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Tally shows uptick in Iowa legislative bills under GOP control

DES MOINES — The 87th Iowa General Assembly under Republican control produced the most bills since Democrats last held sway at the Statehouse in 2010.

The GOP-led Legislature passed 176 enrolled bills and joint resolutions during its 118-day run at the Capitol that ended May 5. That was up slightly from 174 approved in 2017.

Currently, Republicans hold a 59-41 edge in the Iowa House and a 29-20-1 lead in the Iowa Senate, with Republican Kim Reynolds in the governorship.

“Each year is different. I guess we have some very small bills many of which are not very controversial,” said Richard Johnson of the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency. “Certainly, the numbers are up again a little bit.”

The previous three General Assemblies — each lasting for two years, with annual legislative sessions — had been directed under split control with Republicans holding the majority in the Iowa House and Democrats in charge of the Iowa Senate. During that six-year span, the legislative output ranged from 138 to 146 bills annually, ranking them among the lowest in modern times.

“I think in that split control after a while both the majority and the minority just thought, ‘well, we could request more but our ideas are not going to be considered by both houses,’ so I think that did suppress the numbers,” Johnson said.

Before that, Democrats held a trifecta in the Statehouse for four years by controlling the legislative branch, with Democrat Chet Culver as a one-term governor.

They passed 226 bills in 2007, 196 in both 2008 and 2010 and 184 in 2009.

Legislators requested nearly 300 more bill drafts in 2018 compared with the second year of the previous biennium, and introduced 1,000 bills this past session compared with 855 in 2016.

Study bills and amendments also were up by comparison, Johnson said, but he noted the 87th General Assembly tackled some complex issues that narrowed the focus and held down the bill count.

“It took them so long to get to appropriations and the Ways and Means tax decision didn’t come early, either,” he said. “So from that standpoint, there were important bills that had to be drafted later in the session. I think that was one of the major differences.”

There still are 37 bills awaiting action by Gov. Kim Reynolds after she inked legislation Monday intended to address Iowa’s opioid epidemic. The governor has 30 days after the Legislature adjourns to take action on bills sent to her desk.

That includes legislation to provide the largest state income tax cut in Iowa history and nearly a dozen spending measures that make up large portions of the state’s $7.48 billion budget for fiscal 2019. They cover funding for education, health and human services, justice systems, agriculture and natural resources, economic development, transportation, infrastructure, administration and regulation, and various standing appropriations for state government.

Republicans, like Senate President Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, called the past two years of legislative action was “the most consequential General Assembly in the modern history of our state.”

In his closing remarks at the end of the 2018 session, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said majority Republicans took bold steps that “would positively impact our state and set the course for an economic revival in Iowa,” while Reynolds praised major accomplishments in tax reform, protecting life, Future Ready Iowa, water quality, health plans, mental health and opioids.

But House Minority Leader Mark Smith of Marshalltown saw it differently, telling his colleagues in his farewell observations that working Iowans who will expect to see a tax break will instead get a higher property tax bill and new sales taxes for online purchases and streaming services.

“In the months ahead when Iowans expect to see the promises made by this Legislature impact their own life, they’re going to find an empty box,” said Smith. “The 2018 session was indeed historic — for the special interests, but not for everyday Iowans.”

The last time a Legislature passed more than 200 bills in a year was 226 in 2007, and the combined 350 bills over the past two years was down markedly from the combined 602 bills that the 73rd General Assembly sent then-Gov. Terry Branstad during its 1989 and 1990 sessions.

Since then, lawmakers gradually have lowered their legislative output to where the annual bill total has exceeded 200 only twice in 12 years.

Iowa governor says dad's appointment was 'just like' others

DAVENPORT, Iowa — Gov. Kim Reynolds on Tuesday defended her decision to appoint her 78-year-old father to a panel that helps select judges in central Iowa, saying he was "just like" many others who serve on state boards.

Reynolds last month appointed her father, Charles Strawn, to an unpaid six-year term on the District 5A judicial nominating commission, which recommends candidates for judgeships to the governor in fast-growing Dallas County and three other counties outside of Des Moines.

Democratic critics of the Republican governor and some who follow the legal system have called the appointment unusual. A recent Quad-City Times newspaper editorial called it an example of "brash nepotism."

In his April 13 application, Strawn wrote that he was "invited" to serve on the board. He was appointed four days later. The governor's office announced the appointment May 1 along with dozens of others in a press release that didn't mention that Strawn, of St. Charles, was her father.

Speaking to reporters after an event in Davenport on Tuesday, the governor said her father was a retired factory worker for John Deere and farmer.

"This is an individual that loves the state and wanted to volunteer and give back, just like hundreds of other Iowans that we appoint to boards and commissions," she said. "That's a simple fact."

Reynolds added that her dad had coached Little League baseball teams and been involved in county government.

The 11-member commission Strawn has joined will meet on Thursday in Indianola to interview finalists for an opening created by the retirement of District Judge Paul Huscher. The commission will recommend two finalists to the governor, who will make the pick.

Iowa law doesn't bar government officials from appointing relatives to unpaid jobs.

Ex-wife of slain Iowa deputy sues for $160K for children

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa — The ex-wife of a western Iowa sheriff's deputy killed in the line of duty has filed a lawsuit against his widow and the county, claiming donations made for his children were never given to them.

Pottawattamie County Deputy Mark Burbridge died in May 2017 after inmate Wesley Correa-Carmenaty shot him while attempting to escape. Sheriff Sgt. Jason LeMaster and the county started the Mark Burbridge Memorial Fund after his death, collecting more than $160,000 in donations.

Sara Reinsch, the deputy's ex-wife, filed a petition on March 29, alleging that the public was told the funds would go toward Burbridge's children, The Daily Nonpareil reported. Reinsch and Burbridge, who divorced in 2012, had two children together and cared for another minor while they were married, according to the lawsuit.

Reinsch was denied access to the fund's bank statements, and only Burbridge's widow, Jessica Burbridge, was allowed access to the account, the petition said.

"Jessica has now depleted the fund and taken all the money meant to assist Mark's children following his death, leaving them nothing after openly exploiting them for personal gain," the lawsuit alleged.

Jessica Burbridge said the donated money wasn't specifically declared for the children, according to court records.

She denies exploiting the children and alleges she's helped them collect various benefits, including a $400,000 life insurance policy. She said the children will also receive $171,000 from the Department of Justice and $8,000 from the Homicide Survivor's Group.

Reinsch's attorney, Edward Keane, said Jessica Burbridge's response had inaccuracies and that the children aren't beneficiaries of the life insurance policy.

South Sioux woman pleads guilty to child abuse charges

DAKOTA CITY -- A South Sioux City woman on Tuesday pleaded guilty to keeping her children in a dirty home.

Jessica Dailey, 30, entered her plea in Dakota County District Court to two counts of felony child abuse and one count of possession of a controlled substance.

Sentencing was set for July 3. According to terms of a plea agreement filed Monday, the prosecution and defense will recommend that Dailey be jailed for 90 days, serve two years on probation, pay $1,000 in fines, complete a parenting course and obtain a substance abuse evaluation and follow any recommendations for treatment.

Two counts of child abuse and one count of possession of drug paraphernalia will be dismissed as part of the plea agreement.

Dailey was arrested in March after police found her children alone in a home filled with dirty clothes and dishes, drug paraphernalia and no fresh food.

The conditions were discovered after a South Sioux City police officer noticed a 6-year-old girl walking alone at East Ninth and B streets. While taking the child to her home in the 300 block of East 10th Street, the officer said in court documents that the girl told him that her mother had not come home, leaving the girl and her siblings, ages 9, 8 and 2, alone with her mother's friends.

No adults were at the home, and drug paraphernalia, including a pipe that tested positive for methamphetamine, was found in several rooms.

Police removed the children from the home and placed them in the custody of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.


Paullina man found not guilty of sexual abuse of child

PRIMGHAR, Iowa -- A judge has found a Paullina, Iowa, man not guilty of having sexual contact with a child.

In a ruling filed Monday in O'Brien County District Court, Senior Judge John Ackerman ruled that Richard Buckley was not guilty of three counts of second-degree sexual abuse.

Ackerman heard evidence during a three-day trial last month. Buckley, 35, had been accused of having sexual contact with a child who was under age 12 on more than one occasion from Dec. 28, 2015, through Feb. 9, 2017. Buckley denied the allegations.


-- Renee Choquette, a former Westwood High School standout, is a senior starting right fielder for the Northwestern College softball team. The information was incorrect in a story headlined "Seniors carry Red Raiders to Opening Round" on Page B1 of Monday's Journal.

-- In a story about the Class 1A Girls' First-Round Regional golf meet in Tuesday's Journal, golfer Hanna Stratton, of Woodbury Central High School, was misidentified.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal