Rule change at Iowa Capitol sparks transparency concerns

DES MOINES — Iowa Republicans have removed rules that require some state legislative committees to give 24-hour notice about meetings, causing concerns over government transparency.

Republicans say the move will improve efficiency, but Democrats say it’s an abuse of power.

The change applies to Senate subcommittee meetings, which are often where the public and lobbyists can formally express their opinions on legislation, The Des Moines Register reported.

Republican Sen. Amy Sinclair of Allerton said the change allows for more flexibility because the 24-hour rule could sometimes limit the ability to advance legislation.

“We can’t tie the hands of doing the business of the people,” she said.

Sinclair, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said she’ll continue to issue public notices about meetings the day before they’re scheduled to occur, though she said she can’t guarantee a full 24 hours of notice.

Democratic Sen. Pam Jochum of Dubuque calls the change “an abuse of power.” Democratic Sen. Herman Quirmbach of Ames said the move diminishes the public’s ability to directly give input.

“This is the people’s house,” Quirmbach said. “People ought to have the opportunity to directly give their input. That’s what subcommittee meetings are all about.”

Several Republican-controlled Senate committees, including those that oversee education and health care, also removed transparency language from their meeting rules this week.

Sinclair said the language was redundant because the Senate has separate rules regarding open meetings.