More Eyebrow-Raising Proposals from Iowa Lawmakers

Among them are establishing a Medicaid work requirement, removing protections for abuse victims, allowing Iowans to out people's immigration statuses, eliminating gun regulations, expanding the state's nonexistent militia, calling for a constitutional convention to rein in the federal government, targeting anti-pipeline protesters, forcing grocery stores to sell "conventional eggs," and slashing thousands of state regulations

Dave Parker/Wikimedia Commons

The other week, we took a look at some of the most extreme bills that had been introduced within the first three weeks of the 2018 Iowa legislative session. But the list was hardly exhaustive. Here’s a look at several other bills that we either didn’t mention before or that have been introduced since our last legislative roundup.

Medicaid work requirement (SF 2158)

State Sen. Tom Greene, R-Burlington, introduced a bill at the beginning of February that would require Medicaid recipients to have a job or attend school or job training — a proposal critics say is a cruel way of hurting those too sick to hold down work or who otherwise are unable to find a job. It stems from a 10-page Trump administration memo sent to state Medicaid directors last month via the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “Our fundamental goal is to make a positive and lasting difference in the health and wellness of our beneficiaries, and today’s announcement is a step in that direction,” the agency’s administrator, Seema Verma, said in a statement then. Gov. Kim Reynolds, who last month proposed cutting the state’s Medicaid budget by $10 million, said prior to the bill’s introduction that she was reviewing the agency’s guidelines outlined in the memo.

Reduction of oversight requirements for Medicaid (HSB 632)

As if that weren’t enough, the Iowa Department of Human Services last week requested that a bill be filed that would reduce oversight of the state’s Medicaid program, which has already been substantially weakened by former Gov. Terry Branstad’s decision to privatize it. The DHS proposal would allow the agency to report Medicaid performance data less often, eliminate some consumer protections, and also get rid of a requirement that the agency report expected savings related to the privatization of the health care program for poor and disabled Iowans. (The DHS recently reported that privatizing the program would end up saving 80 percent less than Branstad’s initial rosy estimate.) “To me the bill was kind of a way of just saying, ‘We’re just not going to provide that to you now. You can go search for it,’” state Rep. Lisa Heddens, an Ames Democrat on the subcommittee where the bill was introduced, told the Associated Press.

Removal of protections for domestic abuse victims (HF 2214/HF 2246)

Janesville Republican Sandy Salmon, a social conservative who has also co-sponsored House bills targeting LGBT Iowans, this month introduced two proposals that would scale back protections for domestic and sexual abuse victims. HF 2246 would remove the current preponderance of the evidence standard for obtaining a temporary protective order against an abuser, replacing it with language requiring the victim to “prove an allegation of domestic abuse or sexual abuse beyond a reasonable doubt.” And HF 2214 would remove the power of a judge to extend the 15-day period after a temporary protective order request is filed before a hearing must be held. Currently, judges have the ability to extend this period if it’s necessary — during which time a temporary protective order would be in place — but Salmon’s bill would simply terminate the protective order if no hearing is held within 15 days.

It’s not the first time Republican lawmakers have taken aim at abuse victims since gaining control of both houses of the state Legislature in 2017, when they passed budget cuts that eliminated programs for abuse victims including the Iowa Sexual Abuse Hotline.

Outing convicted criminals’ immigration statuses (HF 2114)

A bill introduced by state Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison, and co-sponsored by seven other Republicans would allow Iowans to request the immigration status of a person convicted of a crime in the state. Holt told the Des Moines Register that he proposed the idea after a constituent complained that he was refused access to information he requested about a criminal’s immigration status. Opponents of the bill who spoke with the newspaper said they were concerned that such a law would lead to more racial profiling and harm undocumented victims of domestic violence who may avoid seeking help for fear of being deported.

Making all able-bodied Iowans members of the state militia (SJR 2004)

No list of extreme legislative proposals would be complete without a contribution from state Sen. Mark “Chickenman” Chelgren, R-Ottumwa, who last week introduced a Senate joint resolution that would amend Iowa’s constitution to stipulate “that the militia of this state shall be composed of all able-bodied persons over the age of 18 who are citizens of the United States and Iowa, residents of Iowa, and pay Iowa income tax.” The state does not even have a militia, although the Legislature could assemble one — so long as all of its members are “armed, equipped, and trained.”

Article VI of Iowa’s constitution, which was adopted in 1857, currently provides that the state’s militia “shall be composed of all able-bodied male citizens, between the ages of eighteen and forty five years.” The article was previously amended in 1868 to eliminate a requirement that only white men serve in the militia.

