Lawmakers want to clarify gubernatorial line of succession in Constitution

In this May 25, 2017, file photo, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during a news conference in her formal office as acting Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg looks on at the Statehouse in Des Moines. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

The Iowa House approved a measure Wednesday that would make changes to Iowa's Constitution about the gubernatorial line of succession, after confusion arose last year when Kim Reynolds became governor after then-Governor Terry Branstad stepped down.

A proposed amendment to the Iowa constitution passed the House today, which would grant the governor the power to appoint a lieutenant governor if there is a vacancy in that office.

Lawmakers who support the constitutional change said during floor debate Wednesday that clarity about the line of succession is essential.

“ [We need to] make it as clear as possible to the people of the state of Iowa that there is a succession to the office of governor so that at no time, to the extent humanly possible, will there be an executive branch without a leader," said Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, who managed the bill on the floor.

But opponents were critical of the measure, calling for an added provision that would require both chambers of the legislature approve any appointment.

“There needs to be some checks and balances," said Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City.

Confusion arose last year when then-Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds became governor after then-Terry Branstad stepped down to become the U.S. ambassador to China.

Attorney General Tom Miller release a formal opinion in May that Reynolds did not have the authority to choose a new lieutenant governor when she became governor under the Iowa Constitution.

Reynolds tapped Adam Gregg for the position but in deference to the Miller opinion, he is only "acting" lieutenant governor. If something were to happen and Reynolds is no longer able to serve as governor, third-in-line Senate President Charles Schneider would assume the role as governor.

The bill now goes back to the Senate for lawmakers to sign off on it. Because the proposal would amend the constitution, it would need approval by both chambers again within the next two years before it would move to voter ballots.

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