Iowa’s capitol likely will be jammed with people later today as both sides interested in the debate over Iowa’s labor laws gather for a public hearing. Capitol police have been making plans and sound systems are being set up in other parts of the building so those who can’t cram into the House chamber can listen to tonight’s testimony. 

House Democratic Leader Kevin McCarthy of Des Moines has a prediction.  “Iowa will experience a little bit of Wisconsin,” McCarthy says.

For the past two weeks there have been massive protests in Wisconsin after that state’s governor proposed major changes in Wisconsin labor laws and there will be a larger contingent of state troopers stationed at Iowa’s statehouse this evening.  Republicans in the Iowa House have proposed legislation that would no longer allow public employee unions to negotiate over employees’ health care benefits.  House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, a Republican from Hiawatha, says it’s a reasonable step.

“I think it’s 84 percent of state employees pay nothing for their health care and that’s just not reflective of the real world,” Paulsen says. 

Unions staged a huge rally on the statehouse steps back on February 22 to protest changes in Iowa’s labor laws.  Ken Sager,  president of the Iowa Federation of Labor — which represents private-sector unions,  called the Republican bill an “attack” on the middle class.

“We will not stand idly by while injustice is perpetrated on fellow Iowans,” Sager said on February 22.

The unions plan another rally, tonight at five o’clock, inside the statehouse.

Representatives from various business groups will speak out at tonight’s public hearing in favor of the changes in Iowa labor law.  John Gilliland of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry says private sector employees have taken pay cuts and seen their health care costs skyrocket, while state employees are getting a pay raise. “Is it right when we’re in the midst of a national recession that government employees are not paying a dime for their health insurance?” Gilliland asks. 

The labor bill that is drawing such intense scrutiny will be debated in the Iowa House on Tuesday or Wednesday.