Democrats in the Iowa House of Representatives selected Rep. Jennifer Konfrst (D-43) as the new House minority leader on June 14. Konfrst replaces Rep. Todd Prichard (D-52), who announced on June 2 that he would be stepping down as minority leader. Konfrst is the first woman to lead the Iowa House Democrats.
“I’m honored to earn the trust of my colleagues to lead our fight to ensure Iowans’ voices are heard and truly represented in Des Moines,” Konfrst said in a statement following the vote.
Konfrst was first elected to the Iowa House in 2018 and was re-elected in 2020. She had been serving as House minority whip since the start of her second term in January 2021.
The minority leader of a state house is responsible for directing the minority party strategy, assembling party members for important votes, and acting as a spokesperson for the party’s policy positions.
Geri Huser began another six-year term as chair of the Iowa Utilities Board on May 1. The Iowa Utilities Board is a three-member board in the Iowa state government, which is responsible for regulating the rates and services of electric, natural gas, and water utilities.
Governor Terry Branstad (R) originally appointed Huser to the board on May 1, 2015. Governor Kim Reynolds (R) reappointed Huser on Jan. 29 to another six-year term beginning on May 1 and ending on April 30, 2027. The governor also reappointed Huser as chair of the board. On April 28, the Iowa State Senate confirmed Huser for both the board member and chair positions.
Huser served in the Iowa House of Representatives from 1997 to 2011, representing the 42nd District as a Democrat. While in office, she served on the Judiciary, Local Government, and Rebuild Iowa and Disaster Recovery committees.
All 50 states have public service commissions, which are multi-member boards responsible for the regulation of utilities. Most state commissions have three seats, though some states have as many as seven seats. Public service commissioners are elected in 11 states and appointed in the other 39. Of those states that appoint public service commissioners, all but Virginia and South Carolina give that appointment power to the governor.
As of May 6, 10 states have commissions that are majority Republican, while two are majority Democrat. Of the two states that have majority-Democratic commissions, one (Illinois) consists of members appointed by the governor.
On Wednesday, March 31, Rita Hart (D) dropped her petition with the House Administration Committee to investigate the Nov. 3, 2020, election in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R) defeated Hart by six votes in that race. House Administration Committee Chair Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D) said the committee would suspend its investigation of the election.
After announcing the decision, Hart said that she chose to end her challenge “after many conversations with people I trust about the future of this contest.” “Despite our best efforts to have every vote counted, the reality is that the toxic campaign of political disinformation to attack this constitutional review of the closest congressional contest in 100 years has effectively silenced the voices of Iowans,” she said.
After the Nov. 3, 2020, general election, Iowa officials conducted three recounts of the results in the 2nd district. Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate (R) ordered a recount in Jasper County on Nov. 6 and then another in Lucas County on Nov. 10. On Nov. 13, Hart requested a full recount of votes in all 24 counties in the district. After this last recount, Miller-Meeks was certified as the winner by a margin of six votes on Nov. 30.
On Dec. 2, Hart announced she would contest the election with the House Administration Committee. She submitted a notice of contest on Dec. 22 that said 11 ballots were excluded due to poll worker errors and another 11 were excluded because of unsealed or damaged envelopes, having the voter’s signature in the wrong place, or being left in a drop box outside the county. Miller-Meeks was provisionally seated in the House on Jan. 3, and on Jan. 21, she filed a motion asking Congress to dismiss Hart’s challenge of the election results, saying that Hart should have pursued the matter through state procedures rather than filing a petition with the House.
On Mar. 10, the House Administration Committee voted 6-3 to consider Hart’s challenge and table Miller-Meeks’ motion to dismiss Hart’s challenge. After the decision to move forward with the investigation was announced, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) said Democrats are “literally trying to overturn a state-certified election here in Congress.” Some Democrats, such as Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips (D), said overturning the results would be a mistake. “Overturning it in the House would be even more painful for America. Just because a majority can, does not mean a majority should,” Phillips said.
Last year’s general election in Iowa’s 2nd District had the narrowest margin of victory in a U.S. House race since 1984. That year, Francis McCloskey (D) defeated Richard McIntyre (R) by four votes in Indiana’s 8th Congressional District. The House Administration Committee has dismissed most contested election cases that have come before it. According to a 2016 Congressional Research Service report, out of 107 contested election cases filed between 1933 and 2009, the candidate who contested the election won three times.
The House Administration Committee moved to consider Rita Hart’s (D) challenge of the results in last November’s election in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District March 10. The committee voted in favor of considering the challenge and tabling a motion by Hart’s opponent, Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R), to dismiss the appeal. The decision will allow Hart to present evidence in support of her petition to the committee, which will then present a full report to the House recommending who should fill the seat.
After the November general election, Iowa officials conducted three recounts of the results in the 2nd district. Secretary of State Paul Pate (R) ordered a recount in Jasper County on Nov. 6 and one in Lucas County on Nov. 10. On Nov. 13, Hart requested a full recount of votes in all 24 counties in the district. After this recount, Miller-Meeks was certified as the winner by a six-vote margin on Nov. 30.
