Legislature Adjourns; Republicans Call Session Historic

Apr 22, 2017

After working through Friday night, the Iowa legislature wrapped up its 2017 legislative session, what some are calling historic for the sheer number of Republican initiatives approved.       

The majority party left a few major priorities undone with promises to take them up next year.  

With Republicans in charge of both chambers and the governor’s office for the first time in nearly 20 years, the way was cleared for major initiatives to take flight.   

“We will very likely look back on this session as being  genuinely historic in the efficiency and the quantity and quality, I hope, of the work that was accomplished,” said House Speaker Linda Upmeyer (R-Clear Lake).

We had a fantastic year. -Rep. Dan Zumbach

Following a GOP playbook from across the country, Republicans scaled back collective bargaining rights for public employees.   They enacted new voting requirements, including showing identification at the polls, and reducing available days for voting.    

There’ll be new restrictions for workers claiming compensation for workplace injuries.  

They stopped cities and counties from raising the minimum wage.  

And they altered opportunities for women to obtain family planning services and restricted access to abortions.

It was a horrible session. -Sen. Joe Bolkcom

“So keep it in perspective,” said Sen. Dan Zumbach (R-Ryan).  “We had a fantastic year from most of our perspective."

But Democrats say that’s not the perspective of working people, women, and minorities who they say will be harmed by the new laws.    

Senator Rob Hogg is finishing up his first session leading minority Democrats in the Senate.

"This session has been worse than my worst nightmare," Hogg said.   “They've really done more damage to the state than I ever imagined was possible."

“All things considered it was a horrible session,”   added Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City).  “We did a lot of damage to working people.”

For Bolkcom, that includes a state budget that sharply reduces funding for education and human services.   

The final votes didn’t reflect it, but a broad-based new gun rights law was also deeply polarizing.  

One political scientist said “polarizing” was the name of the game this year.

“With unified control we knew there would be a push to the right,” said UNI professor Chris Larimer. “We just didn't know how far the Republicans would push on their policy agenda. 

“As it turned out there wasn't much of a brake on what they were trying to do,” Larimer said.

Larimer made his comments Friday on Iowa Public Radio’s River to River program. 

But as expansive as the agenda was, it wasn’t expansive enough for some.  

“We did nothing with education spending accounts,” said Sen. Rick Bertrans (R-Sioux City), referring to a proposal to divert millions of dollars from state school aid to private schools and home schools.   “That is a grassroots red meat issue for us.”  

Bertrand also called on fellow Republicans to streamline and cut income taxes when they reconvene next year.    

In last-minute action, after negotiations that stretched into the night, the Iowa House approved growing, manufacturing, and selling medical marijuana in Iowa. 

Backers said  they addressed opponents concerns about the level of the psychoactive ingredient to be allowed and how many conditions to cover.    

“We’re expanding the list out to cover more conditions,  but we’re doing it based on science," said Rep. Jared Klein (R-Keota).

But the backer of a more expansive Senate bill, Iowa City Democrat Joe Bolkcom, says the House bill provides false hope for suffering Iowans.   He says the low THC product the bill approves will  not treat most of the conditions the bill lists.  

"We continue to ignore the pleas of people in our state that have illnesses that none of us would want and we're going to claim victory," he said.

Also in  the waning hours, in  a defeat for the governor,  the House and Senate were unable to reach consensus on his plan to spend $850 million  over 12 years to reduce pollutants in  Iowa waterways.  

With the legislature's work  now complete, Iowans may notice some new laws right away.   An officer can now pull motorists over for texting and driving.  And if the governor agrees,  Iowans can buy and use fireworks in  time for the Fourth of July.