This weekend, the 2019 Iowa Legislative session ended with some bitter rhetorical battles over the conservative agenda enacted by Republicans who hold a majority of seats in the House and Senate.
Representative Andy McKean of Anamosa switched from Republican to Democrat last Tuesday. On Saturday, he said the GOP’s changes to the Judicial Nominating Commission were “the dark side of democracy where legislation is put together and pushed through for partisan purposes and not on its merit.”
Representative Steven Holt of Denison, the Republican who helped guide the plan through the House, responded a few moments later.
“Rep. McKean, I will not even lend dignity to your insulting comments about backrooms,” Holt said. “…I’m not in any dark rooms making dark deals. Hasn’t happened.”
Republican Governor Kim Reynolds got some of her requests from lawmakers — the money for broadband expansion and the framework for a children’s mental health care system, but Republicans in the House balked at her call to let Iowa women buy birth control at the pharmacy counter. Republicans in the Senate tabled the governor’s plan to amend Iowa’s constitution to automatically restore felon voting rights.
That issue and other high-profile ideas like raising the age to buy tobacco products to 21 and banning traffic enforcement cameras may be revived in 2020. House Speaker Linda Upmeyer of Clear Lake, in a speech on the House floor Saturday afternoon, had this charge for her colleagues: “I challenge each of us to listen to our constituents and I look forward to coming back next year refreshed and ready to continue moving Iowa forward.”
House Democratic Leader Todd Prichard of Charles City said it was “beyond disappointing” Republicans took steps in the closing hours of this year’s session to, among other things, give the governor authority to appoint one more member of the Judicial Nominating Commission and remove the Iowa Supreme Court’s senior justice from the commission.
“This is not the way to do broad, far-reaching, controversial legislation, with obviously no interest in finding compromise or anything like that,” Prichard said during an interview Saturday morning.
Republicans hold a larger majority in the Senate than in the House. Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver of Ankeny said the Senate GOP’s 2020 agenda likely will include welfare reform and a new way to cover the costs of mental health care for Iowa adults and children.
“In my opinion, we need to find a way to bring that off the property tax rolls and into the state budget and so that will create a much larger discussion about taxes in general and state revenues,” Whitver said during an interview. “I think that will keep us busy this summer.”
On the final day of the 2019 Iowa legislative session, the Iowa Senate sent the governor a bill that expands Iowa’s medical marijuana law.
Senator Tom Greene, a retired pharmacist from Burlington, had tears in his eyes as he touted the bipartisan agreement that could let more potent medical marijuana products be sold in Iowa.
“I know many patients who need this medication,” Green said. “This is a small step, but we need to keep the ball rolling.
Senator Rich Taylor of Mount Pleasant said the plan will get more help to suffering Iowans, but in a controlled manner.
“We’re not just putting it out there willy nilly and allowing everybody in Iowa to have access to this,” Taylor said. “You have to clear the hoops to get to this drug and that’s all this is — another drug and the people of Iowa need it and they expect us to get it to them.”
Republicans in the legislature on Saturday moved to end state contracts with Planned Parenthood employees who conduct sex ed classes for at-risk youth. Representative Sandy Salmon, a Republican from Janesville, said organizations that do not provide abortions will be able to teach these classes.
“This does not restrict access to quality sex education in the least,” Salmon said.
Democrats like Representative Heather Matson of Ankeny objected.
“Iowans trust Parenthood, but bills like this are why they don’t trust politicians,” Matson said.
Republican lawmakers also voted to ban Medicaid coverage for sex reassignment surgery. Democrats hold a minority of seats in the legislature and were unable to block the GOP moves.