Government

Defining issues from two years of complete Republican control in Iowa

Labor, abortion, income taxes and more hotly debated

2017 IOWA LEGISLATURE: Ben Murry of Madrid listens Feb. 14, 2017, to deliberations over a controversial collective bargaining bill in the Iowa State Senate chamber in Des Moines. The House and Senate passed the restriction, and then-Gov. Terry Branstad signed it into law, over the course of just 10 days. (KC McGinnis/freelance)
2017 IOWA LEGISLATURE: Ben Murry of Madrid listens Feb. 14, 2017, to deliberations over a controversial collective bargaining bill in the Iowa State Senate chamber in Des Moines. The House and Senate passed the restriction, and then-Gov. Terry Branstad signed it into law, over the course of just 10 days. (KC McGinnis/freelance)
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The top conservative reforms enacted during the 87th Iowa General Assembly:

LABOR: Significant, conservative legislation was passed throughout the 2017 session, but the collective bargaining bill may go down as the session’s signature issue. Thousands of people came to the Capitol over a three-day span to speak at hearings and participate in rallies — most to protest the bill that stripped most public employees of most of their collective bargaining rights. Republicans say the new law provided a needed update to a 40-year-old law that they say grew to favor workers over employers and tied the hands of public employers crafting wage and benefits packages. Republicans also passed a new law limiting some damages in workers’ compensation lawsuits, another measure that GOP lawmakers said will make the system more fair and balanced and Democrats in opposition said is unfair to workers.

SANCTUARY CITIES: Senate File 481, which takes effect July 1, will require law enforcement agencies to comply with federal immigration detainer requests for people in their custody under written policies to be in place by Jan. 1. In addition, the legislation prohibits local governments from discouraging their law enforcement officers or others from enforcing immigration laws. The legislation imposes financial sanctions against local governments that backers say are providing sanctuary to potentially illegal immigrants. Critics opposed the bill as an unfunded mandate for local entities by requiring them to hold people without a court order and makes them potentially financial liable while not providing any money to cities and counties for their costs.

ABORTION: After years of attempting to restrict access to abortion, the GOP majorities in the House and Senate in 2017 approved a ban on abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. Attempts to enact personhood or life at conception language failed, but Senate File 471 also requires a three-day waiting period between the time that a woman meets with her doctor and obtaining an abortion. It allows an exception to protect the life of the mother, but there are no exemptions for rape, incest or fetal anomaly. The three-day waiting period was challenged in court; supporters say the bill was crafted to withstand the court challenge, but others say it is too narrowly drawn to pass constitutional muster. Republicans also in 2017 stripped most state funding for women’s reproductive health care clinics like Planned Parenthood that perform abortions. In 2018, they passed a law banning abortions after the fetus’ heartbeat can be detected, which typically occurs at six weeks, often before the woman knows she is pregnant. That law, the most restrictive abortion ban in the country, also is headed for the courts, which have struck down similar laws in the past. Republicans hope the changing makeup of federal courts will give this law a chance to make it to the U.S. Supreme Court and possibly overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that protected a woman’s right to an abortion in most cases.

INCOME TAX REDUCTION/REFORM: Iowans would be in line to receive the largest income tax cut in state history under a bill awaiting Gov. Kim Reynolds’ expected signature. GOP legislators this year approved a $2.86 billion multiyear state income tax cut/reform package that would take six years to fully implement and have a general fund impact of about $2.16 billion over that same span. Taxpayers will see an average cut of 10 percent totaling $300 million in the first year and builds annually until full implementation in 2023 when federal deductibility is eliminated, brackets are compressed and rates reduced but only if the state economy meets certain “triggers” that include a 4 percent growth rate. The corporate rate also is reduced and breaks are provided to farmers and small business owners.

GUN RIGHTS: Saying they were advancing Iowans’ freedoms, lawmakers in 2017 approved the most comprehensive piece of gun rights legislation in state history, including allowing Iowans to use deadly force if they believe their life is threatened. In addition to an expansion of Iowa’s “stand-your-ground” law, House File 517, which was passed with bipartisan support in the House and Senate, allows parents to supervise the use of handguns by children younger than 14 and Iowans to carry handguns in most public buildings and space, including the Capitol. Opponents warned of a surge of shooting by people claiming self-defense as well as accidental shootings involving children. In 2018, lawmakers passed language for an amendment to include gun ownership rights in the state constitution. In order to become enshrined in the Constitution, the language must be approved a second time by a new General Assembly, and then approved by Iowa voters.

MINIMUM WAGE/LOCAL CONTROL/PRE-EMPTION: It was a mixed bag for local governments during the 2017 session, in which Republicans extolled the virtues of local control but took away the ability of counties and cities to set minimum wages higher than the $7.25 statewide pay floor or impose other restrictions in business or employment areas. House File 295 nullified higher wages that were slated to take effect in Polk, Johnson, Linn, Wapello and Lee counties. Democratic efforts to enact a minimum-wage increase during the 2017 failed to reach fruition.

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