Inevitably, a number of hot-button issues come before lawmakers during each session of the Iowa Legislature.
This year’s session could produce much debate on a pair of proposals that, if they become law, will impact all Iowa drivers: a potential ban on hand-held use of mobile phones while driving, and automated traffic enforcement cameras.
Here is a look at those and a few more issues that could spark controversy during this year’s session, which begins Monday, January 13.
Lawmakers took a big step in 2017 by making texting while driving a “primary” offense. Previously texting while driving was illegal, but law enforcement needed a primary infraction to stop a driver before issuing a citation. Now officers can stop a driver solely for texting, using social media or playing mobile games while driving.
But some advocates feel the state should go a step further and ban use of hand-held mobile phones while driving. Only hands-free mobile phone use would be allowed.
Gov. Kim Reynolds said she is not initiating any legislation but supports a hand-held ban.
“If you drive down (Interstate) 235, you see people all the time texting (while driving). It’s scary,” Reynolds said. “The statistics are awful. Just awful.”
Nationally, 434 people died in 401 reported fatal crashes that involved cell-phone-related distractions in 2017, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In those crashes, police reported the driver was talking on, listening to, or engaged in some other cell phone activity at the time of the crash.
Leaders in the Senate’s Republican majority said there is not yet a consensus on a hand-held ban, but Senate President Charles Schneider, a Republican from West Des Moines, said he supports a ban.
“And it may because I see it a lot more than some other legislators, just driving back and forth from downtown to West Des Moines every day. But I’m just tired of seeing people weave in and out of lanes because they’re looking at their phones, or pulling up next to someone at a stoplight or sitting behind someone at a stoplight waiting for them to go because they’re checking email or checking Facebook on their phones,” Schneider said. “I think it’s a public safety issue. I’m not one who believes in having a heavy-handed government, but this really is becoming I think a public safety issue and it’s one that we have to address.”
The Senate in 2019, for the third consecutive year, voted to ban the use of automated traffic enforcement cameras. The Republican-led Iowa House could not reach consensus on whether to ban cameras or regulate them, so the issue is likely to be debated again in 2020.
“The camera bill is sitting in the House,” said Sen. Brad Zaun, a Republican from Urbandale. “I think it is encouraging that there is a change in leadership (in the House) where maybe the potential is there.”
Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, is the new House Speaker. He was chosen by his Republican colleagues to succeed Linda Upmeyer of Clear Lake who stepped down from the post.
Grassley said he has supported both proposals. It’s a matter of House Republicans agreeing on a path.
“I voted to ban traffic cameras. I voted to regulate traffic cameras,” Grassley said. “But that being said, my position on it is I’ve shown my willingness to do something. If there’s the will of the caucus to do that, I’m not going to stand in the way of that happening.”
Medicaid and work
Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, in 2019 introduced bills to require able-bodied Medicaid recipients to work or volunteer at least 20 hours per week, to be making an effort to pay their child support, and for the state to more frequently verify Medicaid recipients’ eligibility.
The bills failed to advance in the Senate, and key House committee leader Rep. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta, said the proposals would not be considered because they needed further vetting.
But both lawmakers left the door open for the proposals to be tweaked and reconsidered in 2020.
Grassley said he expects House Republicans to have a “broad conversation” on the issue this session.
Republican majorities in 2019 approved the first step in the process of amending the Iowa Constitution to include language strengthening Iowans’ right to possess firearms. The proposal — which opponents said went too far and could undo all gun regulations in state law — must be passed again by state lawmakers by 2021, and then by Iowa voters.
Lawmakers in 2019 also considered legislation that would eliminate the requirement Iowa gun owners carry a permit. The proposal was shelved, but the debate could surface again.
Grassley said House Republicans will bear in mind the constitutional amendment process when considering any other gun-rights proposals.
“Obviously anything we do on the Second Amendment we’re going to be very mindful. And any issue we (will) look at what the impacts are of our ability to actually achieve that (constitutional amendment),” Grassley said. “Because that, from the Second Amendment community, has been the priority. So whatever we look at, making sure we don’t jeopardize that (constitutional amendment).”
Republicans led an effort in 2019 to amend the Iowa Constitution to declare abortion is not a guaranteed right. The effort was in response to Iowa courts striking down as unconstitutional previous legislative attempts to restrict abortions.
The proposal was considered at the committee level, but advanced no further. It could come up again this year.