Rep. Christina Bohannan provided the Business Partnership with an exclusive as to her thoughts about the latest session.
I am honored to represent Iowa City in the Iowa House of Representatives. For those who don’t know me, I live in Iowa City and have been a law professor at the University of Iowa for the past twenty years. There are two aspects to my work as a law professor that provide some context for what I am about to say about the Iowa legislature and business policy in the state.
First, I care a lot about business and economic issues. In fact, a good deal of my research has been about how innovation and competition in business, science and the arts spur economic growth. This expertise helps to inform my thoughts about the business climate and economy in Iowa. Second, as a law professor, I teach the importance of being able to see and argue both sides of a case. I bring that same perspective to my political and legislative work. I do not believe that either party has a monopoly on truth, and I am strong supporter of free speech for all perspectives. Although I am a committed Democrat, I believe in a robust two-party system that sparks intelligent debate on legislative issues.
Unfortunately, my experience in the legislature this session makes clear that Iowa’s Republican leadership is no longer interested in informed debate based on facts. It is not committed to protecting business interests or the economy. And it is not focused on what is best for the state as a whole. As Iowa Republicans have consolidated their power in the trifecta of our state government, they have moved to the extreme right. Their agenda is focused on culture-war legislation intended to appease their far-right base. They are putting outdated political ideology ahead of the everyday needs of people and businesses.
Take the so-called “vaccine passport” bill, which Governor Reynolds recently signed into law. The law prohibits business owners from requiring proof of COVID vaccination for customers, vendors, or others to enter their property. During public comment on this bill, one person said she could get COVID from being near people who had gotten the vaccine. Another said that more people had died from the vaccine than from COVID. These statements (and many others) were blatantly false. But rather than educate people on the truth, the Republicans decided it was more important to appease this group than to allow business owners to decide whether to require proof of vaccination for entry. I voted no on this bill, along with nearly all other Democrats in my caucus, because we believe business owners should have the right to decide this issue for themselves. Having talked to local business owners and sat in on some of the ICBP’s programming, I know that some business owners have high-risk family members, while others worry about liability or losing customers if their business is unsafe. These concerns are real and affect business owners across the state.
The Republican legislature also passed culture-war legislation that could make it difficult for Iowa businesses to attract both talent and customers. It passed an abortion bill that would eliminate the state constitutional right to abortion under any circumstances. If this constitutional amendment passes, it will be very difficult to recruit young, professional women to stay in or move to Iowa. They passed a gun bill that allows people to carry firearms just about anywhere with no permit and often with no background check. If a business owner sees a suspicious person with a firearm and calls 911, there will be very little law enforcement can do. They passed a bill against diversity training that will prohibit or discourage teaching about systemic racism. They also introduced (and are continuing to consider at the Governor’s behest) bills targeted at transgender people. These types of bills paint Iowa as a backward state and have had negative effects on business climate in other states. It is interesting to note that many of these bills did not originate in Iowa – they are carbon copies of bills introduced in many Republican-led states by national right-wing organizations.
Additionally, in retaliation for perceived liberal bias at our universities, the Republicans zeroed out funding increases for the Regents’ universities and threatened to eliminate tenure. Abolishing tenure would be catastrophic to our universities and to the state as a whole; even talking about it is damaging. Punishing Iowa’s higher education system this way is tantamount to cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. Our universities are not only crown jewels of the state but are also pipelines of talent, scientific research and entrepreneurial innovation. Forbes Magazine, one of the world’s leading business publications, recently wrote a scathing article about the Iowa legislature’s treatment of higher education.
Finally, the legislative process has become so toxic and unpredictable that businesses cannot trust sanity to prevail. Government Oversight Committee meetings are reminiscent of 1950’s McCarthy hearings and often seem like an opportunity for individual legislators to vent personal or political grievances. Lobbyists are afraid to register on bills for fear of retaliation. There is often little opportunity for public input when broad-sweeping amendments are added to bills at the last minute. Bills are passed and signed into law literally in the middle of the night.
The Republican party used to be known as the party of business. My experience this legislative session tells a different story – a story of a party with absolute power driven by a culture-war agenda. It is the Democrats who have consistently raised concerns about the effects of the Republican agenda on the people and businesses in our districts. In fact, in conversations around the Capitol, many traditional Republicans – including lobbyists and former legislators – have told me they believe the Republican party has gone off the rails and that we need to elect more Democrats.
Iowa has a proud history of strong public education, protection of civil rights, good democratic institutions, and common-sense politics. Those values have served Iowa’s people and businesses well, and it is disheartening to see the extreme turn our great state has taken. We need to return to informed debate and good legislative process. We need to legislate in the best interests of the state as a whole. We need to bring political balance back to our state government.