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Iowa Republican Lawmakers Vote To Limit Democratic AG's Authority

tom miller
Joyce Russell
IPR file photo
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller

This post was updated Wednesday, April 24, 2019 at 6:10 p.m. 

Republicans in the Iowa Legislature voted this week to limit the Democratic attorney general’s authority to pursue out-of-state lawsuits because he joined legal challenges of Trump administration policies.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller is the longest-serving attorney general in the country. He was elected to a tenth four-year term in 2018 when he did not have a Republican challenger.

A provision tacked on to a budget bill would require the attorney general to get the approval of the governor, the executive council or the general assembly to file or join an out-of-state lawsuit, or to sign on as a “friend of the court” in out-of-state lawsuits.

House Republicans approved the measure Tuesday evening, and Senate Republicans voted for it Wednesday. 

Rep. Gary Worthan, R-Storm Lake, said Miller has signed on to too many multi-state lawsuits challenging Trump administration policies.

“This attorney general has taken part in out-of-state lawsuits that are completely contrary to actions taken by the legislature that were signed by the governor. Those are the types of actions we’re attempting to restrict,” Worthan said. “The governor and the legislature set the agenda for the state of Iowa, and not the attorney general.”

Last year, Worthan threatened Miller with cuts to his office’s budget if he continued to join legal actions against the Trump administration.

Rep. Marti Anderson, D-Des Moines, called it a power grab that would hamstring the attorney general’s ability to do his job.

“Our attorney general is a duly elected official. He is the head of the Department of Justice,” Anderson said. “He’s not under the governor. How dare we tie his hands?”

Anderson sponsored an amendment in the House to remove the language curbing the attorney general’s authority. The effort failed on a 48-51 vote, with two House Republicans voting to remove the language. The same amendment in the Senate failed on an 18-32 party-line vote.

Miller said Tuesday evening he was disappointed in the result of the vote.

“I disagree with that because it goes against the fundamental obligations of the office—to bring lawsuits. That’s what we’re trained to do,” Miller said. “And I believe I’ve made good decisions to the best of my ability.”

He said it doesn’t make sense to enact this policy, especially because no other states have done this.

Rep. Brian Meyer, D-Des Moines, said Miller was elected to make decisions about litigation.

“There’s a pretty good remedy for someone acting politically: it’s called an election,” Meyer said to Worthan. “If you don’t like what Attorney General Miller’s doing, why don’t you run somebody that can beat him?”

The bill now goes to the governor. 

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds said Tuesday morning she had not seen the policy language and did not say whether she would sign it into law.

“So we’ll take a look at that and review the bill like I do with all the other bills that are passed,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds has the power to veto sections of budget bills and has done so in the past.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter