D.C. Dispatch: Iowa Republican representatives oppose gun reform bill due to constitutional concerns

By: - June 24, 2022 5:52 pm

The U.S. House and Senate voted to approve bipartisan gun legislation this week. (Photo by James Carroll/Getty Images Plus)

Most of Iowa’s Republican federal representatives said they voted against bipartisan legislation to address gun violence because it might threaten Americans’ constitutional rights. 

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act increases background checks for people ages 18 to 21 who are buying a gun and allocates millions of dollars for mental health and school safety programs.

“There are many parts of this package I support, including increased mental health funding, training for law enforcement and bolstering school security,” said Rep. Ashley Hinson, a Republican. “However, I have concerns that parts of this legislation violate due process rights, and I could not support the bill in full. Legislative solutions must keep guns from getting into the wrong hands without violating the rights of law-abiding citizens, and unfortunately, this legislation did not meet that standard.”

The compromise legislation passed the House in a 234-193 vote on Friday and now heads to President Joe Biden’s desk for an expected signature. Rep. Randy Feenstra, a Republican, said he has helped introduce legislation that addresses mental health and active shooter response training but that the current reform package appeared to overreach on gun rights.

“Unfortunately, this proposal contains constitutional concerns that I cannot support,” Feenstra said. “As a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, I will continue to vote to protect every Iowan’s constitutional right to keep and bear arms while working to expand mental health resources for our communities and protect our children from unspeakable tragedies.”

The legislation also would close what is known as the “boyfriend loophole” which allowed unmarried partners to own guns even if they have abuse charges.

Rep. Cindy Axne, a Democrat, voted in favor of the legislation because it will make schools safer while addressing mental health issues, but she said it didn’t go as far as she had hoped.

“It misses the mark in my book,” Axne told reporters on Friday. “The deal is, we really should be banning assault weapons in general. I’ve said that since I’ve started running (for office). This should be back on the books. The assault weapons ban literally showed us through data that lives were saved. Other countries that don’t have assault weapons, they don’t have these issues. This is truly an American issue. It’s purely a guns issue.”

Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, a Republican, said she proposed more-efficient legislation to address school violence that allocates unused pandemic funds toward enhancing school safety measures and mental health resources.

Making schools safer and protecting our students is a top priority of mine in Congress. However, I have major concerns with the scope of this legislation,” Miller-Meeks said. “Providing government bureaucrats with access to individuals’ private health records is tremendously concerning and should be replaced by strengthening the NICS system by alerting about past criminal behavior without giving the government access to mental health records. I am also extremely concerned with the clear lack of due process in this legislation that would provide an incredible disadvantage to those without the financial means to hire an attorney.”

While there were provisions Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican, said he supported in the bill, he ultimately voted no on Thursday when it passed the Senate 65-33 because of a lack of debate about the language.

“There are legal definitions too vague to be enforced, or at least consistently enforced,” Grassley said. “Courts and respondents must always be able to determine who is subject to the law. It turned me against the legislation when I heard my colleagues say that the courts would have to sort out what the bill means. This ambiguity needed to be clarified, so Americans can read and understand the law with certainty and so no one’s constitutional rights are inappropriately swept up without recourse. Unfortunately, there was no process to make these necessary clarifications.”

Sen. Joni Ernst was the only Iowa Republican to vote in favor of the bill. She said while she is a lifelong supporter of the Second Amendment, this legislation does not infringe on the constitutional right.

Every American wants to keep our kids and our schools safe and provide folks access to mental health treatment, and this proposal helps do that without placing new restrictions on law-abiding gun owners,” Ernst said. 

Bipartisan health and well-being legislation

The House passed a bipartisan package to address mental health issues for children and adults. Two of the components within the Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-being Act were authored by Mariannette Miller-Meeks.  

Her first bill would increase access to treatment for individuals suffering from opioid use. Patients could be admitted for treatment regardless of how long they have been addicted. Currently, those suffering from opioid-use disorder must have been addicted for at least one year before treatment is permitted. Miller-Meeks also authored legislation to reauthorize funds for behavioral health programs for children.

“Over the last two years, communities across the country have seen a serious rise in opioid overdoses and a serious decline in the mental health of our students. Sadly, Iowa has been no exception to these crises,” Miller-Meeks said. “Both of my bills, as well as the larger package, will bring immediate help to Iowans in need. I will continue to work to find solutions for Americans struggling with opioid-use disorder and mental health issues and get them the help they need.”

Feenstra also sponsored an amendment to establish a veterans crisis line within the Behavioral Health Crisis Coordinating Office. Early in the year, Feenstra urged the secretary of veteran affairs to improve access to mental healthcare for veterans living in rural areas.

“Mental health should be treated just like physical health, and I am proud that we can work in a bipartisan way to expand critical programs that support our children, our families and our veterans,” Feenstra said. “I will continue to advocate for greater investments in our mental healthcare infrastructure – particularly in rural Iowa – so that every American who needs lifesaving support can get it as quickly as possible. 

Drug trafficking 

Hinson authored a proposal to take $15 million from the Food and Drug Administration budget to provide more resources to prevent opioids — especially fentanyl — from reaching the United States.

Her proposal unanimously passed the U.S. House Appropriations Committee and would also ramp up coordination between the Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to tackle opioid trafficking.

“China is the main source of all illegal fentanyl in the United States. How is it getting into American communities? It’s being illegally shipped through international mail, and it is being trafficked across our southern border,” Hinson said. “The good news is that we have all these agencies doing work on the problem – they just need to be coordinating better.” 

Summer lunch programs for students

School lunch programs over the summer would continue with federal support after the House of Representatives passed the Keep Kids Fed Act, with all four of Iowa’s representatives voting in favor.  The bill now awaits a signature from the president.

Head shot of Cindy Axne
U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne is a Democrat who represents Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District. (Photo courtesy of Axne’s office)

Set to expire at the end of the month, the legislation provided meals to an estimated 75,000 children in Iowa. It creates a nationwide waiver to prevent schools from having to increase meal costs and also increases reimbursement rates. Axne joined a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy requesting action before the act’s expiration.

“Not only is this the right thing to do, but ensuring all students are fed sets them up for success in the classroom and beyond,” Axne said. “I am pleased I was able to vote with my colleagues in the House to keep our children fed, and I will continue this fight to make sure this issue is resolved before the school meal waivers expire June 30.” 

Website would list prescription prices

Seeking to make drug price assistance programs more accessible, Grassley and Ernst authored legislation to streamline information regarding resources that lower the cost of insulin and other prescription drugs. 

The Insulin for Our Reoccurring Medical Needs Act (INFORM Act) would establish a website that lists all aid programs to help lower the cost for pharmaceuticals. Both Iowa senators said they have long fought to lower drug prices.

​​“While we continue working on efforts to lower prescription drug costs, including the cost of insulin, there are steps we can take to make insulin resources easily accessible,” Grassley said. “The INFORM Act will provide Iowans with a one-stop shop to help individuals in need of insulin save time and money.” 

The measure would also require the Department of Health and Human Services to distribute printed resources with the financial aid programs to healthcare centers.

“This effort will put all of these resources in one, easily accessible place online as well as in physical locations where patients go regularly to pick up prescriptions, like pharmacies, hospitals, and community health centers,” Ernst said.

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Kate Kealey
Kate Kealey

Katherine Kealey is a senior majoring in journalism and political science at Iowa State University. Before interning at the Iowa Capital Dispatch, she interned at the Carroll Times Herald. She served as the editor-in-chief of the Iowa State Daily in 2022.