Lawmakers only were in session twelve days after taking a two-month pause due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Iowa Republicans still managed to push through bills that add hurdles to obtaining an abortion and voting by mail.
Mariannette Miller-Meeks in the Iowa Senate and Ashley Hinson in the Iowa House supported both efforts as they took their final votes before adjourning for the year and turning their attention to campaigning.
Due to the pandemic, however, it is unclear how much in-person campaigning candidates will do ahead of the November elections. But now that the Legislature is adjourned until 2021, federal candidates like Miller-Meeks and Hinson can focus solely on their respective races.
Miller-Meeks, a state senator from Ottumwa, will have two years left in her four-year term if she is unsuccessful in her bid to represent Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District. But Hinson, a state representative from Marion, is at the end of her second two-year term. She is campaigning to unseat Democratic Rep. Abby Finkenauer in the 1st District and will not have a seat in the Iowa Legislature to return to if she does not win in November.
Last week, Hinson and three other retiring House members offered final reflections on their time in office.
“I’m happy to have worked on policies to protect kids from predators, while at the same time working to help those who need a second chance,” Hinson, elected in 2016, said on the House floor. “It has been a blessing to be an advocate for the hardworking taxpayers of this great state. And as a journalist, I had a passion for bills that put more transparency on state government and tried to give taxpayers a seat at the table whenever possible. Some of those made it to the governor’s desk, some of them didn’t, but again, I know that that business in this chamber is never done.”
Hinson’s mention of her time as a journalist was interesting given how, at a rally in 2017 for President Donald Trump, she described herself as a “recovering journalist,” presumably to fit Trump’s “enemy of the people” narrative about the mainstream media. When launching her congressional campaign last year, Hinson again leaned on her career in television news, but this time highlighted how reporting allowed her “to see the goodness of Iowans from every walk of life.”
Flip-flopping between being proud of her time as a reporter and the “recovering journalist” narrative is only one example of Hinson’s tendency to shape her message depending on the audience.
One of the last votes during the 2020 legislative session — a vote held late Saturday night in the House and 5:30 a.m. Sunday in the Senate — was an amendment to implement a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion. The amendment was tacked on at the last minute to a bill pertaining to children on life support.
Hinson, who told a Linn County audience in 2017 she believed “the government should stay out of women’s health care decisions,” was one of 52 House Republicans to vote in favor of the amendment and the final bill. House File 594 passed 53-42 along party lines, with the exception of Democratic Rep. Andy McKean who voted with Republicans to advance the bill.
Despite attempts to cast herself as a more moderate Republican on issues of reproductive rights, in 2018 she voted in favor of the six-week abortion ban that later was ruled unconstitutional.
In addition to restricting abortion access, Republicans also introduced last-minute legislation to place more burdens on county auditors and the secretary of state when it comes to voting. Miller-Meeks and Hinson joined their Republican colleagues over the weekend in supporting both bills.
House File 2643, an appropriations bill, was amended to require county auditors to directly contact voters — first by telephone and email and then by mail — if there is an issue with their absentee ballot request form, rather than use information on-hand about the voter to correct any mistakes, as is current practice. The bill also requires Iowans to show ID before voting early at a county auditor’s office or local courthouse.
House File 2486 mandates the secretary of state must obtain permission from the Legislative Council if he or she intends to to make changes to election procedures, such as mailing absentee ballot request forms to all registered voters, as Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate did for the June 2 primary.
HF 2486, and the voting-related amendment to HF 2643, were introduced after Sen. Roby Smith’s proposal to prohibit the secretary of state from mailing absentee ballot request forms to registered voters failed to gain traction in the House.
Miller-Meeks made her support for Smith’s bill known when she spoke about it on the Senate floor earlier this month. Miller-Meeks and her Republican colleagues passed the bill. In the House, however, lawmakers amended the legislation to strip its most controversial aspects.
When speaking in support of Smith’s proposal, Miller-Meeks asserted that because some constituents told her their households received absentee ballot request forms for people who no long lived there, automatically sending the forms to registered voters made Iowa’s elections more susceptible to fraud.
Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, on Twitter Tuesday asked Iowans to call Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office to ask she veto voting-related provisions of the budget bill and legislation imposing additional requirements on the secretary of state.
Call Gov. Reynolds' office at 515-281-5211 to ask her to veto two bills to create barriers to voting safely by mail: Division XXXI of HF2643 which restricts county auditors and requires more identification to request absentee ballot and HF2486 which restricts Secretary of State. https://t.co/HQmuLyvEmZ
— Rob Hogg (@SenatorRobHogg) June 16, 2020
Though Hinson voted in favor of Republican amendments related to voting, she skipped debate on three Democratic amendments to the budget bill, HF 2643, aimed at supporting workers, helping Iowa recover from the pandemic and protecting insurance coverage for Iowans with pre-existing health conditions.
Dozens of coronavirus-related proposals were put forth in the amendments, including: suspending evictions and foreclosures through Sept. 30; requiring employers with more than 50 employees to provide a minimum of two weeks paid sick leave for workers showing symptoms of COVID-19; covering costs associated with coronavirus testing and a vaccine; providing the Legislative Council a detailed list of all expenditures from the Coronavirus Relief Fund; and defining childcare workers as essential during the pandemic.
In addition to coronavirus-related proposals, one of Democrats’ amendments prohibited all health insurance plans from denying coverage to Iowans with pre-existing conditions and provided an additional $25 million to fully fund adult and children’s mental health care services in the state.
By Elizabeth Meyer
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