The Iowa House Ethics Committee has dismissed a complaint against a rural lawmaker that was filed by a group that lobbies against large-scale livestock confinements.
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement argued Representative Dolores Mertz, a Democrat from Ottosen, should not be chair of the House Ag Committee because her sons run hog confinements and they pay rent to her to spread manure on her farm.
Representative Tyler Olson, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids who is a member of the House Ethics Committee, says House rules allow people with “special knowledge” of a profession to serve in leadership roles. “In general, we have a citizen legislature,” Olson said. “We all have other roles….I’m an attorney by trade and obviously vote on a lot of issues that relate to that profession.”
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement complain Mertz is using her authority as Ag Committee chair to kill bills they’d like to see passed. But Olson and the other four members of the Ethics Committee agreed that a committee chair has the authority to use that position to either advance or to kill bills.
“In my opinion the facts as alleged, assuming they are true, do not constitute a valid complaint,” Olson said. The House Ethics Committee voted unanimously to discuss the complaint against Mertz, which angered Larry Ginter, a farmer from Rhodes who is a member of the group that filed the complaint.
“We are outraged about this decision,” Ginter said moments after the meeting concluded. “It’s business as unusual down here at the statehouse and people are tired of not getting some justice out here about clean air and clean water.” The group specifically complained Mertz had blocked a bill which would increase the distance required between a livestock confinement and a home.
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement executive director Hugh Espy says they’ll regroup and return to the statehouse Tuesday to lobby legislators. “When you go out in the court of public and I’ll tell you what, there’s thousands and tens of thousands of folks and some of ’em are right here today who say, ‘This fight is just starting,'” Espy said in a statehouse hallway as he was surrounded by a few dozen Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement members. “It’s just heating up. It ain’t going away until we get justice.”
The House Ethics Committee dismissed the complaint, and further ruled that Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement cannot refile a similar complaint against Mertz.