Commentary

Families take a back seat to big business in Iowa Legislature

March 1, 2021 8:00 am

How family friendly is Iowa’s Legislature? (Photo by Photo by Juliane Liebermann via Unsplash)

Republicans in the Iowa Legislature like to proclaim they are pro-life and pro-family. Most of the time, they act that way, pushing bills that they believe support parents and families.

But what happens when their pro-life, pro-family agenda gets in the way of another one of their priorities:  courting and catering to big business?

Three bills moving through in the Iowa Legislature offer an answer.

The first, House Study Bill 203 and its Senate companion bill, Senate Study Bill 1172, would cut unemployment benefits for all workers but those with more than two children would see larger cuts than those with smaller families.  The bills, supported by major business groups in the state, are out of committee and ready for debate in both chambers.

The second, Senate Study Bill 1210 and its House companion, House Study Bill 217, is a bill dealing, in part, with liability in motor vehicle accidents. Although it was proposed by the Motor Truck Association, lawyers and lawmakers say the proposal is not limited to accidents involving commercial carriers or even those involving a driver with a commercial driver’s license.

Under this legislation, if a drunk driver hits another vehicle head on and kills a mother and her one child, the most the father could collect for non-economic damages in a lawsuit is $1 million.  If that same collision killed a mother and six children, the cap on damages such as pain and suffering, mental anguish and loss of consortium is still $1 million. Furthermore, if the drunk driver pushed a bus off a cliff containing a mother, her children and the kids’ entire kindergarten class, the damage cap is still $1 million.

To his credit, Sen. Julian Garrett, R-Indianola, stalled the bill in subcommittee last week, saying he did not believe $1 million was adequate.  But the legislation can still advance in the House and there could be a new subcommittee appointed in the Senate if leaders are intent on moving the bill.

The third bill certainly looks like a pro-family bill.  Senate Study Bill 1029 would require employers to make reasonable accommodations for the pregnancy or childbirth of an employee. The bill came out of the Senate Labor and Business Relations Committee last week on a unanimous, 10-0 vote.

But it appears the bill was watered down in committee, giving a pregnant worker no cause of action for a lawsuit against an employer for violation of her civil rights. Instead, the legislation adds the new provisions to the Iowa Division of Labor and sets the fine for a violation at a maximum of $750. That’s no deterrent for most businesses and it offers no chance of compensation for the loss of a pregnancy.

Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, a labor lawyer, said Friday lawmakers were not given an opportunity to review the amendment before Thursday’s meeting but he’s suspicious about the reason for moving the legislation from the Iowa Civil Rights Commission to the labor division. “It stinks to me,” he said.

“And I’m just very suspicious that the end result is that it is going to be scheduled for only being a fine and not trigger a private cause of action,” he said.

Boulton was also on the subcommittee for the employer liability bill, which he opposed. “It is odd that a party that espouses this family values message over and over again, ran basically back-to- back bills that will target those with growing families,” he said. “It’s just it’s really hard to square that with this idea that we want to encourage people to come to Iowa to raise their family when we’re making it, frankly, a lot harder for Iowans to get by trying to support those families.”

It seems like when these pro-life, pro-family Republicans try to balance the life and health of parents and children against an employer’s bottom line, it’s the families that lose.

 

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