By Representative Dean Fisher

We quickly shifted gears this past week, spending much more time in caucus meetings reviewing bills and then debating them on the floor. We debated and passed over 40 bills this week. Many of the bills are non-controversial, taking but a few minutes to discuss and vote on them. Roughly 90% of the bills we pass are bi-partisan. Occasionally one of these bills unexpectedly turns out to be controversial and debate can go on for hours, usually well into the evening. One such bill was House file 594 – “Limitations Regarding the Withdrawal of Life Support for a Minor”. This bill simply states that a court may not order withdrawal of life support from a child against the parent’s wishes. This bill is in response to the Alfie Evans case in the United Kingdom wherein the courts refused to let Alfie’s parents take their child to another country for treatment, instead forcing life support to be removed against the parent’s wishes. That decision belonged to the parents, not a judge. House Democrats resisted this bill by attempting to amend it with language that would retain the courts ability to interfere. We debated this bill for several hours on Monday night, ultimately passing it with narrow bipartisan support of 58 to 36.

Tuesday we debated and passed Senate File 519, the Ag Trespass Bill. Agriculture is the backbone of Iowa’s economy and as such it encompasses far more economic activity than farming. Agriculture supports our small businesses, manufacturers, financial services, and much more. It is therefore critical that we do all we can to protect our agricultural economy from hostile individuals, organizations, and foreign agents who wish to do it harm. Extremist activists bent on damaging a facility or creating biosecurity damage, or foreign agents wishing to steal intellectual property such as patented seed strains, are among the threats we must guard against. This legislation makes it illegal for a person to gain employment under false premises. The bill now goes to the governor for signature in a ceremony Thursday afternoon.

Wednesday we debated and passed House Joint Resolution 13/Senate Joint Resolution 18, a resolution to amend the Iowa Constitution to add a Right To Keep and Bear Arms. The text of the proposed amendment is simple and easy to understand, “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The Sovereign state of Iowa affirms and recognizes this right to be a fundamental, individual right. Any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.” Iowa is one of only six states that do not yet have such a guarantee of our right to keep and bear arms. The bill passed the House 53 to 46 with 1 absent on a strict party line vote. All Republicans vote YES, all Democrats voted NO on protecting our right to keep and bear arms.

Thursday we debated House File 661/Senate File 274, the Campus Free Speech bill. This bill seeks to guarantee freedom of speech on our public university and community college campuses by prohibiting unconstitutional limitations from being arbitrarily imposed by college leadership. This has been an issue nationwide on college campuses, including here in Iowa. When a student enrolls in a publicly funded college they do not give up their freedom of speech. Indeed, the college setting should be a place where the full range of ideas can be heard and debated as part of the learning experience. This bill guarantees that student organizations cannot be denied benefits and access based on that organization’s viewpoints or beliefs. For example, a student led Jewish organization cannot be denied because they require their leaders to be people practicing the Jewish faith. The same applies to all other faith based groups. Democrats arguing against this bill asserted that “diversity” means that persons that have no adherence whatsoever to the basic tenets of the group should be allowed to be leaders in these groups, a bizarre twist on the concept of diversity. It would make no sense to allow leaders of the Chess Club be persons with little knowledge of chess, it would make no sense to allow the leaders of the Photography Club to be persons with little knowledge of photography, and it would make no sense to allow the leaders of a Christian Club to be persons who don’t adhere to that religion’s beliefs and practices. This bill passed the House 52 to 44 and now goes to the governor for consideration.

On Friday, March 8, the Iowa Supreme Court handed down a decision that Iowa’s Medicaid program must pay for Gender Reassignment Surgery. This is a ridiculous reading of Iowa Civil Rights law that will cost Iowa’s taxpayers lots of money. At issue in the case were two men that believe they are women who qualify for Medicaid as low income persons. The court cited the fact that “Gender Identity” is a protected class of citizen under Iowa’s Civil Rights Act, a classification that was added in 2007 when Democrats controlled the House, Senate, and Governors office. Iowa Medicaid law stated explicitly that Gender Reassignment surgery would NOT be covered by Medicaid, the Supreme Court’s decision over rode that law. Gender Reassignment surgery costs roughly $100,000, so the state’s Medicaid system, already strained with ever-increasing costs, is immediately required to spend an additional $200,000 for these two. Surely many more such persons will be demanding these surgeries as well. This will also impact our prisons and other facilities, it will be difficult to house persons that have had their gender physically changed in either a men’s or women’s prison. The House Republicans are reviewing this decision and considering the best way to fight this insane ruling.

As always, I can be reached at dean.fisher@legis.iowa.gov and at 641-750-3594.