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This week the Senate passed House a Joint Resolution, that proposed a Constitutional amendment to clarify and update the line of succession for the office of governor. Article IV, Section 17 of the Iowa Constitution says that in the case there is a vacancy in the office of governor, that the powers and duties of the governor devolve upon the lieutenant governor. Following the appointment of Governor Branstad as the ambassador to China there has been legal debate over the line of gubernatorial succession and what that means for filling vacancies and powers of the offices.

In 2009, when Democrats controlled both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s office, they amended Iowa Code to say that “An appointment by the governor to fill a vacancy in the office of lieutenant governor shall be for the balance of the unexpired term.” However, in 2017 when Governor Branstad resigned, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller issued a legal opinion that Kim Reynolds would assume the powers and duties of governor, but she did not have the authority to appoint a new lieutenant governor. In 2018, Governor Reynolds won her election with appointed Lt. Governor Adam Gregg.

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Addressing this legal issue is important for Iowans to know the legal line of succession in the case of a vacancy in the office of governor. HJR 2005 replaces and updates Section 17 to clarify that the lieutenant governor or lieutenant governor-elect assumes the office if a vacancy occurs. This then creates a vacancy in the office of lieutenant governor or lieutenant governor-elect, which can be filled by the new Governor.

Amendments to the Iowa Constitution are required to pass both legislative chambers in consecutive general assemblies. The language will need to pass both chambers next year or in 2024. Once the legislation has passed both chambers in consecutive general assemblies, the amendment will be presented to Iowans to vote to enact it on the ballot.

Author: Brooke Boden

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