Weekly News Roundup: Grassley, Ernst Vote for Senate Tax Bill, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt Visits Iowa

Also: Steve King vows to kill "all amnesty in every form," civil rights groups call for police racial profiling reform

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

The Informer’s weekly news roundup, presented in partnership with KHOI community radio.

Grassley, Ernst Vote for Rushed Tax Bill

Abandoning their promise to carefully consider a massive tax reform bill, Iowa Republicans Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst joined all but one of their Senate colleagues to vote for the bill early Saturday morning after it was hastily rewritten behind closed doors. The controversial legislation, which contained barely legible, handwritten changes, contains $1.5 trillion in tax cuts and would raise taxes on the lower and middle class and graduate students, likely making pursuing advanced degrees too expensive for many of them. The bill would also slash the corporate tax rate, put at risk millions of Americans’ healthcare by eliminating the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, and open up Alaska’s pristine National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling. The rushed process violated several governing norms by not following normal Senate order.

The House passed a separate tax bill in November, and the two legislative chambers will now likely hold a conference committee to hash out differences between the two bills before a vote to sent it to President Trump’s desk for final approval.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt Visits Nevada

Scott Pruitt, the controversial, climate change-denying administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, visited Nevada on Friday for an invite-only event hosted by prominent local cattleman and GOP donor Bill Couser. At the event, which took place just a few miles from Dow DuPont’s recently closed $225 million cellulosic ethanol plant, Pruitt discussed lowering federal cellulosic ethanol standards. He also advocated for greater natural resource extraction, arguing that “true environmentalism” did not mean “that we should put up fences and not use our natural resources” but instead “should use them to benefit our neighbors, our country and world.” During his visit, Pruitt had lunch with Gov. Kim Reynolds and Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey, who has been nominated by President Trump for a position at the US Department of Agriculture.

Steve King Vows to Kill “All Amnesty in Every Form”

After a jury last Thursday acquitted an undocumented immigrant of murder in the 2015 shooting death of Kate Steinle in San Francisco, Congressman Steve King took to Twitter, fuming that the “death of Americans at the hands of illegals continues.”

The immigrant, 45-year-old Garcia Zarate, had previously been deported five times before he fired a Sig Sauer .40-caliber handgun that killed the 32-year-old woman as she walked along a San Francisco pier with her father. He maintained that the shooting was accidental, but the case became a focal point for conservatives including President Trump who have promoted the myth that undocumented immigrants commit violent crimes at a greater rate than US citizens.

“Sickening!” King said in another tweet. “I will spare no effort to do my own killing — of all amnesty in every form!” An anti-immigration hardliner, King has previously used analogies to compare immigrants to livestock and dogs and has repeatedly promoted the views of closed border-advocating European nationalists.

Zarate was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm, and federal immigration officials have indicated that they will try to once again deport him.

Iowa Civil Rights Groups Push to Prevent Use of Evidence from Racially Motivated Traffic Stops

Four civil rights groups have called on the state Supreme Court to establish a precedent disallowing evidence collected from traffic stops stemming from racial profiling by police. A brief filed by the groups in support of a 44-year-old Waterloo woman appealing her drunk-driving conviction, targets what they refer to as “pretextual traffic stops.” In the woman’s case, police say she was pulled over for a dead light on her license plate, but her attorney has pointed to evidence that police instead pulled the car over because it was registered to someone suspected of having a gang affiliation.

The groups pushing for reform are the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, Iowa-Nebraska Conference of the NAACP, League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa, and 1,000 Kids for Iowa.

The brief filed by the groups cites statistics suggesting that police officers in the state disproportionately target African Americans in traffic stops and are more likely to cite them for violations. For years, Iowa’s criminal justice system has had one of the worst records among all states of racial disparities between whites and blacks.

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.