The Iowa House found itself in a good old-fashioned Mexican standoff last night. Democrats loaded up their six-shooters with Equal Pay amendments. Republicans readied themselves with bullets aimed at labor organizing rights. Some brief, tense words were exchanged, but most of the evening was filled with nothing more exciting than blowing tumbleweeds as both sides postponed and delayed. The sun had long set when the proceedings finally finished close to midnight with no shots fired.
The scene was set yesterday when the House introduced the final economic development budget for passage around 4:00 PM. With the Iowa Legislature fast approaching adjournment, House Democrats hoped to press Republicans on a few key progressive issues that hadn’t been discussed much this session. So Representatives Marti Anderson and Abby Finkenauer introduced an amendment on Equal Pay legislation to a Republican amendment on the budget bill. That set off a long string of procedural movements that didn’t resolve themselves until nearly eight hours later.
The Republicans in the House seemed none too excited to vote on an equal pay for women bill as many may make an unpopular vote against it. The House Republican staff pointed out that Iowa already has laws against such wage discrimination.
But Finkenauer and Anderson’s amendment would have put more teeth into that law to make it more enforceable. They looked to require HR directors be trained in equal pay issues, that companies that receive state contracts have pay parity, and also have Iowa affirm a federal code that says you can’t be fired for discussing your pay compared to others at work.
Many Republicans would rather not go that far with equal pay laws, so they countered the Democrats’ amendments with some of their own. Representative Greg Forristall introduced an amendment to Finkanuer’s and Anderson’s that would largely gut Chapter 20 collective bargaining rights, taking away binding arbitration. That would seriously undercut public sector unions’ ability to negotiate in good faith with management. Republicans fought a similar battle last year that went nowhere.
Once Forristall made his move Democrats went to caucus to discuss their options, where they stayed for hours.
And that’s how most of the night went, with both Democrats and Republicans withdrawing for long periods of time from the House floor to strategize over how to maneuver the debate. Republicans wished to avoid a vote on equal pay measures and Democrats didn’t want a bill with a damaging collective bargaining amendment officially attached to it.
Finally, around 11:30 at night, all returned to the floor and Finkenauer and Anderson made their opening remarks on why the equal pay provisions were necessary. Each then withdrew their amendments at the end of their speech. The House passed the overall economic development budget bill.
Democrats may try to attach more amendments today to the scheduled Health and Human Services budget. The end of the legislative session may be in sight, but Democrats are determined to put up a fight on their issues before it closes out.
by Pat Rynard