There was a brief moment in the final days of the 2019 legislative session when I actually contemplated crediting Republicans who run the Statehouse, especially House GOP leaders, for showing some restraint this year.
Efforts to further politicize Iowa’s judicial system were stuck in neutral. A lousy utilities-backed solar energy bill was on the ropes. Work requirements for Medicaid were kaput, as were misguided election law changes. Our rightward marching family leaders hadn’t, yet, pushed lawmakers off the deep end on social issues.
After two years of bulldozing, slashing and burning, this is what passes for improvement.
Then came the session’s final 72 hours, culminating in Saturday’s adjournment. That’s when the great and powerful trifecta broke free of its restraints, belching fire and brimstone and budget amendments to the delight of the righteous right. The old bulldozer was back up and running. Get out of the way, or get flattened.
To a budget bill funding human services, Republicans added an inhumane amendment prohibiting the use of public funds to cover the cost of surgeries and other medical procedures sought by transgender Iowans. The move comes just weeks after a landmark Iowa Supreme Court ruling that struck down discriminatory restrictions on Medicaid payments for sex-reassignment surgery. The new ban covers not only Medicaid but also insurance covering public employees and their families.
Why? Because GOP lawmakers say the procedures aren’t necessary. Also unnecessary was an actual legislative process where this action could be explored, discussed and debated, where real medical experts, not elected ones, might have weighed in, and the affected might have had a chance to be heard.
Instead, lawmakers targeted their fellow Iowans and carved out an exception to civil rights protections so they’d have a surefire applause line at the next prayer breakfast.
They also used a last-minute amendment to cut off federal sex education funding to Planned Parenthood. Those breakfast attendees surely will jump to their feet. Also jumping will be the number of unplanned pregnancies and abortions in Iowa due to less quality sex education.
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As for our courts system, GOP legislators used a budget amendment to give the governor one more pick on the State Judicial Nominating Commission, which vets nominees to the Iowa Supreme Court.
Legislators booted the senior Supreme Court justice who chaired the panel, giving the governor nine picks while lawyers across the state still select eight. Say goodbye to the balance between legal and political interests that was the whole point of a 1962 constitutional amendment setting up the system.
But civil rights, equal protection and a decades-old constitutional institution were no match for dubious amendments approved by bleary-eyed lawmakers slouching toward adjournment. Add in the GOP’s late charge to strip the attorney general’s authority to join out-of-state lawsuits, and you can toss separation of powers on the scrap heap, too.
These measures were all portrayed as “surprises.” Which are the exact opposite of what a deliberative governing body is supposed to produce for its citizens.
But this is just what happens at the end of a session, right? And that sad fact is supposed to be a comfort to Iowans who got bulldozed?
Gov. Kim Reynolds could use line-item vetoes to restore restraint. If she does, it would be the biggest surprise of all.
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