On Dec. 2, Hart announced she would contest the election before the House Administration Committee. She submitted a notice of contest on Dec. 22 that said 11 ballots were excluded due to poll worker errors and another 11 were excluded because of unsealed or damaged envelopes, having the voter’s signature in the wrong place, or having been left in a dropbox outside the county. The notice asked the House to invalidate the state-certified results, count the ballots Hart said were excluded, and initiate a uniform hand recount in all 24 counties in the district. Miller-Meeks was provisionally seated in the House on Jan. 3, and on Jan. 21, she filed a motion asking Congress to dismiss Hart’s challenge of the election results, saying that Hart should have pursued the matter through state procedures rather than filing a petition with the House.
After the House Administration Committee announced it would move forward with the investigation, Hart said the decision helps ensure that every vote is counted: “At least twenty-two Iowans’ legally-cast ballots still have not been counted due to a string of errors. We are glad to see the House Committee on Administration taking the next step towards ensuring that every legally-cast vote is counted in this race and that all Iowans’ voices are heard. Every legal voter in this country has a right to have their ballot counted and the remedy here is clear — count the ballots,” she said. Miller-Meeks said: “In Iowa, the votes were counted, recounted, and in some cases – recounted again. Now, Rita Hart is asking democrat politicians in DC to elect her because the voters of Iowa did not.”
If the committee recommends the matter to the full House, the chamber will decide the outcome by a majority vote as provided for in Article I, Section 5, of the U.S. Constitution. Historically, most contested election cases heard by the committee were dismissed. Out of 107 contested election cases filed between 1933 and 2009, the candidate who contested the election only won three times. The November 3 election was the narrowest margin of victory in a U.S. House race since 1984, when Francis McCloskey (D) defeated Richard McIntyre (R) by four votes in Indiana’s 8th Congressional District.
On Feb. 15, Iowa public schools were required to start offering full-time, in-person instruction for all grades. Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) signed the bill enacting the mandate on Jan. 29. The bill, which passed the state House and Senate with the support of all Republicans and one Democrat, allows parents to request a hybrid or all remote option for their children. Schools can request a waiver from the requirement to provide in-person instruction from the state Department of Education based on factors such as the number of teachers quarantining because of the virus.
Previously, Iowa public schools had to provide at least half-time, in-person instruction. Gov. Reynolds issued the part-time order on July 17, 2020.
Iowa is one of five states that require schools to open at least partially for in-person instruction.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) required all public and private pre-K, elementary, and middle schools to resume full-time, in-person or hybrid (at least two in-person days every week) instruction, regardless of their county’s transmission rates, on Jan. 19.
The Florida Department of Education ordered public schools to reopen at least five days per week for all students no later than Aug. 31, 2020.
Arkansas Education Secretary Johnny Key ordered public schools to offer in-person instruction five days per week, starting no later than Aug. 26, 2020.
The Texas Education Agency required public schools to offer daily in-person instruction options, or risk losing state funding, no later than Oct. 19. The agency’s order allowed schools to stay remote for the first eight weeks of the school calendar year, which began on Aug. 24, 2020.
In Chicago, the third-largest school district in the country, the first wave of students (pre-K and special education students) returned to in-person classroom instruction on Feb. 11. The Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools reached a reopening agreement on Feb. 9. Under the plan, K-5 students will return for hybrid instruction (two days per week in-person) on March 1. Students in grades 6-8 will return on the hybrid schedule starting March 8.
New Jersey became the first state to implement a statewide mask order in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on April 10, 2020. Seven other states implemented mask orders later in April 2020 and, in total, 39 states have issued statewide mask requirements at some point during the pandemic.
In recent weeks, states have begun to repeal mask requirements or allow them to expire. Today, thirty-five states have statewide mask orders, including all 23 states with Democratic governors and 12 out of the 27 states with Republican governors.
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) announced he is letting the state’s face-covering requirement expire on Feb. 12. Former Gov. Steve Bullock (D) issued the face-covering requirement on July 15, 2020.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) lifted her state’s mask order on Feb. 7. Reynolds first issued the face-covering requirement on Nov. 17.
The Wisconsin State Assembly also voted 52-42 on a resolution to end the statewide mask mandate and coronavirus public health emergency on Feb. 4. In response, Gov. Tony Evers (D) immediately issued two new orders reestablishing the public health emergency and mask mandate. All Democrats and seven Republicans voted against the resolution. Republican legislative leadership is challenging the mandate in the state Supreme Court. The Wisconsin State Senate voted 18-13 to overturn Gov. Tony Evers’s (D) coronavirus emergency order on Jan. 26.
