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Iowa Senate GOP has no answers
Without question, the Republican-controlled Iowa Senate is running off the rails.
During a debate this week over a bill weakening child labor laws in Iowa, state Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, asked floor manager Sen. Adrian Dickey, R-Packwood, to yield to a question about the bill. It’s common during debate to ask a floor manager to provide more information about what a bill will do or could do.
But Dickey refused. This is a legislative rarity. Democrats, in turn, delayed debate by going into a caucus meeting. When they returned and again asked Dickey to yield, he refused again. Democrats asked Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver to yield for questions. He also refused. More caucusing.
So a debate that began Monday afternoon stretched until 5 a.m. Tuesday. The bill passed.
During all this we learned that Whitver has instructed his members to no longer answer questions posed by Democrats about legislation during floor debate.
Whitver points to an Iowa Supreme Court ruling last month. The court sided with electric transmission providers seeking an injunction to stop a 2020 law putting them at a competitive disadvantage with companies already operating in Iowa. It gives those “incumbent” companies right of first refusal allowing them to grab transmission projects without competitive bidding. The court called it “quintessentially crony capitalism.”
The measure was not a stand-alone bill. It was an amendment to the last appropriations bill considered before adjournment. It was passed at 5:47 a.m. before many lawmakers understood its implications. As separate legislation, the bill failed to move forward earlier in the session.
In its ruling, the court was sharply critical of the process used to shove the bill through. Justices singled out former state Sen. Michael Bretibach, the bill’s floor manager, who “gave inaccurate responses and expressed ignorance” under questioning from Democrats.
For example, Breitbach said the bill went through “the full committee process,” which wasn’t true. He also tried to argue competitive bidding would still happen. Also untrue.
You’d think this might prompt introspection on the part of lawmakers. Maybe it’s a bad idea to spout nonsense during debate. And maybe it’s not a good idea to resurrect lousy bills that couldn’t pass alone and toss them into a grab bag bill at the eleventh hour. It’s known as “logrolling,” and the state constitution prohibits it.
Nope. Republicans have decided the best response is to stop answering questions. Honesty is not the best policy. Cold, authoritarian silence works better.
Whitver, in a statement said his member will no longer “engage in spontaneous and speculative discussions” about bills on the floor. The majority leader and Republicans are throwing a tantrum because the Supreme Court said mean stuff about their shoddy process.
So Democratic state senators, each elected to represent nearly 70,000 Iowans, can no longer ask a question on behalf of their constituents. Heck, why not get rid of votes, too? Just draft the bills and send them straight to the governor? What a timesaver.
The last guardrails are collapsing. It’s fitting this came to a head during a child labor debate. Senate Republicans are acting like children. They don’t have the maturity to govern.
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