IOWA LEGISLATURE

Iowa Senate advances restrictions on abortion, cellphones while driving

Senators also address police pursuit, student-athlete compensation

The senate chambers are seen at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines.  (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
The senate chambers are seen at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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DES MOINES — Iowa senators pushed forward a number of hot-button issues in the legislative process Wednesday — including bills dealing with abortion restrictions, making daylight saving time permanent in Iowa and trying to halt drivers from using electronic devices while driving.

Republicans on the Senate State Government Committee voted 10-5 to approve a resolution that would allow Iowa voters to determine whether the Iowa Constitution guarantees a right to abortion.

Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, said Senate Joint Resolution 2 would add language to make clear there is no constitutional right to an abortion or requirement for public funding of abortions.

A similar measure already passed the Iowa House, 55-44, this session.

Legislators have to approve the exact same language for two consecutive Iowa General Assemblies before the issue would come before Iowa voters during a general election.

Sen. Claire Celsi, D-West Des Moines, said the state’s constitution has been updated by voters in the past to “modernize, right a wrong or expand the rights of our citizens.

But Senate Joint Resolution 2, she told her Senate colleagues, “would take rights away, and that is the wrong direction for Iowans.”

Celsi called the proposal an attempt by GOP authors to “insert their personal and religious views” into the private decisions of Iowans of childbearing age through a “long-game” political effort to eventually ban abortion, should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn its 1973 landmark ruling that legalized abortion and return decision-making authority to the states.

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“Some Republicans in the Senate are determined to continue this war on pregnant Iowans,” she said, “to stand directly between an individual who is making a serious and consequential decision for themselves and their family.”

Schultz countered that the resolution “takes no position on the issue of abortion” but rather “returns to the people the ability to control the constitution and not allow judges to read into it that which was not written into it.”

Daylight saving time

Also Wednesday, members of the Senate State Government Committee unanimously agreed to establish daylight saving time as the official time in Iowa throughout the year.

However, Sen. Jeff Reichman, R-Montrose, offered an amendment that would make the enactment of Senate File 8 subject to other bordering Midwest states “to come on board with this and pass their own legislation” over the next 10 years to make sure Iowa would not be “an island” with permanent daylight saving time contrary to the rest of the region.

Hand-held devices

In a day heavy on committee and subcommittee work, members of the Senate Transportation Committee unanimously agreed to send to the chamber’s debate calendar a bill that would ban the use of hand-held electronic devices while driving.

Iowa law currently prohibits the use of hand-held electronic communication devices to write, send or view electronic messages while driving.

Senate File 46 would bar drivers from using a cellphone or other hand-held electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle in lieu of tougher penalties for violations.

The bill makes exceptions for emergency vehicles, law enforcement officers, medical personnel, utility maintenance and transportation network drivers.

People could still use voice-activated or hands-free equipment while driving.

“I think we know what’s going on here,” said Sen. Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa. “The civil libertarian part of me doesn’t like this bill. The grandfather in me likes this bill. I think we have to do it for the safety of Iowans.”

Emergency vehicles

Senators on the transportation panel also took up a wide-ranging bill that sought to legalize such things as firetrucks being operated during parades and vehicles escorting funeral processions through traffic. Those uses apparently aren’t specifically covered under Iowa law.

But provisions of Senate File 72 also will protect peace officers from liability in vehicle pursuits, under reasonable circumstances, when a misdemeanor offense had been committed. The bill lowers the threshold from the current felony pursuit authorization.

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Sen. Todd Taylor, D-Cedar Rapids, said much of the bill was acceptable, but he said the pursuit provisions “opens it up to a pretty wide variety of things that we now can engage in a pursuit of, and we’re expanding the list of types of vehicles and drivers that can be engaged in that pursuit. That’s a concern.”

“I don’t know that the whole world is broken and that this is the fix it that we need to do,” he said.

But bill manager, Sen. Carrie Koelker, R-Dyersville, noted similar language was approved last session but stalled due to interruptions caused by the pandemic, and “nothing has changed.”

“This bill will help our emergency vehicle responders with their protection while dealing with all of the incidents that Iowans rely upon us for,” she said.

Student athletes

Also Wednesday, Sens. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, and Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, advanced a bill out of Senate Judiciary subcommittee that would allow student-athletes to profit from promotional use of their names, images and likenesses as early as July.

Senate File 245 is similar to legislation enacted in six other states.

Dylan Boles, a Stanford University football player who is transferring to the University of Northern Iowa to do graduate work, told Iowa legislators the change is needed because even athletes on scholarships often struggle to meet basic financial needs in college.

“I think it’s something that’s very beneficial and very timely,” Boles said. “In a free-market economy, frankly, it’s something very American to do.”

Keith Saunders, a lobbyist representing the state Board of Regents and the University of Iowa, said they are in agreement that “change is needed and change is coming.”

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But he said that change has to come at the national level to avoid a “patchwork” of state regulations that will treat athletes differently and possibly open problems with “boosters” that have been held at bay in recent years.

“Everyone needs to play by the same set of rules,” Saunders said.

Boulton said states are looking at drafting their own laws because the NCAA hasn’t acted on its promise to set national policy.

The NCAA announced Jan. 11 it would postpone voting on proposals to change rules surrounding name, image and likeness and athlete transfer eligibility after receiving a message from the U.S. Department of Justice antitrust division.

Zaun expressed concern NCAA officials have been “dragging their feet.” and bills like the one proposed hopefully will “send a message” that they need to act.

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

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