Mississippi became the first state to lift a statewide mask requirement on Sept. 30, 2020, followed by North Dakota on Jan. 18, 2021. Montana is the fourth state to lift a statewide mask order. Iowa was the third state to lift a statewide public mask mandate. All four states that have lifted statewide face covering requirements have Republican governors.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) issued an order easing coronavirus restrictions, effective Feb. 7. The order lifted the statewide mask mandate and limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings. Reynolds first issued the face-covering requirement on Nov. 17, requiring everyone two years or older to wear masks in indoor spaces open to the public where social distancing could not be maintained.
Iowa is the third state to lift a statewide public mask mandate. Mississippi’s statewide order expired Sept. 30, 2020, and North Dakota’s order expired Jan. 18, 2021.
Thirty-six states currently have statewide mask orders, including all 23 states with Democratic governors and 13 out of the 27 states with Republican governors.
Voters in Iowa will decide in 2022 whether to add a right to own and bear firearms to the Iowa Constitution and require strict scrutiny for any alleged violations of the right brought before a court.
The amendment was certified for the ballot on January 28, 2021, after having passed both chambers of the legislature. To put a legislatively referred constitutional amendment before voters, a simple majority vote is required in both the Iowa State Senate and the Iowa House of Representatives in two legislative sessions with an election for state legislators in between. Every two years, half of the state senators and all of the members of the state House are up for election.
This amendment was approved as Senate Joint Resolution 18 during the 2019-2020 legislative session and required approval by both chambers of the legislature again in the 2021-2022 session.
SJR 18 was introduced on February 21, 2019. On March 13, 2019, it was approved by the Senate in a vote of 33 to 16, passing along party lines (with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed) except for one Democratic senator, Rich Taylor (D-42), who voted yes. The House approved the measure on the same day along party lines.
The amendment was introduced as Senate Joint Resolution 7 in the 2021-2022 legislative session and was approved on January 28, 2021, along party lines with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats opposed.
Amendment sponsors originally intended to pass the bill during the 2017-2018 and 2019-2020 sessions to place the question on the 2020 ballot, but a bureaucratic oversight resulted in the amendment process needing to start over again, meaning the bill needed to be passed in the 2019-2020 and 2021-2022 legislative sessions to appear on the 2022 ballot.
The Iowa Constitution requires notifications of any proposed constitutional amendments passed in one legislative session to be published at least three months before the general election for the next legislature—November 2018 in this case. Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate (R) said that his office failed to report constitutional amendments that the 86th Iowa General Assembly (2017-2018) approved in 2018. Because of the oversight that resulted in the amendments not being published, the amendment process had to be started over again.
Republican Iowa legislators argued that the amendment was necessary because Iowa is one of six states without a constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Amendment sponsor Rep. Steven Holt said, “The right to someone’s own life and the pursuit of their own happiness, their own destiny — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — cannot be separated from the right to defend their life, hence the fundamental right to keep and bear arms in our Second Amendment.” Regarding the strict scrutiny provision, Holt said, “If current or future laws are narrowly tailored to advance a compelling government interest regarding this fundamental individual right, they will be safe. If they do not fit that category, they will not be safe and they should not be on the books.”
Democratic Iowa legislators argued that the amendment could negate state laws such as permit-to-carry requirements and the ban of firearm ownership for felons. Sen. Kinney (D) said, “Not many of you have ever had to sit and look down the barrel of a gun. I have, on a number of occasions. When you are placing strict scrutiny into the Constitution, you’re going to be diminishing our laws that are on the books. To me, this is going to make law enforcement more dangerous.”
Forty-four states have a right to bear arms in their constitutions. Six states— California, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, and New York—do not.
The House also passed House Joint Resolution 5 in a vote of 59-41 on January 27, 2021. HJR 5 would amend the constitution to state that Iowa does not “recognize, grant, or secure a right to abortion or require the public funding of abortion.” All 41 House Democrats voted against the bill. Of 59 House Republicans, 55 voted in favor, three voted against, and one was absent or not voting. The measure could appear on the 2024 ballot if it is approved by the Senate (where Republicans hold a 32-18 majority) during the current session and passed by both chambers of the legislature again in 2023 or 2024.
A special general election was held for Iowa State Senate District 41 on January 26, 2021. Adrian Dickey (R) won the special election with 55.3% of the vote and defeated Mary Stewart (D).
The special election was called after Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R) resigned effective January 2 to be seated in the U.S. House of Representatives. Miller-Meeks served from 2019 to 2021. Dickey will fill the remaining two years in Miller-Meeks’ term.
As of January, 24 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in 16 states. Between 2011 and 2019, an average of 77 special elections took place each year. Iowa held 22 special elections from 2010 to 2020.
Iowa has a Republican state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers. Republicans control the Iowa State Senate by a margin of 32-18.
Election officials have scheduled a special election for the District 41 seat in the Iowa State Senate for Jan. 26, 2021. The seat became vacant when Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R) resigned effective Jan. 2 after being seated in the U.S. House of Representatives. There is no primary, and the Democratic and Republican parties will select their nominees at special conventions. The filing deadline for other candidates is on Jan. 12.