Iowa Joins the United States of ALEC
By Scott Galindez, Reader Supported News
11 February 17
n 2011, when the Republicans took control of all the branches of the Wisconsin government, a series of laws were rammed through that reversed decades of progressive gains in the state. Workers occupied the Capitol to no avail. History is repeating itself in 2017 in Iowa. The American Legislative Exchange Council is wasting no time in taking advantage of Republican control of the Iowa Legislature and the Governor’s Mansion.
Already we have seen votes to defund Planned Parenthood, proposals to preempt local minimum wage hikes and weaken collective bargaining, and Voter ID proposals. The list goes on and on.
The legislation to preempt minimum wage hikes that have passed throughout the state is getting a lot of attention but is much worse than people realize. The bill affects a lot more than the minimum wage. It creates statewide standards on a score of other issues, including civil rights.
Proponents of the legislation argue that they are just trying to create an environment for business with consistent laws throughout the state. The bill prevents counties, cities and other local entities from passing ordinances that exceed state laws. So for example, if your city council wanted to ban the use of plastic shopping bags, they would not be able to do that unless the state banned the use of plastic shopping bags.
When I asked the author of the bill, John Landon, if this was just a model bill from ALEC, he acted like he had no idea what I was talking about. I followed up by pointing out that several other states had similar legislation and he replied, “Not that I am aware of.”
Really? Before 2017, 19 states passed preemptive laws to block local communities from either raising the minimum wage or increasing sick leave for workers. Here is a map published in June of 2016 showing the 19 states.
In an interview in the New Republic, Laura Huizar, a staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project, said: “These preemption bills are powerful ways for conservative legislators to push back and chill activity at the local level. We do know that a lot of these bills are very similar and are part of a broader pushback by ALEC [American Legislative Exchange Council] against progressive legislation at the local level.”
Iowa HSB 92, the “preemption bill,” also has what might be a more alarming provision that some say lowers the bar on Civil Rights. The bill reads:
The bill strikes language providing that nothing in Code chapter 216, the Iowa Civil rights Act of 1965, shall be construed as an intent on the part of the general assembly to occupy the field in which Code Chapter 216 operates to the exclusion of local laws not inconsistent with Code chapter 216 that deal with the same subject matter. The bill also strikes language providing that nothing in Code chapter 216 shall be construed as limiting a city or local government from enacting any ordinance or other law which prohibits broader or different categories of unfair or discriminatory practices than are provided in Code chapter 216.
Many are concerned that this means if a city wanted to increase civil rights protections, local government would not be allowed to exceed state law. So if Des Moines wanted to go further than the Civil Rights Act of 1965, that would not be allowed because it would exceed the ceiling set by state law. During the committee debate on these provisions, members were unable to get a clear answer as to why the provision was necessary.
The bill would preempt the minimum wage increases recently passed in Linn, Wapello, Johnson, and Polk Counties, and drop the wages for over 100,000 Iowans. The bill also includes very concerning language on civil rights, saying that municipalities cannot pass protections for marginalized populations above and beyond the base protections laid out in the 1965 Iowa Civil Rights Act.
Susan Stroope, CCI Action Fund member and retired teacher, commented, “What’s astounding to me is the hypocrisy of taking local control away from communities when on other matters the conservatives pushing this bill through are all about local control and are supposed to be the party of small government.”
CCI Action organizer Bridget Fagan-Reidburn continued, “With this bill, some Republican legislators like Representative Highfill are actually voting to lower the minimum wage for their constituents who already have been promised an increase by their county supervisors. This bill will take money out of the pockets of hard-working Iowans, and prevent municipalities from ever being able to give their constituents a much-deserved raise again.”
A date for the public hearing on HSB 92 has not been set. To join the fight against the bill, sign up here.
The preemption bill is not the only legislation targeting workers. There is also legislation that weakens collective bargaining rights for public employees, another ALEC priority. The legislation is viewed by many as worse than the law that caused the occupation of the Wisconsin Capital in 2011.
Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, a labor attorney, said the bill would permit local officials who don’t understand the work of public employees to dictate the terms of their employment. Local elected officials already have a seat at the table for contract talks, but the bill is aimed at “rigging the outcome of the process,” he said.
That legislation passed through committee with a 7-4 vote. There will be a public hearing on the proposed law on Monday, February 13th, at 5 p.m. in room 103 of the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines.
Iowa is very quickly becoming a state governed by laws that have long been the goal of ALEC. We can only hope they will overreach. Anyone who thinks there is no difference between the Republicans and Democrats should come to Iowa and witness the Republican Party dismantling decades of progressive change in short order. Look at Iowa and then look at California. The difference is like night and day.
Scott Galindez attended Syracuse University, where he first became politically active. The writings of El Salvador’s slain archbishop Oscar Romero and the on-campus South Africa divestment movement converted him from a Reagan supporter to an activist for Peace and Justice. Over the years he has been influenced by the likes of Philip Berrigan, William Thomas, Mitch Snyder, Don White, Lisa Fithian, and Paul Wellstone. Scott met Marc Ash while organizing counterinaugural events after George W. Bush’s first stolen election. Scott moved to Des Moines in 2015 to cover the Iowa Caucus.
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