The Republican-led legislature’s sweeping agenda for 2017 recast Iowa labor laws and rewrote the rules for several kinds of lawsuits. Governor Terry Branstad is expected to approve proposals that reshape abortion policy as well.
“I think it’s been a very productive session,” Branstad told reporters Thursday. “We’ve addressed a lot of important policy issues and I think it’s going to have a long-standing benefit for the people.”
The House and Senate took final votes on key bills after sunrise on Saturday, including a bill that would expand Iowa’s soon-to-expire medical marijuana law. The House and Senate both adjourned at about a quarter after seven.
House Speaker Linda Upmeyer of Clear Lake, the legislature’s top-ranking Republican, said Republicans seized the opportunity to act.
“We will very likely look back on this session as being genuinely historic in the efficiency and the quantity and quality — I hope — of the work that was accomplished,” Upmeyer told reporters early Friday afternoon.
Jack Whitver of Ankeny has served as Senate President for the past four months. He’s part of the new Republican leadership team in the Iowa Senate.
“We came into this session with a bold agenda,” Whitver said during an interview with Radio Iowa. “We came in with an agenda that we thought could really improve the job climate in Iowa; create smaller, smarter government; revitalize rural Iowa; empower local schools and, to a large extent, we got almost all those things done that we set out to do.”
Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds credits her fellow Republicans in the legislature for tackling a tough state budget, with lower-than-expected tax revenue, and made it work.
“I think it’s been an historic session,” Reynolds told reporters Thursday. “I think, you know, these legislators ran on really implementing legislation that would take Iowa to the next level.”
Republicans controlled the legislative and executive branches of state government for the first time in nearly two decades and Democrats have a different view of the GOP’s results. Senate Minority Leader Rob Hogg, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, said it started with what he considers the “gutting” of union bargaining rights for government workers.
“This session has been worse than my worst nightmare,” Hogg said during a Radio Iowa interview. “…They’ve really done more damage to the state than I ever imagined was possible.”
House Minority Leader Mark Smith, a Democrat from Marshalltown, told reporters Republicans have pointed the state in the wrong direction.
“We’ll take this message, as we have, to the people,” Smith said, “…and point out how egregious this session has been to the good, hard-working people of this state.”
As a result of the Republican-led legislature, Iowa now has one of the most expansive laws in the country when it comes to gun rights. GOP lawmakers have also passed one of the country’s toughest abortion laws. It will require women seeking an abortion to wait three days and it forbids nearly all abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. Chuck Hurley of the Family Leader had lobbied for a “personhood” bill that would have banned abortion altogether.
“This is the best session that I’ve experienced in 27 sessions that I’ve been in or around the capitol,” Hurley said during an interview with Radio Iowa. “Still a long ways to go, but I give very, very high marks for the efforts that were expended by our friends.”
Another proposal, inserted in a budget bill, will no longer allow Medicaid patients to get exams and contraceptives from Planned Parenthood or other facilities where elective abortions are performed. Erin Davison-Rippey of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland said her organization is “reviewing all options.” That includes filing a lawsuit to block the legislature’s new abortion-related laws.
“This fight is far from over,” Davison-Rippey said during a Radio Iowa interview. “We have seen attempt after attempt to intrude on a woman’s right to a constitutionally protected medical service.”
Earlier this year Republicans in the legislature dramatically changed Iowa’s collective bargaining law, to restrict union contract negotiations to the single subject of pay. In addition, the GOP-led legislature changed the system for compensating injured workers. According to Iowa Chamber Alliance president John Steinman, the 2017 legislative session has “definitely” been good for business.
“Whether you’re looking at a uniform minimum wage across the state, whether you’re looking at adjustments to the regulatory posture or necessary reforms to the workers comp system,” Steinman told Radio Iowa. “There are some big, fundamental pieces that were put in place this year that are going to be around for a long time.”
Leaders in the labor movement hold the opposing view, calling this one of the worst years for working Iowans.
“Our job now, my job now is (first) figure out how to survive under this law, but secondly how to make sure that my members never forget what was done to them,” AFSCME Council 61 president Danny Homan said during a statehouse news conference earlier this year. AFSCME Council 61 represents about 40,000 state workers.
Charlie Wishman, the secretary-treasurer of the Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO, said union members are motivated for the 2018 election.
“People are awake and they are ready to fight back against this kind of thing,” Wishman told Radio Iowa.