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Iowa Politics Roundup: Social Issues Quickly Divide Democrats, Republicans at the Capitol PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 21 January 2011 14:45

The emergence of a number of socially divisive issues has quickly set up a battle between Democrats and Republicans, and between the Iowa House and Senate, just two weeks into the 2011 legislative session.

“Our fear is … we’re going to be moving from one socially divisive issue to another,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-Des Moines) said Thursday.

Fresh off the debate to end a state-funded preschool program created by Democrats, House Republicans this week either introduced or began moving forward on legislation that would ban late-term abortions; call for constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships; and define a right to life from the beginning of biological development.

McCarthy said Democrats have been told to prepare for committee work next week and House floor debate the following week on some of these issues. He said a return to the ban on stem-cell research will also be revisited.

“I understand that the new majority needs to do some things for their base, but the concern globally is if we spend the next several weeks, we are ... already 10 percent done with the session,” McCarthy said. “We’ll have spent the bulk of the session doing socially divisive issues that just tear our society apart, and I think away from what most voters want us to focus on, and that’s basic bread-and-butter issues: education and health care and environmental issues.”

But House Speaker Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha) said there’s still plenty of time in the 110-day session (scheduled to end April 29) to address many different issues.

“Our calendar is that we’re going to address the budget and what Iowans’ government looks like,” Paulsen said. “We began that discussion last night. We’re going to talk on jobs and the economy. Committees are starting to do that work. We’re going to pass a marriage resolution at some point in time as Leader Upmeyer said when it gets out of committee.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs) has stood firmly against a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and confirmed that position again on Thursday. The bill would be dead-on-arrival in the Iowa Senate, despite a push by Senate Republicans to vote on it.

“Have I left any doubt?” Gronstal said when asked again Thursday about his position on the issue.

Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley (R-Chariton) said voters delivered a mandate for issues being brought forward by Republicans. He urged the majority party in the Senate to allow debate on bills such as budget cuts and the marriage amendment.

“The people spoke pretty loudly last November, and they said they wanted smaller, more responsible government; they believe that we spend too much money,” McKinley said. “The House voted overwhelmingly for the spending-reduction bill. We’re very pleased to see our colleagues on the other side of the rotunda vote for that.”

Dems Promise Big Changes to Budget-Cutting Bill

A bill that aims to cut $500 million out of the state budget over three years and end the state-funded preschool program may have easily cleared the Republican-controlled Iowa House this week on a 60-40 vote, but Senate Democrats say they have the votes needed to continue the preschool program.

The bill would eliminate Iowa’s state-funded preschool program for four-year-olds, the Iowa Power Fund, the Grow Iowa Values Fund, the Iowa core curriculum, smoking-cessation programs such as Just Eliminate Lies and Quitline Iowa, and money for passenger rail. Area Education Agencies would be cut by $10 million. State workers would be charged $100 a month for health-insurance premiums; the Iowa Communications Network would be sold or leased; and a Tax Relief Fund would be created that would direct any general-fund surplus toward tax relief.

“We will put up a significant battle in the Senate to keep early-childhood education in the state of Iowa,” Gronstal said Thursday. “What part of world-class education is doing away with preschool? That, in my view, is just absurd.”

Gronstal said Thursday that Democrats, who hold a 26-24 majority in the Senate, have not yet decided whether the bill will be taken up or whether they’ll move forward with an entirely different bill.

“They passed a bill, and it’s got a lot of stuff in it,” he said. “Maybe we’ll take that bill up, maybe we’ll start our own because they didn’t consult with us about starting that bill. That’s not a great road to go down. I’m trying to discourage that and get people to the table to talk about these issues.”

But House Speaker Paulsen contended that Republicans and Democrats have been working together. He said appropriations committee chairs Representative Scott Raecker (R-Urbandale) and Senator Bob Dvorsky (D-Coralville) have met along with ranking members of their committees to talk about the budget cuts proposed in House File 45.

Paulsen acknowledged that the Iowa Senate will make changes to the bill.

“I’m confident that preschool as it exists today is going to change,” Paulsen said. “What the final change looks like, I don’t know. I know that’s something we’re going to have to work on together. I think the Senate is going to have one opinion, the House is going to have another opinion, and my expectation is the governor will have another one. From conversations with the governor’s office, I think probably the House and the governor are the closest. We’ll have those discussions.”

A separate budget-reform package will move forward next week that is expected to be more bipartisan. That legislation includes restrictions on the governor’s transfer authority, as well as a government-transparency section that includes a searchable database on state expenditures and tax rates.

Judge Dismisses Challenge to Judicial-Selection System

U.S. District Judge Robert W. Pratt on Wednesday granted Attorney General Tom Miller’s request to dismiss a legal challenge to Iowa’s judicial-selection and -retention system, which Iowans adopted through a constitutional amendment.

“Today Judge Pratt very soundly upheld the will of the people of Iowa,” Miller said. “This is a significant ruling that affirms our right as Iowa citizens to choose how we select our Supreme Court justices.”

Four Iowa plaintiffs, through the Indiana-based James Madison Center for Free Speech, filed a December 8 request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa. Miller replied with a motion to dismiss.

The plaintiffs challenged the composition of the 15-member Iowa Judicial Nominating Commission, whose members must be chosen without reference to their political affiliation. The commission is composed of the most senior Iowa Supreme Court Justice other than the chief justice; seven members chosen by the governor; and seven lawyer members elected by Iowa attorneys. The commission submits three finalists for an open Iowa Supreme Court seat to the governor, who appoints the Supreme Court Justice.

In his 35-page ruling, Pratt called the plaintiffs’ arguments “fatally flawed.” In granting the state’s motion to dismiss, the judge wrote that the plaintiffs “may prefer that Iowa had a different method of judicial selection, but absent a violation of a clearly established constitutional right, the people of Iowa are entitled to retain the judicial-selection system they chose in 1962.”