March 4, 2015

Bill requires doctors to offer to show, describe ultrasound to women seeking an abortion

Norm Pawlewski

Norm Pawlewski

A bill that would require doctors to perform an ultrasound and offer to both show and describe the image to a woman seeking an abortion has cleared a subcommittee in the Iowa House. Norm Pawlewski, a lobbyist for the Iowa Right to Life Committee and the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, is the former director of the Iowa Department of Human Services. He calls it a “health care bill.”

“It not only protects the mother, but it protects the physician as well,” Pawlewski says, “makes sure that what they’re doing is appropriate for the age of the gestation of the child.”

Tom Chapman, a lobbyist for the Iowa Catholic Conference, says it will help a woman make an “informed” decision about an abortion.

“If there are bad actors who are not doing this sort of procedure before an abortion, I think this bill would help with that,” Chapman says.

Erin Davison-Rippey, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, says performing an ultrasound is already standard practice for doctors, but having legislators dictate the conversation a doctor has with a patient is a step too far.

“It feels like an effort to shame a woman who has made a decision to end her pregnancy,” Davison-Rippey says. “This bill sends the message that we don’t trust a woman to make decisions about her health care and that we don’t trust a physician to provide appropriate information.”

If the bill becomes law, doctors who fail to offer to show and describe the ultrasound to a woman seeking an abortion could be sentenced to up to five years in prison. Representative Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, a Democrat from Ames, says it’s “dangerous” for legislators to set that kind of precedent.

“This is moving us backwards to believing that women don’t understand what happens when they become pregnant,” she says. “…This is shaming and it’s demeaning.”

Joel Fry

Joel Fry

Representative Joel Fry, a Republican from Osceola, says a doctor is seeing “two patients” when a pregnant woman is in his office.

“I believe that child has, needs, deserves to have the opportunity to also have a voice in this medical arena,” Fry says.

The bill has a strong chance of passing the Republican-led House this year, but it’s unlikely to become law. Democrats control the debate agenda in the Iowa Senate and the bill is not likely to be considered there.

Loeback among Democrats who boycotted Netanyahu speech

Congressman Dave Loebsack.

Congressman Dave Loebsack.

All five Republicans in Iowa’s congressional delegation were in the U.S. House yesterday for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech, but the only Democrat from Iowa in congress watched it on a TV in his office.

Congressman Dave Loebsack, a Democrat from Iowa City, says Israel is “an important and strategic partner.”

“Especially given that we have the same goal, which is to ensure that Iran does not achieve nuclear weapons capability,” Loebsack says. “But unfortunately Speaker Boehner injected partisan politics into the debate and, in the end, the speech was little more than a spectacle where attendance at the speech seemed to matter more than what was actually said.”

Boehner, the top Republican in the U.S. House, invited Netanyahu to speak without consulting the White House and many Democrats considered it an attempt to embarass President Obama and derail negotiations with Iran.

Loebsack was among about 60 Democrats in congress who boycotted the speech and he does not expect “political fall out” for his decision. “I am hopeful that we can move beyond this speech,” Loebsack says. “I’ve talked to folks since the speech who have particular concerns about the relationship and I think we can continue to move towards an agreement with Iran that will include strict verification to ensure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapons capability.”

During his address, Netanyahu warned the deal could spark the “countdown to a nuclear nightmare.” Obama himself shot back soon after, saying the prime minister did not offer “viable alternatives” to the ongoing negotiations with Iran. A few Republicans in Iowa’s congressional delegation issued written statements commending Netanyahu’s approach.

Congressman Steve King released a video statement, saying Netanyahu delivered a “powerful” message that the U.S. should “hold out for a…better agreement” with Iran.

Speed limit hike tabled, but cell phone restrictions may advance

The Transportation Committee meets.

The Senate Transportation Committee meets.

A bill that would have raised the speed limit on Iowa’s interstates has hit a dead end in the Iowa Senate, but legislators are advancing bills targeting those caught texting and driving on Iowa roads.

The Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday tabled a bill that would have given the DOT authority to raise the speed limit to 75 miles an hour on highways designed for higher speeds. Senator Brad Zaun, a Republican from Urbandale, was the bill’s sponsor.

“I heard from probably hundreds of Iowans — some for, some against and I would say it’s healthy to have the conversation,” Zaun says. “I would say it’s dead for right now.”

But Zaun says if there’s an opportunity to insert his proposed speed hike into another bill being debated in the senate, he’ll try it.

“Might possibly do an amendment if I find the right vehicle to do that, no pun intended,” Zaun says, with a laugh.

A bill that would ban drivers from holding a cell phone while they’re driving is eligible for debate in the House Transportation Committee this afternoon. The Senate Transportation Committee, however, has voted to allow police to pull someone over if they suspect the driver is texting, but the committee did not vote to ban talking on a cell phone while driving.

Senator Tod Bowman, a Democrat from Maquoketa, says it’s “common sense” not to start listing all kinds of behavior — from talking on your cell to eating a hamburger — that leads to distracted driving.

“We’re hoping that people and technology adapt so that holding a hand-held will be a thing of the past,” Bowman says.

Under current Iowa law, drivers are not to be writing, reading or sending texts while they’re behind the wheel, but law enforcement cannot pull you over simply because they suspect you’re texting. A driver has to be committing some other traffic violation like speeding or running a stop light.

The bill now eligible for debate in the Senate would make texting while driving a “primary offense” and give police the authority to cite it as the sole reason for a traffic stop.

New bill introduced to allow growing, selling marijuana as medicine

Medical-marijuanaA group of Iowans with severe medical problems vows to lobby legislators to pass a bill that would allow marijuana to be prescribed as medicine for a variety of chronic conditions.

Katie Krug of Grimes suffers from colitis and is taking prescription medicine that could cause a fatal brain infection, but she was at the statehouse today.

“I have good days and bad days,” Krug says, “so the good days that I have, I try to be up here. My goal is to be up here at least once a week and speaking with legislators.”

Krug says cannabis oil has proven an effective treatment for patients in other states who have been diagnosed with the same condition. Jon Custis of Anamosa has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress and he says medical marijuana would be a godsend for him and other veterans who suffer from the condition. Custis was at the statehouse today to make that case.

“I’ve tried to get other veterans, especially the ones with PTSD, and they don’t want to come. It’s too hard for them,” Custis says. “They can’t do that. I’m kind of an odd duck. I like a good fight, so I’ll be here as much as I can.”

A handful of Democratic senators have introduced legislation that would allow Iowans to buy marijuana products as treatment for eight specific chronic diseases. Last year Iowa legislators voted to decriminalize possession of cannabis oil as treatment for chronic epilepsy, but advocates say the law isn’t helping because cannabis oil cannot be sold here.

The bill that’s just been introduced in the senate would set up a state licensing process to designate who can grow and who can sell marijuana as medicine. In addition to chronic epilepsy, the bill would allow marijuana to be grown and sold as treatment for post traumatic stress, plus it could be used to treat the fatigue, pain and nausea associated with Hepatitis C, Crohn’s Disease, ALS, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, glaucoma, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and cancer.

Governor Walker gets backing of four members of Iowa Senate

Scott Walker (file photo)

Scott Walker (file photo)

Four of the 24 Republicans who serve in the Iowa Senate are announcing Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is their pick for the GOP’s 2016 presidential nomination. Senator Brad Zaun of Urbandale says he’s watched what Walker has done in Wisconsin.

“I thought we needed someone with some executive experience and I’ve spent some time privately with him and asked a lot of questions and am 110 percent behind him,” Zaun says.

Zaun was the Republican Party’s nominee for one of Iowa’s congressional seats in 2010 and he was a leading contender in the third congressional district in 2014. Zaun says, because of that campaign experience, he’ll be able to help Walker meet key people in central and southern Iowa. The other three senators who’ve announced they’re backing Walker come from other quadrants of Iowa. Senator Randy Feenstra is from Hull, in far northwest Iowa, and he says Walker has executive skills that set him apart.

