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Capitol Notebook: ‘Insult me,’ don’t harm Iowa taxpayers, state watchdog tells GOP lawmakers
Also, lawmakers advance behind-the-counter birth control
Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau
Mar. 29, 2023 5:38 pm, Updated: Mar. 31, 2023 5:40 pm
Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand, the lone Democrat to hold statewide office, said if Republicans want to target him directly, they should hurl insults, not advance legislation he said that will increase fraud and jeopardize federal funds the state receives.
A House subcommittee Wednesday voted 2-1 to advance Senate File 478 to consideration by the full House State Government Committee.
The bill, which passed the Senate earlier this month on a party-line vote with Democrats opposed, would place limits on what personal information the state taxpayers’ watchdog could demand during an audit.
John McCormally, Sand’s chief of staff, and Deputy Auditor of State Ernest Ruben said the bill would hinder the state auditor’s ability to conduct investigations in an independent, nonpartisan fashion and likely result in increased fraud, the loss of federal funding and a lower bond rating that would increase state borrowing costs.
Sen. Michael Bousselot, a Republican from Ankeny, has said the legislation was designed to protect the privacy of Iowans’ personal information and to clarify questions that were raised during a 2021 Iowa Supreme Court case that pondered the auditor’s authority.
However, a bipartisan coalition of state auditors and national organizations that represent state auditors and accounting professionals have said the proposal would hamper the office’s ability to root out and prevent waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars.
McCormally called the bill a fix to an imaginary problem, noting Iowa Code and federal law already maintains the strict confidentiality of information and records obtained during the court of an audit, including medical and student education records. Auditors as well are subject to the same restrictions and penalties as the custodian of records for improper disclosure.
Ruben warned that if agencies withhold information, the Auditor’s Office may not be able to complete investigations and mandated audits, which would jeopardize potentially billions in federal funding for some state programs, including funding for education, student loans, medical assistance, unemployment insurance and food assistance.
Rep. Amy Nielsen, D-North Liberty, called the bill “crazy inappropriate” and a “bleak mark” that personally targets Sand and not the office.
Subcommittee chairman Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, disputed the allegation.
“This has nothing to do with the individual holding the current office, from my personal perspective,” Kaufmann said, adding that he acknowledges there are issues with bill that need to be addressed, but felt it important enough to advance to full committee for consideration.
“I look forward to working with everyone that spoke today on a potential amendment moving forward, but I do think this is something that deserves the full committee’s discussion,” he said.
Sand, talking to reporters afterward, said he’s “happy to work with anybody to stop bad things from happening.”
Asked whether he shares Nielsen’s view that the bill specifically targets him, Sand said: “If people want to target me, they should insult me and lie about me and say terrible things about me.
“ … If they’re targeting me, this bill harms taxpayers. I don’t think it’s very effective targeting.”
Lawmakers: Put the phone down and drive
Using a cellphone while driving would be illegal unless in hands-free mode under a bill lawmakers passed out of a House committee on Wednesday.
Senate File 547 would ban the use of a cellphone or other electronic device while driving for any reason, except in a voice-activated hands-free mode. Under current law, it is illegal to send a text or other message while driving, but making a call or using a phone’s GPS is allowed.
It’s not the first time lawmakers have attempted to pass tighter restrictions for using a device while driving, but the bill is now closer to law than it has been in the past. If passed by the House, the bill would be eligible to be signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds.
Supporters of the bill said it would make Iowa’s roads significantly safer, noting a large percentage of crashes in the state are due to distracted driving. Law enforcement officers have said it is hard to prove if a person was texting while driving, making the texting ban difficult to enforce.
The fine for using an electronic device while driving would be $100 under the bill, and violators would receive a written warning between the effective date and Jan. 1, 2024.
The bill passed the House Transportation Committee 19-2, with Democrats Jeff Cooling of Cedar Rapids and Rick Olson of Des Moines opposed.
Behind-the-counter birth control
Iowa women would be able to receive an initial three-month supply of birth control medication, then another 12-month supply before needing to visit a physician under legislation that advanced in the House.
The provision is an amended version of a proposal made by Gov. Kim Reynolds to make birth control more accessible to Iowa women.
But while the proposal, Senate File 326 advanced out of the House’s Health and Human Services Committee and thus survived this week’s funnel deadline, the bill was not without its detractors, even from some majority-party Republicans who voted for the bill in committee.
Rep. Steven Bradley, R-Cascade, said he is “not crazy about this bill,” but said he voted for it in committee because he had discussions with the governor’s office and received assurances it will be amended before a floor vote. If it is not altered, Bradley said he will not vote for the bill if and when it is debated by the full Iowa House. Other Republicans on the committee expressed similar reservations.