A bill advanced in the Iowa Senate on Monday that would prohibit cities and counties from regulating natural gas or propane sales triggered a debate on how Republicans value local control this Legislative session.
Passed 29-16 along party lines, the bill will bar local governments from overseeing energy choice in their communities. It comes as the Senate has already passed a bill this session that bans private tech companies from “censoring” speech and advanced legislation that denies state funding to any locality that reduces their police budgets—other examples that Democrats say allow state government to squash local policy decisions, a move contrary to traditional Republican tenants.
The bill states that “a county shall not adopt, enforce or otherwise administer an ordinance, motion, resolution or amendment, or use any other means to restrict, impede, regulate or prohibit, intentionally or effectively” a natural gas service by a public utility or competitive natural gas provider.
“Well its Monday, we’re back, been in debate a couple hours, it didn’t take long to have another bill to take away local control. It’s our weekly anti-democracy bill. Because that is what local control is about—local people making local decisions about what’s best for the people,” said Democratic Sen. Joe Bolkcom during Monday’s debate in the Senate chamber.
“This bill reminds me of the ‘Defund the Police’ bill we had a few weeks ago. A solution seeking a problem that does not exist. I’m for allowing local communities to determine our energy future. And I’m for that because the Republicans in this Legislature for the past five years have absolutely lousy track record on energy and preparing for our energy future.”
Republican Sen. Jason Schultz, the bill’s floor manager, said that the legislation doesn’t curb local control because it gives choice to families, the “most local form of government.”
“A week ago, was it? We ran the big-tech censorship bill because we want to have the free exchange of ideas. This bill is about having the free opportunity to choose what to heat your home with,” Schultz said. “This doesn’t eliminate local control because … the family is the most local form of government you can have.”
Republicans also voted down a Democratic amendment that would not restrict the ability of a county to promote alternative energy sources.
“This bill would prohibit a city from taking charge of and controlling its clean energy future. This bill protects the methane and propane gas industry, an industry that doesn’t exist here in Iowa, but one that does pump money right out of Iowa at the same rate it pumps gas into Iowa,” said Democratic Sen. Eric Giddens. “This bill is anti-Iowa.”
Former state representative and lead environmental researcher David Osterberg agreed in a recent Cedar Rapids Gazette op-ed that this bill would profit out-of-state fossil fuel companies.
“The new natural gas bill, requiring that we take dirty, imported energy, is so broad that it may prohibit programs to make homes and businesses more efficient and decrease gas imports. It takes away the rights of local officials for the benefit of out-of-state fossil fuel companies,” Osterberg wrote.
The question of the GOP’s value of local control also came up in the early days of the pandemic, when Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds ruled that every Iowa school district physically reopen, save for an exemption granted by the state in some cases. Reynolds also blocked Iowa cities and counties from instituting mask mandates in their communities.
During past sessions, Republicans’ appreciation for local control was questioned after the GOP-controlled legislature in 2019 declined to allow counties to oversee or control contentious concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOS). Last session, the legislature advanced a bill that stops local governments from passing housing ordinances that would forbid discrimination on income source.
Legislators in Iowa have also reversed existing minimum wage increases in some counties and enacted immigration policy that would withhold funding from local governments if they didn’t comply.
by Isabella Murray
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