The Iowa House State Government Committee moved House File 2012 out of committee on Tuesday by a 12-9 vote. The bill allows the Legislative Council to review Presidential Executive Orders issued and not passed into law by Congress. The council may refer such orders to the Iowa Attorney General as well as the Iowa Governor.
The Attorney General will be required to determine whether an order is constitutional and decide whether to seek an exemption from the order or a ruling on its constitutionality.
The bill also prohibits the state, a political subdivision of the state or any publicly funded organizations from enforcing an executive order that restricts a person’s rights and which the Attorney General has determined to be unconstitutional and is related to certain enumerated subjects.
Democrat Rep. Mary Wolfe said she thinks the first two paragraphs of the bill are fine, but the third paragraph is, in her opinion, unconstitutional and reason to oppose the legislation.
“It basically decries that the Attorney General, an executive office holder, will supplant the role of our Supreme Court or the court system in general and make a declaration as to whether or not a bill is constitutional or not,” Wolfe said. “We can all have opinions on that, and I certainly would give the Attorney General’s opinion more weight than say pretty much anyone at this table, the problem is the Attorney General is not a judge and the way our wonderful system, separation of powers, is set up, it is the judicial branch which has authority under our Constitution to declare executive orders to be unconstitutional.”
Wolfe said the Attorney General does not have the legal authority to absolve the state and political subdivisions from implementing such executive orders.
“I understand the reasoning and the politics behind this bill,” Wolfe said. “I’m just saying, it’s not constitutional.”
Wolfe said she “google’d” the bill and saw identical bills filed in several southern states, but no state had passed the legislation.
“I have to assume because somebody pointed out to somebody that the bill was in and of itself unconstitutional,” she said.
Republican Rep. Jon Jacobsen said the bill threads a needle to make it a “very legitimate approach” to solving a crisis.
He lauded the bill’s conjunctive clause and said it requires buy-in from the Governor, the Attorney General and the legislature.
“I think the advantage of this bill is it allows us to interdict at the front end where there are egregious cases,” he said.
He detailed a situation under President Harry Truman involving steel mines in Pennsylvania. The impact of that order cost billions of dollars, thousands of jobs and forced business closures.
“This is a national security issue,” he said. “We have a backstop of dual control here among our legal officials.”
Jacobsen said the bill could save Iowans billions of dollars, thousands of jobs and thousands of small and medium sized businesses.
“I think it’s great policy,” he said.
Republican State Rep. Megan Jones joined the Democrats on the committee in voting against the bill. It advanced nonetheless.