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Under the Golden Dome: In the Middle of It

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio
It's been a snowier and colder than normal year for Iowa so far.

March 8 was the deadline for most bills and resolutions to pass a House or a Senate committee. Most of those that haven’t are no longer eligible for a subcommittee. Exceptions include appropriations, ways and means and government oversite. There are others ways a bill subject to the deadline could emerge later, but most won’t. This is also called the "funnel deadline."

The 2019 Iowa Legislative Session is scheduled for 110 days. That's 16 weeks, so it’s likely we are in the middle of this session.

In an election, a mail-in ballot must enter the mail system the day before the election to be counted. When it arrives at a county auditor's office, it must have a postmark. If not, the ballot is likely tossed unless a barcode on the envelope can verify it was mailed on time.

But, what kind of barcode actually counts?

That question was asked at great length in the first part of this session when mail-in ballots arrived in Winneshiek County without postmarks during the November election for House District 55.  They were initially tossed but when the incumbent was declared the winner by nine votes, the challenger sued to have the barcodes on those tossed ballots scanned by the Postal Service.

Twenty-nine of those ballots were determined to have been mailed on time. The House of Representatives had to decide whether or not to open them.  A special committee was formed and their recommendation was not to open, since the ballots didn’t have an intelligent mail barcode.

A 2016 law uses the phrase “intelligent mail barcode” relating to mail-in ballots, and all Republicans on the committee, and later during the debate in the full House, decided these 29-ballots couldn't be opened because the county wasn't using this type of code on its ballot envelopes.

After the debate, it was certain a bill would emerge to avoid a situation like this from happening again. This week a bill passed through a subcommittee and committee on the same day, mandating all county auditors use an intelligent mail barcode system for mail-in ballots by October 2020. Right now only a handful of county auditors are using this system.

Also passing through subcommittees and committees this week is a bill prohibiting entering an agricultural facility under false pretenses with the intent of doing harm to the facility or causing harm to the reputation of the business. This includes undercover journalism.

Another bill went through a comittee that puts restrictions on organizations spending state money to pay a lobbyist to advocate or oppose legislation.

John Pemble is a reporter for IPR