Government

GOP legislative leaders talk election laws, redistricting, education policy

Lawmakers return Monday to the Iowa House chambers in the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines. (The Gazette)
Lawmakers return Monday to the Iowa House chambers in the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines. (The Gazette)

JOHNSTON — Big changes to Iowa’s election laws and public funding for private school tuition are on the table for the coming session of the Iowa Legislature, Republican leaders said in a pair of media appearances Thursday.

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver and Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley also did not rule out allowing lawmakers to adjust boundaries in Iowa’s nonpartisan redistricting process.

The 2021 session of the Iowa Legislature begins Monday.

Republicans for the fifth consecutive year return to the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines with complete control of the state lawmaking process, with majorities in the Iowa House and Senate and Republican Kim Reynolds in the governor’s office.

Elections

In a taped interview with “Iowa Press,” Grassley and Whitver praised Iowa’s elections but declined to rule out any significant changes to the state’s elections process, including potential constraints on early voting.

“I think there are people that want to continue to tighten up election law, to make sure that whether it’s people on the right or people on the left, both parties over the last couple of years have been questioning the results of elections, and that cannot happen in America,” Whitver said. “We have to have elections that people believe in, and we want to continue to make them secure.”

Similarly, Grassley said House Republicans will be guided by legislation that “continues to provide confidence in the voters that their vote will be counted, there’s not going to be fraud.”

Public confidence in elections has fallen this past year, although much of that can be attributed to Republican President Donald Trump’s unsupported claims of rampant voter fraud in the presidential election.

Grassley and Whitver also said they hope to clarify the way ballot recounts should be conducted, and strengthen a provision that says local elections officials cannot fill out voters’ information on an absentee ballot request form.

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The recount issue arose from the uncertainty about procedures in a recount for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District race, which was decided by just six votes out of nearly 400,000 cast in November’s election.

During the same election, some county auditors defied a new state law by filling in voters’ information on absentee ballot request forms. The state courts ruled they could not do that.

Redistricting

Grassley and Whitver also declined to rule out allowing the state’s redistricting process, which is widely praised for its nonpartisan format, to reach a point where Republicans could influence the drawing of political boundaries.

Under Iowa’s redistricting process, the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency every 10 years draws new political boundaries for state and federal offices, based on census results and the need to have districts of near equal population. Lawmakers then vote on the proposed maps.

If lawmakers reject the first proposal, another map is drawn. If that one is rejected, lawmakers are presented a third proposal, which they can amend themselves.

Grassley and Whitver praised the state’s redistricting law but declined to pledge to accept one of the state agency’s first two proposals and avoid proceeding to the third map, when majority Republicans could amend the map to their liking and approve it for the next 10 years.

“I don’t know the last time that leaders were asked on the redistricting process to accept a map that they haven’t even seen when the census data is not even here,” Grassley said. “I think it’s a ludicrous question to even ask of leadership.

“In fact, I would say for (Whitver) and I to sit here and make any kind of commitment like that, I don’t think we would be doing our job,” Grassley said. “So no, I am absolutely not going to make that commitment. ... We’ll follow the process that’s in place.”

Schools

Both Republican leaders also said “everything is on the table” in regard to education policy and funding, including state funding for tuition assistance for private K-12 schools.

They said their education goals will center around “choice” for parents and students.

“When you talk about parental choice, there’s a lot of different things that go into that,” Whitver said.

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Examples, he said, include potentially requiring districts give students the option to attend school in-person 100 percent of the time during the COVID-19 pandemic, and allowing students to transfer out districts.

“Education,” he said, “is going to be probably the biggest conversation of this entire session.”

TO view

• What: Iowa legislative leaders on “Iowa Press”

• When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and noon Sunday on Iowa PBS; 8:30 a.m. Saturday on Iowa PBS World

• Online: iowapbs.org/iowapress

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