116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Home / News / Government & Politics / State Government
Iowa government reorganization among flurry of bills advanced to meet deadline
Lawmakers also passed bills impacting LGBTQ youth, gun regulations and more
Erin MurphyTom BartonCaleb McCullough, Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau
Mar. 3, 2023 5:30 am, Updated: Mar. 3, 2023 9:56 am
DES MOINES — State lawmakers gave themselves a deadline extension, dragging the final day of action before their first legislative deadline of this year’s session into the wee hours of Friday morning.
Legislators’ work spilled over into early Friday as majority Republicans ensured all of their legislative priorities were advanced ahead of the “funnel” deadline.
⧉ Related article: LGTBQ youth, education dominate ‘funnel week’ at Iowa Capitol
From Thursday afternoon, to late Thursday evening, to early Friday morning Republicans passed Gov. Kim Reynolds’ sweeping state government reorganization bill, legislation impacting LGBTQ students and youth, and gun regulations, among others.
After this week’s legislative “funnel,” only bills that have passed out of at least one committee can be considered for the rest of the session. But there are exceptions: Budget and tax bills are not subject to the funnel, and leaders have ways to revive legislation later in the session if they want to bring it back.
House Democrats huddled for roughly nine hours to discuss the nearly 1,600-page bill. When the meeting resumed, they introduced more than 40 amendments in what they viewed as attempts to improve the bill.
Each of the amendments was defeated on party-line votes, with only Democrats supporting and majority Republicans opposing. Ultimately — and just after midnight — House Study Bill 126 also passed along party lines, with Republicans supporting and Democrats opposing.
An identical bill is moving in the Senate, and both are now eligible for debate on the House and Senate floors.
Democrats expressed myriad concerns with some narrow proposals within the bill, but their overarching criticism was that it yields too much authority to the governor.
Reynolds’ proposal, which was designed with the help of a Virginia-based consulting firm paid nearly $1 million by the state, would reduce the number of state agencies with directors that answer directly to the governor from 37 to 16, in the process folding other state agencies under those fewer directors.
“Tonight it didn’t feel like there were three branches of government. Tonight it felt like the legislative branch is an extension of the executive branch, and that’s not the way it works,” Rep. Eric Gjerde, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, said during the committee meeting.
Some Democrats argued they would have concerns regardless of who is governor or could be in the future, while others pinned their concerns on Reynolds.
“This bill is an incredible overreach of the executive branch and our current sitting Gov. Kim Reynolds,” said Rep. Amy Nielsen, a Democrat from North Liberty.
Reynolds issued a statement early Friday praising the bill’s advancement.
“State government should be efficient and effective to best serve the needs of Iowans,” Reynolds’ statement said. “Right now, we have a state government that is difficult to navigate and bloated — hindering Iowans’ and our states’ growth. This legislation will streamline services, create a clearer path to new opportunities, and save hundreds of millions of dollars for taxpayers.”
Reynolds added that she looks forward to seeing the bill pass the Iowa House and Senate “soon.”
Rep. Jane Bloomingdale, a Republican from Northwood, pledged to work on some of the concerns raised by Democrats and possibly make adjustments to the bill over “the next several weeks.”
Transgender health care
Bucking impassioned pleas from doctors and transgender youth over the last week, House lawmakers after midnight on Friday advanced a bill that would ban transgender youth from receiving gender-affirming health care.
The move runs contrary to the guidance of major American medical associations and state experts, who say the interventions used to treat transgender youth improve well-being and are often lifesaving.
The bill, House Study Bill 214, would ban the use of puberty blockers, hormones and surgeries as a treatment for gender dysphoria for people under 18. Republicans said children should not be making what they call life-altering decisions and suggested transgender kids will abandon their gender identity.
But Democrats said the treatment is a careful decision that is made in conjunction with doctors, and the interventions used in the care, like puberty blockers, are safe.
Rep. Ross Wilburn, a Democrat from Ames and the father of a transgender son, said there is no “fast track” to the treatment and it is a carefully involved process.
“Those of you who have never come across, to your knowledge, someone who’s from the transgender community, I invite you between now and the time this hits the floor for debate, if you want to approach me and ask me some questions about the experience, I welcome the conversation,” he told supporters of the bill.
The committee passed the bill, 12-8, with Republicans Megan Jones of Sioux Rapids and Brian Lohse of Bondurant joining Democrats in opposing the measure. Jones proposed an amendment that would have allowed the care with parents’ consent — a practice that already happens — but the amendment failed.
Iowa schools would be allowed to bar transgender students from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity under a bill the House Judiciary Committee advanced in the early hours on Friday.
