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As you can imagine, much of this week was spent on the big pipeline bill that many in our state have been advocating for the last few months (more on that in a bit). The Iowa Poll came out and flashed some serious warning signs for Iowa Republicans this week. It found that 57% of Iowans don’t support a Republican proposal to ban books. A staggering 66% of Iowans don’t support the Reynolds voucher bill. That number includes 51% of Republicans and 66% of Independents in opposition. And a commanding 78% of Iowans opposed the pipeline currently eating its way across our state. Perhaps to divert attention from all the bad news, Kim Reynolds feigned some crocodile tears and said she was heartbroken to sign a bunch of anti-LGBTQ bills that targeted kids this week. Since these bills were literally pushed by her, our own Leader Jennifer Konfrst called bull.

Here’s what happened in your statehouse this week.

The Big Pipeline Vote

After months of will they or won’t they, House Republicans finally allowed a bill to restrict the use of eminent domain to build carbon pipelines in Iowa. I was proud to vote in support of House File 565. I’ve heard from hundreds of Iowans in my district and from across the state who were angry about private land being taken for this pipeline. 73 Democrats and Republicans came together to prohibit the Iowa Utilities Board from granting eminent domain authority for a hazardous liquid pipeline project until the carbon dioxide company has obtained voluntary or preexisting easements on at least 90% of the affected route miles.

As always, the bill is far from perfect. Proponents of the bill believe that this legislation strikes a balance between landowner rights and eminent domain use. Some opponents of the bill were concerned that the bill doesn’t go far enough, while others are concerned that the bill still doesn’t have sufficient protections for the environment. I voted for this bill because I think it’s an important statement and because I hope it will result in meaningful change.

The next step is for the Senate to consider the bill. Unfortunately, Republican leadership there have so far refused to consider this or similar bills. They’ve given little indication that they’ll allow a debate on it, but I genuinely hope they change their minds. Kim Reynolds has also said she didn’t believe there’d be any changes allowed for eminent domain laws this year. The owner for one of the pipeline companies is also one of her biggest donors, so it has obviously become a sticky issue for her. Just like we did in the House, though, I hope they’ll do the right thing and listen to Iowans.

On a related note, I heard many Republicans give impassioned speeches about private property rights. Frankly, I’m sympathetic to their arguments and can’t think of any reason that eminent domain should ever be used for projects in the private – instead of public – interest. My constitutional law professor, Larry Pope, was also a longtime Republican legislator and lobbyist. Over two semesters, he slowly brought me around to the argument that the property rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights were just as important as my beloved right to free speech. I heard many similar arguments from the Republicans this week. As we consider Republican bills that would prohibit private property owners from selling or giving their private land to the Department of Natural Resources or to other entities to establish wildlife preserves, though, I hope they remember these arguments. We don’t get to defend constitutional rights only when it suits our beliefs of the day.

A Proactive Reproductive Rights Package

Speaking of constitutional rights, I was genuinely thrilled to see House Democrats come out with a proactive plan on reproductive freedoms. While we’re in the minority, it’s easy to be simply reactive – to oppose, to argue, to merely say what we’re against. Leader Konfrst led our team on Monday (above) to unveil our reproductive freedom legislative package for Iowans. It includes:

  • Making birth control accessible through a pharmacist without a prescription
  • Guaranteeing reproductive freedom by adding Roe v. Wade protections to Iowa’s Constitution
  • Extending Medicaid postpartum coverage to 12 months
  • Restoring family planning programs under Medicaid

With the overturning of Roe last year, the Supreme Court has made it clear that states will need to step in to ensure these protections. States like Kansas have shown that even the reddest states will vote to support them when they’re at risk. I’ve heard from countless Iowans who want to do the same here.

Republicans have taken two routes in Iowa. Some steer clear of the topic because they know how unpopular their bans are with voters. That’s why legislative leadership won’t allow discussion on it and Kim Reynolds is trying to punt it to the courts. Other Republicans are openly proposing a total ban without any exceptions for rape, incest, or the health of the mother. They won’t stop until they force their personal beliefs on all Iowans – even in situations that many of them can’t imagine.

This package shows what Democrats actually support. It shows that we’re in tune with a supermajority of voters. And it clearly states what we’ll actually do when we get the majority.

A Partisan Attack on Regents Counties

One of the stranger episodes at the statehouse this year centered on the riveting topic of voting districts for county boards of supervisors. Seriously. Current law allows counties to pick between having an entire county vote for their supervisors at large or to create districts by population to vote for supervisors (Polk has districts, in case you’re wondering). As originally introduced, Senate File 443 was meant to require that the ten largest counties only use the district model. When Republicans saw that would likely hurt many Republican county supervisors, they scaled it back to just the three counties with Regents universities – you know, the three big Democratic counties.

