Government

Fetal heartbeat abortion bill revived

House attaches it to another bill, for possible vote

The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
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DES MOINES — A procedural move that minority Democrats called “bait-and-switch” has set up a high-stakes funnel week showdown on legislation that would ban abortions as early as the sixth week of pregnancy.

The so-called “fetal heartbeat” bill looked like it would be a victim of the Iowa Legislature’s second funnel deadline — which requires bills to be approved by one chamber and a committee in the other by Friday to be eligible for future consideration this session.

On Wednesday, majority House Republicans amended the abortion bill, Senate File 2281, attaching it to Senate File 359, which bans the buying, selling or transferring of a fetal body part, which already is banned by federal law.

The House Human Resources Committee will take up Senate File 359 on Thursday, and Chairman Joel Fry, R-Osceola, is confident he has the votes to tack on the abortion measure and send it to the full House.

As amended, Senate File 359 does not include the Senate provision that would repeal the ban on abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy that the Legislature approved last year. That approach raised concern that if the fetal heartbeat bill is challenged in court — and it certainly will be — and found unconstitutional, there would be little in the way of prohibiting abortion in Iowa.

Fry rejected the “bait-and-switch” claim of Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, telling reporters he had told Democrats as far back as two weeks ago “we were going to have some sort of a life debate at some point this week in my committee.”

However, he didn’t fully know his GOP colleagues’ wishes for the bill until Tuesday, at which time he shared the amendment with Democrats.

“So they had the amendment. They knew where we were headed,” he said.

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The fetal heartbeat bill would prohibit abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, except in cases of medical emergencies. In most cases, that can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. Doctors knowingly performing an abortion after that point could be charged with a felony.

While Fry is confident he has enough votes to pass the bill with the fetal heartbeat language, other bills are likely to fall victim to the funnel deadline.

CANNABIS LAWS

Among them was legislation to change or expand the state’s medical cannabis law appeared to be off the table, but Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, noted last year’s bill that became law surfaced as a funnel-exempt leadership bill in the closing hours of the 2017 session.

“I haven’t given up yet,” said Zaun, who hoped to talk with newly installed Senate leaders Jack Whitver and Charles Schneider about the issue.

Senate File 2313 would authorize the state’s medical cannabidiol board to change which ailments are covered by the law and how much of the chemical may be present in the medical product.

Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee stripped a provision from Senate File 2382 that would have lowered the penalty for marijuana possession so that possession of five grams or less of marijuana would be a simple misdemeanor punishable by no more than 30 days in jail and/or a fine between $65 and $620. Currently, first-offense possession of marijuana is a serious misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a fine of not more than $1,000.

The committee also stripped language that would treat a simulated firearm or explosive the same as a dangerous weapon when used in a dangerous manner.

Also removed was a provision that would increase the penalty for unintentionally causing the death of another when exceeding the posted speed limit by 25 mph or more to a Class C felony.

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The House committee did unanimously approve Senate File 2321, a bill to keep stun guns classified as a dangerous weapon. Iowans younger than 18 would be prohibited from buying stun guns.

SCHOOL BILLS

Other bills continued to flow through the process ahead of the Friday deadline. The Senate Education Committee approved a half-dozen House-passed bills that give school districts more flexibility in how they spend “categorical” money they receive from the state, enhance the concussion protocols for students injured in athletics or extracurricular activities, eases the testing requirement for certified schoolteachers and ends public “shaming” for students whose parents are delinquent in providing meal money, as well as assisting families in meeting food needs.

The House Education Committee shelved a controversial campus free speech bill, but it could get another chance with the committee meets Thursday. It did approve Senate File 2364, which requires all public school districts to have a high-quality school security plan.

OPIOD TRACKING

Some bills dodged the fate of the funnel by being repackaged.

Sen. Tom Greene, R-Burlington, said several bills addressing pharmacist prescribing packages were instead rolled into a House-passed omnibus bill, House File 2377.

The bill is designed to address the state’s opioid epidemic — including mandatory tracking of prescriptions written for controlled substances. The bill passed the House last month by a 98-0 vote and cleared the Senate Human Resources Committee this week.

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