Iowa legislature

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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There are more deadlines this week that will force bills forward or fall flat. Morning Edition Host Clay Masters talked with IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell and has these takeaways.

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On Sunday morning, August 16th, three days after his 41st birthday, Wade Franck was hit by a drunk driver while riding in the Urban Assault Ride in Des Moines. His girlfriend, Jess Rundlett was behind him as the car approached, going very fast.

"It nearly hit me. I remember feeling the mirror whiz by my elbow, and by the time I thought to yell to Wade a warning, he had already been hit and was flying through the air," Rundlett says. "He was hit so hard that his shoes were knocked off and he flew about 30 feet."

Wade Franck died two days later.

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The Iowa legislature has considered legalizing commercial fireworks for years, though the proposal has never made it to the governor’s desk. This year, the debate is revived. 

On this legislative day edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer hosts a discussion on Iowa's fireworks laws, along with Iowa Public Radio correspondent Joyce Russell. They also discuss a new proposal to allow teenagers to vote in a primary if they will be 18-years-old by Election Day. University of Northern Iowa political analyst Chris Larimer says this bill could increase the youth vote in Iowa.

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.” 

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.


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.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A statehouse committee spent the day Tuesday hearing about what’s being called a massive change in how health care in Iowa is delivered to the poor and disabled. 

Private companies are scheduled to take over management of the state-federal health care program known as Medicaid which serves more than 560-thousand Iowans.  

Critics worry about the effect on the state’s most vulnerable populations.  

Photo by John Pemble

The Iowa Court of Appeals today ruled in favor of a complainant in a sexual harassment case.  

The case alleges violations of Iowa’s Civil Rights statute by Iowa Senate Republicans.

Senate Republicans fired Kristen Anderson from her job as communications director in May of 2013 alleging poor job performance.   Anderson claimed she was fired for reporting sexual harassment on the job. 

John Pemble/IPR

A Republican state lawmaker has called a hearing on what he calls obscene material presented at the Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth.   

The House Oversight Committee will examine whether tax dollars were inappropriately spent.

There’ve been complaints from lawmakers in the past about the conference which is sponsored by Iowa Safe Schools to address bullying and other issues of interest to LGBTQ youth. 

Ted Murphy/flickr

A state lawmaker from Cedar Rapids today grilled the director of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission over a proposed license for a smoke-free casino in their city.  

The commission denied Cedar Rapids a gaming license in 2014, citing a saturated market for casinos.  

The city is arguing that a smoke-free casino would fill an unmet need, since smoking is allowed in other gambling houses, an exemption to Iowa’s law banning smoking in public places. 

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Officials with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources report a problem with enforcement of Iowa's 35-year old bottle bill. 

Some retailers are turning consumers away when they bring their bottles and cans back for a refund. 

Retailers sometimes contract with redemption centers to take back the containers. But officials say centers are cutting back their hours to make ends meet. They say their one-cent handling fee hasn't been raised since the bottle bill passed.

That throws the responsibility back to retailers. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

There was emotional testimony today before a legislative committee over a new tax break for Iowa manufacturers which Democrats say the legislature should have signed off on.   

The Branstad administration proposes a sales tax exemption on more of the supplies manufacturers purchase, from drill bits to lubricants and coolants, and from saw blades to air filters and hydraulic fluids. 

Asya Akca

Republicans in the Iowa House have chosen Clear Lake Representative Linda Upmeyer to be the next Speaker of the House, and the first woman to hold the position.     Upmeyer will take over from current speaker, Hiwawatha Republican  Kraig Paulsen.  

The top Democrat in the House was quick to criticize the new leadership.   And Upmeyer’s Republican opponent for the top spot says his party needs some fresh ideas.  

Iowa Public Radio / John Pemble

Iowa Speaker of the House Kraig Paulsen says will step down from his leadership position in January, and serve his last year in the state assembly as a rank-and-file member. The Hiawatha Republican says he will not seek a seventh term .

Paulsen says he believes it’s "just the right time" for him personally to resign from the speakership. And also he says it’s important to set up the next speaker for success.

John Pemble/IPR

Governor Branstad is hearing from county attorneys around the state, as he debates whether to sign a last-minute item in a catch-all spending bill.  

The provision would privatize the collection of court fines and fees to bring in an estimated $12 million more next year.    

The Judicial Branch has pushed to improve the collection of delinquent fines.  The bill would bypass the state’s Central Collection Unit and assign the work to a private debt collector.   

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Utility employees from out-of-state who come in and save the day when there’s a major power outage would get some help at tax-filing time, under a bill state lawmakers have approved and sent to the governor. 

If Gov. Branstad signs the bill, employees who, for example, come to Iowa from Wisconsin would no longer have Iowa taxes withheld no matter how much money they earn here. 

Victoria Danielson at the Iowa Department of Revenue says the change will streamline tax-filing for the workers.

Photo by John Pemble

Budget disputes prevailed to the very end, as the Iowa legislature today wrapped up its 2015 legislative session.    It now remains to be seen if the governor signs all of the roughly seven-point-three billion dollars in spending approved in the waning days.  

