Weekly News Roundup: Cannabis Bill Advances as Funnel Deadline Kills Others, IUB Reconvenes on Bakken Pipeline

Adrián de la Natividad/Noun Project

A look at some of the headlines over the past week, on the day of the Iowa Legislature’s first funnel deadline for legislation to pass out of committees (here’s a session timetable PDF):

House committee approves limited medical marijuana bill: The Iowa House’s Commerce Committee on Wednesday passed a bill that would allow for the manufacturing, distribution, and possession of cannabis oil (but not actual pot) to treat epilepsy, terminal cancer, and multiple sclerosis. The legislation, a stripped-down version of an earlier bill that would have allowed for the treatment of more conditions, was sent to the House floor by a 17-6 vote in the committee of the GOP-controlled lower chamber. A similar but even more restrictive bill — Iowa’s Medical Cannabidiol Act — became law in 2014. That okayed the possession of cannabis oil for the treatment of children’s intractable epilepsy, but, because lawmakers included no measures allowing for the sale of the oil in Iowa, parents were left to risk crossing state lines to illegally transport the oil back from Colorado. (It’s been six years since the Iowa Board of Pharmacy recommended that legitimate medical marijuana rules be established in the state.)

Bills begin to die as Legislature hits funnel week deadline today: Today is the Iowa Legislature’s first major bill deadline; legislation that doesn’t pass out of House or Senate committees to the floor of their respective chamber is done for. The Des Moines Register published a rundown yesterday of the bills that had already died before reaching this initial procedural hurdle. The doomed proposals included bills to ease up on mandatory minimum sentencing laws (HF 2171) — although similar language could be amended to another bill later this session; ban human cloning (SF 2114); improve the state’s abysmal access to records involving law enforcement investigations with new police body camera rules (SSB 3088 and SF 2174); allow anyone above the age of 72 to opt out of jury duty (HF 2056); force Stanford to apologize for its Rose Bowl halftime marching band show, a dead-from-the-start pander by longhot Loebsack challenger/Ottumwa state Sen. Mark Chelgren; and raise the smoking (and vaping) age to 21 (SF 2016) — the Informer covered that, and its connections with the Ames City Council, earlier this week.

Lawmakers have planned interim studies for some of the proposals, like the police body camera rules, in anticipation of having more thorough research available before the likely introduction of similar legislation in 2017. That’s no guarantee the bills will pass next year — in 2010, an interim study was scheduled to review the Board of Pharmacy’s medical marijuana recommendation but nixed after a cop-out by then-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-Des Moines), who suggested to KCCI that he wasn’t even familiar with current state laws that the board reviewed in reaching its recommendation.

Iowa Utilities Board reconvenes today to review Bakken pipeline permit request: The IUB wrapped up four public meetings last week in Des Moines without reaching a decision on whether to grant Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners’ subsidiary Dakota Access LLC a permit it requested for a hazardous liquid pipeline permit that would funnel crude oil from North Dakota shales through 18 Iowa counties. The board just reconvened this afternoon to consider the matter further; a decision could come today but might not until March. Iowa is the only of the four states the pipeline would cross whose regulators have not yet signed off on the project.

The Informer will arrive fashionably late to today’s meeting, so check back tonight for more coverage. (And if you haven’t seen our timeline of major events concerning the controversial proposal leading to this point, check it out!)

Hy-Vee bottles water for Flint crisis: In a show of support for Cyclone basketball star Monte Morris, who hails from water-crisis-plagued Flint, Michigan, grocery chain Hy-Vee reportedly filled up 11 semis with bottled water. On Thursday, Morris watched them depart Hilton Coliseum. Mother Jones has a good timeline of events leading to and during the crisis. In short, in April 2014 the city changed its water supply from Detroit’s system to the polluted Flint River to save money. Delays in communicating the risks of toxins in the water as well as negligence on the parts of local and state officials followed, and Flint residents have suffered a range of potentially serious health effects.

The Ames Tribune recorded a video of Morris’ appearance outside Hilton, and the paper previously took down some of his thoughts on the crisis last month.

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.