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Rants & Reason

Iowa’s 2020 legislative crops: Hate, fear and scorn

4/1/2020

Awful proposals are introduced every legislative session, but not with the frequency and with the support
they have this year.

Forget about corn and soy beans. The Iowa bumper crops being sowed by the legislature are hate, fear and scorn.

We really won’t know of any harvests until late April or early May, when the legislative session ends, or at least the end of the per diem compensation of $169 for most legislators and about $127 for those in Polk County. (In addition to base pay of $25,000.)

Judging from the news and reports from public-interest organizations, there is not a single impoverished, suffering or vulnerable person or family that has not been targeted with hate and scorn by the fear-driven, GOP-dominated legislature.

So much so that it may be legislative action that helps put an end to Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses, more so than foul-ups and delays in
tabulating the results as happened this year and in 2016.

After all, various associations and organizations have boycotted some cities and states in protest against dumb things a legislature did. Thanks to our legislature, Iowa may be a candidate for such disfavor.

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Consider a few of the lowlights and punitive actions that have been introduced or the pleas for help scorned by the 2020 legislature.

• If a woman suffers a miscarriage within 12 to 20 weeks of the beginning of pregnancy, Iowa legislators would add to her anguish by requiring a death certificate and burial or cremation of the fetus (Senate File 2478). And there are joint resolutions in both the Senate and the House for a constitutional amendment against abortions (SJR2001andHJR2004).’

• If a patient and the patient’s family suffered from medical malpractice, civil-suit compensation would be limited to $750,000 even if a jury
determines there is substantial or permanent loss or impairment of bodily function, substantial disfigurement or death that warrants more money than that (SF2338).

• Lower income families and decent, affordable housing seldom go together. To Iowa legislators, that’s “Iowa nice.” When out-of-state folks bought mobile-homes sites, they promptly gouged Iowans with high rent increases. GOP legislators apparently thought that was free enterprise at its finest. So they ignored any pleas resembling rent controls (SF2238).

In another instance, legislators want the state — despite Marion County, Mason City and Des Moines ordinances to the contrary — to say it’s fine if landlords refuse to deal with potential renters who are on public assistance (Senate Study Bill 3178).

• Legislators think so highly of Iowa’s 60,000 ex-felons who have paid their debt to society that they want them to also pay whatever debts were suffered by their victims. It’s a “poll tax” before the ex-felons can vote. So Iowa, by law or in practice, likely will remain the only state in the nation that denies ex-felons, usually poorer people, the right to vote — for the rest of their lives (SF2129).

The list of fear- and hate-driven bills goes on and on and includes measures to use the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion as a weapon against the gay community, among others (House File 2130, HF2273, SF2193 and SF2194).

In what may be an understatement, the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa characterized SSB 3181 as “one of the most bizarre pieces of legislation ever introduced.” In essence, the now-dead measure, authored by Sen. Brad Zaun, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wanted to eliminate the judiciary as an effective third branch of government, putting it under the oversight of the legislature.

Lack of understanding or appreciation of the importance of an independent judiciary is a genetic strain in the GOP these days. That is evident in the work of Zaun, Gov. Kim Reynolds, Sen. Charles Grassley, former chair of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, and President Trump, all who consistently undermine the judiciary and the rule of law.

Yes, of course, awful proposals are introduced every legislative session, but not with the frequency and with the support they have this year.

Yes, of course, one can find reassuring signs of common sense in what the legislature does. The wiser legislators recognize that serving the public interest is their job — not beating up some more on the impoverished, suffering or vulnerable, as easy as that is to do in times of fear and hate. ♦

Herb Strentz is a retired administrator and professor in the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication and writes the monthly Rants and Reason column for CITYVIEW.

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