Iowa Legislature 2019

Iowa state lawmakers packed a month’s worth of significant legislation into one


It was a remarkable week at the Iowa Capitol, punctuated by a Wednesday that was off the charts.

In one day, legislators met to consider four of the most significant pieces of legislation that will be debated this session: an anti-abortion state constitutional amendment; overhauling the process for selecting the people who nominate judges to Iowa courts; legalizing sports betting; and funding for K-through-12 public schools.

Each of those issues is worthy of almost any news day’s top headline.

And here they were, packed into one big day at the Capitol.

It may be appropriate the anti-abortion amendment and a proposal to change the judicial nominating process ran on the same day, because their inspiration is drawn from the same place.

Iowa Republicans are unhappy with some of the Iowa Supreme Court rulings in recent years — legalizing same-sex marriage and striking down anti-abortion laws, primarily. So, Republicans have proposed amending the state constitution to state clearly that Iowans do not have the right to an abortion. And they want to change the way judges are nominated to the


The anti-abortion amendment drew a large crowd to Wednesday’s subcommittee meeting, which was moved to a larger room to accommodate the crowd. And even then, dozens of people had to stand throughout the hour-long meeting just to be in the


Dozens testified, passionately and emotionally — as one might expect with an issue like abortion — but also respectfully. Call it another victory for Iowa nice. Emotions and tensions never ran too high, and there were no outbursts except for a round of applause from supporters as the meeting ended and the proposed amendment was passed along to the next legislative step.

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The meetings on the sports betting proposal showed just how significant the hurdles are to passage.

First, there is the bottom-line question of whether there is enough support among legislators to make sports betting legal in Iowa. That remains an unknown.

But beyond that, there is the equally significant question of who will have a hand in sports betting if it is legalized. The casinos, the state lottery and state horse racers all want their hand in the sports betting cookie jar.

The casinos want to be the only player — they want sports betting to take place on their properties and online while being regulated by the state racing and gaming commission.

The horse racers also made their pitch to be the entity that oversees sports betting.

Lottery officials said they’re fine with whomever runs it, but they want to be able to offer sports betting games at any location where lottery tickets are presently sold. The casinos pushed back at this.

Not to mention professional sports leagues, which want a so-called royalty fee, a mandate that whomever operates sports betting must purchase bet-deciding data from the leagues — and to have a say in which in-game bets, often called proposition or “prop” bets, can be offered.

That’s a lot of cooks wanting to make this broth.

The challenge for Iowa legislators is to craft legislation that will make enough of those potential stakeholders happy and, more importantly, earn enough support from their colleagues in the House and Senate to pass a bill and get it to the governor’s desk.

Pardon the pun, but that sure seems like long odds, at least at the moment.

That said, there’s plenty of time left in the session. After all, for everything just discussed here, that was just one day.

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Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government for Lee Enterprises. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.


State house reporter for The Courier/Lee Enterprises.

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