Staff Columnist

Iowa Legislature uncovers our state's unknown problems

The Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, March 12, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)
The Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, March 12, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

So your Iowa Legislature has been on the job for two months now and lawmakers have passed the dreaded “funnel” deadline. Any non-budget bill that hasn’t cleared a committee will be shredded and packed into bottle rockets Iowans must, by law, shoot off at 11 p.m. on the Fourth of July.

They’re just putting the “fun” back in funnel. Failure to comply is an aggravated misdemeanor. Or maybe not.

Lawmakers have been busy addressing a lot of Iowa’s big, well-known problems, including the pressing need to build the state’s skilled workforce, create a children’s mental health system and crack down on drivers who sit in the left lane.

But this Republican-controlled Legislature’s real gift is finding problems we didn’t even know we had.

Take our judicial selection system. For the better part of five decades, we thought Iowa’s merit-selection process, designed to keep partisan politics at arm’s length, was a national model. But little did we know lawyers who elect half of the members of the State Judicial Nominating Commission tend to tilt toward Democrats. That’s a big problem, Republicans say.

So Gov. Kim Reynolds, who appoints the other half of the commission, all Republicans, (not a problem) and GOP lawmakers want Statehouse politicians to pick all the judge-pickers. That means more Republicans will do the picking. Problem solved, and not at all a political power grab, Republicans say.

It’s true, politicians have been the single biggest problem plaguing the performance of our executive and legislative branches for decades. But apparently they’re the solution to our judicial branch problems. Now that’s some Golden Dome wisdom.

You know what else is a problem? State university students who vote.

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A bill that cleared a Senate committee this past week would make it illegal to put a satellite early voting station in a state-owned building, like the ones on university campuses. We all know how these students tend to vote. Like lawyers, that’s how.

Generally, Republicans are very concerned with free speech rights on campus. But, remember, voting is not speech, it’s a privilege. Campaign donations are speech. So these students had better convert their beer money into dark money and get in the game.

Also a problem, people who vote after 8 p.m.

It’s high time these distracted dawdlers with their full-time jobs and responsibilities stop interfering in the lives of journalists on deadline. The same election bill that targets students would close the polls at 8 p.m., a time when most decent Iowans are off the streets.

No groups have registered to support the elections overhaul. What’s wrong with groups?

You probably also didn’t know Iowans with solar panels installed at their home or farm are a big problem. You may have thought, “Hey, there’s a family really embracing renewable energy who maybe bought their set up from an Iowa business. Win-win!”

Turns out they’re basically common thieves not paying their fair share for the “grid.” So lawmakers want to slap them with a special solar fee. Thankfully, large monopolistic utilities blew the whistle on these grid-loaders. Utilities have got our backs, and have no ulterior motives whatsoever, just like when they gutted energy efficiency programs last year on our behalf. Thanks again.

Public land is another problem.

Lawmakers are pursuing legislation that would make it more difficult for conservationists to acquire private land for water quality projects and other conservation uses. The Iowa Farm Bureau opposes the expansion of parks and other outdoor recreation and conservation areas due to the loss of farmland. Apparently, even in a state that ranks 47th in publicly owned land, it’s a big problem.

No word on when legislators will take up a bill aimed at dramatically ramping up the use of cover crops and other measures aimed at saving the millions of tons of soil washed into our waterways each year. That loss of farmland also seems like a problem.

But lawmakers are too busy to address every problem.

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After all, they had to protect the citizens of House District 55 from legally cast, but not properly postmarked, ballots. It was a close one, but the Republican candidate was victorious, as far as you know.

They had to protect the House by withholding media credentials from online journalist Laura Belin, instantly raising the profile of her critical reporting on Republicans and drawing national attention. They could also put her news site on big screens in the House chamber. That’ll show her.

They had to make sure casinos get their hands on sports betting. And they had to address hunting and fishing with drones. That’s now a thing.

There’s plenty more legislating ahead. Here’s to hoping for more bipartisan progress on the big stuff, and more shredded-bill rockets. Ooh. Ah.

l Comments: (319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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