Rep. Steven Holt and Rep. Lindsay James

Iowa Press | Episode
Mar 17, 2023 | 27 min

Rep. Steven Holt (R-Denison) and Rep. Lindsay James (D-Dubuque) discuss the number of bills this legislative session impacting LGBTQ Iowans, the eminent domain debate surrounding carbon capture pipelines and other policy issues.

Joining moderator Kay Henderson at the Iowa Press table are Erin Murphy, Des Moines bureau chief for The Gazette and Katarina Sostaric, state government reporter for Iowa Public Radio.

Program support provided by: Associated General Contractors of Iowa, Iowa Bankers Association and FUELIowa



Republican majorities in the legislature have passed a number of bills this session impacting LGBTQ Iowans. We'll discuss those bills and other policies with two state representatives, republican Steven Holt and democrat Lindsay James, on this edition of Iowa Press.


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For decades, Iowa Press has brought you political leaders and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Celebrating 50 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS, this is the Friday, March 17th edition of Iowa Press. Here is Kay Henderson.


Henderson: Our guests today have been leading voices in debates in the Iowa House this year on a variety of issues. Let me introduce them. Representative Steven Holt is a republican from Denison. He is Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Lindsay James is a democrat from Dubuque and she is the House Minority Leader. Welcome to you both.

Holt: Thank you, it's great to be here.

Henderson: Also joining our conversation, Katarina Sostaric of Iowa Public Radio and Erin Murphy of the Gazette in Cedar Rapids.

Murphy: Representatives, just this week the House passed legislation that would detail that transgender students be required to use the bathrooms and locker rooms in their schools that correspond with their biological identity, not the identity with which they, the gender, pardon me, with which they identify. Representative Holt, to you first, this bill goes into effect upon enactment once the Governor signs it into law. Is it your expectation that schools will need to immediately implement these policies in their buildings and make sure that this is happening right away?

Holt: Yeah, well I would have an expectation that the schools will comply with the law just as soon as they possibly can, absolutely. There's not a lot in terms of logistical things that would need to be done or infrastructure things. The bill doesn't really require any of those things. So, I don't see why it could not be implemented upon enactment.

Murphy: And Representative James, you have talked to a lot of advocacy groups who have weighed in on this issue. Do you expect this bill to face a lawsuit once it is signed into law?

James: Thank you, that's a great question. Let's zoom out just one moment. We have seen 32 attacks on LGBTQ community in the Iowa legislature this year alone and we are seeing attacks on the gay community throughout republican controlled legislatures across the country. This is a very political agenda that is putting our kids right in the middle of partisan politics instead of actually thinking about how do we create communities for kids where they can go to school and learn in a safe learning environment where they feel like they belong. And so, I do believe that we will see some sort of legal action when this law goes into effect and I do believe that it sounds like it will. And so, we'll look for those certainly. But again, this is really just partisan politics with our vulnerable kids right at the center of it.

Murphy: Representative Holt, are these political motivated bills?

Holt: That's absolutely not true. This is about protecting all of our children and doing our best to protect the children on both sides of this issue. This legislation requires accommodation for those children who do not identify with their biology, that the schools are to make a reasonable accommodation. Look, the fact is that one of the reasons that more parents and students are not speaking out on this issue is because of what we just heard unfortunately from Representative James. Democrats on the floor yesterday attacked parents who are concerned about their daughters changing clothes in front of a biological male. They attacked them and accused them of being bullies. That came from Representative Konfrst. Another representative, Representative Sheets suggested that individuals concerned about their daughters changing clothes in front of a biological male were part of hate groups. And so, this is unfortunately the way this is being politicized. This not about attacking any group. This is about protecting children. I raised four daughters and I absolutely object, as I suspect most Iowans would object, to having their daughters change clothes in a locker room or a changing facility with a biological male. It's ridiculous. These facilities have been identified based on biology since 1887 and only in the last few years have we suddenly decided that that's not good enough. And so, this is not an attack on anyone. This is standing up to protect the safety and privacy of our children.

Sostaric: Representative Holt, since you said that this is about protecting the privacy and safety of children, what is the safety threat here?

