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Election law changes move forward

Election law changes move forward

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Scenes from a polling station in Davenport.

Iowa’s elections would undergo several changes under a proposal that is being volleyed back-and-forth between state lawmakers.

Multiple proposals addressing myriad state election laws — polls close and how absentee ballots are counted, among others — have been combined into one sweeping piece of legislation.

That bill contains some elements that have been proposed throughout this year’s legislative session, and leaves out other elements.

What is not in the bill, but was proposed in previous bills:

  • A requirement that absentee ballots arrive to local election officials by Election Day.
  • A ban on public universities as early voting locations.

What is contained in the bill:

  • Absentee ballots would be required to have a U.S. postal service barcode so local election officials can determine whether the ballot was submitted on time.
  • Local election officials would be required to verify signatures on absentee ballots, with exceptions carved out for elder and disabled voters living in nursing homes and other assisted living facilities.
  • The polls would close at 8 p.m. on Election Day for statewide elections; now they close at 9 p.m.
  • Graduating college students would be asked on a survey whether they plan to remain in Iowa after graduation. If they say they plan to leave Iowa, they would be removed from the voter registration rolls.
  • Any active voter that does not vote in one presidential election would be moved to inactive status, which is one step toward being removed from the voter registration rolls.
  • The Iowa Secretary of State would be allowed to observe local election officials during an election.

The myriad proposals wound up in House File 692, which passed out of a Senate committee on Wednesday. That made it eligible for consideration beyond this week’s legislative deadline.

But disagreements remain about elements within the bill, and lawmakers will have to work those out to the point where both the House and Senate can pass the same bill.

“We will take a look at all the sections (of the bill),” said Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, who chairs the House state government committee. “We’re going to definitely pass, I believe, something.”

Traffic cameras

It will take some funnel week finessing to keep alive a House plan to regulate traffic cameras to ensure they are used to improve safety, not to generate cash for cities, and scoop 60 percent of the cities’ traffic camera revenue for a state public safety fund.

The House Public Safety Committee has approved House File 674, which would cost the 10 cities with traffic cameras $6.5 million a year, according to the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency. However, it’s stuck in the budget committee because it did not get a constitutional majority when the public safety committee voted to approve it. The budget committee will have a special meeting Thursday to approve the bill to keep it alive, said Rep. Jarad Klein, R-Keota.

Klein said he has no plans to take up the Senate-approved proposal to ban traffic cameras. That bill, Senate File 343, passed the Senate, 30-19.

Land sales

On a party-line vote, the House agriculture committee passed a proposal that bill manager Rep. Mike Sexton, R-Rockwell City said would “create a creating a level playing field for Iowa agriculture, Iowa farmers.”

Senate File 548, which is now eligible for consideration by the full House, would limit the use of a state revolving fund to acquire land for water quality projects. It doesn’t put a moratorium on public land purchases but would prohibit groups such as the non-profit Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation from borrowing and repaying money from the fund to buy land to be turned over to local governments, county conservation boards or Department of Natural Resources.

Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, said the INHF has put 160,000 acres into conservation in the past 12 years, but only a little more than 11,000 acres using the state revolving fund. INHF and others must meet “strenuous” qualification to access the fund, he said.

But Sexton said there is a three-page application and the criteria page for proposed projects is not used.

“How do we measure the water quality that we’re supposed to be achieving? There’s no mechanism to allow that to happen,” he said.

Opposed by cities, counties and organizations promoting conservation, hunting, fishing and wildlife habitat, the bill was backed only by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association.

It was previously approved by the Senate on a 32-17 vote.


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