There was quite a flurry of activity at the Capitol last week as lawmakers faced down the first funnel — a deadline to eliminate bills in each chamber that are not a priority for the majority party.
There was one specific bill, a little out of our wheelhouse, that really caught my eye.
Environmental advocates showed up in force against a House bill that would have severely limited the ability of state and local governments to acquire — and individuals to donate — land for conservation. It was pretty impressive: the subcommittee had to be moved to a larger meeting room to accommodate the turnout; speakers were impassioned. Folks flooded lawmakers with emails and phone calls. Subcommittee members ultimately declined to advance the bill, despite the backing of a powerful interest group: the Iowa Farm Bureau. A scaled-down version of the bill is still alive in the Senate, but its prospects seem uncertain.
As an Iowan interested in passing a healthy environment down to future generations, I was happy and inspired by this turn of events — which seemed to take lawmakers by surprise. As someone who spends her days on the well-being of children and other vulnerable Iowans, I was also jealous.
How in the heck do we generate that kind of uproar for Iowa kids and families?
We know from polling that children's issues are incredibly popular. By large margins and across parties, voters favor affordable child care, preschool, afterschool programs and strong public schools. We know they overwhelmingly have favorable views of Medicaid and believe no one should go without the basics, like food and shelter.
We also know they are rarely the deciding issues for voters.
Right now at the Capitol we're facing a series of damaging bills that would slash our social safety net, make it harder for folks to be good workers and caregivers and make our state a little meaner. Bills to help people productive community members — by, say, expanding child care or providing more oversight of our Medicaid managed care program — have gotten little traction.
Often the bad bills are supported by just a few organizations, usually the local affiliates of national groups promoting conservative legislation, like the Koch Brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity or the Florida-based Foundation for Government Accountability. On the other side? Social workers, health care providers, religious groups, advocates for victims of domestic violence and Iowans with chronic diseases, to name more than a few.
The latter are dedicated advocates. We think we are, too. We all come to the Capitol every day armed with data and smart policy analysis. On good days, individual Iowans show up to tell their stories.
But the bills we're dealing with aren't generating the kind of blowback that makes enough lawmakers pause. They're not the ones getting moved to bigger meeting rooms or overwhelming lawmakers' inboxes.
There's a lot of session left. And many key decisions to be made. In the upcoming weeks, you will be seeing action alerts from us, advising you on important pieces of legislation. Can we count on you to pick up your phone, drop an email or show up at a legislative coffee? Or, heck, at the Capitol? There's real power in these actions — we saw it last week. Let's raise the roof both for the environment around us and for the people living in it.