Omnibus bill week 2011: Iowa SB 326

I mentioned back in January that a 2010 omnibus bill to overhaul numerous provisions of law related to the Iowa judiciary was partially vetoed, but reintroduced this year (see here).

The bill, now known as SB 326 of 2011, has been the subject of some substantial legislative ping-pong between the two chambers.

Senate

Originally, SB 326’s provisions included:

Filling vacancies – Grants authority to the chief justice to delay the nomination of a Supreme Court justice, court of appeals judge, district judge, district associate judge, associate juvenile judge, or associate probate judge magistrate for budgetary reasons. Grants authority to delay nomination for magistrates with certain limits.

Judicial allocation – Authorizes chief justice to apportion a trial judge vacancy to another judicial election district upon finding a substantial disparity exists in the allocation of judgeships and judicial workload between judicial election districts and a majority of the judicial council approves the apportionment. Requires state court administrator apportion magistrates throughout the state using a case-related workload formula in addition to the other criteria already listed in statute. Permits the chief judge to assign a magistrate to hold court outside of the magistrate’s county of appointment for the orderly administration of justice.

Residence – Requires district associate judge reside in the judicial election district in which he or she serves (currently must reside in county). Allows a magistrate to be a resident of a county contiguous to the county of appointment during the magistrate’s term of office.

Terms – Specifies that a senior judge, upon attaining the age of 78, may serve a one-year term and a succeeding one-year term at the discretion of the Supreme Court. Currently, a senior judge, upon attaining the age of 78, may serve a two-year term at the discretion of the Supreme Court.

Senate amendments deleted the requirement that the state court administrator apportion magistrates throughout the state using a case-related workload formula but added a provision limiting the chief justice’s power to delay filling vacancies to 1 year per vacancy and no more than 8 delayed vacancies at any given time. The Senate adopted the entire bill on a 50-0 vote.

House

Several House members who had earlier vowed to impeach members of the Supreme Court and end merit selection for the Court of Appeals, attempted to add an amendment to SB 326 that would have also ended merit selection for the Court of Appeals. Unlike in Kansas, where such an attempt to add an amendment ending merit selection was ruled germane to an unrelated bill, this effort was ruled not germane by the House Speaker. Undaunted, the sponsor asked for unanimous consent to allow the amendment. When that failed, he moved to suspend the rules and allow for the adoption of the amendment. That effort failed on a 6-89 vote. For additional details, check out this post from Gavel Grab.

The House did, however, adopt two amendments.

  • The first matched HB 242 and would require the state’s governor appoint at least one district judicial nominating commission member from each county unless there are fewer counties than commissioners. Given that the commissions are five member panels, and only Judicial District 7 is a 5-county district, this has the effect of prohibiting any district nominating commission from having more than two members from the same county.
  • The second requires all commission members chosen by the governor to serve staggered terms.

The House approved its version, with the House amendments, 93-2. The two House members voting against (Reps. Alons & Shaw) were among the four leaders of the effort to impeach the Supreme Court justices and had put forth the amendment to end merit selection for the Court of Appeals noted above.

Back to Senate

The Senate accepted the House amendments on April 11, but added one of its own. Under existing law, “no more than a simple majority” of district judicial nominating commission members appointed “shall be of the same gender.” The latest senate amendment would change the wording to “A simple majority of the commissioners appointed shall be of the same gender.”

Back to House

This latest version of SB 326 was sent back to the House on April 11.