This legislative session continues to be one for the history books. Thousands of Iowa workers, union members, and teachers crowded into the Capitol to oppose changes to labor laws, with lines wrapping around the Capitol for public hearings and debates.
There were more committee hearings on the "defunding Planned Parenthood" bill, flooding the Capitol with pink-clad opponents and black-clothed supporters. On Thursday (February 16), more than 25,000 Iowans gathered at the steps of the State Capitol for the "Day Without Immigrants Boycott" to oppose anti-immigrant legislation.
Crowds appear to be the new normal at Iowa's State Capitol. State troopers and cameras are stationed around the Capitol and in committee rooms to make sure the crowds remain respectful. The Capitol has never been more chaotic, crowded, or loud. But crowds aren't the only thing different about this session.
The Iowa Senate debated the collective bargaining (labor) bill for 30 hours, going through the night without a break. New Senate leaders broke with tradition and set a time to end debate, something that has never been done in the Iowa Senate. The "time certain" deadline ends debate immediately and legislators must then vote (without discussion) on the remaining amendments and the bill. That angered Senate Democrats, who then decided to request the rare "Call of the Senate." This move locks the doors of the Senate Chambers, and Senators are not allowed to leave until the votes are completed. State troopers are sent out to get any missing Senators (there was only one Senator missing - he was excused but was required to come back to the Capitol for the final vote). Calls of the Senate are rare, and even rarer this early in the legislative session.
So far the Iowa Legislature has:
With only two weeks to go unti the first deadline, legislators say they still need to pass several priorities out of committee, some of which have not yet been drafted. These include Voter ID, changes to Iowa's certificate of need process, medical malpractice reforms, local government minimum wage bans (called "pre-emption" - this stops cities and counties from setting minimum wages higher than the state minimum wage), and gun rights legislation.
That's a heavy lift for two weeks, and many people think that other issues will likely fall to the wayside as the more controversial issues take up valuable legislative time and attention. Many want to discuss medical marijuana expansion (new poll shows 80% of Iowans support), and legalizing fantasy sports betting and fireworks. The next two weeks will be interesting, so watch our social media posts for breaking news.
All bills need to be voted out of their assigned committee by Friday, March 3, 2016. This is called the "first funnel" deadline. Only bills in the Appropriations, Government Oversight, and Ways and Means Committees are exempt, as are bills sponsored jointly by House and Senate leaders (which is a possibility now that one party controls both chambers).
Bills that fail to make this deadline can no longer be discussed or debated. They are dead for the year - but your lawmakers can always bring them back to life by making them an amendment to another bill. Where there is a will...
Republican leaders in the Iowa Legislature say they want to pass a Voter ID bill in 2017, but they have not yet decided what that bill will look like. Supporters of voter ID bills say they want to make sure our election systems are secure; those against say there have not been problems and requiring IDs only makes it more difficult for some people to vote.
We know that Iowans with disabilities face a number of barriers when it comes to voting, and requiring IDs adds another to that list. Iowans are fortunate to have many ways to vote, and our election system is widely viewed as one of the best in the country. On top of that, our state has seen only a few incidents of voter fraud, most of which would not have been fixed by showing an ID.
This year legislators will need to balance their hope to guard against voter fraud with the need to keep voting simple and accessible. That may be tough.
Here are a few statistics to remember when you think about voters with disabiities:
There are a number of bills that have been introduced to date, including what some consider to be a "middle ground" approach offered by the Secretary of State Paul Pate. You can read more about Secretray Pate's legislation in the next article, but here is a quick review of the bills out there now:
Both sides of the debate agree on one thing: voting is one of our most important rights. One side wants to protect it against anyone who might want to rig our election system or commit voter fraud; the other side wants to keep it simple so that voters do not have to jump through extra hoops to exercise their constitutional right.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide more information regarding my Election Integrity Act proposal. My office conducted extensive outreach to Iowans with disabilities preceding the 2016 general election to help you understand the resources available to make voting easier. We will continue that important work in the future.
I understand that Iowans with disabilities have some concerns about how this legislation might affect them. Let me assure you: Nothing will prevent eligible Iowans from casting ballots.
My proposal is based largely on improving our election technology, by instituting electronic poll books in every precinct. It also calls for a Voter Identification system, to ensure the integrity of the vote. To cast a ballot at the polling place, voters will need to show a driver’s license, state-issued non-driver’s ID, military ID or passport. For any registered voter that does not already have one of those forms of identification, we will mail you a Voter ID card, automatically, for free.
Obtaining this card does not require any extra effort by the voter. We will match the voter registration database with the Iowa Department of Transportation’s database. Any registered voter who is not in the Iowa DOT database receives a free card in the mail. This applies to newly registered voters as well.
When you go to vote at the polls, simply provide that card to the poll worker, the poll worker will scan the card, your information will appear on their computer, and you will be ready to vote. I firmly believe this proposal will make the voting process at the polls simpler and more streamlined.
When requesting an absentee ballot, you will simply include your voter ID number to the request form. The voter ID number will come from your driver’s license, your state ID, or the new voter ID that will be issued by the Secretary of State. This will ensure that you are the only person who can request your absentee ballot.
Additionally, our outreach and educational efforts to explain this program will be extensive. Myself and members of my staff will visit with Iowans across the state to explain this process. We will particularly focus heavily on Iowans with disabilities to ensure they are well informed about this initiative.
