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Govt-and-politics
UPDATE: Abortion bill heads to “100 percent pro-life” governor

DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds is “100 percent pro-life” but her staff said Wednesday that governor is withholding judgment on a restrictive bill passed by the GOP-led Legislature that seeks to ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected at about the sixth week of a pregnancy.

The governor did not talk with reporters at a morning Smart Conference, but spokeswoman Brenna Smith issued a statement saying Reynolds is “100 percent pro-life and will never stop fighting for the unborn.

“The governor's office has not received the bill from the Legislature to review it,” Smith added in lieu of a direct response to reporters requesting a brief opportunity to speak with her. “The governor does not comment on any bill until she sees it in its final form.”

Shortly before 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, 28 GOP and one independent senator voted to approve and send Reynolds legislation the Iowa House passed hours early that would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, often as early as the sixth week of pregnancy and before many women know they are pregnant. A total of 17 Democrats opposed the bill and four senators were absent.

Backers of the measure acknowledged during floor debate in both legislative chambers that Senate File 359 is designed to enact one of the most-restrictive anti-abortion laws in the country and is designed to challenge the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision that legalized abortion.

“I believe this bill will be a vehicle that will ultimately provide change and provide the opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade. There’s nothing hidden about the agenda. Today the pro-life movement won a battle but the war rages on,” said Sen. Rick Bertrand, R-Sioux City.

“My Republican colleagues, this is the vote of your career. Legislators for decades have dreamed of this opportunity. This is legacy,” he added. “My friends, prayers work.”

Rep. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta, delivered a similar message early Tuesday afternoon by telling her colleagues “the time is now,” at that start of a marathon debate on a 2017 bill that initially was a prohibition on the transfer of fetal body tissue but was amended to include the so-called “heartbeat” language. At about 11 p.m., the House passed the bill 51-46.

“It’s time for the GOP to “quit playing doctor and stop using your positions of power to harass, control and disrespect Iowa women,” said Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, during the Senate debate. And Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Hiawatha, said the bill isn’t about reducing the number of abortions. Instead, its sponsors seem “hell-bent on making a name for those who are set to challenge Roe v. Wade,” she said.

“Never mind how women’s rights will be run over by the Family Leader bus that’s headed to the U.S. Supreme Court,” Mathis said.

Even though it was the middle of the night, Bertrand, who led a group of Republicans who refused to vote for budget bills until getting a chance to vote for the fetal heartbeat bill, said it was a “good day for life” because it will start the march toward ending a practice authorized by the 1973 court ruling that he said has allow 60 million babies to be aborted.

Democrats predicted the state will waste millions in court defending a law that’s been overturned in other states.

“This extreme bill is the new form of GOP coercion of Iowa women,” Bolkcom said. “It’s time for you to quit playing doctor.”

Sen. Matt McCoy, a Democrat from Des Moines, called the bill an “anti-woman” measure by “pro-birth party” that cares more about the birth of children than the lives that are created once the child is both.

“Here we are at 1:05 in the morning, pushing a bill that has absolutely no constitutional chance of ever passing muster,” McCoy said. “Where it’s been tried, it’s been quickly struck down by the courts but not after extensive and expensive lawsuits. This bill inserts government in the personal lives of Iowa women. This bill is anti-woman and if this is not a war on women, I don’t know what is a war on women.”

During the House debate, Rep. Sandy Salmon, R-Janesville, said the bill “thrusts Iowa to the right side of history” in challenging Roe v Wade. “With this bill, we make Iowa one of the safest places for the baby in the womb in the entire nation,” she said.

The governor, who has called the administration she has been a part of his 2011 the “most pro-life” administration in Iowa history, has three days once she receives the bill to decide on the fate of the measure given that lawmakers have not adjourned their 2018 overtime session.

SF 359, approved 43-6 in the Senate in March 2017, banned “knowingly acquiring, providing, receiving, otherwise transferring or using a fetal body part” It was amended earlier this year by the House Human Resources Committee to include language to ban abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy. A House-passed amendment would allow abortions in a “medical emergency” or if “medically necessary,” including cases of rape, incest and fetal abnormality prior to the 20th week of pregnancy that “in the physician’s reasonable medical judgment is incompatible with life.

