Rekha Basu: Bad bills serve personal missions, not Iowa’s needs 

Gun Rights

Underlying most of these is an undertone of moral judgment of those who don’t share the politicians’ values or vision.

It now looks like we won’t be getting a new state law defining men and women. Iowans will figure that out on our own as we always have, as the rest of the world does.

But one of several cynical bills that — happily — failed to advance through the Iowa Legislature’s funnel process attempted to do that. The latest ploy from Statehouse Republicans and Gov. Kim Reynolds to shame and marginalize people who identify with a gender other than theirs from birth, the one defining male and female, sows divisions while doing nothing for the average Iowan.

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The funnel moves forward only legislation that has passed one of the two chambers, and at least a committee of the other. Another legislative attempt that didn’t make it could have sent fertility specialists to prison for causing the death of “an unborn person” each time they discard a malformed embryo in a lab while helping couples conceive through in vitro fertilization.

More: I want to be a mother. Iowa politicians’ abortion and IVF choices limit my options.

Another galling attempt would have stripped authority from Auditor Rob Sand, the only statewide Democratic elected official (and the one with the highest job approval from Iowans) by allowing state agencies to outsource their own audits to undermine his legal authority.

And an unsuccessful bill on social studies education would, among other things, have required Iowa kindergartners through sixth-graders to learn “devotion” to the United States for its “exceptional and praiseworthy history.” It would bar colleges from giving course credit to students for putting their lessons on democracy into practice through some political activism. And while adding a requirement to teach school students about the Holocaust to understand discrimination, persecution and the need to protect human rights, it was silent on Apartheid, genocide or slavery anywhere else, including here at home.

These are just some examples from the dizzying list of punitive, politically motivated or just plain useless bills generated at the Legislature this year. Underlying most of these is an undertone of moral judgment of those who don’t share the politicians’ values or vision. Put more bluntly, they seem intended to fulfill the authors’ personal missions, not Iowa’s needs.

Some bills that failed had merit, including Gov. Kim Reynolds’ initiatives to expand birth control access and grant state employees four weeks of paid post-partum leave. But needless proposals to overhaul Area Education Agencies remain on track. Plans to increase public school teacher pay are welcome but could scarcely compensate for the loss of school funding and students that accompanied Reynolds’ school voucher program, now a year old.

Also alive: a bizarre plan for specialty license plates declaring, “Don’t Tread on Me,” with proceeds going to the National Rifle Association’s Iowa affiliate. (So much for the image of a welcoming and civic-minded Iowa.) Our state government could be sending taxpayer money to a gun lobby group to lobby state lawmakers to block sensible gun regulations.

The whiff of moral judgment makes another appearance in a bill moving forward that forbids cities and counties from offering, even on a trial basis, guaranteed income payments to low-income people without making them work for it. It’s targeted against programs like Central Iowa UpLift, a pilot project supported by 30 community partners and funded by 11 public and private groups, intended to find ways to prevent poverty. While the bill doesn’t say why, Republican Rep. Steve Holt of Denison did in bringing it before a subcommittee in January. He called the program “socialism on steroids” and an “attack on American values,” the implication being that poor people don’t try hard enough.

Most of the 110 recipients are reportedly making just above $24,000 from working — many full time — but struggle to support their households.

Shouldn’t Holt also be condemning farm subsidies?

Another head-scratching bill is moving forward. Senate File 669 pertains to evictions and permits landlords to include illegal provisions in leases as long as they don’t enforce them. Why?

If by now you’re thinking some of these lawmakers should face electoral challenges, well, a bill to suppress voter turnout also cleared the funnel. It would ban ballot dropboxes, which make it easier for people who can’t get to the voting booth. The bill would also reduce the time voters have to return mail-in ballots. But in a nod to a disgraced former president who faces multiple felony charges yet plans to run again, the bill would allow federal candidates convicted of felonies on the Iowa ballot.

There’s so much more politically driven legislation, including Reynolds’ massive, multi-year income tax-cut plan. This when Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources, for instance, needs $100 million just to restore Iowa’s popular state parks, according to the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Not to mention the 576 impaired waterways.

Only public pressure and ballot-box challenges can alter these leaders’ misdirected priorities for the state. So stay tuned, speak up, and let your representatives know what you think.

Rekha Basu is a longtime syndicated columnist, editorial writer and reporter, whose work has appeared in all but two U.S. states. She retired in 2022 as a columnist for The Des Moines Register.

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