Under the Golden Dome

By Iowa Public Radio

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Under the Golden Dome is Iowa Public Radio's coverage of the Iowa legislature. Each episode is a compilation of the week's news coverage, including stories, interviews and more. The 2017 session finds Republicans controlling both legislative chambers, as well as the Governor's office, for the first time in 20 years. Out of the gate lawmakers are addressing a $100 million shortfall in the current budget. Join us as we navigate issues like education funding, and improving Iowa's water quality. Each week we'll talk with policy makers as well as those impacted by their actions.

Episode Date
Under the Golden Dome: Splitting the Difference
Gov. Kim Reynolds invited Republicans to a press conference to announce the creation of a Flood Recovery Advisory Board. She says it will help decide what to do and how to use funds from the federal and state level. The governor is asking legislators to make $15 million available from fiscal year 2019’s ending balance go to the flood mitigation fund. She’s also asking for $10 million in the next fiscal year for the Workforce Housing Tax Credits to accelerate housing improvements in flooded areas. The Speaker of the House Linda Upmeyer says the House stands ready to do what is necessary to support the governor and help rebuild communities. Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver also pledges the support of Senate Republicans. Whitver also takes this opportunity to praise his party’s budgeting and blames Democrats in the U.S. Senate for stalling a supplemental appropriations bill. This federal appropriations bill helps with expenses related to natural disasters for this fiscal year. It
Apr 19, 2019
Under the Golden Dome: Financial Roads
In the first month of the legislative session it’s common to see heads of large departments visit a committee to explain their budget requests. In January, the Department of Transportation asked for $259 million dollars for its highway division. The DOT set aside $13 million a year to buy 225,000 tons of salt. Normally they use 156,000 tons in a season. In February, Iowa received record or near record amounts of snowfall and the DOT used a lot of salt on the roads. They’ve already used around 220,000 tons and they need start getting another 124,000 tons to begin replenishing salt sheds for next winter. This week, the DOT’s budget contained a supplemental appropriations of $8.7 million to do this. That will come out of this fiscal year’s budget. When all of the snow from February started to melt in March, many communities flooded. More than half of Iowa’s counties have been approved for a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration. The Missouri River runs along much of Iowa’s western
Apr 12, 2019
Under the Golden Dome: Second Deadline
Some bills move through a chamber quickly. A bill changing the testing to obtain a teaching license passes in the Senate after three and half minutes of discussion. In the House, the discussion is quite different. Democrats present amendments that would terminate the state’s Medicaid managed care contracts in favor of a state-run system. It’s in response to UnitedHealthcare announcing it will leave Iowa sometime this year. In 2016, Iowa’s Medicaid system went from a state-run program to being managed by private companies. This transition was controversial and both parties admit there have been problems going to this kind of system. Proposing Medicaid changes as an amendment to a bill about teacher certification isn’t likely to go anywhere, but it gives Democrats a stage to speak. Most speeches from representatives are limited to 10 minutes, but that rule doesn’t apply to opening remarks. For 50 minutes, Democrats hold the floor with sharp criticism about privatized Medicaid. The
Apr 05, 2019
Under the Golden Dome: Banning, Expanding & Broadening
Every year, the Herbert Hoover Foundation awards two members of the Iowa legislature the Uncommon Public Service Award. Only a few people in the House and Senate chambers know who the recipient of the award will be until it is announced. Like previous winners, legislators Sen. Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa, and Rep. John Forbes, D-Urbandale, had no idea they were being honored until it was announced on the chamber floor. In February Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, resigned. Now the Senate has 50 members as the winner of the special election for Senate District 30, Sen. Eric Giddens, D-Cedar Falls, has taken the oath of office. The Senate had what seems like its annual debate about banning traffic enforcement cameras. Camera opponents say they take away due process for those who are ticketed. Proponents say they keeps roadways safer and allow law enforcement to focus on other efforts. Although Republicans control both chambers, they don’t always agree on bills. A House Judiciary
Mar 29, 2019
Under the Golden Dome: Work, Power and Health
There are around 650,000 people enrolled for Medicaid in Iowa. Around 170,000 are through the Iowa Health and Wellness plan. Under a bill in the Senate, 40 percent of those on the Iowa Health and Wellness plan will need have part time work or volunteer to say on the program. The work requirement has 11 exemptions. They include those who are pregnant, disabled, in rehab or enrolled in the Future Ready Iowa program. It’s estimated the implimenting the reporting requirement will cost $5 million in the first year and $12 million each subsequent year. Last year the Children’s System State Board was created by an executive order from the governor. Part of their strategic goals include ways to provide services, treatment, and therapy to children. The g overnor proposes having a $5 million federal block grant funding programs recommended by the Children’s System State Board. To do that, it will take money that is now being spread among 25 state organizations providing services for adults.