EARLIER STORY

DES MOINES — Members of the Iowa House passed a bill banning abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected — often as early as the sixth week of pregnancy — voting 51-46 to send it to the Senate late Tuesday night.

The debate raged for more than eight hours before House Republicans put the measure to a vote.

“The time is now,” bill manager Rep. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta, said as debate started on the bill.

Lawmakers — many who spoke more than once — talked about the constitutionality of the proposed legislation, the morality of abortion, its emotional costs and religious arguments against it.

Although similar legislation in Arkansas and North Dakota has been ruled unconstitutional by a federal appeals court, Lundgren argued it’s time for the United States Supreme Court to revisit the issue.

“The Supreme Court’s hands are tied by 40-year case law that has allowed 60 million babies to be aborted,” she said, referring to the landmark Roe v. Wade decision permitting abortion. “Science and technology have significantly advanced since 1973. It’s time for the Supreme Court to weigh in on the issue of life. It has taken decades for the science to catch up with what many have believed all along, that she’s a baby.”

“No one wants abortions,” Rep. Timi Brown-Powers, D-Waterloo, said, “but this bill won’t decrease the number of abortions.”

But it is unconstitutional, said Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, and the Supreme Court has twice refused to hear similar cases. If SF 359 is signed into law, she predicted a court will issue an injunction preventing its enforcement.

If the goal is fewer abortions, Wessel-Kroeschell said, more restrictions “only forces desperate women to find a way around those restrictions.”

“Middle-class and upper-class women always have access,” she said. “If Iowa manages to pass this extreme, ideological proposal, middle- and upper-class will travel to another state. These women can afford the plane ticket or auto fuel and possible hotel stays they need to accommodate an out-of-state abortion.

“Women struggling to feed the children they have will find a way to end pregnancy,” Wessel-Kroeschell said, perhaps resorting to pre-Roe methods involving coat hangars and “back alley” abortions.

SF 359, approved 43-6 in the Senate in March 2017, banned “knowingly acquiring, providing, receiving, otherwise transferring or using a fetal body part” It was amended earlier this year by the House Human Resources Committee to include language to ban abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy.

Lundgren’s amendment would allow abortions in a “medical emergency” or if “medically necessary,” including cases of rape, incest and fetal abnormality prior to the 20th week of pregnancy that “in the physician’s reasonable medical judgment is incompatible with life.

The exceptions were a “good thing,” Wessel-Kroeschell said, “but you cannot put lipstick on this pig and make it better. No mucking around with exceptions will help.”

If SF 359 becomes law, she warned, Iowa and the University of Iowa will lose top medical talent.

“The UI obstetrics and gynecology department claims that this bill risks their accreditation and ability to train residents. This bill may require the UI to make arrangements for resident training at another institution,” according to a House GOP analysis.

The vote was mostly along party lines with no Democrats voting for the bill. On final passage, Republican Reps. Baltimore, Lee Hein of Monticello, Jane Bloomingdale of Northwood, Andy McKean of Anamosa, Louie Zumbach of Coggon and David Maxwell of Gibson voted against the bill. Maxwell was the only Republican to oppose Senate File 471 in 2017 to ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has not she will sign the bill if it is sent to her, but has repeatedly described herself as “100 percent pro-life.”


MATTHEW PUTNEY, COURIER PHOTO EDITOR 

The sunsets behind a farm in Tama County this week.


Govt-and-politics
Mayor defends city flood response under audit attacks

WATERLOO — Mayor Quentin Hart took responsibility for communication breakdowns leading to a harsh federal audit of Waterloo’s flood recovery abilities.

But he said the city’s failure to fully staff its finance department also played a role.

“As mayor for the city of Waterloo and the gap in communication, I take full responsibility,” Hart said during a special council meeting Tuesday to discuss an April 9 audit report by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General.

Federal auditors concluded the city put an estimated $1.9 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency grant money at risk by failing to provide adequate documentation and not responding to many requests during the May 2017 audit.

