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Commentary Relays Edition

Bad bills at the Iowa Legislature 

A photo of the ceiling of the Iowa Capitol Rotunda Recently passed bills in the Iowa Legislature have worried this writer about the future and health of Iowa residents. Photo Courtesy of Caroline Siebels-Lindquist | Commentary Editor

With the month of April fully underway, the annual session of the Iowa General Assembly draws to a close. With this in mind, I think the time has come for me to share a few thoughts about what I’ve seen this session. Admittedly, this was only my first year seeing our state make laws as a clerk in the Iowa Senate. But with this new perspective, several things will stay with me long after this session ends.

First, the public vastly underestimates the number of bills and amendments that our state government passes unanimously. Yes, there still exist some areas beyond political controversy, and a sizeable majority of Iowa senators and representatives care to some degree about making sure the government continues to function.

Knowing this is what makes watching how the Senate legislates so difficult. 

The agenda of the body is driven by a select few reactionary individuals who claim to speak for all Iowans. Several frankly terrible pieces of legislation have moved through the Senate this session. The Area Education Agency bill is a prime example. The senator for whom I work has received hundreds of emails from every part of the state asking with all sincerity for restraint in this recently passed education reform. 

Yet based on the ultimate vote, the majority of Senators refused to listen to these Iowans — Iowans who knew firsthand the tremendous quality of service provided by the AEAs. Because of this bill, some services currently provided by AEAs will be cut. There is no way around this fact. Iowa’s AEAs will receive less money from the state government than they have in the past, putting students at risk of not having their needs met. No amount of misdirection from the governor, the senate president, the majority leader or any other elected official that supported this law will make this fact go away.

True, the final bill was slightly less extreme than Gov. Kim Reynolds’ original proposal, but what we’ve been shown very clearly is that all parts of the AEAs are essential. 

From speech-language services and occupational therapy to crisis response and assistive technology, AEAs are the only local organizations in many rural towns equipped to properly serve students and their families. This is an integrated system, meaning even the compromised cuts will have dire consequences for schools.

In a time in which many districts are already underfunded from the state supplemental aid fund, the legislature is forcing them to make incredibly difficult decisions on whether to keep those services or figure out ways to cover rising costs. The Senate Democratic Caucus was willing to support a committee to study ways to improve the AEA systems, but this option was relegated to an afterthought in the final bill. It will be studying a system thrown into disarray. Iowa students deserve better. They deserve fully funded schools, which require much more than a 2.5% State Supplemental Aid increase.

Another one of the more egregious pieces of legislation that has advanced through the Senate is Senate File 2412. This bill is extremely troubling and would shield chemical companies like Bayer (who conveniently lobbied in favor of the bill) from class action suits stemming from cancer diagnoses related to their products. You read that correctly. 

Consumers of these products would be unable to sue the companies that have effectively poisoned them and our communities. So far, the Iowa Senate is the only legislative body in the country to make such an atrocious move. In my 22 years of living in Iowa, I honestly cannot say that anyone I’ve known has expressed concern for multi-billion dollar companies’ profits before the health of our state. 

What is even more frustrating regarding this bill is the fact that Iowa has the second-highest cancer rate in the country, and it’s rising. Our goal should be to remove as many known carcinogens from our markets as possible — or at the very least not impede folks’ ability to seek legal recourse for wrongdoing. The sensible thing would be to allow those people to sue so there can be some sense of justice in all this.

My final point is not on a bill, but rather the attitudes of a few senators (whom I should name, but will not) towards their fellow Iowans. This is a similar point to the one raised by Sen. Tony Bisignano during a point of personal privilege (a speech on a topic of the senator’s choosing)  on April 1 that has continued to bother me. 

In all honesty, the senator who used his point of personal privilege to attack the transgender and queer communities should be ashamed of his words that day. His speech was a cheap political jab at his fellow Americans in an asinine attempt to say that queer rights and Christianity are incompatible — and that Transgender Day of Visibility was an affront to Easter because they happened to fall next to each other on the calendar this year. Let me just say that if Transgender Day of Visibility makes you angry over Easter weekend, I encourage you to do some more reading on the teachings of the figure Easter is about. I thank Sen. Bisignano and Sen.Liz  Bennett for speaking up against one of the most hateful floor speeches I’ve heard from an elected official. The last thing a marginalized community needs is those in power punching down. 

If any of this ridiculousness frustrates you as much as it frustrates me, I encourage you to stay involved. Bad actors in our governmental system will continue their behavior until there are electoral consequences. I’ll be on the doors until November, refusing to let folks pushing harmful legislation and speech go without notice. We have so many great candidates running to replace them. This election is an opportunity for change, and our state desperately needs some.

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