The seventh week of the session was incredibly busy as bills are coming out of subcommittee and going through full committee. There are far more subcommittees than full committees since most bills have a subcommittee. When bills have passed subcommittee, they go to full committee where the one Democrat and the two Republican members on the subcommittee explain the bill and the public response to it to their caucuses. This process takes significant time as Republicans and Democrats discuss what they like and dislike and decide how to vote. Friday next week is the first funnel, or deadline for bills to make it through committees to be eligible for debate by the whole Senate. After the funnel there are a lot fewer bills and we can study each one more closely.
One of the bills passed by the Education Committee this week was SSB 1205. The intention of this bill is to protect the freedom of speech and other First Amendment rights at our state universities and public schools. All three state universities were challenged with violations of free speech and a lack of diverse opinions during the past year or so. The bill requires that university and public school employees understand freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Colleges and universities are supposed to be a place where all points of view are heard and honest discussion is encouraged. This is essential for training students to think critically and act on truth, not hearsay.
The integrity of our elections has been on everyone’s mind since November, and we are seeking to improve confidence in Iowa’s process. The improvements we’ve made in election laws over the last three years gave Iowa one of the cleanest elections in the nation. Those improvements were things like requiring ID to vote or request an absentee ballot. There were many claims that these attempts to keep our elections secure would suppress the vote. However, the number of people voting in our elections just keeps on setting records.
Senate File 413 continues to improve election simplicity and security. It makes petitioning to run for office the same for state elections as for federal office, it brings our days for voting early and returning our ballot to the national average, and standardizes the time polls close.
Some county auditors expressed concern over this bill because it also would punish auditors for not complying with our election laws. It does not punish auditors who make a mistake, only those who openly defy state election laws. Intentional violation would result in a fine up to $10,000 and an investigation by the Secretary of State. Our goal is to make it easy to vote, but hard to cheat.
Senate file 389 provided lively debate on the floor this week. It would provide a way to immediately verify the residency, income, assets, and citizenship required for eligibility for federal aid programs. By incorporating electronic means we can save time and money as well as preserve resources for those who truly qualify.
Some opponents of the bill asserted that allowing individuals to fraudulently receive food assistance would be good for the local economy. I fail to see how taking money from hardworking Iowans and giving it to those who do not qualify for a federal program strengthens the economy. The bill passed 30-18 on a party line vote.
Several important bills must be passed out of committees this week to beat the funnel. A couple that I wish to see qualify for advancement are the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (SF 436) and prohibiting mandatory vaccination (SF 193).
I am having a townhall meeting in Algona on Feb. 27 at 10:00 at the at City Hall. The next will be in Belmond on March 12 at 10:30 at the City Hall. It will be made available via Zoom for those who do not wish to attend in person.
A parting thought. The problem today is not that people of faith are forcing their beliefs on others; it is that government is seeking to force a secular mindset on people of faith.