Government

Iowa gun rights amendment hits 'monumental setback'

Lack of legal notice means lawmakers need to start over

The State Capitol building is shown in Des Moines on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The State Capitol building is shown in Des Moines on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
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DES MOINES — For lack of a required legal notice, it’s back to square one for supporters of a “right to bear arms” amendment to the Iowa Constitution.

“This may be a monumental setback, but we are going to continue to press forward,” Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, said about a mistake he believes will make it impossible for Iowans to vote on the amendment in 2020 as initially envisioned.

Windschitl, a leading gun rights advocate in the Iowa Legislature, which began its 2019 session Monday, said the failure of the Secretary of State’s Office to publish a legal notification last summer means it likely will be 2022 before the amendment could be ratified by voters.

Amending the state’s constitution requires lawmakers approve the same language in two different sessions, and then have voters ratify that. The amendment was approved by lawmakers last year, and supporters believed it was on track again this year so it could go to voters in 2020.

Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, who floor managed the amendment in that chamber last year, said he was in disbelief over the setback.

“I have no words,” he said. “I’m disappointed. I’ll leave it there.”

Windschitl wouldn’t share his reaction upon learning that the process would have to begin again. “That wouldn’t be publishable,” he said.

The amendment would change the state constitution by adding:

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“The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The sovereign state of Iowa affirms and recognizes this right to be a fundamental individual right. Any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.”

Also affected by the mistake is another amendment clarifying the line of gubernatorial succession, an ambiguity revealed after Kim Reynolds ascended to the governorship in 2017 after then-Gov. Terry Branstad resigned to become ambassador to China. The amendment clarifies the position of lieutenant governor.

The failure to publish the legal notification required three months before the general election that seats the next General Assembly “puts us back into a realm of uncertainty because no one knows what the next general election holds,” Windschitl said.

Secretary of State Paul Pate attributed the failure to publish the required notice to “bureaucratic oversight.”

“I accept full responsibility for this oversight and offer my sincerest apology to the legislators and supporters who worked so hard on these bills,” said Pate, a Republican who was re-elected in November. “There is no excuse and I am instituting a system that will ensure an error like this never happens again.”

It’s not the first time something like this has happened. In 2004, former Secretary of State Chet Culver, a Democrat, failed to publish the required legal notice for an amendment to remove words such as “idiot” from the state constitution. The amendment eventually passed in 2010, Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, recalled.

Pate said he is a supporter of both the gun rights and gubernatorial succession amendments.

Although it has been Republicans — who control the House and Senate — who have pushed the gun amendment, Windschitl said it’s important to Iowans “across the spectrum.”

“I believe this is a priority for Iowans and this has been a priority that the Republican caucus of the House and Senate has demonstrated and we will continue to do what is right by Iowans to give them the opportunity to have this on the ballot and have their voices heard,” Windschitl said.

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It may be possible to get the issue on a ballot before 2022, “but the last thing we want to do is go around the law on this topic,” House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said. Backers were in agreement that starting over was the most likely path forward.

“I would say we are looking at any remedy, but it would have to be following the rule of law,” Windschitl said, “I do not believe there is a remedy before us.”

The remedy will not be a mulligan, according to Democrats who oppose the amendment and its requirement for the high hurdle of “strict scrutiny” for legal review.

Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, expects the bill will be opposed.

“I hope so. We have 22 new members who haven’t weighed in on this yet,” Mascher said.

“And we don’t know where the members of their caucus are,” added Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport, noting there also are 12 new Republican representatives.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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