants to take part of a state sales tax intended for schools, and spend it instead on water quality.  

Republican House Speaker Linda Upmeyer says some House Republicans don’t support that.

“I don't think anyone favors having a pot of money without a plan,” Upmeyer says.  “We want to make sure we’re doing it smart.”

John Pemble/IPR

Governor Branstad Tuesday delivered his Condition of the State Address to a joint session of the Iowa House and Senate.   He also unveiled his more than seven-billion dollar state budget for next year. 

His initiatives are getting a cautious response from lawmakers. 

John Pemble/IPR

Gov. Terry Branstad told lawmakers, “It’s time for a fresh look at our criminal justice system," during his annual Condition of the State Address.

Branstad proposes sealing the criminal records of juveniles, working to make juries more racially diverse, and making sure a defendant’s race does not play a role in how they are charged, tried, or sentenced.

The Iowa legislature made history Monday by swearing in its first woman as Speaker of the Iowa House.   There was bipartisan praise for Republican Linda Upmeyer.   But the bipartisanship was lacking in opening-day speeches by Republican and Democratic leaders in  the Senate.  

“I am honored to nominate Linda Upmeyer of Cerro Gordo County to be the first female speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives,” said Mount Ayr Republican Cecil Dolocheck, putting Upmeyer’s name before the Iowa House.   She officially replaces former House Speaker Kraig Paulsen.  

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

The Iowa legislature is back in session today. Leaders are in sharp division over the state budget, and questions about education funding are fueling disagreements. The Senate wants a four percent increase, and the House wants a two percent increase. 

During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Senate President Pam Jocum (D) from Dubuque and Speaker Pro Tem Matt Windschitl  (R) from Missouri Valley about lawmakers' priorities for the 2016 session. 

John Pemble/IPR file photo

Gov. Terry Branstad says the budget he’ll present tomorrow along with the annual Condition of the State Address is “very tight," but he adds lawmakers shouldn’t be caught off-guard by want he’s proposing this legislative session. 

"There's no surprise," says Branstad. "I think I've done a pretty good job of visiting with legislators about the tough decisions we have to make." 

Flickr / IowaPolitics.com

Iowa's Senate Majority Leader says there will be legislation that provides oversight of the transition of Iowa’s Medicaid program into management by private companies. 

"The rollout of this managed care has been messy and we're going to standup for the patients and for providers out there that need to understand the rules of the game," says Democrat Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs, who has been a vocal critic of Medicaid privatization. "We don't think there are enough protections right now in that process, so we're going to keep working on that."

Iowa Public Radio / Clay Masters

Iowa's governor wants to kill two birds with one stone.

Gov. Terry Branstad says by extending a sales tax increase enacted in 2008* to 2049, schools will get an additional $10 million annually for things like technology and infrastructure projects. He projects that the state will also raise nearly $4.7 billion in this period to address soil and water conservation issues related to agriculture.

Sarah Boden / Iowa Public Radio

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders stumped at Northstar Elementary  School in Knoxville on New Year's Eve morning.

The Vermont senator, who is running as a Democrat, says Wall Street's "recklessness" destroyed the economy with the subprime mortgage crisis in 2007. For this reason he says big financial institutions should help pay for free college education in the U.S. through a tax on speculation, or high-risk trading.

Joyce Russell/IPR file photo

Governor Branstad has signed an executive order calling on state agencies to prepare for a possible cyber attack on Iowa infrastructure.    The Iowa National Guard, the Iowa Department of Public Safety, and others will draft a cyber-security strategy by July 1st.  State officials say, though, they are not aware of a credible threat at the present time.  

John Pemble

Since 1969, Iowa’s governors have averaged a decade in office each, significantly longer than governors of other states.

"Iowans, for a number of reasons, seem to like their governors as long as they are doing certain things," says Chris Larimer of the political science department at the University of Northern Iowa. “Accessibility and visibility – there is an expectation among Iowans that you need to be out there on a regular basis.” 

Iowa Public Radio

This week, federal administrators ordered Iowa to wait at least 60 days before shifting its Medicaid program to private management. On this News Buzz edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer asks Brian Kaskie, associate professor of health management and policy at the University of Iowa, four questions about the order.

Was this expected?

Iowa Public Radio / Sarah Boden

Iowa clergy submitted a letter to Gov. Terry Branstad’s office Monday afternoon, condemning what they call discrimination against Syrian refugees “on the basis of religion," and to "reject fear and cruelty" by welcoming them to the state.

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Iowa Department of Human Services Director Chuck Palmer says the state is proceeding with a controversial plan to privatize the state’s health care program for the poor and disabled, in spite of a legal challenge by unsuccessful bidders for the contract. 

An administrative law judge will rule on complaints of irregularities in the choice of four companies to manage the more than four-billion dollar Medicaid program.     

Palmer says they’re proceeding with what they know.

“We'll operate from whatever we need to in response to that decision,” Palmer says.  

Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad Monday opened the door to the possibility of settling Syrian refugees in Iowa if a bill before Congress to tighten screening procedures becomes law.  

The bill would require that the director of the FBI and other top security officials approve all applicants from Syria and Iraq and assure they pose no threat.   

Otherwise, Branstad says letting the refugees in is not safe.

“If instead we're working as a country I'd feel much safer and more willing to do that,” Branstad says. 

UK Department for International Development / Flickr

Governor Terry Branstad is one of more than 25 governors who have said no to helping Syrian refugees. That didn't stop Mayor Chris Taylor from proclaiming Wednesday that the eastern Iowa town of Swisher welcomes them.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A years-long battle between Iowa’s community banks and its credit unions flared up at the capitol today, where a legislative committee is conducting a routine review of tax credits.  

The financial institutions are taxed differently, and banks argue it’s an unlevel playing field.  

Kevin VanderLee with the Iowa Bankers Association describes a new community bank that was started in Johnston.

“There were individuals who made their investment to start a bank,” VanderLee says.

Marie/flickr

Holding kids back if they don’t read at grade level by the end of third grade was on the agenda at the statehouse Tuesday. 

Education officials are writing the rules for a 2012 law that gives parents of struggling students a choice:  send them to summer school, or they won’t be promoted to fourth grade.  

Speaking before the Iowa Administrative Rules Review Committee, Department of Education spokesman Phil Wise recalls the education reform bill the legislature passed in 2012.

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