I want to reinforce the fact that no eligible voter will be turned away, we will provide free Voter ID cards to every Iowan that does not have an official ID, and this does not change the voter registration process at all. That is the message we will deliver to every Iowa voter, so that they know it is easy to vote, but hard to cheat in Iowa.
The views expressed in this editorial are not those of ID Action or the Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council, but are provided so that you can understand all perspectives on this issue.
ABOUT OUR GUEST WRITER: Paul Pate served in the State Senate (1989-1994), as Mayor of Cedar Rapids (2002-2005); and as Secretary of State twice (1995-1998; 2015-present). Secretary Pate was recently elected to the Executive Board of the National Association of Secretaries of State and serves as the vice-president for the Midwestern Region. In 2015, Secretary Pate was chosen for the Council of State Governments’ Toll Fellowship program, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious leadership development programs for state government officials.
Four county auditors were invited to discuss their thoughts on the Secretary of State's Voter ID proposal at the House State Government Committee earlier this month. The auditors represented a mix of Republican/Democratic and rural/urban views, and all opened by saying they were expressing their own personal opinions about the Secretary fo State's proposal (House Study Bill 93).
All four auditors attending - Dennis Parrot (Jasper County), Ken Kline (Cerro Gordo County), Heidi Burhans (Madison County), and Travis Weipert (Johnson County) - said they have never had problems with voter impersonation at the polls and felt that Iowa's election system is secure. None said a voter ID bill is needed, but almost all said they will support the Secretary of State's approach because it is the least likely to affect voter participation.
As Jasper County Auditor Dennis Parrot said, "I believe 100% there will be a voter ID bill passed this year, so I want the best we can get." He added that this is why he is going to support the Secretary of State's bill, saying that while he has philosophical concerns about voter ID, he does not have administrative concerns.
Cerro Gordo County Auditor Ken Kline added that all other voter ID proposals have one weakness - none have addressed mailed-out absentee ballots. “It’s the least secure part of our voting system," he said, because there is no in-person review of absentee voters like there is when voting in person. He said all voter ID bills to date have “secured the house, but left the back door wide open.” He added the Secretary's proposal is the first bill that closes this loophole. “If we want to secure elections, that’s the first place to address,” said Kline, who also expressed support for the Secretary of State's approach.
Madison County Auditor Heidi Burhans emphasized the need for all 99 counties to use electronic poll books (called e-pollbooks), which replace the reams of paper used for paper poll books. E-pollbooks are used in 72 counties, but not in all precincts in those counties. E-pollbooks allow a voter registration card or other ID to be scanned (using the bar code), which makes the process of voting much faster, and eliminates a lot of pollworker decision-making (and therefore bias). She did say that funding is needed to help counties purchase the equipment and software for e-Pollbooks, and to pay for upgrades in areas that already have the basic equipment.
Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert noted that he is also concerned about a requirement for post-election audits in the Secretary of State's bill, "It’s a burden to auditors, it’s an unfunded mandate, and it’s something else our taxpayers will have to pick up.”
Legislators asked if there were many instances of voter fraud (all said no) and if voter misrepresentation was a big problem (also a no). Organizations currently registered against HSB 93 include: Iowa Association of County Auditors/Iowa State Association of Counties (because there isn't enough funding avaiable for e-pollbooks or audits), ACLU-Iowa, and League of Women Voters of Iowa. No organization is registered in support at this time.
Last week, State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald launched IAble, a new savings plan for Iowans who want to help a family member or friend with a disability save money, without impacting state and federal benefits.
Signed into Iowa law in 2015, IAble gives families the opportunity to plan for the future well-being of a loved one with a disability without the risk of losing their eligibility for certain assistance programs, like SSI and Medicaid.
To keep costs low and give savers several options, Iowa is partnering with 13 other states in a National Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Alliance.
"“Through our partnership, we were able to accomplish our goals to make this simple and...easy to understand," said Fitzgerald. "We make it inexpensive. You can start an IAble plan for as little as $25." He adds that families can save up to $14,000 per year for housing, transportation, assistive technology, education and much more. There is an upper limit to each account of $100,000 in total contributions in order to retain SSI benefits.
In addition, those contributing to the plans will get a tax break, similar to the “College Savings Iowa” accounts Fitzgerald’s office also manages. Most importantly, these savings accounts won’t make the Iowan ineligible for Social Security Disability benefits or Medicaid (which is currently limited to $2,000 in savings).
You can be the crowd at the Capitol on Wednesday, April 5, 2017! Join other self-advocates at the State Capitol for Advocating Change Day 2017. The Governor and Lt. Governor have been invited to speak - and advocacy and networking opportunities abound. Register now here.
The State Capitol isn't the only place where crowds are growing. Legislators are reporting record turnout at their local legislative forums, held on Fridays and Saturdays in their districts.
Last year we tracked more than 500 of these events in our calendar. You can see the next three weeks of public forums here.
Know your stuff! Use our online Bill Tracker to follow bills introduced this legislative session. Our bill tracker is updated daily, and keeps tabs on bills of interest to Iowans with disabilities. Just click here to see bills tracked.
Our mailed version of infoNET is much more concise than our e-mailed and online version. Click on the image below for the PDF version