DES MOINES — A new state law that says the state’s civil rights protections do not require government health care programs to cover gender reassignment surgery is simply a restatement of previous state policy, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Tuesday.
The policy clarification was included in the state’s health care budget bill passed last month by the Republican-led Iowa Legislature and signed into law last week by Reynolds.
Democrats and advocates for transgender Iowans decried the law, written after a previous legislative attempt to bar the use of public funds for gender reassignment surgery was struck down by Iowa courts as unconstitutional under the state’s civil rights code.
“This has been the state’s position for decades, through both parties leading this state and both parties leading the Legislature,’ Reynolds said. “And it’s been that way in rules for a long, long time.”
The new law likely will be challenged in court also.
“This law is an intentional and plain violation of the right to equal protection that is afforded to all Iowans. But we have transgender Iowans’ backs on this,” Mark Stringer, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, said in a statement. “We never forecast litigation plans, but we can say that we will make an announcement soon on next steps.”
Reynolds said she had to move swiftly on the health care budget because it contained $150 million in supplemental funding for the private health care companies that manage the state’s $5 billion Medicaid program. She also said contract negotiations with those companies are ongoing.
Regarding two other significant policy provisions placed in budget bills in the final days of the legislative session, Reynolds seemed to indicate she will approve a change to the nomination process for Iowa judges, but declined to indicate whether she will approve restrictions on the state attorney general’s ability to join multistate lawsuits.
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Reynolds said she supported a proposal to overhaul the citizen panels that nominate Iowans for judicial openings and gave no indication she would reject the stripped-down version that was placed in a catch-all budget bill. The narrowed proposal would remove the state Supreme Court justice from the state judicial nominating commission and replace him or her with another gubernatorial nominee.
Reynolds declined to weigh in on a policy proposal in the justice department budget bill that would require the state attorney general to receive permission from the governor, executive council or legislature when defending the state in out-of-state lawsuits.
The proposal was designed by Republican state lawmakers who are upset with the number of lawsuits against Republican President Donald Trump’s administration that Democratic Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has joined.
“We’ll take a look at it. We sit down and take a look at everything, figure out what was the Legislature’s intent, what were they thinking about when they did it,” Reynolds said. “We take a look at a whole host of things when we make a decision, and we’ll take a look at that.”
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