The city ultimately resolved its issues, according to the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department, and will collect the full $800,000 to $1.1 million it was eligible to receive for staff time and damages to public facilities during the September 2016 flood.

But council members Margaret Klein, Bruce Jacobs and Steve Schmitt called for the special meeting to ask more questions about the situation and take staff to task.

“This is more than a two plus two is five mistake,” Klein said. “This put a potential of $1.9 million on the disaster list. We cannot do that. We just cannot ever let this happen again.

“In my view there is no excuse for this,” added Klein, suggesting employees involved in the audit get negative statements placed in future job reviews.

Hart said a key problem in dealing with the audit involved a staffing shortage in the finance department, and the audit came at a time when the staff was taxed with other urgent duties.

“Staffing levels are insufficient to deal with the growing demands that are placed upon the city,” Hart said. “We must ensure we hire the appropriate amount of staff to handle complex financial demands.”

Council members voted 3-3 in April 2016 to deny a request from Chief Financial Officer Michelle Weidner to fill a staffing vacancy. Schmitt, Jacobs and former Councilman Tom Lind voted against filling that position at the time and later voted against filling a second vacancy in the department.

“I can remember basically listening to the staff, the chief financial officer being totally upset because she needed that individual,” said Councilman Jerome Amos Jr. “It was close to begging for the position, and it was not provided.

“From that standpoint … we as a council need to accept some of that responsibility also,” he said.

Schmitt countered that the finance department should have dropped its other responsibilities and focused instead on the federal audit.

Council members have agreed to fill a vacancy in the finance department effective July 1.

Meanwhile, Hart said the city was taking other steps internally to help prevent similar problems if federal auditors come calling in the future. He noted the actual flood response brought city staff and volunteers together to save the city from larger losses.

“This city did a damned good job (fighting the flood),” he said.

Councilwoman Sharon Juon agreed.

“The big thing is we’ve resolved the issue; we have things in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” she said. “We need to commend all of the staff for the things they did during the flood.”


Govt-and-politics
Ernst, Grassley address sexual assault in military as reports reach all-time high

DES MOINES — A nationwide movement focused on sexual harassment in the workplace serves as a reminder the issue also looms over the U.S. military.

An estimated 14,900 U.S. service members experienced some kind of sexual assault in 2016, according to the U.S. Defense Department’s most recent report. Reports of sexual assault involving service members reached an all-time high in 2016.

Reports of sexual assault were up in the military for the seventh year in a row, according to the fiscal year 2017 report the Pentagon released this week.

Iowa’s two U.S. senators are addressing the issue.

“I do think we’re moving in the right direction, and I think more people are paying attention to it,” said Joni Ernst, a Republican U.S. senator from Iowa and a retired lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard. “But the bottom line is it’s not just about paying attention to it, it’s about preventing it.”

The new focus on sexual harassment has emboldened victims to speak up, military leaders said. Nearly one in three service members reported the crime; that is a significant improvement over 12 years prior, when a mere one in 14 service members reported the crime, according to the Defense Department report.

But work remains, said Ann M. Burkhardt, a Navy Rear Admiral and director of the U.S. Defense Department’s office on preventing and responding to sexual assault.

“Sexual assault violates the core values of our military and must never be tolerated. We have more work to do to advance dignity and respect for each and every person. It is essential to military readiness,” Burkhardt said when the report was published. “The hard truth is still far too many of our people find their lives changed by this crime, and there are far too many who continue to suffer in silence.”

Ernst said education is a critical component to preventing sexual assault in the military. She worked with Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democratic senator from New York, in 2017 to introduce legislation mandating sexual assault training for newly enlisted service members of all branches. That legislation was signed into law this year as part of a bigger defense bill, Ernst said.

Among the groups that supported the legislation was the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

“Sexual assault and disgusting online activity will continue to plague our nation and our military until we take concrete steps forward to address this horrific issue and change the culture within our society,” Ernst, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement when the proposal was introduced. “The military can help prevent sexual assaults and horrific online activity from happening in the first place by sitting down and talking with service members about what is right and what is wrong. This is especially important for those just entering the service, and it is my hope that this reinforces that these acts will not be tolerated.”

