There was only one piece of legislation proposed which directly affected the operation of the commission. That was House File 680. The bill encompassed changes in a collection of nine different laws. The changes in the first eight laws all deal with the age at which an employee in the State of Iowa must retire. The following is a list of all nine code cites (Code of Iowa, 1979) and their captions:
Section 80 - Police power, Dept. of Public Safety
Section 97A - Public safety peace officers retirement, accident and disability system
Section 97B - Iowa public employee retirement system
Section 362 - City government
Section 400 - Civil Service
Section 107 - State Conservation Commission
Section 410 - Disabled and retired firemen and policemen
Section 411 - Retirement systems for policemen and firemen
Section 601A- Iowa Civil Rights Act
Our goal was to give most employees as much freedom as possible in choosing for themselves when they would retire and to preserve the language of the Iowa Civil Rights Act with regard to employee benefits. The legislative effort directed toward the retirement issue was spearheaded by representative Gregory Cusack (D) of Davenport. We succeeded in gaining maximum freedom for state employees who are members of the Iowa Public Employee Retirement System (IPERS), except for police officers and firefighters.
Those parts of the bill which amended Sections 80,362 and 400 of the Code, all established a mandatory retirement age of 65 for police officers and firefighters. In other words, the maximum age they could be while employed is 65. Those parts of the bill amending Section 97A, 410, and 411 were intended to conform those sections to the requirements laid down in the sections above. Like the others, the part of the bill amending Section 107 set age 65 as the maximum age of employment, it also set age 21 as the minimum age for employment of conservation officers.
The part of the bill amending Section 97B (the IPER system) was more extensive than the others. It eliminated mandatory retirement for a state employees who are members of IPERS, except police and firefighters. Public employees who do not work for the state can work up to age 70. After attaining the age of 70, the employee can work for whatever periods of time are approved by the employer. This includes primary and secondary level teachers. However, a public employer who is not the state is free to require mandatory retirement at age 70. Once reaching the age of 70, if the IPERS members continues to work, he or she can start to draw a pension.
The sections of the bill amending 601A, the Iowa Civil Rights Act, also dealt in part with the retirement issue. It inserted a section into the Iowa Civil Rights Act which raised the mandatory retirement age from 65 to 70 in the private sector. There are two exceptions which mirror the exceptions under federal law. First, certain executives who are entitled to an annual retirement benefit of at least $27,000, may be required to retire when they reach age 65. (That amount may be adjusted in the Iowa law according to regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Labor.) Second, there is a temporary exception for persons who are working under a collective bargaining agreement in effect on September 1, 1977. They, too, may be required to retire before age 70. The exception lasts until that bargaining agreement expires or until January 1, 1980, whichever comes first.
The other two changes in the state civil rights law were hotly debated. The first involves coverage of abortions in employee benefit programs. There are a couple exceptions. Employers must cover abortions intended to save the life of the mother (therapeutic abortions) and must cover medical complications as a result of an abortion, as opposed to the abortion procedure itself. The employee must still be allowed to take paid sick leave for absence due to abortion, but the employer can choose to exclude the medical expenses associated with the actual abortion procedure from insurance coverage. This is a conscience clause for employers similar to the one that exists in federal law.
The final change in the law was another hot issue which also dealt with insurance coverage. The new language of the law allows the employer to choose between providing equal insurance benefits or equal contributions to life, disability or health insurance for employees of different ages. As such, benefits or contributions may vary based on actuarial differences among different age groups.
The original battleground for this controversy surrounding employee welfare plans was in the courts. Specifically, it surfaced in the case of Franklin Manufacturing Co. v. Iowa Civil Rights Commission, 270 N.W. 2d 829 (Iowa 1978). The case started as a complaint filed with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission and ended at the Iowa Supreme Court. In that arena, the nub of the dispute was sex discrimination, specifically insurance coverage for pregnancies. The language of the law in question was §601.13, where it exempted "any retirement plan or benefit system . . . " from other parts of the law barring sex and age discrimination. The company contended that "benefit system" meant health insurance. Therefore, they could exempt pregnancy from their insurance coverage. The Iowa Supreme Court, however, ruled that "benefit system" meant "retirement benefit system".
What we saw in the legislature was an attempt on the part of employers and insurance companies to legislate their interpretation and, thus, nullify the Franklin decision. Originally, the bill allowed employers to make distinctions based on sex as well as on age. Had they succeeded, they would have seriously undermined the law and literally cancelled out three other victories in the Iowa Supreme Court affirming a female employee's right to insurance coverage for pregnancy and childbirth. As the law stands now, it does allow an employer to vary either benefits or contributions on the basis of age. We still believe this conflicts with the decision in Manhart vs. City of Los Angeles. Nevertheless, we consider ourselves victorious for beating back the original effort to more drastically alter the Iowa Civil Rights Act.