Holt: Yeah, I think that's a great question and the fact of the matter is that we have a lot of parents throughout Iowa, we didn't just do this legislation because we decided to do it, we had parents across Iowa come to us deeply concerned about privacy and safety for their children. As I said on the floor, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Do we need to wait until there is an assault on a young woman by someone who has decided to pretend that they are transgender and use a changing facility or a restroom? So, I don't think it makes sense to suggest, well because no one has been assaulted yet there's not a problem. In fact, there have been some documentations of assaults. But the bottom line is children fear for their safety and fear for their privacy and are concerned about their privacy when they are forced to change clothes in front of someone of the opposite sex. It just doesn't make any sense and we're standing up for common sense and we're standing up for the privacy and safety of our children in Iowa. It's that simple.

Murphy: But to that real quick, we heard testimony during the subcommittees on these bills that this is already happening in a lot of schools and it's normal and nobody knows the wiser and will now because of this law change. If this was so needed why is it already working in so many places?

Holt: Well, I don't think it is working in so many places. There are at least a half a dozen schools -- and again I'm not going to call out their schools because I don't think it's unfair to those children in those schools who might be transgender to have a spotlight put on them -- but there are at least a half a dozen schools where there are issues going on. There are parents across Iowa that are saying their daughters will not even change in changing facilities because there is a biological male in there and they don't want to change their clothes in front of them. So, to suggest that it's working isn't accurate. And additionally, I will say again, why would parents and children speak out in Iowa when democrats on the floor of the House are going to accuse them of being bullies and accuse them of being parts of hate groups? I mean, the reality is it's difficult to speak out in this environment.

Henderson: Representative James?

James: Thank you, let's bring us back to some reality and some data. The Trevor Project talks about 44% of our Iowa kids who identify as gay struggle with suicidal ideation. 52% of transgender youth struggle with suicidal ideation. This bill and all of the attacks on the LGBTQ community are further stigmatizing these kids, they are further isolating them and they are leaving them vulnerable for further bullying. These kinds of attacks harm and hurt kids. It takes political national agendas and puts our kids right in the center of DC politics instead of doing what is right for Iowa kids.

Murphy: Representative James, another bill that has been passed recently prohibits gender affirming care for Iowans who are under 18 years old and that includes things like puberty blockers, hormone therapies, gender transition surgeries. The folks who have been advocating for these bills, including Representative Holt, say that part of the need for this is those folks are just too young to make such a dramatic life changing decision and, in some cases, maybe a permanent decision. What is your counter to that argument?

James: Every medical, U.S. medical society, every medical experts agree that gender affirming care is medically necessary and can be lifesaving care. This kind of care is actually meant to address the transgendered youth who are facing suicidal ideation and to help keep them alive as they work through some of those challenges that they face. And so, when every medical expert, when every U.S. medical society says conclusively that gender affirming care is medically necessary, it's important to listen to the doctors. No one wants a politician making private medical decisions that parents and kids should be making with their doctors.

Murphy: Representative Holt, this bill would also impact, it would give a phase out period for young people who are currently in these treatments but after I believe it's 180 days, correct me if I'm wrong, that if they're still under 18 they would have to stop this kind of care, these treatments. What is your message to those folks who are already doing this and it is working well for them that eventually they're going to have to stop? And are you concerned, do you have any level of concern that this is maybe driving Iowans and their families to look for help in other states, either temporarily or maybe even permanently?