When the bill came to the House floor, things quickly went off the rails. Republican Representative Dave Deyoe had an ever-widening list of reasons on why he was advocating for the bill. When asked what the bill was trying to do, he said it was trying to carve out districts for rural voters in blue counties to have more representation. He said these rural voters didn’t feel like they were being heard by their Democratic county governments (which is really, really ironic coming from this House majority who are grinding their boots in the faces of so many Iowa voters who disagree with them on a daily basis).

When asked why it was targeted for just these three counties, he said he would actually prefer it be required in all 99 counties (again, wrong answer for the county supervisors in many Republican counties). He then further elaborated that these three counties, in particular, had high student and renter populations. He said the people who don’t own their own homes aren’t as invested in their communities and shouldn’t have such a large voice in their counties.

It’s a genuinely terrible thing to say. American history is ripe with the examples of conservatives who say that only people who own property should enjoy the right to vote. Many of you know I started out in a trailer park. After living in two duplexes after that, my family bought our first house when I was in fifth grade. My parents worked hard at their jobs. We were active in our churches, schools (plural – like a lot of other scrappy kids, we moved around a lot so I went to four elementary schools), and civic organizations. I resent the idea that we didn’t care about and weren’t invested in our communities just because we didn’t own a house. Of course, it’s an attack on students, young people, and people from out of state as well. And it’s cynical, party politics – a way to further reduce Democratic voices in our state.

After seeing the discussion imploding and Republican support for such an open, partisan ploy eroding, Republican leadership pulled the bill from consideration literally while it was being considered on the floor. In a session of grievous losses, it was a little, shining victory. We’ll be ready to battle it even more fiercely if they try it again.

The Good…

Once again, there were some good things to celebrate amongst the bad this week. The Innocence Project helped get House File 657 passed. It will help preserve biological evidence in criminal cases and provide postconviction access to help ensure those behind bars are really the ones who should be there. After many attempts in many different sessions, House File 265 once again passed almost unanimously and would codify the practice of midwifery in Iowa.

A coalition of student activists helped pass House File 602 which would add Iowa’s suicide hotline phone number on student ID cards. The achievement was only briefly overshadowed by Republican Representative Brad Sherman – yes, the guy who proposed the ban on marriage equality and rallied the Ivermectin Caucus last week. He said he hesitated to include the suicide hotline because he speculated that discussing suicide actually led to more suicides (fact check: not true). He opined that the number should be included with the words “God loves you” instead of mentioning suicide. A nice sentiment, for sure, but not exactly a complete description of a suicide hotline.

And, some of the best news of the week was that the Senate Republicans rejected Kim Reynolds’s proposal to ban a book in every school district in Iowa if it was banned in one district anywhere in Iowa. Although the Republicans still have other measures to ban books with content they don’t like, this particularly noxious policy is a huge blow to the Reynolds education proposal. It wouldn’t have been possible if so many parents, students, teachers, administrators, librarians, school board members, and Democratic legislators made the proposal thermonuclear before it ever gained traction. It might be a little victory, but it’s certainly worth celebrating.

…And the Bad

Of course, we saw plenty of bad this week. With House File 605, a party line vote of Republicans prohibited cities from requiring energy benchmarking with penalties for buildings. As I mentioned on the floor, the only problem is that there aren’t any cities in Iowa who penalize businesses for energy benchmarking. It’s a solution in search of a problem. It’s Republican catnip legislation from other states that clutters up our code. And it’s yet another attack on local control.

Far worse was Senate Resolution 8 proposed by six Senate Republicans, including Brad Zaun (above). The resolution calls for the arrest of the people working at the jails where Trump’s insurrectionists on January 6 are locked up. It declares the insurrection was actually a peaceful gathering. It quotes the Proud Boys. It recites a laundry list of the tragic human rights violations they allege to be perpetrated against the insurrectionists – lead paint in some cells, rusty pipes, having similar food day after day, and “strict standards for keeping their cells in order.” They specifically compare this treatment to Nazi concentration camps. That’s all pretty extreme talk from a legislator like Brad who now serves a blue Senate district after the 2022 redistricting. He’ll face his first election in the new boundaries next year.

While the list of grievances is somewhat laughable, we had another reminder of the real consequences that this circus is having on the state that we love. Des Moines Superintendent Matt Smith was quoted in Axios for remarks he made at last week’s school board meeting. He put our challenges in hiring teachers bluntly. “We are finding, and I am actually being told by many folks that we look to recruit from outside the state, that Iowa is no longer a destination.” All this harsh rhetoric from the legislature has meant that “when folks are looking to relocate to Iowa to be a part of this community and a part of the state, they’re having second thoughts about that.” Unfortunately, the party of vouchers, culture wars, ivermectin, brain drain, workforce shortages, voter suppression, and an open embrace of insurrectionism simply doesn’t seem to care.

Author: Sean Bagniewski


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