The Iowa Legislature will return this January with Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, eager to implement a broad-reaching conservative agenda. They have waited 20 years for full control of Iowa government, and with Terry Branstad and/or Kim Reynolds in the Governor’s office (depending on Branstad’s ambassador appointment), they finally have it.
Iowans can expect Republicans to move very quickly on ramming through a slew of far-right legislation that could fundamentally change Iowa society, including a push for school privatization, gutting collective bargaining for public employees and weakening water quality plans. The same hard rightward shift in policies that Wisconsin and Kansas saw in recent years could soon appear here as well.
If Democrats and progressive activists want to limit the fallout, save what programs they can, or otherwise make Republicans pay for their votes, they’ll need an all-out effort at the Statehouse this year.
To accomplish that, people need to start planning their activism now. Sometimes legislation moves fast. By the time you read a story in the Des Moines Register about a bill getting out of a subcommittee, it’s already scheduled for an important vote in a few days and the best chance to defeat or amend it has already passed.
Starting Line checked in with many of the state’s top progressive issue advocacy groups so we could make a handy list of who to contact for each major issue, as well as what’s at stake on each topic. Below is a summary of what could happen on each policy issue under a Republican majority and the organization(s) that will be fighting against it. I’ll note this is not a comprehensive list, and many of the organizations listed also work on other topics – this is just a good place for you to start.
How To Get Involved
You can go through the sections below and individually email the contact people on issues you want to get involved with, or you can fill out this helpful form and I’ll send your contact info on to the right people. To be better informed about the latest news at the Capitol, join Iowa Starting Line and Progress Iowa’s email list here:
We’ll be working together during session to cover what Republicans are doing and letting people know how they can help. Progress Iowa is one of the state’s catchall progressive issue advocacy organizations.
The first item on Speaker Linda Upmeyer and Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix’s agenda will be to gut Iowa’s collective bargaining rules. That will result in lower wages and worse health insurance benefits for police officers, state employees, teachers, firefighters and correction officers. It could easily depress wages across the state and weaken unions. This legislation could move very fast and will need a lot of pushback from activists right at the state start of session.
One of the largest concerns this year is that Republicans will provide no new funds at all for public education, piling on to the problems of school districts that have been underfunded for nearly a decade now. It’s also likely that Republicans will start Iowa down the path of school voucher programs, further siphoning away funds from public schools. That could also open up issues over public funding and religious organizations, as funding could be diverted to parochial and homeschooling operations.
Public concern over Iowa’s pitiful water quality has pressured Republicans into promising during the 2016 campaign that they’d do something on the topic. The big question is whether it’ll be meaningful or actually make the situation worse. Branstad suggested taking money from funds dedicated to school funding, and Republicans will probably try to raid other programs to pay for any new plan. There’s also concerns they will limit Des Moines Waterworks’ ability to sue over water quality, hide data on water quality from the public and roll back administrative rules that benefit clean water and clean air.
Frustrated with the lack of progress from Iowa legislators, several Iowa counties and municipalities enacted minimum wage increases of their own in recent years. Part of the push was intended to force lawmakers to raise the statewide wage, as many businesses didn’t like the hodgepodge method of different minimum wages across the state. However, now that Republicans control everything, it’s more likely they’ll try to pass legislation forbidding local municipalities from setting their own minimum wages, striking down the earlier increases. Republicans might do a small statewide bump in the minimum wage, or they might do none at all. Regardless, it is likely their actions will actually lower wages around Iowa in several counties that took action on their own.
Contact: Bridget Fagan with CCI, firstname.lastname@example.org
Advocates are worried that Republicans will try to introduce a “Religious Freedom” bill, which would allow businesses and organizations to opt out of Iowa’s anti-discrimination laws and regulations. That would greatly weaken protections for LGBTQ Iowans in matters of employment, education and housing, and could reverse the progress made on anti-bullying efforts. They also fear Republicans will go after gender identity in the Iowa Civil Rights Act in order to weaken protections for transgender Iowans.
Contact: Keenan Crow with One Iowa, email@example.com, and Nate Monson with Iowa Safe Schools, nate.monson@iowasafeschools.
Women’s Healthcare Rights
In past sessions some Republicans have pushed “personhood” legislation, which would have criminalized abortion and banned many forms of birth control. Republican leaders may not go that far now that they have control, but they could implement plenty of restrictions with the intent to shut down abortion providers and limit women’s access to contraceptives. They only need to look to other states for their ideas, like in Ohio where Republicans’ actions have shuttered half of the state’s abortion clinics. There they cut funding for Planned Parenthood, banned rape-crisis counselors from referring victims to abortion services, and prohibited hospitals from having transfer agreements with abortion clinics, essentially forcing many to shut down. All these things and more may be coming to Iowa.
There hasn’t been a lot of rumors yet over what Republicans will want to do to loosen gun regulations, but the gun lobby is ready to push for a lot after their attacks on legislative Democrats in 2016 helped create the new majorities. “Stand You Ground” legislation, concealed carry with no permit, secrecy for those with permits and allowing all youths to handle guns are all measures that could get on the legislative agenda this year.
Contact: Jeremy Brigham of Iowans for Gun Safety, firstname.lastname@example.org
Latino activists plan on pushing the Legislature to allow driver licenses for undocumented immigrants, as well as discourage racial profiling by law enforcement officials. And they’ll also be heavily involved in the public education funding battle, including fighting to keep ESL programs in place.
Contact: Joe Henry of LULAC, email@example.com
Had GOP-controlled legislatures not enacted significant voting restrictions in states like North Carolina and Wisconsin, Hillary Clinton may very well have won last month. Expect Iowa Republicans to consider voter ID laws that intentionally target people of color and college students. They’ll likely also try to restrict early voting options, especially satellite voting locations that make it easier for students to vote. Meanwhile, voting advocates will push to allow former felons to have their voting rights restored.
Again, you can also fill out this form with your contact info and we’ll get it along to everyone you want to help out.
If you’re part of an organization that will also be fighting on one of these issues and want to be included, shoot me an email at IowaStartingLine@gmail.com
by Pat Rynard