Fireworks, medical marijuana, Planned Parenthood among controversial 2016 Iowa Legislature topics

Iowa legislators start session Monday

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DES MOINES — Crafting a state budget, in particular agreeing on how much to devote to public education, promises to capture lawmakers’ attention for much of the legislative session that begins next week.

Other issues, including oversight of the new privately managed Medicaid program and finding ways to pay for water quality projects, also will require legislators’ thoughts and time.

Here are some other issues that may be debated within the Capitol chambers:

Women’s health funding

Many conservatives are calling for an end to any taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood, a women’s health services provider, after last year’s release of secretly recorded videos that purportedly show a Planned Parenthood employee discussing reimbursement fees for transferring fetal tissue for research.

Iowa taxes do not fund any abortion services, but many conservatives nonetheless want all taxpayer funding stripped from Planned Parenthood.

Republicans, who control the Iowa House, say they will present a budget that does not fund Planned Parenthood, and Republican Gov. Terry Branstad said he is “willing to work with the Legislature on that issue.”

Democrats, who control the Senate by a slim margin, are unlikely to agree. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal said he is confident all 26 Senate Democrats would oppose a plan to strip Planned Parenthood funding.

Minimum wage

Fourteen states raised their minimum wage this year. There is no immediate plan to change Iowa’s, which remains $7.25 per hour.

The issue garnered some attention last year. It is unclear how much effort will be made by lawmakers this time to increase the state threshold, although GOP Gov. Terry Branstad said he’d consider signing a bill doing so.

Democrats largely are supportive of increasing the minimum. Republican leaders said they would be willing discuss a minimum-wage increase but think their time is better spent developing programs and incentives that create higher-paying jobs.

The Congressional Budget Office in 2014 estimated increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would move a net 900,000 people above the poverty threshold.

Medical cannabidiol

A law enacted in 2014 permits Iowa parents to possess cannabidiol, a medicinal oil found in marijuana plants, with a physician’s prescription for epileptic seizures.

But those who would use the product criticize the law for being too restrictive; they say it is impossible to obtain cannabidiol because state law does not allow for it to be produced or dispensed in Iowa, and it is illegal to carry across state lines.

House Speaker-select Linda Upmeyer said she thinks the state should not expand its cannabidiol program before the federal government researches the product.

Daily fantasy sports

With the recent explosion of daily fantasy sports websites such as DraftKings and FanDuel, some states are weighing whether the multi-billion-dollar industry should be regulated.

New York and Nevada have banned the sites, labeling them illegal gambling, and a handful of other states are considering legislation, according to USA Today.

The Senate last year passed a bill that, more generally, legalized and defined fantasy sports and directed the Department of Inspections and Appeals to study the issue. The bill was not taken up by the House.

Rep. Guy Vander Linden, a Republican from Oskaloosa who chairs the House State Government Committee, has been looking into the issue and said legislation will be filed this session.

Vander Linden said the question is whether daily fantasy sports should be considered gambling and regulated and taxed that way.

“Personally — I’m not speaking for my caucus, my party or anyone else — I just don’t understand how you can argue it’s not gambling,” he said. “What is the difference between picking a quarterback and a quarter horse?”


Late in the 2015 session, the House passed legislation that would have legalized more consumer-grade fireworks for home display. The Senate had its own bill and did not take up the House’s.

Gronstal said he hasn’t ruled out or in consideration of fireworks legislation again.

“If the committee … decides to move it up again, we’ll make an evaluation as to whether it has sufficient votes to be taken up on the floor,” Gronstal said.

Advocates for the bill said residents should have the freedom to display more fireworks than allowed by Iowa’s current law, which is among the most restrictive in the country. Opponents cited safety concerns.

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