DES MOINES — The Iowa Legislature gave final approval Saturday to a $1.94 billion health and human services budget despite emotional opposition from lawmakers who argued it failed to meet the needs of vulnerable Iowans, did not address problems in the private management of Medicaid and endangered the lives of transgender individuals.
In the final hours of the 2019 session, lawmakers also approved changes in Iowa’s judicial nominating system by increasing the sway of the governor over who sits on the Iowa Supreme Court and appeals court.
House Democrats were sometimes angry and tearful in calling for the rejection of amendments to the health and human services budget to bar state money from being used to cover sex reassignment surgery for transgender Iowans on Medicaid and block Planned Parenthood from participating in state-funded sex education programs.
Rep. Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines, accused majority Republicans of “homophobic bigotry” and called the measure “offensive on its face.”
“Republicans seem intent on doing everything you can to deny the basic human rights to the LGBTQ+ community,” he said. “You have proven today that while rights can be given, they can also be taken away.”
Democrats also warned Republicans that in withholding support from Planned Parenthood for sex education, they likely will see an increase in unwanted pregnancies and abortions.
Rep. Lisa Heddens, D-Ames, said House File 766 did “absolutely nothing” to address the problems in the Medicaid program that has been under private management for three years.
“Maybe some people think these vulnerable people are a little bit more expendable,” Heddens asserted. “I think it’s quite shameful what the body has not done this session” despite increasing payments to the managed care companies “so their shareholders get their funding.”
In the end, representatives voted 52-47 for the bill. The Senate concurred 31-17 and sent it to the governor.
Before debating the Human Services budget, representatives approved changes in the state judicial nominating process. They were included in the more than $3.86 billion standing appropriations budget, Senate File 638.
Currently, the governor and the Iowa bar appoint equal numbers of nomination commission members. The senior-most Iowa Supreme Court Justice who is not the chief justice also serves as the chair.
The standing appropriations budget, which also included $3.3 billion for K-12 education, was amended to have eight members selected by the bar and nine appointed by the governor — supplanting the chair with a gubernatorial pick.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Steve Holt, R-Denison, said the change “gives people a little more voice through their elected governor.”
Rep. Andy McKean of Anamosa, who earlier in the week defected from the Republican Party, in part due to the judicial nominating proposal, called it the “latest of many desperate attempts to corral 51 votes for a piece of very questionable legislation.”
Rep. Rick Olson, D-Des Moines, said the GOP was practicing “ostrich politics” in changing the system legislators created and voters approved in 1962 by constitutional amendment. He said Republicans “stick their heads in the sand and give the great citizens of the state of Iowa the full moon.”
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However, Holt argued the amendment preserved the integrity of the merit-based judicial nominating system. If he ignored deficiencies of the current system, “then I’m sticking my head in the sand and mooning my fellow citizens.”
The standings budget was approved 53-45 and sent to the Senate, where it was approved 32-16. Earlier in the session, the Senate had passed a stand-alone version of judicial nominating changes, 32-17.
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