Government

'Heartbeat' abortion ban, sweeping energy bill clear hurdle for Iowa Legislature

Senate leader's scandal didn't deter GOP priorities, lawmakers say

(File photo) The dome of the Iowa State Capitol building from the rotunda in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. Suspended across the dome is the emblem of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.). The emblem, painted on canvas and suspended on wire, was placed there as a

reminder of Iowa's efforts to preserve the Union during the Civil War. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
(File photo) The dome of the Iowa State Capitol building from the rotunda in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. Suspended across the dome is the emblem of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.). The emblem, painted on canvas and suspended on wire, was placed there as a reminder of Iowa's efforts to preserve the Union during the Civil War. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Drama is common as funnel week deadline approaches in the Iowa Legislature, but the fate of individual pieces of legislation determined at the end of the week didn’t match the theatrics of the abrupt change in Senate leadership that kicked off the week.

That the final working day of funnel week did not create the same spectacle as the revelation of a video showing now-former Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix smooching with a lobbyist was a good thing, said House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow, R-Windsor Heights.

“I thought we had a very productive week,” Hagenow said Thursday after lawmakers kept a wide-ranging utilities bill moving and deliberated for nearly three hours before advancing a “heartbeat” bill that would ban most abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy.

“I enjoy the action in the Iowa Legislature,” Hagenow said, “but I enjoy even more getting good work done.”

New Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, agreed that “we’re exactly on track where we expected to be legislative-wise.”

He said senators were not distracted from advancing a GOP agenda by the swift leadership changes that saw him move this week from Senate president to majority leader.

“I feel very good about where we’re at” less than five weeks ahead of the scheduled April 17 end of session, Whitver said.

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In addition to the contentious abortion restriction and a rewrite of provisions in Iowa’s utilities laws, lawmakers acted Thursday to clarify the line of gubernatorial succession, allow small businesses to form health insurance associations and require cities, counties and state government to go through a competitive bidding process before awarding contracts for public projects, including lease-purchase arrangements like one underway in Linn County.

Overall, majority Republican leaders said their priorities all cleared the second funnel deadline that requires legislation to be passed out of one chamber and approved by the appropriate committee in the other.

Not every piece of legislation fared as well.

Bills to clear up the backlog of untested rape kits, require agreement from a supermajority of Iowa Supreme Court justices to hold a state law unconstitutional, make “spoofing” — the misleading use of caller identification information — a criminal offense, establish work requirements for Medicaid recipients, allow permitted gun owners to carry firearms when going to or from school, create a criminal penalty for protesters blocking a major highway and require that students pass a civics exam to graduate from high school all failed to survive the funnel deadline.

Major legislative action Thursday included:

ABORTION

Senate File 359 that would ban the buying, selling or transferring of a fetal body tissue and parts — already banned by federal law — was amended in a House committee to add the prohibition of abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, except in cases of medical emergencies.

In often emotional discussion, House Human Resources Committee members addressed a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions, the constitutionality — or lack — of the proposed bill, slavery and, as Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, put it, the willingness of politicians “to risk the lives of women for ideology.”

“I don’t think anybody in this room wants to see an abortion,” said Rep. Timi Brown-Powers, D-Waterloo, “but I don’t think you belong in my uterus.”

Bill manager Rep. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta, said the bill was lawmakers’ opportunity to “defend the defenseless.”

SF 359 was approved 12-9 with Rep. Michael Bergan, R-Decorah, voting with Democrats, and Rep. Dave Heaton, R-Mount Pleasant, pausing several seconds before saying “aye for now.”

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Majority Leader Hagenow believes that as amended, SF 359 “is probably more attractive to the (Republican) caucus.” Republicans were concerned with the Senate version of the heartbeat bill that called for repealing a ban on abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy.

“I think on an issue such as life you’re always going to have different opinions,” he said, acknowledging that some in his caucus believe the 20-week ban is appropriate. “We’ll have conversation, exchange ideas and come to some consensus.”

UTILITIES

An energy bill that Rep. Gary Carlson, R-Muscatine, said attempted to balance energy efficiency and economic competitiveness, encourage natural gas distribution systems in rural areas and clarify how rate-regulated and non-rate-regulated utilities are treated was approved on a party-line vote in the House Commerce Committee.

An amendment that removed opt-out language for customers who don’t want to participate in energy efficiency programs in Senate File 2311 was approved. The programs would be capped at 2 percent of a customer’s bill for electricity, which Carlson called the original intent of the law.

Although the amendment made the bill better in his eyes, Rep. John Forbes, D-Des Moines, said the 2 percent cap would result in a “pretty drastic” cut in the funds available for energy efficiency programs and lead to the loss of thousands of jobs among Iowans working in energy-efficiency businesses.

There was no need for the bill because the energy industry in is booming, said Rep. Scott Ourth, D-Ackworth.

“I don’t think that the profit margin depends on shutting out thousands and thousands of Iowans who have depended on energy efficiency programs,” he said.

But Rep. Dawn Pettengill, R-Mount Auburn, supported the bill after learning that part of her utility payments were funding other people’ energy improvements.

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“I wish we had an opt-out (because) my dollars have gone to everybody else,” she said. “I can’t wait to tell my people at home we’re reducing their energy bills.”

SUCCESSION

Senate Joint Resolution 2006, was approved on a party-line vote by the House State Government Committee. It would ask Iowa voters to amend the state constitution to solidify the lieutenant governor’s place in the line of succession.

The legislation would resolve questions about the line of succession that arose when Kim Reynolds moved from lieutenant governor to governor after Terry Branstad resigned to become ambassador to China. Some people questioned whether she would be an acting governor or the actual governor, Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, said. Also, it was not clear whether she could appoint a lieutenant governor and what role that person would play.

Reynolds opted for naming an “acting” lieutenant governor who is not in the line of succession to replace her.

The joint resolution must pass both the House and Senate in the same form and then be approved again by the next Iowa General Assembly to come before voters in 2020.

BOTTLE BILL

Funnel or no funnel, some bill seem destined to live on.

An attempt to update and expand Iowa’s 40-year-old bottle bill to cover containers to include tea, water, juice and sports drinks has “a little bit of life” left in it, according to Rep. Andy McKean, R-Anamosa.

Although his proposal didn’t even get a subcommittee hearing, he’s encouraged that bottle bill legislation approved by the Environmental Protection Committee last year and now in the Ways and Means Committee has been assigned to a subcommittee. That gives him an opportunity to graft his plan on to House File 575.

At least until April 17.

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

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