The Behn Report

Jerry Behn (R), Boone

~by Senator Jerry Behn

March 14, 2019

Week nine in the Iowa Senate included some of the first major debate of this year. Just this week, we passed over 30 bills out of the Senate chamber.

One of the bills the Senate passed this week was Senate File 274, protecting the freedom of speech on college campuses in Iowa. This bill, which passed the Senate 35-11, provides common-sense, proactive protections and safeguards, for belief-based student organizations in Iowa. This was an important bill to pass as a number of universities, not just in our state, but across the country, have been stifling free speech and the discussion of differing ideas on their campuses.

We also passed a bill aimed at improving the knowledge of Iowa students on U.S. government and history. Senate File 209 requires school districts and accredited non-public schools to offer all students in grades 9-12 opportunities to take the latest available U.S. citizenship and immigration services naturalization civics test. The goal of this bill is to provide high school students with knowledge of our nation’s government and political processes and help increase civic engagement.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 24 percent of U.S. high school students are proficient in civics, and studies by the Annenberg Foundation show a third of U.S. citizens can’t name even one branch of our federal government. The bill passed the Senate 43-3.

The Senate passed Senate File 536 on Wednesday, which took out a restriction in the Iowa code that limited the operation of tele-pharmacies in rural Iowa. Current law set a ten-mile radius restriction for granting a special or limited-use pharmacy license, to a proposed tele-pharmacy site. This bill provides more options for rural healthcare services, increases access to pharmacies in our rural communities, and ensures rural Iowans have access to medications and prescriptions they need. It passed the Senate 48-0.

Protecting Iowa’s largest industry – Agriculture is one of the driving forces of Iowa’s economy. When adversity strikes our ag sector, it often takes a toll on our economy. Look no further than four years ago when the avian flu ravaged the poultry industry in Iowa. That outbreak claimed 30 million hens and 1.5 million turkeys, resulting in the loss of 8,444 Iowa jobs and $1.2 billion in economic losses.

Iowa plays a significant role in feeding the world. So, it is vital our farming operations have protections in place to prevent future outbreaks that threaten the world’s food supply, as well as the state economy. One of those protections, in disease prevention is strict biosecurity procedures. We addressed these strict biosecurity measures this week with the passage of Senate File 519, which creates a criminal trespassing offense.

The bill passed this week in the Iowa Senate and House would enforce criminal penalties for a person who deceptively obtains access to, or employment at, an agricultural production facility that is not open to the public, with the intent to cause physical or economic harm to the facility. The bill also provides for conspiracy charges, for those who conspire to cause harm to our agricultural production facilities or animals.

This valuable piece of legislation is essential for ag producers in our state. It provides protections for producers against tampering with their livestock and farming operations, and the potentially devastating spread of disease.

Bringing balance to the Iowa judicial system – This week, the Iowa Senate passed important reforms to how judges are picked in Iowa. Senate File 237 makes a number of changes to judicial nominating commissions in order to give the people of Iowa more of a voice, increase accountability, and bring balance to commissions across the state.

Currently, the state nominating commission is made up of 16 individuals. Eight are chosen by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, while eight are elected by members of the Iowa Bar. There are serious concerns about a private group having such a large say in our third branch of government with no legislative oversight and with a group of lawyers electing their own to the commissions.

To fix this problem, Senate File 237 proposes the state nomination commission contain eight individuals who will continue to be appointed by the governor, while the remaining eight are appointed by legislative leaders: two by the Senate Majority Leader, two by the Senate Minority Leader, two by the Speaker of the House, and two by the House Minority Leader. The bill does not include Senate confirmation, as we’ve often seen appointees fall victim to the other party’s politics on Senate floor. This way the minority in the legislature always has a say in the process.

When it comes to our district nomination commissions, they will continue to be made up of five people appointed by the governor and five people selected by the Iowa Bar. The bill does take out senior judges as chairs on the commissions and instead allows members to appoint their own chair of the commission. The courts will still get to appoint a member on the commission. Additionally, the bill expands the judicial applicant pool, by only requiring a person to live in the district upon their appointment, and standardizes the processes for nomination commissions all over the state.

It’s important to remember that with these changes, Iowa will continue to be a merit-based system, and it does not move our state towards electing judges, or require any kind of Constitutional amendment. We are simply changing how the commissions are put together, in order to give Iowans more of a voice, and trying to bring more accountability those who select our state’s judges.

A constitutional right to keep and bear arms – Senate Joint Resolution 18 passed the Iowa Senate on Wednesday this week. This legislation is the first step in placing the right to keep and bear arms in the Iowa Constitution. Iowa is one of only six states in the country to lack constitutional protections for this fundamental right and this policy will take Iowa off that list.

The language in this legislation is nearly identical to the Second Amendment in the US Constitution with one important exception. It requires the Iowa Supreme Court to use the strictest evaluation on legal restrictions to the right of Iowans to keep and bear arms. This language is important because, as was illustrated in 2008 when legal challenges came to the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, only one vote on the US Supreme Court separated law-abiding citizens from their constitutional right.

Adding this language to the Iowa Constitution provides a layer of constitutional protections at the state level for the law-abiding citizen’s right to keep and bear arms. This legislation also passed the Iowa House on Wednesday. In order for it to be added to the Iowa Constitution, it must be passed in the same manner in the next General Assembly and then passed by a majority of Iowans in a statewide vote.

As always, I want to hear from you. My Senate number is (515) 281-3371 and my home number is (515) 432-7327 or write me at: State Capitol, Des Moines, IA 50319 or at my home address: 1313 Quill Avenue, Boone, IA 50036 or email me at jerry.behn [at] legis [dot] iowa [dot] gov.

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