If you are anti-guns, or afraid of guns, or just don't like them and don't want them in your house, then this blog is for you.
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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Iowa Democrats flee capital in protest of changes to gun laws

by Jason Noble

Update at 4:35 p.m.: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Democrats will return to the House chambers and are now prepared to debate the gun legislation and other bills that have been delayed by the Democrats’ absence for more than six hours.

In a press conference moments ago, McCarthy said the Democrats walked out of the Capitol in protest this morning, but spent the day holding an “off-campus” caucus meeting to work through their position on the gun legislation. He reiterated his contention that Republicans sprung debate on the controversial bills on Democrats at the last moment, when they had no time to prepare amendments or develop a debate strategy.
He also said he expected Republicans to replace the language currently found in a proposed constitutional amendment with much stronger wording that would nullify many existing gun laws. That prompted the flight from the Capitol.

“This morning we found out mid-morning that they intended to alter the Iowa constitution today to eliminate all gun laws. All gun laws regarding transporting, carrying, acquiring. All gun laws, gone. …” McCarthy said.
Now, after meeting extensively, he said, the Democrats are ready to proceed on the bills.

“So now we’re going to go up and we’ll have the debate,” he said. “I don’t know what order of the debate they’ll have, but we’re going to go up and have a debate so people know what kind of agenda that Republicans are pursuing. We’re still here. It’s still daylight.”

The House reconvened at about 4:40 p.m., and opened debate, although the gun legislation was not immediately brought up.

Update at 3:45 p.m.: House Democrats will hold a press conference at the Capitol at 4:15 p.m.
Update at 3:20 p.m.: House Speaker Kraig Paulsen met with reporters at about 3 p.m. to say he had

spoken by phone with Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, but received no word as to where the Democrats were or when they would return to the Capitol.

Republicans will remain “at ease” in the House chambers for the time being, Paulsen said, in hopes that the Democrats will return yet today.

“The right thing for them to do is to get back here and do the work that Iowans sent us here to do,” he said. “We’ll be patient a little bit longer and see if they can make a decision here and give me something more definitive to work with.”

Paulsen said that McCarthy suggested during the four or five minute call that Democrats would return if Republicans tabled the two gun bills that prompted them to leave. But that’s a non-starter for the GOP. “Someone doesn’t get to have a tantrum and leave the Capitol and all the sudden we’re changing the debate schedule. That’s not how that works,” Paulsen said.

Paulsen said he was not certain yet how he would proceed in the hours to come. His could decide to adjourn for the day at any time, or to remain convened through the evening and night.

“It wouldn’t be the first time,” he said when asked about the potential for remaining in session over night.

Original post:

Iowa House Democrats protested Republican plans to debate two gun measures on Wednesday by leaving the state Capitol and refusing to return. As of 2 p.m., the 40-member Democratic caucus had been gone for about four hours.

The walkout has disrupted nearly a day’s worth of legislative business and garnered national attention likening it to recent protests against Republican priorities by Democrats in Wisconsin and elsewhere.

At issue are bills seeking to broaden Iowa’s “Castle Doctrine” allowing individuals to defend themselves with deadly force and a proposal to write the right to bear arms into the state constitution.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines accused Republican House Leader Linda Upmeyer of failing to properly inform legislators about plans to debate the bills this morning, leaving Democrats without time to draw up and offer changes to them.

“She said they will debate those bills today whether we like it or not,” McCarthy told the Des Moines Register on Wednesday morning, as Democrats were leaving the Capitol. “I told her that we’ve been double crossed, and we will not be debating those bills today.”

He later circulated a scanned copy of the House calendar, on which he said Upmeyer had circled the bills she intended to bring up for debate. The gun measures were not among those circled. (Here is a copy of the calendar.) Republicans hold a 60-to-40 majority in the House, which allows them to set the calendar for debate and largely control the legislative process.

“We have been double-crossed as a caucus, and we’re not going to sit back and be treated with historic misuse of power,” McCarthy said.

But Upmeyer, R-Garner, shot back that Democrats did have adequate warning, and suggested their flight from the Capitol was an attempt to make a political scene.

“Iowans didn’t send us down here just to do easy stuff,” she said. “The Second Amendment is a question that many Iowans would like placed before them. I don’t know why they’re afraid to have a debate on a subject just because they don’t like the subject. That seems ludicrous to me.”

In a statement released after the Democrats exited the Capitol, McCarthy said the Republican leadership told Democrats yesterday the gun legislation would not be considered today. Because they didn’t believe the bill would come up today, he said, Democrats did not file all the amendments they hoped to offer on the bills prior to the deadline set in the House rules.

Upmeyer rejected that argument. The gun bills were noticed in the same manner as any other bill that could come before the House, she said — in a calendar that is updated and circulated to lawmakers every day.
When Democrats asked what the Republicans intended to bring up on Wednesday, Upmeyer said she gave them a list of non-controversial bills, but left consideration of other bills “open-ended.”

“Every member knows that anything that comes out of committee and is placed on the calendar is eligible,” Upmeyer said.

A House spokeswoman added that Democrats had in fact already offered an amendment to one of the gun bills, indicating that they had had ample time to develop proposed changes.

