Republican legislative leaders were none too happy with Senators Brad Zaun and Mark Chelgren at the beginning of the 2017 session. Both of them had filed a handful of particularly odd or politically volatile bills at the beginning of the session, from ideas like women being able to sue a doctor that performs their abortion to “losers pay” litigation change. Chelgren was especially prolific with proposed legislation that went nowhere but drew lots of media attention, like his plan to consider political ideology in hiring college professors.
Legislators often file many bills that they know will never see the light of a committee hearing, a fate that’s pretty much assured if you’re in the minority. But once Republicans took full control of Iowa’s government last year, you never really knew for sure which of these might end up as a live round.
That helped bring a lot of extra media attention to those weird bills suggested by Chelgren, Zaun and others, sometimes dominating the conversation around the Statehouse when Republican leaders were trying to focus on other priorities. Republican leaders seemed particularly annoyed in a few interviews when constantly pressed on the oddball proposals that weren’t going anywhere.
So, it seems those leaders may have had a talk with some of their more problematic members to keep distractions to a minimum this session. Chelgren is also up for reelection this year, which may be adding to some self-preservation thinking.
As for those actual GOP priorities, it’s a hazy picture yet again as the legislative session kicks off today. Much like last year, there’s plenty of behind-the-scenes rumors of what topics will be addressed, but little actual bills set out in writing yet.
Nearly all of the pre-filed bills this year are from department agencies to clean up or amend parts of the laws that govern them, with only two legislators – Republican Representative Andy McKean and Democratic Representative John Forbes – filing legislation ahead of time. McKean’s bill deals with how small towns get workforce housing tax incentives. Forbes’ is one of the biggest policy ideas for 2018, and a top priority for many Democrats – establishing a public option healthcare choice in Iowa and reversing the Medicaid privatization change.
Other proposed bills from state departments are of varying interest. The Department of Corrections doesn’t want inmates to be able to read sexy magazines anymore. The Department of Human Services wants to expand child sexual abuse laws to cover anyone who is 18 years or older in a household, not just the responsible parent or guardian. The Board of Licensing thinks nurses should get a “refresher course” on their work, which has already upset plenty of nurses in the state. And the Department of Public Safety looks to expand the number of crimes it can use wire taps for.
Tax reform, school choice and Medicaid will likely be the biggest flash points for the 2018 session, but many expect another large de-appropriations bill to kick off the year. That could mean even more deep cuts to state services early on.
by Pat Rynard