“Great candidates out there, but from what I’ve seen from Governor Walker, he has the leadership abilities to become the next president,” Feenstra says. “And I want to be on his team and make that happen.”

The other two state senators who’re endorsing Walker are Dan Zumbach of Ryan, in northeast Iowa, and Tom Shipley of Nodaway, in southwest Iowa. Zaun says he’s actively recruiting other legislators to endorse Walker and has planned a private meeting this weekend to give Walker a chance to answer other legislators’ questions.

“I think it’s important,” Zaun says. “The candidate himself ultimately has to spread the message.”

Zaun endorsed Michele Bachmann in 2012. Feensta publicly supported George W. Bush in 2000 and, in 2012, he backed Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. These are voluntary positions for the four senators announcing their support of Walker today. Ethics rules for state senators bar them from being paid directly or indirectly by a presidential campaign or a political action committee.

Walker has not formally announced he’s running for president, but he has formed a political action committee called “Our American Revival”.


Democrat and Republican legislators still split over school funding level

School-BusThere was an official meeting today among 10 members of the House and Senate assembled to find a compromise on state school funding, but the negotiations remain stalled.

House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, a Republican from Hiawatha, says the GOP is sticking with its proposal to boost general state aid to public K-12 schools by 1.25 percent.

“We should be able to get this done. We need to get it done. We’ve tried to get it done,” Paulsen says. “They can go through all the hyperbole all they want, but the reality of it is…we’ve had trouble scheduling these meetings. I mean, it’s very frustrating.”

Democrats say schools are struggling and Democrats are sticking with their proposal to raise state aid for schools by four percent for the school year that starts this fall.

Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal says, “At 1.25 percent we’re going to start sacrificing what Iowa does incredibly well and that is graduate a greater percent of the student population than any state in the union and that will squander our economic opportunity in this state for the future.”

March 15th is the first day Iowa school districts can offer new contracts to teachers and administrators, but school leaders say without knowing how much per pupil spending they’ll get from the state, many of those decisions are in limbo. April 15th is the day school districts are required to certify the entire budget for the following academic year.

Giving workers unpaid time off to go to 2016 Iowa Caucuses

State-capitolA bill that would force many businesses to give workers unpaid time off so they may attend the 2016 Iowa Caucuses has cleared a three-member subcommittee in the Iowa Senate.

Ken Sagar, the president of the Iowa Federation of Labor, says it’s a way to increase participation in the Caucuses. “One way to maintain our first-in-the-nation status, I believe, is to push more people into the process and show the nation that yeah, we do take politics seriously,” Sagar says.

Hillary Clinton’s supporters argued her third place finish in the 2008 Iowa Caucuses was caused, in part, because low wage employees and shift workers could not get time off to attend the Caucuses. Iowa Democratic Party executive director Ben Foecke says this bill would address those concerns.

“It’s second shift folks that would be affected by this bill. The overnight folks — we’re not having Caucuses at 3 a.m., no matter what happens,” Foecke says. “This will allow a lot more people to participate.”

The bill would require workers to notify their boss at least 72 hours before they want time off to go to the Caucuses. Nicole Crane, a lobbyist for the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, says that’s not enough time for some manufacturers to make adjustments in the production line.

“So we just want to make sure if this is something the legislature wants to do that there are safeguards in place for those employers who really can’t afford to have those employees leave and shut down their operations,” Crane says.

The bill does give businesses veto power over time off for Caucus attendance if the worker’s absence would endanger public safety or cause “severe economic disruption” to the business.

Under the current party rules, you must be present at your precinct meeting on Caucus night in order to vote in the event which serves as the kick-off for the presidential nominating season. Democrats last year started a conversation about changes that would expand participation and, for example, the party plans to have someone on staff coordinate babysitting services for parents who want to caucuses.