The 89th Iowa General Assembly has begun. There is much the same as previous years of course, but much that is different as well due to the Wuhan virus. We continue to social distance, we are meeting in larger rooms, and we are taking care to minimize the number of meetings. What hasn’t changed in the first week of the session is the ceremony surrounding the governor’s Condition of the State Address, the Condition of the Judiciary address by the Chief Justice, and the Condition of the National Guard by the adjutant general. I look forward to these addresses each session as they give me a window into some areas that I don’t normally hear about.
My committee assignments this year have remained largely unchanged. I continue to chair the House Environmental Protection Committee, and I sit on the Public Safety, Natural Resources, and Commerce committees, same as last year. I am not sitting on a budget subcommittee this year, likely due to the increase in the number of House Republicans to 59.
The legislature currently has 59 Republicans in the House to 41 Democrats, and 31 Republicans in the Senate to 18 Democrats. The Senate has one open seat that was vacated by Senator Miller-Meeks who was elected to the US Congress. That seat will soon be filled by a special election. There are 17 new members of the Iowa House this session. House Republicans represent all or part of 97 of Iowa’s 99 counties.
Work on legislation has begun in earnest. I’ve filed several bills already and have many more in draft stages. I’ll review these bills in this newsletter in coming weeks as they come out of drafting.
Aside from filing our own bills, we are often assigned to manage bills that are assigned to the committees we sit on. My first assignment this year came on day one of session, a record in my nine years. This bill, House Study Bill 6 in the Public Safety Committee, deals with reforms to our probation system. This bill seeks to minimize the “gotcha” syndrome in our probation system that keeps these folks on probation for technical violations, or sends them back to prison, not for a new crime, but for missing an appointment or other technical offense. The intent of these reforms is to maximize the success of those in the system, and minimize the expense to the Iowa Taxpayer. A Win-Win all around. The bill has been requested by the Faith and Freedom Coalition and The American Conservative Union among other groups. I’ve already begun reviewing this bill with our local law enforcement and prosecutors, it’s obvious this bill will require considerable work before it’s ready to move forward.
One of the big issues we will have to deal with this session is bolstering our election integrity. Much has been said about issues in other states during this post-election period, but my responsibility rests here in Iowa. Thanks to legislation passed by Republicans in the last few years, Iowa was able to achieve excellent election integrity this cycle. However, there are issues yet to be resolved. Republicans made it illegal for county auditors to send out absentee ballot request forms with voter ID information pre-populated on the form. This is of course to prevent cheating, because if the voter ID is already printed it is impossible to know that the request was completed and returned by the voter.
Unfortunately, several Democratic county auditors defied the law and sent out pre-populated absentee ballot request forms. The Iowa Secretary of State’s office ordered them to stop and President Trump’s campaign sued these counties: Johnson, Linn, and Woodbury. President Trump won the lawsuits in all three district courts and in the Iowa Supreme Court. Here’s a quote from the Iowa Supreme Court opinion, “Section 53.2 unmistakably requires the applicant to provide the required personal information. See Iowa Code § 53.2(4)(a)–b). It would be inconsistent with that law for a county auditor to prefill that for the applicant.” The counties were ordered to cease their mailings and reissue the requests with blank forms and destroy the illegal requests.
Unfortunately, the Secretary of State’s office can only issue a reprimand and ask the county attorney to step in and enforce the law. These three counties have Democrat county attorneys, so none of these county auditors have been punished for violating the law. It’s a shameful situation when we can’t trust these county auditors nor county attorneys to follow and enforce the law. This level of local corruption right here in Iowa has not been considered an issue in the past and the law is currently structured to only deal with it directly at the local level. It will be up to the legislature to change the system so that these Democrat-run counties aren’t able to flaunt our election laws in any future elections. We can’t have situations where the “fox is watching the hen house”.
This will be the first session that I have not hired a legislative clerk to assist me, instead I am sharing a clerk with Rep. David Kerr, who sits next to me in the chamber. The clerk is Paul Attema, who has clerked for Rep. Kerr the past two years. Last year, my clerk was Paul’s wife, Rachel Attema. By sharing a clerk, we are not only minimizing the number of people in the chamber, but we are also saving the taxpayers dollars as well. It will mean more work for Rep. Kerr and me, and even busier days for Paul, but we are willing to share in order to economize.
As always, I look forward to hearing from you during the session. I’ve usually signed off on this newsletter by inviting you down to the Capitol, but I’m less enthusiastic about those visits given the pandemic. The Capitol is open for visitors however, we’ll just have to social distance.