Bill advances to restrict Senate oversight of governor’s appointments

House panel votes to close potential for optional review of more postings

By: - March 18, 2022 3:31 pm

The Iowa Senate chamber. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

A bill approved by the Iowa Senate last week that would end the chamber’s automatic oversight of appointments to 29 boards and commissions had a small, silver lining for some Democrats: It had the potential to open more governors’ appointments to oversight if a majority of the Senate voted to do so.

No more.

An Iowa House committee stripped any ambiguity from the bill this week with an amendment that limited any oversight to the 29 boards or commissions originally targeted in the bill. The panel then advanced the bill for consideration by the full House.

“Some folks realized that maybe that there were — whether unintended or intended — maybe this expanded the scope of confirmations from the Senate,” Rep. Mike Sexton, R-Rockwell City, said in support of the amendment.

Senate File 2263 would make a Senate confirmation process optional for certain governors’ appointments — to such groups as the Iowa Public Information Board, the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy Council and the Commission of Veterans Affairs — and instead require a simple majority of the Senate to request a confirmation hearing.

As the chamber stands now, the bill would put Republicans in full control of such confirmations because they hold 32 of the Senate’s 50 seats. The confirmation process requires a two-thirds majority — or 34 votes — for approval, which means a measure of bipartisanship support is necessary.

The bill does not affect higher-profile appointees, such as agency directors and those who oversee the state’s three regent universities.

“Apparently, the Senate found this to be too time consuming,” Sexton said of the lower-profile confirmations.

The Senate voted 33-15 last week to approve the bill and sent it to the House. At the time, Sen. Roby Smith, R-Davenport, noted that it would increase Senate oversight of appointees that haven’t been under the Senate’s purview.

House Democrats of the State Government Committee opposed the bill and its clarifying amendment on Wednesday.

“At least this one little piece does add some tiny bit of additional oversight,” Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, said in opposition of the amendment. “This amendment shuts down that sunlight, shuts the curtains, whatever, pulls the blinds, and just makes sure that this is a completely opaque bill that completely abrogates any kind of legislative oversight.”

She said concerns about appointees from members of the minority party in the Senate are deserving of public discussion during a confirmation hearing.

Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, wondered why senators would willingly relinquish some of their oversight responsibilities over another branch of government.

“Checks and balances need to be there,” she said, “and it bothers me a great deal to see that we are giving that up, and that we are allowing one individual to have that much authority.”

Sexton said the committee needed to advance the bill this week to survive a legislative deadline, noting that it was the Senate that put forward the idea.

“Are there parts of it that concern me? Sure there are,” he said. “There’s parts that concern me of every bill we do in this place.”

The committee voted 14-9 to recommend the bill.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register.