Scores of Bills Fail to Make First Legislative "Funnel" Deadline
By Rod Boshart, Reporter
DES MOINES -- A legislative vortex swept away hundreds of proposed bills Thursday as the split-control Legislature cut its 2014 workload to a shrinking list of priority items.
Measures seeking to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, create a new crime for assaulting a sports referee, allow the sale of raw milk or require homeowner disclosure if they were trying to sell a structure used in the production or sale of methamphetamine were among scores of bill that met their demise with the arrival of the session's first self-imposed "funnel" deadline.
Bills not dealing with state appropriations or tax issues were required to pass out of a standing committee by Friday or be sidelined for the remainder of the session as Republicans who control the House and Democrats who run the Senate work to winnow this year's work load. Senators went home for the weekend on Thursday, while House members left town Wednesday to avoid an impending winter storm.
"I think our priorities are safely out of committee in this funnel week," said Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs.
House Democratic Leader Mark Smith of Marshalltown said he did not mind that 11 House committees were canceled Thursday because it meant some bills he did not want to see passed fell victim to the funnel.
"We did see some bad legislation killed in funnel week," he noted.
Four Senate committees did work Thursday, passing out bills dealing with expanded broadband access, toughening Iowa's texting while driving law, regulating both government and private use of drones and unmanned aircraft, and giving the state insurance commissioner more power to order health insurers to return excess revenue to policyholders.
The Senate Judiciary Committee also approved bills giving judges more discretion in sentencing juveniles who commit Class A felonies, creating a misdemeanor offense for property owners who knowingly allow minors under the legal drinking age to consume alcohol on their premises, and easing some penalties associated with the transmission of an infectious or contagious disease.
Sen. Rich Taylor, D-Mount Pleasant, said he was pleased to win passage of a bill regulating drones, but committee chairman Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, said the issue stands a good chance of being shot down in its journey to the governor's desk.
"I think drone legislation faces a very significant uphill battle to become law," he said. "It's so new, it's novel, there are lots of interest out there and it's not like the people are speaking up demanding regulation. I would say the chances are very slim that that will become law, but we'll see. Things can change in this place."
Also Thursday, the Senate Transportation Committee passed legislation 10-2 permitting all-terrain vehicles to travel on secondary county roads and city streets, but not primary highways.
Under the bill, county government officials could pass an ordinance prohibiting ATVs on county roads. The bill requires an ATV driver must be 16 or older, have a valid driver's license and cannot exceed a 35 mile-per-hour speed limit.
Barb Kalbach, board president of the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action Fund, said her group was happy to see the Senate pass bills to raise the state's minimum wage and crack down on wage theft, but she believed lawmakers were in "complete denial" about the serious environment threats facing Iowa.
"2014 is quickly turning into another 'play it safe, do nothing' session as (Gov. Terry) Branstad and legislative leaders from both parties have once again failed to take bold action to protect Iowa's rivers, lakes, and streams from factory farm pollution," Kalbach said in a statement.
She hoped the arrival of the first funnel deadline would give legislators a chance to "hit the reset button" and focus the rest of the 2014 session "on the bread and butter issues that matter most."
Before he left the Capitol Wednesday, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said he expected between 40 and 50 bills passed out of House committees. He thought a higher percentage of bills could gain support in the other legislative chamber because a number of issues moving forward have bipartisan support.
"We certainly have a number of bills to deal with in the next three weeks, so our workload next week is going to be significant," Gronstal noted. "I don't see it as terribly lighter than in recent years."
This week's funnel claimed about a half-dozen bills that offered various ways to shift surplus, economic emergency or state general funds to the road use tax fund to address an estimated $215 million yearly shortfall in money to address critical transportation needs.
Gronstal said a bipartisan group of legislators are still working on a proposal to increase the state's gas tax by 10 cents a gallon over three years and a transportation budget bill currently on the Senate debate calendar could become a vehicle if a consensus develops among lawmakers and the governor before the General Assembly adjourns this spring.
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