When the 2016 Iowa Legislative Session kicked off back in January, I had this to say to the 50 state senators, 100 house members, and our long-serving governor in Terry Branstad.
In it, I detailed a high-level view of priorities for our leaders:
- We want affordable education that returns quality results.
- We want fair taxes that we can count on and plan for.
- We want safe roads.
- We want clean air and water.
- We want safe streets.
- We want quality and affordable health-care.
But now that the session is over, I want to raise a few points on a few of the issues that caught my attention this session now that we have secured the $7.3 billion budget for FY 2017 and gone home.
DEATH WITH DIGNITY: Iowans facing a terminal illness could have obtained a prescription for a self-administered medication that would end their lives under the Iowa Death with Dignity Act, proposed by Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, and several other Democratic lawmakers. The measure was considered during a Senate subcommittee hearing that provoked emotional debate, and it did not advance, but Bolkcom says he expects discussion on the issue to continue. The bill was modeled after an Oregon law enacted in 1997. Senate File 2051. Des Moines Register story.
This bill is interesting and worthy of more debate. It is an important question for our government to answer: Does an adult have a right to make this choice?
BRAIDING BILL: Natural hair braiding would be exempted from the state’s definition of cosmetology, sparing practitioners thousands of dollars in school costs and lengthy training, under a bill approved by the Senate and a House committee. The proposal would require persons performing natural hair braiding to pass a health and sanitation examination and register with the Iowa Board of Cosmetology. Senate File 2275
MEDICAL MARIJUANA: The House considered a scaled-back medical marijuana bill that would have allowed access only for patients with intractable epilepsy, multiple sclerosis or cancer, but it never made it to the full chamber. The measure’s detractors point out that marijuana is still illegal under federal law and that the prescription of medical cannabis by physicians has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. House File 2384
There were late maneuvers at the end of the session to keep this bill alive, but they were not successful.
EDUCATION FUNDING: The silver lining is that 2016-17 SSA was decided earlier in the session than last year, but it was still a tough and emotional debate. The UNIfy For Education is currently tracking how far behind the legislature is on setting the 2017-18 SSA rate; a requirement of state law. Education funding is — and should inspire — robust debate on education and teaching. Our leaders, the media, and interested parties must focus on the real issues at hand: the education of our students for the workforce they will join, and less on the dollar amount. The dollar amount will be figured out, but we need to get the education part modernized.
HATE CRIMES: The Senate approved a bill to add transgender people to the list of categories under state law involving hate crimes, but it was not debated by House. All 26 Democrats in the Senate supported the measure, while all but one Republican who voted opposed it. Senate File 2284
EXPERIMENTAL DRUGS: The Senate approved a “Right to Try” drugs bill that would allow Iowans facing terminal illness to have access to medicines that have passed Phase I of the Food and Drug Administration’s approval process but are not yet on pharmacy shelves The bill died in the House, although it is expected to be reconsidered next year. Twenty-four states have already adopted similar legislation. Senate File 2198
BAN THE BOX: Iowa employers would generally need to eliminate questions about criminal history from job applications, although they could seek such information later in the hiring process, under a bill that died in the Iowa Senate. Senate File 2240.
PUPPY BREEDERS: A bill that died in the House would have created a quality assurance council to issue certificates to dog breeders who met certain standards. Proponents said it would help separate the good, law-abiding breeders from those who run puppy mills or those who are unable to meet quality guidelines. House Study Bill 560.
The Speaker of the House Linda Upmeyer closed out the sessions with a message:
Minority Leader Smith – thank you for working with us when you could.
While I understand what the Speaker was saying, if I was in her role, I would have said:
Minority Leader Smith – thank you for your passion for your constituents, your caucus, and the state of Iowa. I know that we made significant progress this session and I look forward to working with you more in the future.
That’s how I view politics: We are in this together. Not me against you. Not us against them. We are all Iowans and together we can continue to make our state the best it can be. Every challenge we have in front of us is only an opportunity to rise to the occasion and meet the challenge.