2019 LEGISLATIVE SESSION

Reynolds rejects limits on attorney general's authority

But AG Miller agrees to get her consent in future litigation

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller holds a news conference Monday, May 1, 2017, to announce his legal opinion that Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds will serve as governor in the likely event Gov. Terry Branstad resigns to become U.S. ambassador to China but will not have the constitutional authority to appoint a replacement to serve as a new lieutenant governor. Pictured to the left is Iowa Solicitor General Jeffrey Thompson. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller holds a news conference Monday, May 1, 2017, to announce his legal opinion that Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds will serve as governor in the likely event Gov. Terry Branstad resigns to become U.S. ambassador to China but will not have the constitutional authority to appoint a replacement to serve as a new lieutenant governor. Pictured to the left is Iowa Solicitor General Jeffrey Thompson. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds vetoed a legislative measure Wednesday seeking to limit the Iowa Attorney General’s ability to join out-of-state lawsuits after she and Tom Miller reached a “good-faith” accord on how future litigation will be handled.

Reynolds signed a $584 million budget bill funding justice-system functions in the fiscal year beginning July 1 — including more money for state troopers and criminal investigators — but she used her item-veto power to remove a provision requiring the elected attorney general, when joining an out-of-state lawsuit, to first obtain permission from the governor, Executive Council or Legislature.

The language would have limited the attorney general’s authority to prosecute any action or proceeding, including signing onto or authoring amicus briefs or letters of support, in any court other than Iowa.

While noting she shared GOP legislators’ concerns over Democrat Miller’s participation in lawsuits “in conflict” with policy goals of her office and the lawmakers, Reynolds said she was “cautious” about a provision that redefines the scope of the attorney general’s duties given he’s an independently elected official.

“As a result of the Legislature’s leadership on this issue, Attorney General Miller and I have had the opportunity to engage in a thoughtful discussion about the appropriate balance of authority between the governor and the attorney general with respect to Iowa’s involvement in litigation. And ultimately, Attorney General Miller agreed to my proposal to adjust our litigation practices in a manner that I believe addresses my core concerns without amending Iowa’s current statutes,” Reynolds wrote in her item-veto message.

“Attorney General Miller has agreed that so long as he serves as attorney general, he will not prosecute any action or proceeding or sign onto or author an amicus brief in the name of the State of Iowa in any court or tribunal other than an Iowa state court without the consent of the governor,” she wrote. “He retains the authority to participate in litigation or author letters in his own name, as attorney general of Iowa.”

Miller, a 10-term Democrat in his 37th year as the longest-serving attorney general in the nation, issued a statement saying he entered into the “good-faith” agreement to protect the powers of the office.

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“My greater concern was always about the institution of the attorney general and its powers and duties,” Miller said in a statement.

Miller said he agreed to get the consent of the governor to bring out-of-state cases when the state of Iowa is the plaintiff, but not when the attorney general of Iowa is the plaintiff.

“This means that generally I will not be suing the Trump administration,” said Miller, who noted he had brought “a selective number of lawsuits” against the administration since 2017 that he believed “were well grounded in the law.”

However, he said he will leave it to the other 26 Democratic attorneys general in the nation to consider any future litigation in exchange for the ability of his office to protect Iowans through consumer enforcement actions, which are primarily filed in Iowa courts. “It also allows me to express my opinion on matters affecting Iowans before federal agencies and Congress,” he stated.

Rep. Gary Worthan, R-Storm Lake, co-chairman of the justice-systems budget bill (Senate File 615) and a proponent of the policy language, expressed appreciation that the governor recognized the concern raised by GOP legislators.

“If the attorney general wants to continue participating in partisan lawsuits that aren’t in the best interest of Iowans, he needs let Iowans know that he is making that decision on his own,” Worthan said in a statement.

House Democratic Leader Todd Prichard of Charles City said he was pleased Reynolds rejected the “political power grab” passed by House and Senate Republicans.

“While it is a good step, it is unfortunate that House and Senate Republicans wasted time on political games when our state faces real challenges with health care and our farm economy,’ he said.

l Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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