Staff Columnist

Relax Iowa, the Legislature is back at work, making things worse

The ornamental decorations of the Iowa Capitol dome are seen from outside in Des Moines on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. (And
The ornamental decorations of the Iowa Capitol dome are seen from outside in Des Moines on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

Take heart, rattled Iowans, living through strife and crisis. The Iowa Legislature is back on the job.

Lawmakers have returned to the Golden Dome of Wisdom to survey our troubled landscape and see what condition our condition is in. Republicans who run the joint have sprung into action.

They saw the plight of thousands of meatpacking workers, as well as nursing home staff and residents, sickened by COVID-19. So GOP lawmakers immediately moved to protect the owners of those facilities from legal action by workers or families. It’s the least they could do.

They saw thousands of Iowans marching for racial justice and demanding that our government abandon policies steeped in systemic racism. So lawmakers pushed a bill that would make it even harder for felons who complete their sentences to have their voting rights restored, leaving black Iowans disproportionately disenfranchised.

Lawmakers also forged ahead with legislation barring local governments from prohibiting discrimination against recipients of public housing assistance. Again, the prime targets of that discrimination will be people of color.

They saw a divided nation in need of unifying leadership. So legislators moved a divisive constitutional amendment erasing a woman’s right to an abortion in Iowa.

They saw record turnout in the June 2 primary election, thanks to the Republican secretary of state’s wise decision to send every voter an absentee ballot request form amid a pandemic. So lawmakers crafted legislation that would bar the secretary of state from doing that again.

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Republicans saw their Democratic colleagues wearing masks and other protection as a pandemic continues to kill Iowans daily. And they made fun of them.

Thank God they’re back.

It’s almost as if, not only did Republican leaders leave the Capitol for a COVID-19 pause, they were cryogenically frozen for two months. They returned seemingly unaware of how a pandemic, economic recession and racial unrest have transformed our state and nation’s priorities. We’ve seen a new focus on the rights of essential workers, our deep economic disparities, a need for expanded health care and racial injustices we can no longer tolerate.

Americans and Iowans are shouting for real change. But Republicans simply came back to the Statehouse to continue business as usual. Help corporations and ignore workers. Shrug at discrimination. Sidestep the problems of struggling Iowans. Throw up more barriers to casting a ballot. When you have an agenda like this, the last thing you want is more voting.

The thawing process left some disoriented. Rep. Jeff Shipley, R-Fairfield, spoke to anti vaccine activists gathered outside the Capitol and insisted the coronavirus “isn’t killing anybody.”

Republicans agreed to pass Gov. Kim Reynolds’ constitutional amendment resolution restoring felon voting rights. But they first passed a bill requiring, if the amendment passes, that felons would not have rights restored until all restitution is paid. That’s worse than Iowa’s current draconian system. And it’s basically a poll tax. Reynolds, of course, called it a great compromise.

I can’t wait to see what they do next. Here’s an idea. Adjourn.

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

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