It’s silly season at the Iowa Statehouse.
Policymakers spend the first few weeks of each session introducing a multitude of bills, most of which will never become laws. Since they gaveled in about four weeks ago, lawmakers have filed more than 500 pieces of legislation on a wide range of subjects.
This is my favorite time of the legislative season. Anything is possible and nothing has yet been formally designated dead. I skim the new bills posted each day and keep a log of the good, the bad and the weird.
Here, I have gathered a few of the head-scratchers. These are by no means the very worst bills I have come across, but the ones that are bad in
interesting ways. Each of these has a realistic shot at advancing, since they’re sponsored by lawmakers from the majority party. I give them all credit for at least sparking discussion.
• House File 139 by Rep. Mary Ann Hanusa, R-Council Bluffs, is what’s known as a sore loser law. Anyone who seeks a partisan nomination for office and fails to get it would be barred from running in that election as a no-party or third-party candidate. Iowa is one of only three states without some form of a sore loser law on the books,
according to Ballotpedia.
Erecting barriers to ballot access is plainly undemocratic, and helps to tighten the two-party stranglehold on the electoral process. This bill would give too much power to a relatively small and unrepresentative group of primary voters. In the 2018 election cycle, statewide primary turnout was about one-fifth of general election turnout.
Ballot restrictions often have been challenged, but they usually prevail. Courts have said sore loser laws provide a check on “intraparty feuds” and “unrestrained factionalism.” If that’s the goal, they’re doing a bad job, as those phenomena are easily observable in states with the law in place.
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• Senate File 75 by Sen. Zach Whiting, R-Spirit Lake, would establish a grant program for people who relocate to Iowa and work remotely for an out-of-state company. Newcomers would be eligible for $10,000 over two years to cover work-related expenses, like computer products or membership to a coworking space. The program would get $750,000 in state money its first year.
Vermont started a similar program this year, and many municipalities across the country offer relocation incentives. Newton, for example, saw an increase in single-family home construction after the city started offering cash and loan assistance to builders.
I appreciate the intent of attracting new Iowans, but we should be skeptical of proposals aimed at targeting special incentives to certain classes of people. Instead, policymakers should focus on securing a competitive tax environment and facilitating wage growth to benefit all Iowans.
• Senate File 66 by Sen. Tom Shipley, R-Nodaway, would increase the legal age to buy or use vaporizers from 18 to 21. It’s a response to the concern that teens are picking up nicotine habits from trendy e-cigarettes, like the popular Juul brand devices, in line with the Trump administration’s nationwide crackdown on youth vaping.
I am immediately opposed to this kind of paternalistic overreach, because 18-year-olds are adults who deserve all the rights and responsibilities fellow adults enjoy.
But this bill is much worse than that. It would leave the legal age to purchase cigarettes at 18, giving young adults a full three years of easy access to cigarettes, but without a legal way to get nicotine alternatives that are likely much safer. The unintended consequences are
Unfortunately, this is one of the bad bills that has a good chance at becoming a law this year. It has already advanced from a House subcommittee and drawn support from several lobbying groups. Even lobbyists for Juul Labs, sensitive to the threat of even greater restrictions, are supporting the bill.
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