Partisan clashes over a few issues marked the final day of the 2019 Iowa legislative session. There was a 40-7 bipartisan vote in the Senate, however, in favor of expanding Iowa’s medical marijuana program. Senator Tom Greene, a retired pharmacist from Burlington, grew emotional during his remarks on the measure.
“I know many patients who need this medication,” Greene said, pausing to regain his composure before adding: “This is a small step to keep the ball rolling.”
Senator Brad Zaun of Urbandale said his attitude about medical cannabis changed a few years ago as he saw his father battle cancer.
“This is a big day and an issue I’ve been very passionate about for many years,” Zaun said. “…It’s not a perfect bill, but it certainly is a step in the right direction to help so many Iowans that are suffering.”
The bill could expand the potency of the cannabis products being sold in Iowa. Terminally ill Iowans would not face any limit on the amount of cannabis products they use. The bill would let nurse practitioners and physicians assistants recommend medical marijuana as treatment for nine conditions or severe or chronic pain. Today, only doctors can do that.
In other action on the 2019 legislature’s final day, Republicans passed their scaled back plan to change the state commission that nominates judges. Representative Andy McKean of Anamosa, the lawmaker who left the Republican Party Tuesday, called it irresponsible.
“To label this modernization is a farce,” McKean said. “…You are seeing first hand the dark side of democracy, the dark side of democracy where legislation is put together and pushed through for partisan purposes and not on its merit.”
Representative Steven Holt, a Republican from Denison, said the governor deserves “a little bit more voice” in the process.
“Representative McKean…I’m not in any dark rooms making dark deals. Hasn’t happened,” Holt said. “We listened for six months and everything, really, that was objected to in the original legislation isn’t in it any more.”
The governor recently called upon legislators to advance the plan, which would have the Supreme Court vote every two years to determine who among them is the chief justice. The proposal also removes the most senior supreme court justice from the commission that chooses nominees for openings on the state’s highest court. Representative Mary Wolfe, a Democrat from Clinton, suggested Republicans were being “opportunistic” in giving the governor the ability to appoint not just eight, but nine of the 17 members of the commission.
“When the people in power or change the laws to give themselves even more power, that, ladies and gentlemen, is a power grab,” Wolfe said.
Iowa lawyers will continue to elect the other eight members of the commission. Holt said that shows Republicans listened to concerns and adjusted the plan.
“I don’t see how anything that we are doing right now in any way shape, form or fashion impacts the rule of law in a negative way,” Holt said. “We have the constitutional authority to change the make-up of this commission.”
Holt and all but one of his GOP colleagues in the House voted to add the proposal to a budget bill that cleared the legislature on its final day. Senate Republicans later sent that bill to the governor.
Some other policy bills got a few moments of final debate and were sent to the governor. That included a bill that establishes a new fee for electric vehicle owners.
The largest budget bill to get final legislative approval Saturday includes two hotly debated proposals. One would bar Medicaid coverage for gender reassignment surgery. The other ends state contracts with Planned Parenthood employees who teach sex ed classes to at-risk teens. Democrats objected to both, Republicans, who hold a majority of seats in both the House and Senate and took final votes sending their entire state budget plan — including these policy matters — to the governor.
The House adjourned for the year at 2:14 p.m. The Senate concluded its work 11 minutes later.