House Study Bill 208 states that schools cannot be punished for restricting bathrooms and locker rooms to members of the same biological sex. A Senate committee advanced a bill this week that would enforce that requirement statewide, requiring students to use the school bathroom that aligns with their sex assigned at birth.
While the House bill makes the designation optional, it also allows a person to bring a civil lawsuit against a school if they encounter someone in a bathroom of the opposite sex who the school allowed to access the bathroom, and if they are required to share lodging with a person of the opposite sex.
Rep. Steven Holt, a Republican from Denison and the committee’s chair, said the bill was an attempt to “restore sanity to an increasingly insane world.”
“Telling children they can choose their gender and use the bathroom with the opposite sex, completely ignoring the rights and concerns of young girls and boys, is an untenable and immoral place to be,” Holt said.
Studies have shown transgender students who are denied access to a bathroom that aligns with their gender identity to be at a higher risk for sexual assault, and transgender people in general are far more likely than cisgender people to be victims of sexual assault.
Democratic Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell of Ames said the bill, and others like it, are turning Iowa into a “laughing stock” and making it hard for businesses to recruit workers to the state.
“LGBTQ Iowans are Iowans and we need to treat them fairly,” Wessel-Kroeschell said.
The bill passed, 12-8, with Jones and Lohse joining Democrats in opposition.
Republicans Thursday night also advanced a bill that would allow adults to have a gun in their car while on the grounds of schools and universities, corrections facilities and casinos.
Senate Study Bill 1168 passed out of committee on a party-line vote with Democrats opposed. It is now eligible for consideration and a vote by the full Senate.
The bill would make it permissible to transport and possess a firearm in areas where guns are currently prohibited. That includes:
- The parking lots of schools for people who are licensed to carry a firearm who are dropping off or picking up students, or employees who have other business at the schools.
- The parking lots of workplaces, jails and prisons if the gun is hidden inside a locked vehicle. The bill was amended to clarify that employers can prohibit firearms in an employer-owned vehicle.
- The parking lots of universities and community colleges if the gun is hidden inside a locked vehicle.
- The parking lots of casinos, as well as permitting casinos to allow firearms inside their buildings.
The bill would also allow retired peace officers to carry weapons on school grounds and would enable schools to authorize someone to have a gun inside a school vehicle that transports students.
Employers would be immune from liability for damages that result from any firearm or ammunition brought onto their property by an employee. The bill also includes a provision to prevent insurance companies from denying property or casualty coverage to schools based on the allowance of firearms on school property or in school vehicles, which insurance industry representatives opposed.
Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, argued the bill makes “more and more of Iowa safer” by removing existing “gun safe zones” where “good guys can’t have a gun.”
“So, as we make Iowa more free physically, and stop regulating the law-abiding (gun owner) and not make us vulnerable to the non-law abiding, we will become safer,” Schultz said.
Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, who voted against advancing the bill, said it’s problematic to allow weapons on school campuses, noting the spate of school shootings that have occurred across the country over the last two decades, as well as recently in Iowa.
“Allowing guns to be anywhere on any type of school is really asking for trouble,” Quirmbach said.
Other Senate Democrats echoed those concerns.
“We have had far too much gun violence in our state, and it continues to get worse and worse,” said Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines. “I’m not opposed to people having guns, but I just have real concerns telling insurance companies what they can and can’t do, and also not doing all we can to make sure our kids are safe and free from gun violence.”
Lawmakers in the House Public Safety committee advanced a companion bill, House Study Bill 173, out of committee on Thursday, which also passed along party lines.
Victim restitution requirements
Judges would be granted some discretion over whether a victim must pay restitution under a bill that passed with bipartisan support out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Senate Study Bill 1069 was inspired by the November 2022 case involving a Des Moines woman and sex trafficking victim who killed the man she said had repeatedly raped her. Because of state law, the woman was ordered to pay $150,000 in restitution to the man’s estate.
Under the bill, judges would be allowed to consider any criminal offenses committed by the victim against the offender before requiring the offender to pay restitution.
Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, the committee’s chairman, said the bill likely will be amended to narrow its scope and avoid unintended consequences.
The House Judiciary Committee also advanced a bill that would require land surveyors to gain permission before entering land for surveying.
Under current law, surveyors engaged in surveying for buildings or utilities can enter land without gaining permission of the landowner, and the entry is not considered a trespass.
The bill, House File 299, addresses the concerns of some landowners as controversial carbon dioxide pipelines are in the early planning stages in the state. A disputed trespass charge against a surveyor for Summit Carbon Solutions is going to trial this month, and the company has filed lawsuits against landowners who refused entry to their land.
The committee passed the bill,12-6, with two members abstaining.
Comments: (515) 355-1300, email@example.com