The Democrats’ move to an undisclosed location has disrupted most of the legislative action planned for the day. Republicans had intended to debate 11 bills in addition to the gun bills and hold several committee meetings. None of the debate took place, and all the committee work was delayed.

Shortly after noon, the House held an event commemorating Black History Month featuring a proclamation from Gov. Terry Branstad and several guests, some of whom had traveled from across the state.

The Democrats’ absence led organizers to curtail the event, shortening what was to be an hour-long program featuring singing and dancing to a mere 10-minute reading of the governor’s remarks and proclamation. Two massive sheet cakes brought for lawmakers to commemorate the military service of the Tuskegee Airmen went uneaten in the office behind the House chamber.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Branstad chided Democrats for ducking their responsibilities as lawmakers.
Gov. Terry Branstad
“I don’t think it’s a wise thing to do,” Branstad said. “I’ve been in the minority and I’ve been in the majority in the legislature and I’ve always felt that the best thing to do is to not be afraid to state your position.”

Besides the Black History Month event and a short private caucus meeting, the left-behind Republican lawmakers spent the day lounging at their desks and chatting in small groups on the House floor.

Upmeyer and House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, did attempt to contact McCarthy, but received no response, House spokeswoman Josie Albrecht said.

The Democrats’ exit, Branstad and several longtime lawmakers said, is unprecedented in recent memory. Branstad, who served in the legislature in the 1970s and also was governor from 1983 to 1999, said he could not recall a similar situation in Iowa.

“I think most people think that when you’re elected to serve, you should be there when duty calls,” Branstad said.

Longtime lawmaker Stewart Iverson, R-Clarion, said it’s not uncommon for a party caucus to hold an extended private meeting in order to delay consideration of a bill, but that he couldn’t recall lawmakers leaving the Capitol and remain incommunicado as the Democrats did Wednesday.

“It’s a little unusual that they actually left the building, but it’s not unusual to go to caucus and spend several hours there,” Iverson said.

House rules do allow lawmakers to compel absent colleagues to return to the Capitol to debate legislation – including sending law enforcement to retrieve them. That step was not been seriously discussed on Wednesday, Albrecht said.

The walkout generated responses from within and without Iowa in the news and on social media.
In a tweet, Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky accused the House Republicans of employing “lousy tactics” and implored House Democrats to “be strong.”

In a subsequent statement, Dvorsky expanded on that point: “The House Republicans have shown time and again that they are unwilling to govern in a manner that gets results and moves Iowa forward,” she said in the statement. “Their abuse of power this morning shows that they are more concerned about breaking the rules in order to push through dangerous bills than work with Democrats to create jobs, grow our economy, and support education in this state.”

A tweet from Rep. Nick Wagner, R-Marion, meanwhile, put the responsibility on the absent Democrats: “Waiting in the chamber for the Dems to come back to the capitol so we can get to work,” he wrote shortly at 11 a.m.

Seizing on  a Facebook post, Republicans accused one Democrat of shirking her legislative responsibilities to attend a basketball game.

Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, posted on her Facebook page at 7:21 a.m. this morning: “GO MOHAWKS!!!! Looks like I will be able to make the game:)”

The Mason City Mohawks girls basketball team was scheduled to play in the state tournament at 11:45 a.m. today at Wells Fargo Arena, a few blocks from the Capitol.

Steckman clarified this afternoon that her Facebook comment was made hours before the controversy over the gun bills arose, and referred to the resolution of a different scheduling conflict that she had thought would prevent her from attending the game.

Chris Rager, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, described Wednesday’s outcome as “disappointing.” He noted that some Democrats have voiced support for some of the bills.

“I haven’t heard from Rep. McCarthy on it but I know he has supported us on gun legislation in the past,” Rager said. “I’m a little confused that he didn’t keep the caucus here. I would have thought he would have been supportive of this legislation.”

Gun-rights activists from elsewhere were similarly critical. The Bellevue, Wash.,-based Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms released a statement this afternoon knocking Iowa Democrats.

“Once again, Democrats have painted themselves as the party of gun control by disappearing rather than debating measures to strengthen the firearm civil rights of Iowa citizens,” said Alan Gottlieb, the chairman of the committee.
Here are the bills:

House Joint Resolution 2009: Iowa Right to Keep and Bear Arms State Constitutional Amendment

This resolution would begin a process to amend Iowa’s constitution to include a “right to keep and bear arms.” The proposed amendment echoes the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, saying “The right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

To pass, the resolution must be approved by both the House and the Senate in two consecutive general assemblies before voters would weigh in on the issue.  It means that the earliest a vote could occur would be 2013, should the legislature act this year and next.

House File 2215: Reasonable force/Stand your ground

The bill would rewrites the law on “reasonable force” so that a person may use force — including deadly force — against someone who they believe threatens to kill or cause serious injury, or who is committing a violent felony.  The bill specifically says that a person is presumed to be justified in using deadly force if the person reasonably believes that deadly force is necessary to avoid injury or risk to his or her life.

Iowa’s current law allows potential victims to use deadly force against a perceived threat only if an alternative course of action also entails “a risk to life or safety.”


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