Capitol Report - Week Two 2021
January 24, 2021
By: Paula S. Dierenfeld
See Me, Hear Me. This past week was a short one due to the MLK holiday. However, a lot of activity took place in the two and half days legislators were in Des Moines. Nearly 100 subcommittee meetings were held between the two chambers, two-thirds of which were in the House. Attendance at the meetings by the public and lobbyists was light – a stark contrast to the crowded rooms and noisy gatherings of prior years. The chambers’ COVID-19 protocols may be having some impact on participation – in-person only in the House and via Zoom in the Senate. There’s a shared sense that everyone is still trying to figure out how to conduct the peoples’ business in the time of a pandemic – and they’re all making the best of it that they can.
* * *
Let the People Speak. With few bills out of subcommittee, many full committee meetings were cancelled. The House Judiciary Committee, however, met twice and voted some bills out. Among them was HSB 41, a bill to amend the Iowa Constitution to state that it does not “recognize, grant or secure a right to abortion or require public funding of abortion.” HSB 41 passed out of committee along party lines, Republicans voting for it and Democrats voting against. A similar bill was approved by the Senate last year but failed in the House. If a bill is approved by both houses of the legislature this year or next, it will need to pass the legislature again in 2023 or 2024 before it can be placed on the ballot for a vote by Iowans.
* * *
And Let Them Speak Some More. Speaking of constitutional amendments, bills advanced in both chambers this week (HJR 4 and SJR 1) to amend the state Constitution to grant Iowans the right to keep and bear arms. While gun ownership rights are protected in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Iowa is one of only six states that does not have gun rights written into its state Constitution. The proposed amendment states “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” and “any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.” Only three states’ constitutions have a “strict scrutiny” provision, a standard advocates on both sides say will make it harder for future legislatures to place restrictions on gun rights. Legislation proposing the constitutional amendment passed both chambers in 2019. If it passes again this year or next, it will appear on the ballot in 2022.
* * *
It’s Still Early. We’re two weeks into this legislative session and just one bill has been debated and passed. On Thursday, HR 3, a bill establishing the procedural rules for the House, was adopted by a vote of 55-35, along party lines. Typically bills establishing the House Rules are non-con, passing quickly and unanimously. Not to be the case in the time of a pandemic. Several amendments were proposed by Rep. Brian Meyer (D-Des Moines) to require masks in meetings and on the floor, to allow virtual participation by legislators, and to allow public input by video or phone. All of the amendments were defeated along party lines.
* * *
In Case You Haven’t Heard. Rep. Ross Wilburn (D-Ames) was elected chair of the Iowa Democratic Party on Saturday. He replaces outgoing chairman, former state Rep. Mark Smith, who did not seek re-election. Wilburn said he will continue to serve as a state legislator but will resign from his job at Iowa State University. Also U.S. Rep. Mariannettee Miller Meeks, who previously served in the Iowa Senate, filed a motion on Thursday asking the U.S. House of Representatives to dismiss a complaint filed by her opponent, Rita Hart, contesting the outcome of the November election for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District seat. Miller-Meeks was certified the winner in the race by just 6 votes, following a recount requested by Hart.
* * *
Week Ahead. Expect the pace to continue to pick up as committee chairs push hard to get bills out of subcommittee and through the full committees… in the event, the legislature has to hit the pause button due to COVID-19.