With less than one week until the second funnel deadline, Iowa Republicans have made major ground in their policy priorities during a state legislative session that Democrats say is more polarized than ever.
Since January, Republicans in the Iowa State Capitol have passed a constitutional amendment to provide women no right to abortions, a bill to remove the requirement for permits to buy and carry handguns, election reform that limits early voting, a bill that increases police protections without a proposed racial justice component and a bill that repeals the state’s inheritance tax, among many others.
“We have done some monumental things this year,” said Iowa Sen. Carrie Koelker, R-Dyersville. “(The session) is going well. It’s moving pretty quickly.”
While Republicans regularly point to the majority of bills which pass each year with bipartisan votes, nearly all of the aforementioned bills listed above passed along party lines.
“We may have bipartisan votes, but we don’t do bipartisan work,” said Iowa Rep. Lindsay James, D-Dubuque. “There is very little room to actually engage in meaningful discussion about the direction of our state and major legislation moving through. It is much more polarized this year than it ever has been before.”
James is working through her third session.
Iowa Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, has served in the capitol for decades and agreed.
“Some of it’s like a hangover from Trump,” she said. “That was the impetus for a number of bills — limiting early election again, punishing Facebook and Twitter. But this is not new stuff for us in the Senate. It is not just because of him. It’s been getting worse every year.”
Koelker, though, said “the conversation works both ways.”
“When you’re in the majority, you’re scheduling every subcommittee, you’re negotiating between chambers. Especially with all the COVID restrictions, it’s a heavy lift to get that done in a day. But I think we’re very approachable. Those that approach us we’re happy to work with. But I don’t think I’ve been approached by one Democrat this session.”
In particular, Jochum pointed to a massive Republican property tax omnibus bill, which would make major changes to mental health funding in Iowa and begin to cut a state backfill to local governments, among many other things. That bill was introduced after months of development on Tuesday afternoon, less than 24 hours before its subcommittee.
Iowa Rep. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta, did not provide comment for this column.
Grassley angers progressives with statements on violence
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week weighed in on the string of recent mass killings. He offered his condolences for the victims’ families, but first, he took a shot at protesters of police killings of Black Americans last summer who turned peaceful protests violent.
“We all saw an unprecedented spike in murders along with periods of prolonged civil unrest,” Grassley said. “Americans killed one another, destroyed each other’s businesses, attacked law enforcement officers and burned city blocks to the ground. Just yesterday, as we saw on the news last night, a police officer made the ultimate sacrifice, his life, during an attack on a supermarket in Boulder, Colo., which killed 10.”
Iowa progressives expressed outrage.
“The racist statement made by Senator Grassley yesterday is an absolute embarrassment to our state,” said Progress Iowa Executive Director Matt Sinovic in a release. “Iowans understand the difference between last summer’s protests for equality and the mass shootings of this past week. Either Senator Grassley is too blinded by prejudice to understand the difference, or he does understand and he’s willfully using racist rhetoric to divide our country in an attempt to score reprehensible political points and avoid a meaningful discussion about gun safety.”
Ernst works to improve child care access
U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, joined a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers — including fellow Iowan U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, a Democrat — in introducing the Improving Child Care for Working Families Act this week.
“We know that child care has long been an issue in states like Iowa, and across the country, which is why, even before this pandemic, I’ve worked across the aisle to address this crisis,” Ernst said in a release. “This bipartisan bill is a commonsense solution that will benefit both our working moms and dads and small businesses—and has the support of many state and national organizations.”
U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Iowa, meanwhile, introduced the Child CARE Act, which would require the Secretary of Health and Human Resources to submit a report to Congress on child care regulations in each state. She said this would help Congress make more informed policies and better use limited resources to expand child care access.
“As a working mom, I know that access to affordable child care that parents can trust is important and a huge barrier to people entering the workforce, especially in rural communities,” she said in a release. “Over the past year, working mothers have been shoved out of the workforce at an alarming rate—we cannot allow this to be a permanent consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.”