Constitutional carry (SF 2106)

Introduced in late January and receiving the recommendation of a judiciary subcommittee last Thursday, a bill currently co-sponsored by 18 Senate Republicans would affirm a so-called constitutional carry right in Iowa for handguns. Similar laws exist in 14 other states and are premised on the idea that the Second Amendment includes no restrictions on the right to bear arms. The Iowa bill would eliminate the requirement that residents obtain a permit to own or carry a pistol or revolver, allowing anyone to do so unless they are otherwise prohibited from possessing a gun under state or federal law. Among the bill’s co-sponsors is — who else? — Mark Chelgren, who once dodged a federal law that could have stripped him of his gun ownership rights after he was arrested for domestic violence in 2006.

Should it pass, the law would build on the expansive rollback on gun regulations passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature last year.

Constitutional convention (SJR 8)

If 34 states demand it, a constitutional convention would be convened at which the states would propose amendments to the US constitution that would limit the power of the federal government if ratified by 38 states. On Feb. 1, a subcommittee of the Iowa Senate’s State Government Committee recommended passage of a resolution to join the states — and Koch brothers — calling for a convention to “propose amendments to the Constitution of the United State that impose fiscal restraints, and limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and requesting Congress to similarly propose such amendments.” (Update: As Iowa Starting Line noted, the resolution copies language directly from a proposal written by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council.) Estimates of the number of states that have passed similar resolutions that remain currently range widely. However, a convention has not been held since 1787, when the US Constitution was established.

Iowa lawmakers also proposed resolutions for a constitutional convention in 2017. At the time, the Des Moines Register noted, “The push for a convention of the states as been endorsed by a host of prominent conservatives, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, radio hosts Sean Hannity and Mark Levin, and David Barton, an evangelical Christian minister from Texas who disputes the idea that the U.S. Constitution requires a separation of church and state.”

Pipeline sabotage crackdown (SSB 3062/HSB 603)

Last week, we described a GOP proposal to make it a class D felony with a penalty of up to five years in prison and a $7,500 fine to block highway traffic, which specifically targeted anti-Trump protesters who marched from Iowa City to Interstate 80 after the 2016 election.

But that wasn’t the only bill introduced this year targeting protesters. In January, the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management proposed legislation in both the House and Senate that would establish a class B felony with a penalty of up to 25 years in prison and a $100,000 fine for someone “who commits critical infrastructure sabotage” — or, as state Sen. Tom Shipley, R-Nodaway, recently described it, “terrorist activities on pipelines.” The Iowa bill — one of eight anti-pipeline proposals across the country — is a response to vandalism that occurred during the recent construction of the Dakota Access crude oil pipeline that caused millions of dollars in damage. Among those lobbying for the bill are Dakota Access parent company Energy Transfer Partners, the American Petroleum Institute trade association, and Koch Industries. The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa opposes it.

Forcing grocery stores to sell “conventional eggs” (HSB 623)

Last week, state Rep. Lee Hein, R-Monticello, introduced legislation that would force Iowa grocery stores to “carry an inventory of conventional eggs” if it also sells “specialty eggs.” Speaking to Radio Iowa, Hein claimed that his bill would prevent animal rights activists from pressuring stores into only selling eggs that come from cage-free chickens, as opposed to “cheaper and more affordable” eggs from large-scale operations where hens are caged in close quarters. He also argued that, despite “struggling with” forcing grocery stores to stock conventional eggs, the bill would safeguard consumer choice. “I also believe that we don’t need to bow down to the pressure of the animal rights groups, which are maybe growing, but are still a small segment of the population,” he said. “And I firmly believe that the regular Iowans want a choice.”

School voucher program, House version (HSB 651)

In our first roundup of extreme Statehouse bills, we took another look at Mark Chelgren’s proposal to redirect some of the money that the state has already allocated for K-12 education into private schooling for parents who want to take their kids out of public schools.

Now, thanks to Cedar Falls Republican Walt Rogers, a so-called “school choice” bill is also under consideration in the House. He proposes establishing an education savings account program that would allow parents of qualifying students to receive up to $5,000 from the state each year for expenses related to private schooling. Rogers also floated the idea in 2017, but it went nowhere after the Legislature estimated the cost of setting up an education savings account program at $240 million.

(Also, in case you missed it earlier, check out Informer contributor Greg Wickenkamp’s detailed look at the destructive effects of privatizing public schools.)

Scrapping thousands of government regulations in one fell swoop (SF 2190)

A bill introduced last Wednesday by Ankeny Republican Jack Whitver and advanced Monday to the full Senate Labor and Business Relations Committee would eliminate one-third of the state government’s 160,000 regulations on the books. Under Whitver’s proposal, beginning on July 1, 2019, the state’s administrative code could have no more rules than what existed one year prior; and, by Jan. 1, 2022, it could have no more than two-thirds of the number of rules it had in place in July 2018. Although seemingly radical, the bill is backed by the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, as well as the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity dark money group.

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.