Iowa lawmakers adjourn 2017 legislative session

AP PHOTO Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, loads a box at his desk in the Iowa House, Friday, at the Statehouse in Des Moines.

DES MOINES — The Iowa Legislature on Saturday adjourned a legislative session marked by a remarkable conservative shift that included passage of measures limiting public union power, expanding gun rights and enacting new abortion restrictions.

Republicans, who hold majorities in both chambers, finalized votes on the roughly $7.2 billion state budget following a series of private meetings that began nearly 24 hours earlier. The budget will require GOP Gov. Terry Branstad’s approval before taking effect July 1.

Adjournment was delayed in part by disagreement over legislation to expand the state’s medical marijuana oil program. The measure was ultimately approved, though a last-minute effort to fund water quality initiatives failed.

The 2017 session marked the first time in 19 years that Republicans controlled both legislative chambers and the governor’s office, and they used their power to approve a series of bills that Democrats had blocked in the past.

Republicans were effusive in describing a session they said would long be remembered.

“We have accomplished more significant legislation in this session than any session that I have been involved with,” said House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, who was elected in 2002.

Branstad, who has been Iowa’s governor for a total of 23 years, offered similar sentiment.

“When you look at the sheer volume and diversity of policy issues that have been addressed this year, it’s got to go down as one of the most productive,” he said.

Democrats and others agreed the session stood out, but for all the wrong reasons.

“This has been the most damaging legislative session in a generation,” said Rep. Chris Hall, D-Sioux City. “It has set working families and the state’s economy backward.”

Labor unions said the elimination in February of most collective bargaining rights for such public employees as teachers, nurses and correctional officers will lead many to find other work or leave Iowa, especially rural parts of the state.

Gun safety advocates said a law allowing people to shoot others from anywhere if they felt under threat would lead to more violence, and they said the legalization of concealed handguns in the Capitol building could be dangerous during a heated debate.

Abortion rights supporters argued that women’s health could be put at risk by passage of a bill that would outlaw most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and create a 72-hour waiting period for a woman seeking an abortion, which is among the longest in the country.

GOP lawmakers also removed state funding for Planned Parenthood by creating a state-run family planning program that excludes organizations that perform abortions.

Erin Davison-Rippey, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said, “It’s been incredibly disappointing to see lawmakers focus on issues that don’t matter.”

Democrats said the defunding effort was doubly irresponsible given major budget constraints. Iowa will be on the hook to spend about $3.1 million in state funds by passing up federal Medicaid money.

They said the same argument goes for the GOP lawmakers’ decision to spend about $700,000 to implement a requirement that voters show approved ID at the polls beginning in 2019. The state has no evidence of widespread fraudulent voting. Critics say such laws are really meant to suppress voting among groups that tend to vote Democrat, including college students and minorities. Republicans dispute that.

Other new measures reduce workers’ ability to be compensated for on-the-job injuries and ban counties and cities from raising the minimum hourly wage above the $7.25 state and federal levels. The law reversed local minimum wage increases.