It was the  145th day of what was supposed to be a 110 day session.     

As the Senate put its finishing touches on education funding,    Ames Democrat Herman Quirmbach got in one last complaint.

“This bill is a band aid on a festering sore in the area of education,” Quirmbach says.


It's clear that the sale of so-called farm-raised deer will be taxed under a bill that passed in the final hours of the 2015 legislative session.   Debate was marked by passionate input from a leading hunting advocate in the Iowa Senate. 

Up to now, some farmers had been considering the sales to be tax-exempt in the manner of the sales of other livestock such as hogs or cattle.

Des Moines Democrat Dick Dearden says deer which are raised on farms to be sold to preserves are not raised for meet, as other farm animals are.     They’re raised for their antlers.

John Pemble/IPR

The Iowa House and Senate have reached a compromise on Governor Branstad’s proposal to encourage more broadband in the state, one of his top priorities for two years in a row.  

It’s one of several pieces that are falling into place as lawmakers strive toward adjournment.  

A House-passed bill offered property tax abatements for communications companies that expand broadband into underserved areas.   But Senate Democrats questioned   whether more Iowans would actually be served.


A fight by Iowa cities over where communications  companies can erect cellphone towers has been resolved at the statehouse.  

That eliminates one more roadblock as lawmakers slog toward adjournment of the 2015 session.  

Des Moines Democrat Janet Peterson says interested parties hammered out an agreement on how much say-so cities can have.

‘We had a number of concessions where the League of Cities came together,” Peterson.   “They said they thought they could live with the changes that are being made.”

John Pemble/IPR

After weeks of bipartisan negotiations, the Iowa House and Senate last night defied the governor, and voted to have the state continue to operate the Mental Health Institute at Mount Pleasant.  

A spokesman for Governor Branstad says he will carefully review the bill.

By a comfortable margin in the Senate, and a narrow margin in the House, a Health and Human Services budget was approved to hire back laid-off workers at Mount Pleasant and restore mental health services.   Clarinda will stay open through December with a plan to privatize services after that.  

Angelo Mercado/flickr

With some opposition, the Iowa Senate today approved a resolution that will allow the Meskwaki settlement near Tama to assume jurisdiction for criminal justice.

Tama County oversees law enforcement and prosecutions at the settlement.  

The resolution asks the federal government to repeal a 1948 law giving the state of Iowa oversight of offenses by Meskwakis against Meskwakis.  

State Center Democrat Steve Sodders says tribal leaders  have been asking for this for a long time.

John Pemble/IPR

Iowa House and Senate leaders are expressing optimism that a proposed budget for higher education will be enough to fund a tuition freeze at the Regents universities for the third year in a row.   But a Regents spokesman declined to comment on the effect on university budgets until full details are released. 

 Democratic Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal says a tentative budget deal worked out last week includes a one-point-two-five percent increase for the Regents schools.

John Pemble/IPR

UPDATE:  6/1/2015 3:00 p.m. House Republicans and Senate Democrats released more details of the budget agreement reached last week.


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It would be easier for farmers to receive a sales tax exemption on off-road vehicles under a bill still eligible for passage by the 2015 legislature. 

Farmers get a sales tax exemption for machinery and equipment used for farming, including ATV’s.    But the law says the vehicle must be used directly for production agriculture.  

Victoria Daniels at the Department of Revenue says by law you can’t use the vehicle  “in preparation for or subsequent to” agricultural production.   She says that’s hard to enforce.

Ted Murphy/flickr

A new tax break for Iowa’s casino industry has so far not made it through the Iowa legislature. 

But backers say if it doesn’t pass this year, they will bring the issue back in 2016.  

Wes Ehrecke with the Iowa Gaming Association says casinos shouldn’t have to pay state sales tax on the full amount if a gambler is paying part of his bill with a coupon.

“You have a tax on unreal money, it’s fake money, it’s a coupon,” Ehrecke says. “And  when you go to Kohl’s or Hy-Vee or somewhere and you get a $20, coupon the business doesn’t pay tax on that.” 

Joyce Russell/IPR

Parents of grown children who died from drug overdose were at the capitol today lobbying for legislation they say might have saved lives.

Activists wore shirts bearing the name of Andy Lamp, a Davenport man who died of an overdose of heroin at the age of 33.    

His mother Kim Brown says a friend who was with him at the time was unable to help.

“He died May 25, 2011 of an accidental overdose,” Brown says.  “He wasn’t alone and I’m here in support of our overdose prevention bill.”

Children and Young People's Research Network/flickr

A $3 million state program to support treatment of autism in children will continue under a social services bill making its way through the legislature. But one backer wants a change in how the money is spent.   

Mount Pleasant Republican David Heaton says the program has faltered, not through lack of interest, but through lack of expertise in treating autism.       

Photo by John Pemble / IPR

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad is currently in his sixth term as governor. As the 2015 legislative session nears a close, he says that legislation on the gas tax and broadband access for rural communities are the biggest accomplishments of this session.

In this River to River interview, IPR statehouse correspondent Joyce Russell talks with the governor about his views on medical marijuana, granting felons voter rights, and how he plans to deal with the budget impasse.