Holt: Yeah, well first of all, let me say that this is a difficult debate and I think democrats and republicans both want what is in the best interest of our children. We're just arriving at a different conclusion. And to answer your question I have to go back a little bit further and respectfully disagree with Representative James that everybody doesn't agree on this issue. The FDA in 2022 pointed out that puberty blockers were to be used for precocious puberty and they were not authorized for use on gender dysphoria. The Obama administration in 2016 when they were asked by -- for Medicare and Medicaid studies to cover these procedures said that the evidence was not there to prove that it benefited patients. There are plenty of medical societies, the American College of Cardiology just came out with deep concerns about all of the side effects that are not reversible from puberty blockers. Perhaps the most profound statement comes from the British Medical Journal, one of the most respected journals in the world when it comes to medicine, and they said "puberty blockers are being used in the context of profound scientific ignorance". So, we do not believe that parents have informed consent when even medical science basically is operating without the proven efficacy of these procedures. To the issue about the 180 days, that is one of the reasons that we put that in there so that parents would have the opportunity to figure out what they needed to do for those children. And that was one of the most difficult parts of the legislation, frankly, those who are already on these procedures or on these medications. They do have an opportunity to be referred to doctors outside of the state or they have an opportunity for the doctors to slowly remove those medications as they see fit. Let's also bear in mind that this legislation prohibited not just medications but it prohibited surgeries that are irreversible that have been going on in Iowa that are a deep concern because, again, the efficacy is far from proven.

Sostaric: There is a recent Des Moines Register Poll that shows a majority of Iowans support banning gender affirming care for minors. Representative James, are democrats out of step with Iowans' views on this issue?

James: I think the majority of Iowans want politicians out of private medical decisions, they don't want politicians picking and choosing the books that their children can read in school libraries, they don't want politicians in their doctor's offices. And that is what I continue to hear over and over again. This really is, if you look at every single republican controlled state in the country, this is a political agenda that is being forced down on states. This is not bubbling up from Iowans.

Holt: Could I respond to that? This is not a political agenda at all. You see other states responding because they're hearing the same concerns that we're hearing and the Poll shows that Representative James is incorrect. Iowans understand that children going through identity crises are not in a position to make these kinds of decisions that are life changing and cannot be altered. Puberty blockers are being, there is now all kinds of evidence to show that it can create osteoporosis, inhibit brain development, inhibit bone growth, there's just all kinds of evidence coming out increasingly. And so, I already talked about the profound scientific ignorance, the informed consent is not there. And so, this is not a national agenda. I haven't spoken to any other legislator in any other state. This is about responding to the concerns we're hearing from our citizens. And if that is happening in other states that just points to just how profoundly important this issue is.

Sostaric: One of the things that democrats have said about these bills that restrict what transgender kids can do in their lives is that it sends a message about Iowa that Iowa is an unwelcoming state. What message do you think this sends about Iowa?

Holt: I think it sends the message that we care about our children. It has been suggested here that we're attacking the transgender community. That's ridiculous. We're trying to protect children. If an individual is 18 years of age and wants to have these procedures when they have considered all the science and all of the data is out there then they can do so. We're simply saying children, we do not believe with all the evidence there -- if you look at all of the studies that you see, the ones that support it and the ones that don't, I believe the best conclusion you can reach or in this discussion is the verdict is out. And if the verdict is out then why would we allow young children to have these procedures, life altering decisions, when data shows that 85% to 95% of these children once they go through puberty and into adolescence will return to identifying with their biological gender and puberty blockers prevent that result.

Henderson: Representative James?

James: Thank you. I do want to jump in here because I will go back, again, to every evidence-based U.S. medical society affirms that gender affirming care is medically necessary and can be lifesaving. Conspiracy theories do not equal science. Google searches do not equal medical degrees. We are talking about evidence-based practices that are affirmed by every medical expert and U.S. medical societies. And it is having an adverse effect certainly on how the rest of the country sees the state of Iowa. It is unwelcoming. They are hurtful bills and harmful to our kids. And one moment my colleague will say that he's here to protect kids and yet the clear evidence is that these are harmful attacks that put our vulnerable kids, right, who are already stigmatized, who are already isolated, who are already bullied right in the center of partisan politics. And I want the kids and the families who are tuning in to know that you are seen, that you are loved, that you are valued because that is the kind of state Iowans want to be and are here working to provide for those families despite the fact that the legislature is attacking them on a regular basis.

Henderson: Iowa is at the center of another debate about development of carbon capture pipelines. Representative Holt, you are the lead sponsor of a House republican plan that would establish some new regulations for the three proposed carbon pipelines in Iowa. What are the prospects for that bill? Will it be passed this next week?

Holt: Yeah, I have to say I can spend a lot of time rebutting everything Representative James just said, but I will answer your question. I believe absolutely that eminent domain should be used only for essential government services, public use versus public benefit. And so that is why I sponsored this legislation. It's a big issue for my landowners who do not believe that the blunt force of government should be allowed to be used to take their land for what is a private economic development project because that's what we're talking about here. Yes, I have high expectations that this legislation will come to the floor of the House before our funnel deadline.

Henderson: So, it would say that the pipeline companies have to have voluntary access to property from 90% of property owners along the pipeline route. It also has some other elements. Will it just be about eminent domain? Or will it be about some of those other safety elements that are in the bill?

Holt: It's hard to say at this point whether there will be amendments. It's very possible there will be some amendments. But the key provisions of the bill right now is that they have to get 90% of the total pipeline miles in Iowa through voluntary easements, that they have to comply with all local and county ordinances, that they have to, that it can't be built until it has been approved in every other state and that the new federal safety guidelines have to come out before it can go forward in Iowa. We think those are all safeguards to protect our citizens who are deeply concerned about the safety of the pipeline. But for me, again, it comes down to if private property is going to mean anything in the United States of America eminent domain cannot be based on seizing property for economic development and that is what this project is.

Henderson: Representative James, this has been an unusual issue in that you have republicans and democrats on both sides of this argument. Why aren't democrats unified? It was mentioned earlier there was a Des Moines Register Poll on the previous subject matter. A recent poll showed a super majority of Iowans want restrictions.

James: Absolutely. I appreciate the question. I think that part of my conversations with my farmers in Dubuque County are they have deep concerns about the pipeline. We saw that this was a priority of Governor Kim Reynolds. She supported the pipeline, there is concern that she would not sign a piece of legislation that if it came through something that Representative Holt is speaking to. And so, all I can do is really go back to my farmers and say, what do you need? And I was happy to actually support an even stronger version, an amendment in the Judiciary Committee to this particular bill that would make sure that proper use of eminent domain in the protection of property rights. So, in this bill there's still 10% of farmers who would be left vulnerable to a pipeline coming in and putting that through on their property. I think we need to have meaningful conversations about this. I am concerned that the Governor and the Senate is not interested in meaningful conversations about this. So, I think the House, we are rightfully starting an important conversation and hopefully we will continue that conversation and hopefully the Governor will take that seriously. Yet to see.

Holt: I would like to make it clear the Governor is on record as being concerned about private property rights. We do have a process in place and the Governor has not in any way weighed in on what should would do on this issue. So, I think it's a little bit unfair to suggest that we know what she would do on this issue. Governor Reynolds, there is an Iowa Utilities Board, there is a process. I and a number of folks maybe on both sides of the aisle want to stand up and protect private property rights to a greater extent. But I don't think it's fair to try to conclude what Governor Reynolds might do.

Murphy: And we've got other things, but I want to just real quick for each of you before we move on from this -- you mention the Governor -- have you had any conversations -- the Senate legislatively speaking has been mostly silent on this -- have you had any conversations with your colleagues in the Senate about what they may be willing to consider?

Holt: On the issue of eminent domain?

Murphy: Yeah.

Holt: I've had conversations with Senator Taylor who had a number of pieces of legislation unfortunately that didn't move forward there. I haven't had conversations beyond that with anyone else in the Senate.

Murphy: Okay. And Representative James, just to put a pin on Kay's question. It sounds like your end on this -- why haven't democrats more broadly seized this issue and responded to the concerns of Iowa landowners?

James: Well, I think that they certainly are. I think democrats have deep concerns as well I think about environmental concerns as well as property rights concerns. And so, I think that we are wanting to have that meaningful conversation and that is happening. My understanding is that this is dead on arrival in the Senate and that the Governor will not sign this into law. So, again, democrats are working to make sure that property rights are maintained while partisan politics are in with the big pipeline.

Murphy: Okay, and I apologize for cutting you off. We've got a lot of things we want to still get to in our time remaining. You both may be asked to vote soon on a bill that would require Regents universities to cover settlements from their athletic departments regarding charges of harassment. This came out of a case at the University of Iowa, their football program. So again, it would require the schools to pick up the full tab, not ask taxpayers to contribute to that. Just real quick each of you, Representative Holt, do you support that bill? Will you be a yes on that one?

