Tempers flare during lengthy House floor debate

Iowa House OpeningBy Bob Eschliman


With 24 bills on the tentative debate schedule, Tuesday promised to be an exciting day in the North Wing of the Iowa Statehouse. The Iowa House of Representatives didn’t disappoint.

The first bit of fireworks erupted during morning debate over House File 194, which proposes to shorten the existing 15-year statute-of-repose period for construction and improvements on residential and commercial property to a 10-year period. During the lengthy debate over the bill, Democrats soon suggested the bill was being proposed at the behest of the American Legislative Exchange Council, and not because it was in the best interest of Iowans.

ALEC is a right-of-center, but non-partisan, public-private organization that seeks to limit the size and scope of government. It has a number of model bills, one of which closely mirrors HF 194, and which has already been adopted in a majority of U.S. states.

Tempers flared, however, when state Rep. Ralph Watts (R-Adel) began questioning House Democrats about whether or not they attended ALEC meetings. State Rep. Mary Mascher made a point-of-order regarding rules of decorum during debate, which, after a lengthy discussion at the rostrum with leadership from both caucuses, Speaker Pro Tempore Matt Windschitl (R-Missouri Valley) said was well taken.

Eventually, HF 194 passed on a 60-39 vote.

State Rep. Bob Kressig (D-Cedar Falls) was absent.

Click here to watch video of the debate over HF 194. Click here to watch video of the entire morning session.

A second round of fireworks kicked off during the afternoon debate over House File 352, which would require the use of zero-base budgeting approaches to drafting the biennial state budgets. The temperature in the room began to rise as state Rep. Bruce Hunter (D-Des Moines) sparred with state Reps. Rob Taylor (R-West Des Moines) and Dawn Pettengill (R-Mount Auburn) over the definition of zero-base budgeting and whether or not the bill actually required that of state government.

Democrats then slammed the bill as removing the power of the purse from the Legislative Branch, which created even more rancor in the chamber. It all boiled over, however, when state Rep. Sharon Steckman (D-Mason City) once again rolled out the Democrats’ complaint about ALEC’s influence over legislation.

State Rep. Pat Grassley (R-New Hartford) made another point-of-order regarding rules of decorum during debate. After another lengthy discussion at the rostrum – this time with Speaker Kraig Paulsen (R-Marion) presiding – it was ruled well taken.

HF 352, after nearly an hour of debate, was eventually adopted – without amendment – on a 57-42 vote.

Click here to watch video of the debate over HF 352. Click here to watch video of the entire afternoon session.

Despite the fireworks, a number of non-controversial bills sailed through the House. The following bills were approved with unanimous, or nearly unanimous votes:

  • House File 445 – provides for the payment of educational expenses for children who reside in psychiatric hospitals and institutions, passed 99-0.
  • House File 258 – includes jailers and other detention employees among those prohibited from engaging in sexual misconduct with offenders and juveniles, passed 99-0.
  • House File 259 – amends the provisions of Iowa Code relating to people who are excluded from coverage under Iowa’s workers’ compensation law, passed 99-0.
  • House File 287 – prohibits the installation of counterfeit, nonfunctional, or unsafe air bags, passed 99-0.
  • House File 448 – amends the provisions of Iowa Code relating to the confidentiality of communications between an emergency medical care provider and a patient, passed 99-0.
  • Senate File 130 – a substitute bill for House File 386, which amends the limitations within the Iowa National Guard Educational Assistance Program, passed 99-0.
  • Senate File 131 – a substitute bill for House File 282, which requires the Board of Educational Examiners to review applicants’ Iowa criminal histories when considering license renewal, passed 99-0.
  • House File 381 – establishes the Iowa Health Information Network, passed 98-1.
  • House File 308 – amends the provisions of Iowa Code relating to private employer alcohol testing policies, passed 95-4.
  • Senate File 323 – a substitute bill for House File 438, which altered the means by which Iowa Lottery revenues are distributed to support Iowa veterans, passed 94-5.
  • House File 266 – a bill to allow for the disposal of yard waste at landfills operating methane collection systems used for power generation, passed 93-6.

The House debated Senate File 150, which would increase the criminal penalties for a sexually violent predator who escapes, or attempts to escape, custody. The bill passed on an 87-12 vote.

Representatives took up House File 261, which would loosen the regulation of smokeless powder used in refilling spent ammunition casings. The bill passed on an 86-13 vote.

The House took up House File 228 during the morning session. The bill, which allows for the issuance of temporary coaching endorsements for high school coaches who may be pressed into service without already having the necessary endorsement due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, passed on an 81-18 vote.

Representatives debated House File 288 in the afternoon session. The bill, which allows the taking of catfish from Iowa rivers, lakes, and streams by bow and arrow, passed on an 80-19 vote.

Representatives also took up its version of the “Omnibus Gun Bill,” House File 527. Democrats offered an amendment that struck the recordkeeping and fraudulent purchase provisions of the bill, which failed on a unanimous 99-0 vote.

HF 527 passed on a 75-24 vote and was later messaged to the Senate for consideration. The Senate has its own version of the bill, however, which may lead to a conference committee later this session to hammer out the differences.

The House also took up House File 247, which would require the Iowa Department of Human Resources to establish, or enter into a contract with private contractor to create, an asset verification system. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act approved by Congress encourages states to adopt such a system to speed up Medicaid application processes.

An amendment to change the establishment of an asset verification system from a requirement to an option the DHS may take up failed on a 56-43 vote. HF 247, however, passed on a 74-25 vote.

Representatives also debated House File 161, a bill to restrict municipalities from restricting or regulating occupancy of residential rental properties based on the familial status – or lack thereof – of the renters. The bill opened a contentious debate between the legislators of college towns and those representing the rest of the state.

HF 161 passed on a 73-26 vote. It was later messaged to the Senate for consideration.

The House debated House File 509, which provides for greater government accountability with regard to state employee bonuses, personnel records, and settlement agreements and disciplinary actions. The bill was approved on a 64-35 vote.

Representatives also took up House File 229, which seeks to regulate buying club memberships. The bill was amended unanimously to require “conspicuous labeling” when a free offer is presented to a potential member in exchange for agreeing to a purchase, and then passed on a 59-40 vote.

The House also debated House File 260, which was originally a Judicial Branch study bill that proposes to amend the criteria for and manner in which district judges are nominated. The bill passed on a 59-40 vote.

Representatives also took up House File 286, which amends the processes for the direct deposit of employee wages. The bill passed on a 57-42 vote.