DES MOINES — The march to final adjournment of this year’s legislative session hit a bump Friday when a last-minute proposal by Iowa Senate Republicans led to acrimony over state funding for sex education and transgender surgery.
Republicans who control the Senate amended a major budget bill with language that would bar state money from being used to provide for sex reassignment surgery for transgender Iowans and block Planned Parenthood from participating in state-funded sex education programs.
The proposals passed the Senate and were sent to the House. But members of that chamber were in recess for hours leading into the night, though leaders said members planned to call up the bill even if it meant overnight debate.
Legislators said they planned to close this year’s session by Saturday.
Backers of the proposal Friday to amend the Iowa Civil Rights Act and block the use of public funds for sex reassignment surgery for transgender Iowans said it was in response to a recent court ruling forcing the state’s Medicaid program to cover it.
Critics called the 11th-hour GOP power play a “cowardly” political use of a legislative procedural “nuclear option” that stifled open debate, attacked the well-being of transgender Iowans and jeopardized programs that have curbed abortions and unwanted pregnancies.
“The (Iowa) Supreme Court ruled just a couple months ago that Medicaid had to cover sex-change surgeries, so we had a discussion as a caucus and determined that we didn’t believe that taxpayer dollars should be used to fund the sex-change surgeries,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, who supports changing the statute. “It is over $50 million of total money with the pent-up demand and the demand for sex-change surgeries by people on Medicaid, including almost $20 million of state dollars and $35 million of federal dollars.”
Republicans hold majorities of 32-18 in the Iowa Senate and 53-47 in the Iowa House.
Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, said he has heard from Iowans who felt Medicaid dollars should be reserved for other health priorities — and worried the courts had opened up a “hot bed” for people who want the surgery covered and will come to Iowa to get it.
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“Fundamentally, I think a lot of people have no problem if you want to have that operation done, great — just not with taxpayer money,” Chapman told reporters.
Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen of Des Moines called provisions of House File 776 a “mean-spirited attempt at discrimination” and she hoped Iowans would pressure Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds to use her item-veto authority to remove the two provisions if they managed to reach her desk.
“I think it’s an attack on Iowans’ civil rights — both of these measures,” she said, “and I think it’s cowardly that they do it on the last day of session and they have not allowed Iowans to weigh in on the process and run a policy bill through a policy committee.”
An amendment to HF 766 provides that no state or local government or tax-supported district would be allowed to provide for “sex reassignment surgery or any other cosmetic, reconstructive or plastic surgery procedure related to transgender, hermaphroditism, gender identity disorder or body dysmorphic disorder.”
The amendment also has a separate section that restricts government funding for sex-education, personal responsibility education or community adolescent pregnancy prevention and services program to a provider who performs or promotes abortion.
“You are using Iowa children to make a political statement,” Petersen told Republicans. “You’re putting politics ahead of public health.”
Minority Democrats called the sex-education grants language “another targeted attack on Planned Parenthood.”
“Any reasonable person who wants to see fewer abortions should work to promote access to sex education and family planning,” said Erin Davison-Rippey, state executive director of Iowa/Planned Parenthood North Central States. “It’s shameful that elected officials would put their own narrow political agenda above the health and well-being of their constituents.”
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The GOP language, which was drafted in a way that procedurally could not be amended, would shut down all state-funded sex-education programs for months while a new process is undertaken to enlist qualified bidders, Petersen said.
The Legislature already had banned Planned Parenthood from participating in state-funded health care clinics. Whitver said the proposal is a continuation of that.
“We have addressed Planned Parenthood in the last couple years and there is just one little small piece that they have left, which is the sex-education,” he said. “There are other vendors to do that and we wanted to keep that with other vendors.”
The policy language was placed in a $1.94 billion budget bill designed to fund human services and public health services and programs in fiscal 2020 that impact a huge portion of the state’s most-vulnerable and needy people.
Included was a $150.3 million supplemental appropriation to help cover Iowa’s privately managed Medicaid program for this fiscal year.
The Health and Human Services budget and the $3.86 billion standing appropriations that included the state’s K-12 school foundation aid approaching $3.3 billion were key final pieces as Republicans assembled an overall $7.643 billion state spending plan for fiscal 2020.
A total of 31 GOP senators voted for the Human Services budget bill while Sen. Tom Greene, R-Burlington, joined 18 Democrats in opposing it. The standings bill passed the Senate on a party-line vote.
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