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Iowa House to Debate Disputed Northeast Iowa Statehouse Race

John Pemble / IPR file
Week three of the Iowa legislative session gets underway today.

It's week three of the 2019 Iowa legislative session and there are plenty of issues to watch. IPR's Clay Masters spoke with state government reporter Katarina Sostaric.

The outcome of the disputed HD55 will be front and center Monday. The entire Iowa House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a disputed northeast Iowa statehouse race. Republican incumbent representative Michael Bergan, won by nine votes over Democrat Kayla Koether. She challenged the election results because there are 29 mail-in ballots Democrats say were mailed on time and should be opened and counted. "A statehouse committee last week had been meeting to figure out what to do," Sostaric reports.  "With a 3-2 party line vote, Republicans on the committee are suggesting not opening and counting the mail-in ballots." 

Republicans say they don’t have the legal authority to do so. Democrats disagree . House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, says at the center of the debate are barcodes. Democrats will likely put up a fight during this debate.

Proponents of "fetal heartbeat" bill call Iowa judicary "political." A Polk County judge ruled last week that Iowa's restrictive abortion law signed last year was unconsitutional. Repulican Gov. Kim Reynolds is disppointed and declined to say if any new restrictive abortion bills will be brought up this year.

Representative Sandy Salmon is a Republican from Janesville who was a leading proponent of the “fetal heartbeat” abortion law. She said a “special interest group” has too much power in the selection process for judges.

"We have liberal courts as a result and so we do need to change it," Salmon told Sostaric. "This idea that we’d be politicizing the judiciary. It’s not true. The judiciary is already politicized. So we need to bring some balance back into it.”

Iowa has a merit-based system for nominating judges, and Republicans are considering changing the system. Democrats say changes would politicize the process.

Gov. Reynolds has laid out her plan for restoring voting rights to felons. Reynolds wants to give rights back to everyone who has completed their sentence, including probation or parole. Some top Republicans say there should be another requirement, or a waiting period. Sostaric says she asked the governor if she also thinks restitution should be part of voting rights restoration. Reynolds told her "that’s not required in the current process for individual voting rights restoration, and she wants to make sure changes wouldn’t make the process stricter than it is right now." 

Clay Masters is Iowa Public Radio’s Morning Edition host and lead political reporter.
Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter