The Iowa House began debate of a controversial labor bill early this afternoon, just hours before Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin’s Senate approved a bill that sweeps away nearly all collective bargaining rights for public workers in that state. Republicans in the Iowa House say their bill makes a few common sense changes to Iowa’s labor laws, while Democrats like Representative Nate Willems of Lisbon charge the legislation will “gut” Iowa’s collective bargaining law.
“This Wisconsin-style bargaining bill being considered by House Republicans is a step in the wrong direction,” Willems said. “It’s a blow to Iowa’s middle class.”
Democrats have offered more than 100 different amendments to make changes in the bill — all of which are being rejected by Republicans who hold the majority of seats in the Iowa House. Representative Kirsten Running-Marquardt, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, is ready to dig in for a debate that may last for days.
“I’m not sure what amendment we’re on,” Running-Marquardt said late Wednesday afternoon as the debate in the Iowa House neared the three-hour mark. “…The length of this important debate is unknown to me, but I want the people of Iowa who are listening and watching to know that the Democrats in the Iowa House stand with you and we are willing to go all night, all week and as long as we’re able and we’re not going to be silenced…in our opposition to this bill.”
The bill would no longer allow government workers in Iowa to negotiate over their health care benefits. Representative Ron Jorgensen, a Republican from Sioux City, said while workers in the private sector are bearing more and more of their own health care costs, most state government workers pay nothing out-of-pocket for health care.
“We cannot continue to have the taxpayer fund benefit plans that currently far exceed what the private sector averages are,” Jorgensen said.
Jorgensen has been the bill’s chief defender during House debate. “Our state, cities, school districts and counties need the flexibility to reduce their costs and better manage their resources,” Jorgensen says. “Taxpayers’ interests must be part of the negotiating process. It’s the taxpayers of this state who pay the bills.”
Representative Jerry Kearns, a Democrat from Keokuk, called it a “wrong-headed” bill. “It’s mean-spirited,” Kearns said. “It’s bad for workers. It takes rights away from people that we should not be takin’.”
Jorgensen, the Republican from Sioux City, said city and county leaders in his area tell him Iowa’s collective bargaining law is out of kilter. “And with the continued explosion of health care costs it has created an environment which forces them to raise taxes or reduce services,” Jorgensen says. “If we are going to grow and prosper as a state, we must lower the tax burden.” Jorgensen suggested passage of the bill would lead to lower property taxes in Iowa.
Republicans suspended debate of the bill shortly after 10:30 tonight, and plan to resume action at seven o’clock Thursday morning. The Republican intend to pass the bill in the Iowa House this week, but Democrats control the debate agenda in the Iowa Senate, and they have no plans to pass the bill or even bring it up for debate.