Protestors gather in front of the State Capitol at the March for Iowa's Teachers held on Feb. 12. (The Daily Iowan/Molly Hunter)
Protestors gather in front of the State Capitol at the March for Iowa's Teachers held on Feb. 12. (The Daily Iowan/Molly Hunter)

Legislators postpone changes to Chapter 20

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State Democrats stand their ground in the debates over changes to Chapter 20

By Molly Hunter | molly-hunter@uiowa.edu

Numerous state legislators participated in debates Tuesday evening to protest the changes to Iowa’s collective-bargaining laws outlined in two bills introduced last week.

House File 291 and its companion, Senate File 213, would strip many public employees of the collective-bargaining rights they were guaranteed under Chapter 20 of Iowa law. They would remove the provision requiring employers to provide proper cause for employee terminations and suspensions, while maintaining legal prohibitions on strikes.

Sen. Wally Horn, D-Cedar Rapids, who was in office in 1974 when the original Chapter 20 negotiations occurred, spoke at Tuesday’s debate.

“We had teachers in jail. We had negotiations that weren’t going on,” Horn said. “People in Iowa at that time felt like we don’t want our teachers in jail. They had walkouts and stuff and [Chapter 20] was to prevent that.”

According to Horn, they were striking because they had no other way to negotiate. In response, a bill was introduced by a bipartisan group in 1974, which was then signed into law by a Republican, Gov. Bob Ray.

Over the weekend, constituents met with their legislators in town hall forums to discuss the changes. Protests were held across the state as workers came together to fight the bill, and hundreds signed up to protest the changes to Chapter 20 during the public hearing held for HF 291 on Monday evening.

Since Friday, 27 House Democrats and one House Republican—Rep. Dave Deyoe, R-Nevada—have together filed 79 amendments to HF 291. Amendments to SF 213 have also been filed. The debate in the Senate Tuesday evening began over the amendment to SF 213, Amendment 3021, introduced by Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines.

“Iowa’s public sector bargaining laws have repeatedly been celebrated for the bipartisan accomplishment they were. What we are doing in this chamber undermines that,” Boulton said. “We’ve heard the outcry from the communities who will be affected by this; they do not want this legislation! They’re reaching out to us. They’re reaching out with fear, but also with hope.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Crawford said at Tuesday’s debate that he hopes the Senate will support the amendment to SF 213 he has filed after hearing the concerns of his constituents.

“I ask that we have a conversation about local control, about empowering those…citizens [who] would like to have the opportunity to have the decisions made at a local level,” Schultz said. “We’d like…to talk about giving workers an opportunity to say whether they want to have a union representing them or not. This discussion has to move forward, and I ask you to resist [Amendment 3021].”

However, many who spoke at Monday’s hearing said the bill was moving too quickly.

“It’s ironic that a bill about collective bargain may have no negations or no compromise associated with its passing. … How can that be possible? Don’t fast-track this. Give it the courtesy that 40-year-old legislation deserves,” said American Federation of State, Municipal, and County Employees (AFSCME) Union Representative for Eastern Iowa Ty Cutkomp.

At the Senate’s debate on Tuesday, several Democrats spoke in favor of Boulton’s Amendment 3021, urging their fellow legislators to postpone the enactment of the legislation as it stands.

Sen. Rich Taylor, R-Mount Pleasant, also spoke against SF 213.

“You’re ruining people’s lives…and you need to be aware of that,” he said.

There was almost no support for SF 213 during the debate in the Senate, with only Schultz, the bill’s sponsor, and Sen. Julian Garret, R-Indianola, speaking in favor.

At the end of the evening, a vote was held on Boulton’s amendment, which failed. Sen. Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, made a successful motion to defer SF 213, and the Senate adjourned until 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Although many State Congressional Democrats, and some Republicans, are staunchly opposing the initial versions of HF 291 and SF 213, they will need to win over several more members to defeat or amend the bills.

On Tuesday, Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, spoke against the amendment to HF 291, Amendment 1018, which was filed on Friday by Rep. Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines. However, Hunter and many of his colleagues spoke in favor of amending the bill.

“The state deficits are not a result of collective bargaining,” said Rep. Kirsten Running-Marquardt, D-Cedar Rapids. “Public servants gave up their right to strike for a seat at the table.”

At the end of the evening, the House deferred HF 291, and adjourned. The House will reconvene at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.