Iowa House votes to turn Iowa Civil Rights Commission into advisory panel

The Iowa House voted Tuesday to diminish the role and authority of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission and combine individual commissions on the status of underrepresented populations into a single board.

The legislation would turn the commission, created in 1965, into an advisory panel. Commission powers, such as the ability to investigate and address complaints on issues such as workplace violations of the Civil Rights Act, would instead go to the Iowa Office of Civil Rights and the Civil Rights Commission director.

“So really, by doing this, you will be restricting, you will be taking power and voice away from the people — those that have been discriminated (against), groups that have been historically disenfranchised,” Rep. Ross Wilburn, D-Ames said of the changes.

Rep. Jane Bloomingdale, R-Northwood, the bill’s floor manager, said she believed the commission would continue to “hear cases and make decisions as they do right now.”

But Wilburn and other Democrats said the bill removes that authority and there’s nothing in the language that indicates current practice would continue.

The bill would also do away with panels such as the commissions on Latino affairs, Native American Affairs, the commissions on the status of women, African Americans, Asian and Pacific Islanders, persons with disabilities and women. One person representing each group would be appointed to a consolidated Human Rights Board.

Rep. Jerome Amos Jr., D-Waterloo, offered an amendment to reverse those changes, saying the proposal “made the hair stand up on my neck.”

He said the change is “going to water down the voices of individuals that live in this state. Originally, you had a commission or a board that actually was made up of those different ethnicity, ethnic groups, and they actually had a voice, a collective voice, but what this is going to do, it is going to take away that voice.”

Bloomingdale argued that members of the combined Human Rights Board “have a greater voice with representation on that board … and they possibly learn from each other.”

She believes the existing commissions could continue to serve as advisory panels to the Human Rights Board.

The measures were part of a sprawling bill that would eliminate 74 of Iowa’s 256 boards and commissions and merge nine current boards into three new bodies. Two new boards would also be created. Ten boards would have their membership reduced. A summary of the changes is here.

Bloomingdale emphasized that the board includes a panel that will review the performance of 25% of the boards and commissions every year and can recommend that panels be restored if needed.

The Iowa House voted 54-42 on Senate File 2385 and will return it to the Senate for consideration of one amendment.

The bill as originally approved by the House makes relatively modest changes to the legislation originally proposed by Gov. Kim Reynolds, based on the recommendations of a task force created by last year’s massive government reorganization legislation.

Reynolds originally proposed to eliminate 111 boards or commissions. The House initially approved a bill that would have cut or merged only 49 panels – fewer than half of those proposed for change.

However, after what Bloomingdale described as “countless” meetings involving House and Senate leadership and the governor, the Senate’s version of the bill largely prevailed.

Eight Republicans joined Democrats in voting against the bill: Reps. Zach Dieken of Granville, Charley Thomson of Charles City, Steven Bradley of Cascade, Mark Cisneros of Muscatine, Brad Sherman of Williamsburg, Eddie Andrews of Johnston, Megan Jones of Sioux Rapids and Thomas Jeneary of LeMars.

Thomson was the only Republican to speak against the bill. He said while it had some good points, “I’m disappointed in the bill because I have a philosophical disagreement with the approach of the bill to government. I think government is better when lots of people are participating in it. So reducing the number of people involved in boards and commissions, it seems to me especially when they’re voluntary, seems to be antithetical to getting lots of voices in government.”


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $3.46/week.

Subscribe Today