DES MOINES — Iowa lawmakers Thursday were closing out a historic session that produced stark changes in the rights of workers, women, gun owners and drivers as a new Republican majority put its conservative stamp on Iowa law.
The GOP-run General Assembly spent its 102nd calendar day finalizing major pieces of a $7.25 billion state budget for fiscal 2018. A handful of policy issues stood in the way of adjourning a session that was politically contentious from start to finish. Leaders were hopeful work will wrap up today.
“This was a historic session that we are going to see benefits and paybacks from for a generation,” said Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, who played an instrumental role in a major rewrite of Iowa’s collective bargaining law governing public employees.
Republicans made the most of their control of the House, Senate and governor’s mansion by passing sweeping changes to gun laws, workplace rules, abortion restrictions and rules of the road, toughening anti-texting laws and cracking down on repeat drunken drivers.
Gov. Terry Branstad gave his fellow Republicans high marks in what likely is his last session as America’s longest-serving governor.
“I think it will go down as one of the most significant and productive sessions that I’ve had the honor of presiding over as governor,” he said.
Minority Democrats called it one of the most anti-worker, anti-woman, anti-family, anti-senior agenda in memory, contending the secretive session was guided by special interests, not public interest.
“In my opinion, this session has been the most miserable session of causing misery in every walk of life in the state of Iowa,” said Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines. “People who are employed have been hurt, people who are injured have been hurt, women’s health care has been hurt.”
House Democratic Leader Mark Smith of Marshalltown said he expected Republicans would promote an agenda they didn’t run on when they campaigned in 2016 and “indeed, what we thought was going to happen has happened.”
Senate Republicans said they arrived at the Statehouse with a mandate from voters to “kick in the door” of state government and make “big, bold reforms” to empower taxpayers, job creators and Iowans.
“We’ve done several pieces of legislation that in any other year would be considered a landmark piece, and we’ve probably done 10 or 15 of those,” said Senate President Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny. “So I think people are going to look back at this year and think this is one of the most productive and historic sessions we’ve ever had. … It probably has exceeded even my expectations.”
Among the major changes enacted this year:
Lawmakers legalized the sale and use of consumer-grade fireworks to adults. The law, awaiting the governor’s signature, allows the sale of fireworks between June 1 and July 8, and between Dec. 10 and Jan. 3. Counties or cities can opt out of their use but not their sale.
A collective bargaining law scales back the rights of public-sector workers in negotiating wages, benefits and working conditions. Public employee unions are challenging the law in court.
A worker compensation law limits benefits for workers injured on the job.
A gun law includes a controversial “stand your ground” provision allowing the use deadly force anywhere if a person believes force is necessary to avoid injury or risk to one’s life or safety. It allows a person to use deadly force even if an alternative course of action is available, and an individual can be wrong in his or her estimation of danger. The bill also allows children under 14 to use handguns under the supervision of an adult, pre-empts local restrictions on guns, legalizes short-barreled rifles and shotguns and allows those with permits to carry handguns in the Capitol and other public buildings.
A law banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and establishing a three-day waiting period for women seeking abortions. Republicans also stripped funding from at Planned Parenthood, setting aside $3 million to fund women’s health care clinics that do not offer abortions to replace federal dollars lost by that move.
Strengthened a ban on texting while driving and establish tougher steps for curtailing drunken and drugged driving in Iowa. Police can now pull over and ticket drivers for texting. Drivers arrested for or convicted of impaired driving can participate in twice-daily sobriety monitoring — requiring them to install ignition interlocks — to avoid jail.
Passed a new voter ID law. It shortens the early voting period from 40 days to 29. In addition, precinct workers will be required to check a voter’s signature on a driver’s license or voter ID card to confirm the person is eligible.