The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Politics Notebook | Iowa Senate Republicans approve ‘religious freedom’ bill

Also, the Senate approved a bill to repeal gender balance on Boards and Commissions.
Ayrton Breckenridge
Speaker of the House, Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, looks over documents during the first day of the 2024 Iowa legislative session at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Monday, Jan. 8, 2024. Grassley has been in the house since 2007.

After an hours-long, heated, debate Iowa Senate Republicans passed a bill, which supporters say would expand protections for religious freedom and those opposed say could lead to discrimination, on party lines Tuesday afternoon.

The bill, Senate File 2095, is coined the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by proponents of the bill and would require the government to prove it had a compelling interest when pursuing litigation against a party who claims its actions were an expression of religious freedom.

Proponents of the bill say it is necessary to restore the “free exercise” clause in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that they say has been eroded by the U.S. Supreme Court since 1993.

The U.S. Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993 and since its enactment in 1993, 23 other states passed similar laws. A version of the Republican’s religious freedom bill has been introduced in the Iowa Senate since 2018 but has yet, until Tuesday, to pass out of the chamber.

Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, who introduced and managed the bill, argued that the bill only restores the original intent of the First Amendment, which is to ensure that government policies don’t burden religious exercise.

“RFRA [the bill] is only a standard that balances important interests and recognizes the importance of religious freedom as a fundamental right,” Schultz said. “So ladies and gentlemen, we’re restoring the original intent of the First Amendment as interpreted by the Supreme Court.”

Sen. Janice Weiner, D-Iowa City, who is Jewish, said the bill could allow discrimination if people claim it is part of their religion. Democrats worry that the bill could lead to discrimination against LGBTQ+ Iowans and minority religions, specifically.

“The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is a blank check for people to impose their religious beliefs on others and to discriminate against people they don’t like,” Weiner said during the debate. “That’s wrong. Religious beliefs are not a shield for discrimination. That’s not what Iowans believe, and it’s not what they want written into state law.”

Weiner also introduced an amendment that would prevent discrimination under the bill by clarifying that it does not apply to laws that protect against discrimination. The bill was struck down on party lines.

Senate repeals gender balance requirement for Boards and Commissions

Iowa Senate lawmakers approved a bill to repeal requirements that Iowa’s Boards and Commissions have equal parts men and women.

During a heated debate proponents of the bill said the proposal would allow the most qualified candidate to serve in the appointed seat and opponents said the bill would result in fewer women on Iowa’s boards and commissions.

The vote on the bill, Senate File 2096, mostly split down party lines with Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, splitting from Democrats, who opposed the bill, and voting for the proposal.

Quirmbach said if repealed it could lead to more women serving on Iowa’s Boards and Commissions since they are statistically more qualified for the positions.

“I think we should let both men and women compete on the basis of their qualifications and their achievements and their willingness to work hard,” Quirmbach said.

Most Democrats argue that even though Iowa’s state government is led by women, discrimination against women will persist and will prevent women from being selected for positions.

“Bias persists against women bias that causes a woman’s qualifications to be judged as less than a man’s,” Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott, D-Windsor Heights. “Bias that results in a woman’s qualifications being dismissed, or not even considered. Women experience that right now. Women experience it all the time.”

Republican women said all women have similar stories to those espoused by Democrats during the debate, but they would rather be chosen for their qualifications than feel like they are being chosen to fill a “quota.”

“We all had those kinds of experiences,” Sen. Annette Sweeney, R-Buckeye, said. “But when it comes to boards and commissions, I don’t want it to look like we have to fill a quota. What we need to do is make sure we pick the best person for those positions that need to be filled.”

Senate passes bill increasing penalties for swatting

The Iowa Senate approved a bill that would increase penalties for making false reports to police officers on Tuesday. The bill passed unanimously, 47-0.

The bill, Senate File 2161, would increase the penalties for making a false report to law enforcement or “swatting” from a misdemeanor to a class D felony.

If a defendant makes a false report resulting in death then the charge is a class C felony.

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About the Contributors
Liam Halawith
Liam Halawith, Politics Editor
Liam Halawith is a third-year student at the University of Iowa studying Journalism and Mass Communication and minoring in Public Policy. Before his role as Politics Editor Liam was a politics reporter for the DI. Outside of the DI Liam has interned at the Cedar Rapids Gazette and the Southeast Iowa Union. This is his second year working for the DI.
Ayrton Breckenridge
Ayrton Breckenridge, Managing Visuals Editor
Ayrton Breckenridge is the Managing Visuals Editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and cinema. This is his fourth year working for the DI.