Guth, Latham put session in the rear view at final Legislative Forum

State Rep. Shannon Latham discusses the past session of the Legislature Saturday during the final Legislative Forum at Iowa Central's Webster City campus. State Sen. Dennis Guth, center, and moderator Jim Kersten, listen.

Somewhat rested from the final Iowa Legislature push, state Sen. Dennis Guth and Rep. Shannon Latham nonetheless completed the final Legislative Forum in Webster City with an accounting of measures passed.

Guth, ready to hit the road on Saturday to see grandchildren in northern Minnesota, gave the floor to Latham, the Republican from Franklin County whose District 55 encompasses Hamilton, Franklin and the southeast portion of Wright counties. She gave an accounting of the marathon to wrap up the session.

“We were only three days past (the deadline) this year, but I’ll tell you those last three days felt like 27,” she said. “We finished, the House finished at 4:38 on Saturday. So for me, I was exhausted on Wednesday. We went to 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday night, had to be back the next morning at 8:30. That day didn’t end until 2 a.m.”

That morning, she had to be back at the Capitol at 8:30 and then work that day.

“They’re like, we’re going through until we get done. It ended up being 4:30 a.m. I don’t even remember pulling hours like that in college.”

Guth said, “You should have been there in 2017 when we were working on collective bargaining. We adjourned at five in the afternoon the next day where we went 34 hours.”

The Republican senator from Hancock County represents Senate District 28, a cross-shaped section that includes Hamilton, Hancock, Humboldt, Franklin and Wright counties.

Latham alluded to a triumph the senator experienced in the recently-ended session, but broke off to let her colleague tell the story, saying, “I’m not going to steal your biggest thunder in one of the bills that you worked so hard over for the last years.”

Guth responded, “What I think Shannon was alluding to here is the bill that I’ve worked on for seven and a half years. It’s a Religious Freedom Restoration. It was finally passed by both chambers and signed into the law by the governor. This year’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act just says that government cannot interfere with your free exercise of religion unless there is an extenuating circumstance.”

Guth gave as an example the case of a gay Iowa couple who complained to the state’s civil rights commission after the Gortz Haus, a potential wedding venue, turned them away in 2013. The Mennonite owners of the venue countered with a lawsuit, claiming that hosting a same-sex wedding would violate their religious beliefs.

Guth said, “This would not guarantee that they would be able to continue doing what they were doing, but it would say you would have a day in court and a judge gets to decide if this is the right thing or not.

He added, “Over half of all states already have their own Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, he said.

“That was a good deal,” Guth said. “But then in 1996, the federal Supreme Court again ruled and said, well, this applies to federal laws, but it doesn’t apply to state law. So after 1996, states began passing their own religious Freedom Restoration Act, and it just took Iowa a long time to get caught up there.”

Latham talked about the issues she felt had ended successfully.

“I think one of the best things we did this year was we raised teacher pay so that we’ll now be fifth in the nation,” she said.

“We also delivered another year of significant tax relief which is something we can all be proud of. So what we’re doing is we’re lowering that rate.

“I also think we made significant investments for school safety. So you know, that’s another win I think that the two Chambers worked together to provide. I also really am glad to see that we’re putting more emphasis on childhood literacy,” she said. “That’s something that has been a concern of mine and I’m glad that this year we got that across the finish line.”


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