2019 Legislative Session - Week 11

Posted on Friday, March 29, 2019

A vast majority of the Iowa House advanced a key piece of of the governor’s agenda this week.  Under HJR 14, the state constitution would be amended to restore felons’ voting rights after they complete their sentences.  Governor Kim Reynolds made the issue a centerpiece of her agenda this year, proposing the amendment in her January Condition of the State address.  The bill passed Thursday 95-2, with Reps. Dean Fisher (R-Montour) and Jon Jacobsen (R-Council Bluffs) opposed.  It now advances to the Senate, where its future is uncertain.  Some Republicans in that chamber have argued that felons should also have to pay their restitution before being allowed to vote.  If HJR 14 passes the Senate this year, that’s only the beginning of the process.  Both the House and Senate would have to pass the measure again in 2021 or 2022.  Then, voters would have the final say at the ballot box.

A second item on Reynolds’ agenda, aimed at increasing women’s access to hormonal contraception, passed the Senate.  SF 513 would allow adult women to forego a doctor’s visit and obtain birth control pills, patches or rings directly from a pharmacist.  The measure passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, 42-6.  Those opposed included Sens. Jerry Behn (R-Boone), Jim Carlin (R-Sioux City), Mark Costello (R-Imogene), Randy Feenstra (R-Hull), Dennis Guth (R-Klemme) and Zach Whiting (R-Spirit Lake).  The bill now moves to the House for consideration.  The House also has its own version of the proposal, HF 727, which already passed committee and is eligible for floor debate. 

Also on the House side, the chamber passed a bipartisan bill that tweaks Iowa’s nascent medical marijuana law.  Currently, doctors can prescribe cannabidiol, a marijuana extract, to Iowans suffering from certain chronic conditions, or who are terminally ill.  The substance is dispensed in various forms, including pills and oils.  It cannot contain more than three percent THC, the chemical that makes marijuana users high.  And smoking marijuana is still prohibited.  Under the House proposal, HF 732, the maximum THC content would be changed from three percent to 25 grams.  Supporters say the change will make it easier to package the medicine, even if it makes some treatment options more potent.  Terminally ill patients wouldn’t be subject to the cap.  The measure passed the House Tuesday, 96-3.  Reps. Terry Baxter (R-Garner), Stan Gustafson (R-Cumming) and Skyler Wheeler (R-Orange City) were opposed.  HF 732 now moves on to the Senate for consideration.

These rapid moves on policy issues come as lawmakers race against a key deadline, the second legislative “Funnel”.  Most bills that haven’t passed the House or Senate, plus committee in the opposite chamber by next Friday are “dead” for the remainder of session.  Tax, spending and government oversight bills are largely exempt from this deadline.  Legislative leadership can also pull a handful of parliamentary maneuvers to save high-priority policy measures.  However, after the coming Funnel, lawmakers will focus almost exclusively on budgeting and taxation issues.

Finally, the Senate welcomed a new member to the chamber.  Sen. Eric Giddens (D-Cedar Falls) was sworn-in and seated Monday.  He replaces former Sen. Jeff Danielson (D-Cedar Falls) who suddenly resigned in February.  Giddens will take over all of Danielson’s committee assignments, including serving as Ranking Member on the Transportation Committee.