Charles Grassley, Iowa’s senior U.S. senator, has supported legislative efforts to reduce sexual assault and harassment in the workplace, including the military. Grassley leads the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Just being tough on crime, and rape is a crime whether it’s in the military or on a college campus or wherever it is. It’s a crime,” Grassley said.

State lawmakers also took action this year, creating a requirement any sexual harassment or assault reported by a member of the U.S. Army Iowa National Guard also is reported to local authorities. The proposal received unanimous approval from legislators and was signed into law by the governor in late March.

Mark Lofgren, a Republican senator from Muscatine who helped oversee the proposal, said it was designed to keep all law enforcement “in the loop.” He said local law enforcement can help the Iowa National Guard investigate allegations of sexual assault.

Amanda Ragan, a Democratic senator from Mason City who also helped with the legislation, said it provides reassurance to sexual harassment and assault victims in the Iowa National Guard their allegations will be heard by law enforcement outside the military as well.

“If we can make it easier for the victim, I believe most people are on board with that,” Ragan said. “When you have law enforcement involved in that part, which is really part of their duties to be aware of this, you know there will be action taken.”

The Iowa National Guard trains all members annually on sexual assault awareness, according to a spokesman. The 60- to 90-minute training is jointly conducted by the unit commander and a credentialed victim advocate. Officers and victim advocates are required to perform additional training.

Guard members also are encouraged to participate in community sexual assault awareness events during April, the spokesman said. April is recognized by advocates as Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Ernst and Grassley also have worked on legislation dealing with sexual assault on college campuses. They were among a group of senators who reintroduced legislation that requires campuses to have staff designated specifically for responding to sexual harassment victims, creates a uniform discipline process for all students, including athletes, and creates minimum training and transparency requirements.

“It is just such an important topic, and one that I have spent a great deal of time working with,” Ernst said, adding that during college she worked with a sexual violence and domestic abuse crisis center in Ames. “It really made such an impression on my life, being able to help women and children who had suffered through domestic violence and sexual assault ... not just in the military, but elsewhere, too.”


Grassley


AP PHOTO  

Joanna Gaines 


Govt-and-politics
topical
Floyd County voters OK $13.5 million jail bond

CHARLES CITY — Floyd County locked up public support to replace its inferior jail.

County voters overwhelmingly approved a $13.5 million bond issue Tuesday to pay for a new law enforcement center and related improvements to the 77-year-old courthouse.

More than 68.7 percent of those voting supported the measure, according to unofficial results from the county auditor’s office. The referendum required 60 percent voter approval.

“I’m very, very happy with the outcome,” said County Supervisor Linda Tjaden. “This was just amazing tonight to come in with more than 68 percent.”

The bonds will fund an addition on the west side of the courthouse to include a 32-bed jail, sheriff’s offices, communications center and emergency operations center.

The project also includes an atrium and entrance area between the courthouse and law enforcement center, while adding a central heating and cooling system and replacing windows in the existing courthouse now cooled with multiple window air-conditioners.

Tjaden joined Sheriff Jeff Crooks and members of his staff in touring the county providing informational meetings. Crooks opened the current jail on the fourth floor of the courthouse for tours.

“I want to think all of that paid off,” Tjaden said. “I think we had educated voters casting ballots.

“The jail tours were a tremendous help too,” she added. “I think it was an awakening for most all citizens that were not aware of our current situation.”

The state jail inspector in 2013 declared the current jail no longer met current standards. County officials were faced with the possibility of having to close the jail and transport inmates to other counties.

Among many issues, the layout made it difficult or impossible to properly segregate different groups of inmates; many items didn’t meet guidelines, including the bunk lengths; and the jail was not set up to keep the general public and visitors from coming into frequent contact with inmates being escorted in the building.

The bond issue was favored in all quarters of the county, with the heaviest support coming from the three Charles City polling places at 74 percent. The lowest support at 52 percent came from the Rock Grove-Rudd voting precinct.

Overall voter turnout was just 17.5 percent.

Tjaden said she expects the final building design to start right way with an eye to open construction bids later this year and start construction this fall or early next spring.


Ernst