Sports gambling, judicial nominating reform among bills still alive with Iowa legislature

(File photo)The Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines, photographed on Tuesday, June 10, 2014. (Liz Martin/The Gazet
(File photo)The Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines, photographed on Tuesday, June 10, 2014. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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DES MOINES — By this summer, Iowans may be able to bet on Cubs games, use medical cannabis for more ailments and get birth control without a doctor’s prescription, if three bills things continue to progress at the Statehouse.

Also, Iowa could have a new process for nominating judges for appointment and could be on the path toward amending the state Constitution to include anti-abortion language.

Those issues are among the dozens of bills still “alive” in the 2019 Iowa Legislature session after clearing a key deadline this week.

Proposed bills that did not pass through at least a House or Senate committee are no longer eligible for consideration this session, although there are ways legislators can resurrect a bill. Also, this week’s deadline does not apply to tax policy or budget bills.

Among the bills that passed that first legislative hurdle, known as the “funnel,” was one that would legalize sports betting in Iowa. As proposed, betting would be housed in casinos and online, where it would be taxed and regulated by the state agency that oversees Iowa’s casinos and horse racing tracks.

The bills — House File 648 and Senate File 366, are similar and will be taken up by each chamber’s tax policy committee.

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, who chaired the committee that approved the House version, said the question before state lawmakers is not whether sports gambling exists or will expand but whether the state should legalize, tax and regulate it.


“The Legislature has two options,” Kaufmann said. “Option one, we can stick our head in the sand, click our heels and really hope this goes away. Option two is to regulate and tax (it).”

Opponents have expressed concerns about legalizing more gambling and the potential the legalized betting could negatively impact college athletics in Iowa.


Legislation to change the way Iowa judges are selected is alive in both the Senate and House, despite concerns from the Iowa State Bar Association and others that it is an attempt by Republicans to pack the court.

Currently, the Iowa governor appoints half the members of judicial nominating commissions that interview and recommend three judges to the governor, who picks one for appointment to the District Court, Iowa Court of Appeals and the Iowa Supreme Court.

Lawyers pick the other half of the members of the state and district-level commissions.

After their appointment, judges and justices periodically appear on ballots, where voters determine if they should be retained.

Senate File 237 would eliminate lawyers from picking other lawyers to serve on the commissions.

An amendment to House Study Bill 110 would leave the current system in place for district courts, but change the selection method for the statewide commission that interviews judges for appointment to the Iowa Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.

“A lot of the concerns we dealt with when we removed some of the things related to the district courts and focused more on the state commission,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Steve Holt, R-Denison, said.

Republicans argue that allowing lawyers to fill half the seats on the nominating commissions reduces public participation and accountability.


Opponents, such as the Iowa State Bar Association, argue the statewide nominating commission already is 69 percent Republican and 31 percent Democratic — leaving the GOP with a far greater share of representation on the panel than it has in the Iowa electorate overall.

The House bill calls for the governor to appoint eight members of the statewide commission. The majority and minority party leaders of the Iowa House and Senate would appoint two lawyers each, half of whom would be attorneys; and the Iowa Supreme Court would appoint one lawyer.

Holt said he hasn’t measured support for the bill, “but that will come soon.”


Vouchers — otherwise known as education savings grants — remain alive, if only by the thinnest of margins.

The Senate Education Committee moved along Senate File 372 on a 8-7 vote, with two Republicans joining Democrats in opposition.

The bill proposing making the grants available for K-12 private school students starting in 2020.

The bill has not yet have a fiscal analysis, but a similar bill proposed in 2018 would have cost the state $265 million each year, according to the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.

If Senate majority Republicans send the bill to the House, it likely will die there, according Rep. Cecil Dolecheck, R-Mount Ayr, chairman of the House Education Committee.

“I don’t think I have the votes over here in the House to move any kind of a voucher bill,” he said.

Dolecheck prefers supporting students in non-public schools through a tax credit for people who contribute to Student Tuition Organizations.


“You want to keep the private schools and public schools separate,” he said. “They have a different set of criteria. Their autonomy, for the most part, a lot of them would like to keep.”

Traffic cameras

Legislative efforts to ban automated traffic cameras for law enforcement appears dead, but a plan to regulate traffic cameras and scoop the money to support state public safety efforts has moved forward.

House Study Bill 125 would allow local governments to install traffic cameras in documented “high-risk” areas after conducting public hearings.

Under the bill approved by the House Public Safety Committee, 21-0, cities would retain 40 percent of the revenue, after overhead costs are paid, with 60 percent forwarded to the state Department of Public Safety.

The change is opposed by groups representing cities, including Cedar Rapids, counties and one of the companies that provides the traffic cameras.

Medical cannabis

Bills expanding the availability of medical cannabis have cleared committees in both legislative chambers.

Both the House and Senate version would allow a physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner to approve a patient’s use of medical cannabidiol under the state program.

Both would replace “untreatable pain” with “severe and chronic pain” on the list of debilitating medical conditions for which medical cannabidiol may be recommended by a health care practitioner.

Senate File 256 specifically adds post-traumatic stress disorder as one of the eligible conditions.

Differences in the two versions would have to be reconciled if the legislation advances.

For example, House Study Bill 244 removes the percentage cap on the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that medical cannabidiol is allowed to contain and prohibits a dispensary from dispensing more than 20 grams of THC to a patient or caregiver in a 90-day period.

The bill also would allow the Department of Public Health to lower that limit by rule.

Rep. Jarad Klein, R-Keota, is seeking a compromise that can get broad approval in the Legislature.


“We’re never going to end up in a perfect place,” Klein said, “but we can continue to take steps to provide relief to sick Iowans.”

Birth control

A proposal to allow women to purchase birth control from a pharmacist without a doctor’s prescription cleared the funnel in the Senate.

Senate File 348 was proposed by Gov. Kim Reynolds and has received bipartisan support among legislators.

Supporters lauded the bill’s effort to make contraceptives more accessible to women, especially in rural areas where it may be more difficult to see a doctor.

Opponents, mostly faith-based groups, cited concerns for women’s health by removing doctors from the process.


Senate Republicans, upset by the Iowa Supreme Court ruling unconstitutional a law that would have required a three-day waiting period before a woman could get an abortion, are running a proposal to amend the state Constitution to state it does not guarantee the right to an abortion.

A lower court later struck down a law that would have banned all abortions once the fetus’ heartbeat could be detected, citing the previous high court decision.

Senate Joint Resolution 21 has strong Republican support in the Senate, with 29 GOP members signing on.

Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison, said the proposal will get a hearing in the House.

“From a personal perspective, I am pro-life, and I’m not at all pleased with what I consider to be an activist (Iowa) Supreme Court that struck down our heartbeat law. So I would like to see a remedy to that,” Holt said. “


Personally, not speaking for my caucus, but as myself, there’s a fundamental right to life in the Iowa Constitution, not to abortion. That’s something that will continue to be a priority for me, but it’s not a quick fix.”

Iowa’s Constitution can be changed only by resolution that passes consecutive two-year General Assemblies. That means this bill, if it passes both chambers this year, must do so again in 2021 at the earliest before Iowans can vote on the change.

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