Holt: I do. It's the athletic department, which makes a lot of money, that would be covering this instead of taxpayers. I support it.

Henderson: Representative James?

James: I haven't seen the bill yet that you're speaking of so I can't weigh in strongly one way or the other. But I feel very concerned about the underfunding of our Regent universities over the last years and I also feel concerned about the taxpayers and making sure that they are protected in this equation. So, I'll consider both of those as I look at that legislation.

Murphy: And part of that settlement requires the University of Iowa specifically to hire a person to oversee the implementation of their diversity, equity and inclusion program. In the meantime, there is also legislation moving in the House that would prohibit Regents universities from making such hires and implementing those kinds of programs. Representative Holt, we'll start with you on this. There seems to be a conflict in there with that court settlement. How is that going to resolve itself legislatively speaking?

Holt: I'm not sure what the conflict is you're referring to but I believe the Regents themselves have just come out, didn't they, and said they were kind of putting a hold on some stuff related to this until -- we're concerned about the diversity coordinators because unfortunately we believe that critical race theory and some of the things that they're pushing actually turns the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King on its head, that we judge one another based on character instead of skin color and the things that we see some of the diversity coordinators are pushing that if you're white you're automatically an oppressor and if you're a minority you're automatically oppressed. This stuff is unamerican as it gets and so that is why we have made an effort to put a hold on some of this stuff and get back to basics and back to American values.

Murphy: Representative James, I'll get to you. But real quick, Representative Holt, the conflict I was talking about is you have a court order that says, a settlement agreement that says you have to hire this person and then a bill that says you can't make these kinds of hires. I'm curious logistically speaking how that resolves itself?

Holt: Yeah, we may have to certainly look at that legislation and see if we have to make an amendment to address that.

Henderson: Representative James, in regards to the diversity, equity and inclusion programs at the universities?

James: Yes, absolutely democrats are working to put people over politics every single day, being a welcoming state that recognizes diversity, equity and inclusion and has that instilled in our public Regent universities and is accepted and loved in many different corporations and businesses and other kinds of industries I think is important to maintain. It speaks to Iowa wanting to be an open and welcoming state. We have a population challenge. We are the only state in the country that hasn't doubled its population in the last 100 years. And when we have all of these terrible national headlines about bathroom bills and book bannings and banning gender affirming care it doesn't look great for our state and we want to be an open and welcoming place to be for all Iowans.

Holt: No one is banning books, folks, no one is banning books.

Henderson: Less than a minute left and Katarina has a couple of quick questions.

Sostaric: Representative James, you said democrats want to introduce next week bills that protect reproductive rights and abortion access. Just quickly, why are you doing this after the legislative deadlines?

James: Sure, so these are ongoing issues that we work on all year long. And so, we will make sure to continue to pick them up throughout the year and have next year as well to continue to push them forward. What we're doing is we're working on reproductive freedom and that is something we've heard clearly from Iowans that they want politicians out of their doctor's offices and women protected.

Sostaric: And Representative Holt, will House republicans support the Governor's birth control bill?

Holt: There's a lot of stuff in that bill. Is that accurate? So, that bill will be considered. I know there are a number of my colleagues that are concerned about the over-the-counter issuance of birth control medication. So, that will be a discussion within our caucus. I can't for certain say which direction that is going to go. Again, we are a pro-life caucus and we believe that every life matters including those that are unborn children.

Henderson: There is a certainty we are out of time for this discussion. Thank you both for being here and sharing your views. '

Holt: Thank you so much.

James: Thank you.

Henderson: You can watch every episode of Iowa Press at For everyone here at Iowa PBS, thanks for watching.


Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation.

The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure.

Elite Casino Resorts is rooted in Iowa. Elite was founded 30 years ago in Dubuque and owned by 1,200 Iowans from more than 45 counties. With resorts in Riverside, Davenport and Larchwood, Iowa, Elite is committed to the communities we serve.

Across Iowa, hundreds of neighborhood banks strive to serve their communities, provide jobs and help local businesses. Iowa banks are proud to back the life you build. Learn more at