Three public hearings in Des Moines Monday on controversial legislation

The Iowa Legislature will hold three public hearings in Des Moines on Monday to discuss legislation that would impact independent water utilities (namely the Des Moines Water Works), preempt county minimum wage ordinances and create new election regulations, including voter ID.

Individuals can sign up to speak or leave a comment by visiting the legislature’s Public Hearings page.

Scroll down for details on each hearing and related legislation.

The Iowa Capitol shown on the opening day of the Iowa Legislature, Jan. 9, 2017. — photo by Lauren Shotwell

Public Hearing: Water Utilities Bill (HF 484)

State Capitol, Supreme Court Chamber — Monday, March 6 at 10 a.m.

House File 484 would dissolve the board of trustees for “certain water works” and replace it with city council members. The bill targets only water utilities that are located in a “federally designated standard metropolitan statistical area that has a population greater than five hundred thousand, as shown by the most recent federal decennial census, and that is located entirely within the state.”

For reference: Iowa has six metropolitan statistical areas that are located entirely within the state — Ames, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines-West Des Moines, Dubuque, Iowa City and Waterloo-Cedar Falls. Of those, only Des Moines-West Des Moines has a population over 500,000 (as of 2010 it was roughly 569,633), according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Cedar Rapids, the second largest, has a population of just over 257,940.

Currently, the Des Moines Water Works board is appointed by the Des Moines mayor. Critics of the water works have said this means that many of the surrounding communities that are served by the water works don’t have a say in who is appointed.

However, opponents of the legislation have said that the bill takes aim at the water works in retaliation for its federal lawsuit against three northwest Iowa counties over water quality. The lawsuit argues that the counties, which head up 10 drainage districts, are responsible for discharging nitrates into streams through drainage tiles that the water works must then spend money to remove to meet drinking water standards. In a January ruling, the Iowa Supreme Court held that the districts could not be held responsible for damages. The part of the lawsuit that argues drainage districts should file for permits under the Clean Water Act will still move forward. A trial is set for June.

Public Hearing: Minimum Wage Bill (HF 295)

State Capitol, Supreme Court Chamber — Monday, March 6 at 5 p.m.

House File 295 proposes to take a number of actions that would roll back local governments’ powers, including pre-empting minimum wage ordinances that have passed in four Iowa counties (Johnson, Linn, Polk and Wapello).

In addition to rolling back minimum wage ordinances, the bill would limit local governments’ ability to provide protections against unfair or discriminatory practices beyond those provided by the state under the Iowa Civil Rights Act of 1965 and would prevent local efforts to do things like ban plastic bags. A proposed amendment would narrow the civil rights wording to just focus on efforts, like one passed in Iowa City, to provide protections against discrimination for individuals using things like housing vouchers.

Public Hearing: Voter ID Bill (HSB 93)

State Capitol, Supreme Court Chamber — Monday, March 6 at 7 p.m.

Under House Study Bill 93, which was proposed by Secretary of State Paul Pate, a number of regulations including voter IDs, signature verification and post-election audits would be added in the name of protecting election integrity.

Under Pate’s proposal, the voter ID would not be a photo ID and would be provided free of charge. Still, the proposal has raised concerns about the impact it would have on access to the ballot box and potentially discouraging voters.

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