A roundup of legislative and Capitol news items of interest for Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019:
BIPARTISAN NON-PARTISAN: A non-partisan bill came out of a House subcommittee with bipartisan support.
HF 56 calls for making all county offices non-partisan, which means candidates would run without party affiliation. Sponsor Rep. Andy McKean, R-Anamosa, and Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, signed off on the bill, but Rep. Mike Sexton, R-Rockwell City, did not.
Lobbyists for county officers other than sheriffs and county attorneys were opposed. The sheriffs and attorneys were undecided.
Sexton wondered whether candidates would have to be registered as no party to run and whether the proposal would bar candidates from serving in a political party.
The bill now advances to the full State Government Committee.
LEFT-LANE LOITERING: Lingering in the left lane could cost drivers $100 if HF 74 is approved by the Legislature.
Under current law, drivers traveling at less than the normal speed of traffic are to be in the right lane except when overtaking another vehicle or making a left turn.
HF 74 would prohibit a driver from staying in the left lane on a four-lane road if another vehicle is overtaking them. The driver would be required to move to the right.
Rep. Gary Worthan, R-Storm Lake, expects the problem will get worse as more trucking companies regulate the speed of their vehicles. It can take 4 miles for a truck to pass another truck if it is traveling just a mile or two faster than the truck it is overtaking, he said. It will need to be addressed as more autonomous vehicles are on the roads, he said.
Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, questioned whether the law was enforceable. A lobbyist for sheriffs said a similar law is enforced in Illinois and added that the issue isn’t citations as much as about making roadways safer.
Worthan and Rep. Jon Thorup, R-Knoxville, signed off on the bill so it will go to the full Transportation Committee.
WHERE ARE THE WOMEN?: When Department of Public Safety Director Stephan Bayens introduced his leadership team to the Justice System Appropriations Subcommittee, Rep. Kristin Sunde, D-West Des Moines, noticed there were no women in the group.
The department is not as diverse “as we would hope,” Bayens said. Public safety is a “male-driven field,” which makes it necessary for the department to be more intentional about recruiting women and people of color so the department becomes more reflective of Iowa.
Historically, Bayens said, the department has had a good reputation and not needed to recruit because “people wanted to join.”
Increasing diversity “would be good for the department … good for the state,” he said.
GREEN ALERT: HSB 135, which would create a Green Alert for veterans who go missing, cleared a House Veterans Affairs subcommittee despite a number of questions about its implementation.
According to military veteran Michael Young of Des Moines, who served in Somalia, the suicide rate among veterans is nearly double the rate for a comparable age group, averaging 22 veteran deaths by suicide a day.
The alert, which was implemented in Wisconsin last year, would be similar to an Amber Alert for missing children but wouldn’t operate on the federal Amber Alert system. However, John Benson of Iowa Homeland Security said the Alert Iowa system, which 88 counties subscribe to, could handle the alerts. He warned against “over-alerting — crying wolf” to the point no one pays attention.
Rep. Tim Kacena, D-Sioux City, expressed concern for protecting veterans’ privacy from “nosy family members.
“A lot of these guys like to get lost for a week or so,” he said.
Young, who suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome, said the alert would be used only if a veteran has a demonstrated history of mental health issues.
GUBERNATORIAL SUCCESSION: SSB 1082, a proposed amendment to the Iowa Constitution that would clarify the gubernatorial succession line, was passed out of a Senate subcommittee.
Under the proposal, if a governor leaves the office during a term, the lieutenant governor who ascends to become governor also has the authority to appoint a new lieutenant governor with all the duties and benefits of the position, including being placed in the line of succession.
The proposed constitutional amendment was written after legal confusion that arose in 2017 when former Gov. Terry Branstad became U.S. ambassador to China. Kim Reynolds became governor, but state Attorney General Tom Miller issued a formal ruling that said the state constitution does not grant a successor governor the authority to name a lieutenant governor.
Reynolds made Adam Gregg the state’s acting lieutenant governor, but Gregg was not in the line of succession. Had Reynolds resigned or left office, the Iowa Senate President Jack Whitver would have become governor.
A state constitutional amendment must pass consecutive General Assemblies and then Iowa voters.
This proposal is a reboot: it passed the Legislature in 2018, its first step in the constitutional amendment process, but a clerical error by the Iowa Secretary of State’s office nullified it and forced legislators restart the process.
That same error also forced legislators to restart a proposed amendment that would establish gun ownership rights in the state constitution.
A similar bill has been approved by the House State Government Committee.