The Iowa Senate elected a new majority leader last week. Sen. Jack Whitver (R – Ankeny) took Bill Dix’s place after he abruptly resigned last week, following video of him appearing to kiss a female lobbyist in a bar surfaced online. While all this drama was going on, there was plenty of legislation moving forward as lawmakers worked to meet a self-imposed deadline for many priority bills. Here’s what IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell says to watch.
There should be no difference in the Republican agenda with Dix gone. Sen. Whitver says there are three things the Senate needs to do before the session ends: pass a tax bill, balance the budget and pass the governor’s Future Ready Iowa plan. Sen. Whitver declined to answer whether stylistically or procedurally there will be any differences between him and Dix. For example, there was a lack of public input on the Senate’s tax legislation.
A cloud still hangs over the chamber with Dix out of the picture. Senator Dix faced criticism even within his own caucus for his handling of a sexual harassment settlement. Last year, the state paid $1.7 million to former Republican staffer Kirsten Anderson to settle the lawsuit. To this day, neither Dix nor his top aide Ed Failor backed off their story that she was fired for poor job performance. Both Dix and Failor are gone. “I am just hoping that this new leadership will pay close attention to the rest of the Republican caucus and make sure that the rules are followed as to no harassment,” says Sen. Liz Mathis (D-Robins). “That we can get out of here rather quickly and that we have professional conduct all along the way."
The fate of abortion restriction bills is up to Republican leaders. The Senate passed a bill banning abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, or about six weeks after conception, and sent it over to the House where leadership had not expressed interest in the bill. They've expressed support for the 20 week ban that was passed last year. “Rank and file Republicans in the House felt differently,” Russell says. “The House Human Resources committee passed the fetal heartbeat language by Friday’s deadline.” Banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy is a clear invitation to a court challenge. Iowa’s 20 week ban is not being enforced because it is tied up in court.
The majority party’s top initiatives advanced during the legislature’s self-imposed deadline week. No surprises here, Russell says. Both the new comprehensive mental health plan and the governor’s Future Ready Iowa legislation are still alive.