Proposing changes to judicial nominations

CAPITOL LETTERS

BY STATE REPRESENTATIVE GARY WORTHAN

District 11, R-Storm Lake

Chairman of the Justice Systems Appropriations Subcommittee

Last Thursday was Pioneer Lawmaker’s Day at the Capitol. Pioneer Lawmakers are those who have reached the 20th anniversary of their first election to the Iowa House or Senate. Many former legislators returned for the ceremony in the House chamber and other scheduled activities around the Capitol. That evening was the biennial memorial ceremony in the Senate chamber that honors legislators who have passed away in the last two years. It’s always fun to hear the stories of years past, the epic debates that led to landmark legislation, the legislators who were fierce opponents on an issue only to become the best allies on another, and the changes in the process and attitudes over the years.

There are a couple of major policy issues yet to be resolved by the Legislature. The first affects our power grid. Allowing utilities to make rate adjustments for power generated by individuals has been a very contentious issue and is a very complicated issue to resolve. Power companies need to run their plants at certain level in order to be profitable and they also must have the capacity to meet peak demand loads when needed. Individuals with solar panels or wind generators want to be able to sell their excess power onto the grid while still having the ability to draw from the grid when their need exceeds the capacity of their system. The state gets involved when it determines the rate that the utilities can charge through the Iowa Utilities Board. What is a fair exchange between the utility and the individual? Some individuals believe that they should be able to run the meter backwards by simply swapping the utility’s output for their input to the system. As a result the utility is purchasing power from the individual at a price that is higher than their production cost. This model does not allow for the utility’s cost of maintaining power lines, transformers and substations. Individual power producers believe that they are already paying access fees to the system in their utility bill and therefore should be able to sell power back to the utility for the same price they pay for power coming in.

This disagreement has become a huge public relations battle. My email inbox is swamped with arguments on both sides and I am sure your mailbox at home is just like mine, with multiple flyers and cards on the issue. The representative that is floor managing the bill has been working the entire session in an attempt to find a solution that both sides will agree to but I don’t know if he is any closer to an answer today than he was on day one.

The second issue is proposed changes to the judicial nominating process. Currently Iowa has judicial nominating commissions that meet and forward to the Governor three candidates for an open judge position. She then appoints one of the three to the judgeship. One half of these commissions are made up of Iowans appointed by the Governor, the other half of the commissioners are determined by an election in which only lawyers have a vote. The criticism is that a very small number of Iowans (lawyers comprise less than one percent of Iowa’s population) have an oversized influence in the selection process and that few lawyers, less than 20%, even participate in the election process.

The process that has been proposed would leave the district nominating commissions as they are now. The change would come for the state nominating commission. Half of the commission would still be appointed by the Governor. The other half, instead of being elected by lawyers, would be appointed in equal numbers by the Speaker of the House, the Minority Leader of the House, the Majority Leader of the Senate and the Minority Leader of the Senate. Provisions are made that would maintain that one half of the commission would be members of the Iowa Bar. Arguments are made that the new system would politicize the process. The argument against the current system is that the Governor and members of the Iowa Bar have the ability to select judges with practically no input from the people. This will be an interesting and extended debate. I have not heard from many constituents on the issue and would be interested in your opinions. I can be reached at gary.worthan@legis.iowa.gov.