Mar 22, 2019
Under the Golden Dome: Appointing
The governor appoints hundreds of people to serve in state departments. The roles range from board member, director, or member of a judicial nominating commission. All of these individuals require confirmation by the Senate by a two thirds majority for them to continue in their appointed role. Some of these appointees visit a Senate committee. Former Speaker of the House Kraig Paulsen, did that this week with the Ways and Means Committee. Two weeks ago he was appointed as the director of the Iowa Department of Revenue. He talks about the department’s challenges and potential solutions to long waits on the phone for customers who have questions about their taxes during filing time. Also visiting a committee are three Iowa Board of Regents appointees. They answer questions about universities balancing freedom of speech rights with discrimination. This topic is center to a bill that comes before the Senate. The bill is related to 2016 incident that happened at the University of Iowa. The
Mar 15, 2019
Under the Golden Dome: In the Middle of It
March 8 was the deadline for most bills and resolutions to pass a House or a Senate committee. Most of those that haven’t are no longer eligible for a subcommittee. Exceptions include appropriations, ways and means and government oversite. There are others ways a bill subject to the deadline could emerge later, but most won’t. This is also called the "funnel deadline." The 2019 Iowa Legislative Session is scheduled for 110 days. That's 16 weeks, so it’s likely we are in the middle of this session. In an election, a mail-in ballot must enter the mail system the day before the election to be counted. When it arrives at a county auditor's office, it must have a postmark. If not, the ballot is likely tossed unless a barcode on the envelope can verify it was mailed on time. But, what kind of barcode actually counts? That question was asked at great length in the first part of this session when mail-in ballots arrived in Winneshiek County without postmarks during the November election for
Mar 08, 2019
Under the Golden Dome: Access
Part of a 2017 law that banned abortions after 20 weeks included a provision that a woman must wait 72 hours after the initial doctor consultation to have the procedure. In June, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled the 72 hour waiting period was unconstitutional. A law banning on abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected was struck down by a district court in January, because it was also declared unconstitutional. Gov. Kim Reynolds decided not to challenge the heartbeat law decision. She says the Iowa Supreme Court ruling about the 72 hour waiting period makes it likely future abortion restriction laws will be overturned. During an anti-abortion rally, she tells supporters because Republicans won the November 2018 elections, they will appoint judges to the bench that follow the state constitution. There is a bill proposing changing how judges make their way to Iowa Supreme Court and the district courts. Nominating commissions select potential justices for the governor to consider.
Mar 01, 2019
Under the Golden Dome: Exempting
A House subcommittee bill is discussed that would prohibit a person from running as a non-party political organization candidate if they lose a Democratic or Republican primary. Another bill with a similar goal would require candidates from any party to file their nominating papers with the secretary of state on the same date. Right now Democrats and Republicans file their nominating papers in March, non-party candidates do so in August. Both bills are eligible to move to a full committee. All children attending a public school are required to be vaccinated according to a schedule from the Centers for Disease Control. A parent can prevent their children from being vaccinated by filling out a one page form from the Iowa Department of Health, claiming they have a sincere religious belief that conflicts with immunization. A person can also claim if the form is signed by a doctor or a nurse. Two bills that would expand exemptions to immunizations are presented back to back during a crowded
Feb 22, 2019
Under the Golden Dome: Amends
To amend the state constitution, two consecutive Iowa General Assemblies must approve a resolution. Then it must be approved by Iowa voters. But first, the Secretary of State must publish the amendment in newspapers. Secretary of State Paul Pate failed to do that for two amendments approved during the last General Assembly. P ate says it was a mistake and he apologized, but because of this error, supporters of the resolutions must start the process over. On e would enshrine gun rights in the state constitution and the other clarifies the gubernatorial line of succession . The State Government Subcommittee has restarted the gubernatorial succession amendment. The resolution stems from the situation in 2017 when Gov. Reynolds left the office of lieutenant governor to become the governor. The Attorney General issued a formal opinion that a lieutenant governor who becomes governor is not constitutionally permitted to select the next lieutenant governor. This resolution clarifies the line
Feb 15, 2019
Under the Golden Dome: Legalize It?
Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, wants to expand marijuana access in Iowa. Bolkcom says marijuana should be regulated and taxed like alcohol. Other states have legalized marijuana use in some form but it is still illegal under federal law, and it is unlikely Iowa legislators will take action. But legislators are considering bills that would legalize sports betting. In May 2018 the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that allows states to have this form of gambling. Eight states have legalized sports betting and Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, wants Iowa to be next. Four sports betting bills are discussed in Senate ( SSB 1079 , 1080 , 1081 , 1100 ) and House ( HSB 101 , 102 , 103 , 124 ) State Government Subcommittees. One would allow the Iowa Lottery to accept bets with equipment that is already in use in stores. The subcommittees do not sign off on these bills. A single bill that incorporates some of their aspects will be written and brought before a new subcommittee. Gov. Kim Reynolds
Feb 08, 2019
Under the Golden Dome: First Division
This week, the Iowa House voted for the first time in this General Assembly, but there wasn’t anything ordinary about this one. During the election for House District 55, the incumbent Rep. Michael Bergan, R-Dorchester, won by nine votes. Ballots arrived in Winneshiek County without postmarks and the county auditor tossed them. The Democratic challenger Kay Koether sued to have the ballots counted. A judge ordered the barcodes on the envelopes be scanned to determine if they were sent before Election Day. The scans indicate they were. The judge ruled the Iowa House of Representatives has the authority to determine if the ballots should be opened and counted. During the first two weeks of the session, a Contested Election Committee with a Republican majority recommended the ballots not be opened. You can listen to our show from last week to hear how this committee worked through the challenge. The House has the final say about what to do with these 29 ballots and this week they voted to
Feb 01, 2019
Under the Golden Dome: Consideration
IPERS is the Iowa Public Employees Retirement System, and has 360,000 members. In 2017, a bill in the Senate proposed creating an alternative defined contribution plan for new state employees, but it didn’t go anywhere. Democrats have expressed concerns about any change to IPERS and it was often a talking point during last year’s election. During a House State Government Committee meeting the chair Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, took the opportunity to make a statement. "There is not going to be any changes to IPERS this year or next year," says Kaufmann. "That is an omnibus statement. That includes amendments. That includes budgets. That includes standings. That includes everything. There is very simply and unequivocally not going to be changes." Ranking member of the committee Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, says she appreciates Rep. Kaufmann’s adamant words about making no changes to IPERS, but she would also like to hear it from the Senate. "They have been bringing in the Reason
Jan 25, 2019
Under the Golden Dome: The Plan
Like with the last Iowa General Assembly, Republicans control the House, Senate, and the governor’s office. But this session begins without a revenue shortfall. It also begins in the first few weeks of a new Iowa tax code passed by the legislature last year.
Jan 18, 2019
Under the Golden Dome: Challenges Ahead 5/9/2018
The legislature went 18 days past the planned 100 when it finally adjourned on May 5th. The biggest reason for the delay is because House and Senate Republicans took a long time to find agreement on a new tax plan. It will gradually phase in tax reductions over a six year period. The final reductions in taxes will happen in 2023 and 2024 if economic triggers are met. In 2019, tax collections will be reduced by $100 million, while it is estimated $66 million will come in from new taxes on digital services. The delay in finishing a new tax plan allowed legislation that previously was considered dead to pass through both chambers. This includes the most restrictive abortion bill in the United States. Gov. Reynolds signed the bill, and it is expected to be challenged in court before it's enactment date of July 1st. This law has the potential to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where a ruling could restrict abortion across the country. This possibility is one reason supporters
May 09, 2018
Under the Golden Dome: Leaving Late 4/20/2018
Every seat in the House and half in the Senate are up for reelection later this year. Twenty-two legislators are choosing not to come back. In the final days of a general assembly, many give "retirement" speeches on the floor. This week Wally Horn, Bob Dvorsky, Mark Chelgren, and Rick Bertrand are honored with Senate resolutions. In the House, those leaving aren't presented with resolutions, but they are given the floor to address their colleagues. Clel Baudler is the only representative to do so this week, but it's expected a dozen others will take advantage of this opportunity soon. There seems to be a lot of time between now and the last day of the session because the tax plan and Fiscal Year 2019 budget are still being written. The House and Senate are reconciling their different plans behind closed doors, and the process could take anywhere from one to three weeks before adjournment. For now, this show is taking a pause or as legislators would say it is being differed. There will
Apr 20, 2018
Under the Golden Dome: Taxes, Trade, & Personal Points 4/13/2018
There are only a few days before per diems stop for legislators. It's the goal for the session to end by the 100th day -- April 17th -- but with two different tax codes in the works and no fiscal year 2019 budget, it's likely the session will continue longer. This week a public hearing on a House tax code received praise and pushback from around three dozen Iowans. Support ranges from it stimulates the economy to it adds "gravy on our taters." This is a reference to the federal tax breaks that started in January. Leaders in the House and Senate will have to find a compromise between their two very different tax bills. Gov. Kim Reynolds is concerned about trade tension between the United States and China. It could have negative effects on Iowa's agriculture industry. President Trump says "trade wars are good and easy to win," but Gov. Reynolds says "no one wins in a trade war." She traveled to Washington D.C. to share her concerns with federal officials about what a trade war could mean
Apr 13, 2018
Under the Golden Dome: Raising Penalties 4/6/2018
At this point, it's common to hear bills being enrolled. This means both chambers have approved a bill and it awaits the governor to sign it in to law or veto. Because the chambers are controlled by the same party as the governor, vetos are highly unlikely. One of the bills awaiting the governor deals with electronic eavesdropping. It passed the House then the Senate where it was amended. As it returns to the House, suddenly Democrats have privacy concerns. Surveillance devices recording video and audio are more common among homes and landlords. The bill approves of these devices if they are to detect or prevent criminal activity. There are questions about how files stored from these devices can be shared when conversations are captured among people with no idea they are being recorded, and who aren't involved with a crime. Most fines for criminal penalties, court filings, civil fees, simple misdemeanor, and felony will increase under a bill passing in the Senate. It reallocates how
Apr 06, 2018
Under the Golden Dome: Objections 3/30/2018
On Monday, Gov. Kim Reynolds talks about firing the Director of Iowa Finance Authority, Dave Jamison. She says he was terminated for credible allegations of sexual harassment. She reiterates her zero tolerance policy, but reveals very little about the allegations due to privacy concerns for the victims. In November, Reynolds said a Senate Republican report about past sexual harassment should reveal additional information about past claims while protecting personal information. Reporters ask the governor how not releasing information related to Jamison is different. The Democratic Party filed a Freedom of Information Act request about the governor's correspondence with the Iowa Finance Authority concerning harassment and the director's termination. They say her actions are a departure from how she has approached sexual harassment among her other political allies. This is an election year for every seat in the House, half in the Senate, and the office of governor. Two weeks ago anyone
Mar 30, 2018
Under the Golden Dome: Gains for Guns & Nonpublic Schools 3/23/2018
Last year Rep. Matt Windschitl authored a bill greatly expanding gun rights in Iowa. It includes making it legal to carry a concealed pistol in the Capitol with a permit, and a stand your ground provision allowing people to use deadly force if they feel threatened. This year he authored a resolution to add to the state constitution an amendment that would make it more challenging to pass gun restrictions in the future. He floor-managed a three hour debate in the House, where it passed. It also passed in the Senate. The resolution has a long way to go as it needs to pass in both chambers again during the next general assembly. If it succeeds, it has to be approved on a voter ballot, which potentially could happen in 2019. A long awaited de-appropriations eliminating $35 million from this year’s budget passes both chambers. It contains a measure that would make it legal for a governor to transfer money from an Economic Emergency Fund should the state’s budget come up short when the
Mar 23, 2018