DES MOINES — You could say the Iowa Legislature is halfway to adjourning its 2014 session.
The House passed a sine die resolution ending its 108-day session at 5:54 a.m. today. The Senate adjourned only briefly and is expected to reconvene Friday morning to complete its work.
The Senate appeared on track to adjourn Thursday morning until the Rules Committee approved a resolution authorizing the Government Oversight Committee to issue subpoenas to compel witnesses to testify.
However, minority Republicans objected to suspending the rules to allow the full Senate to take up the resolution May 1. By Senate rule, the Senate now must wait 24 hours before taking up the resolution at 8 a.m. Friday.
Meanwhile, after a 21-hour stay in which it completed a $6.959 billion budget, approved a narrowly crafted bill to provide Iowans an opportunity to use the marijuana derivative cannabidiol for relief from seizure disorders, appropriated adequate funds for the regent universities to freeze tuition freeze for a second year in a row and approved record funding for a 25-year-old natural resources enhancement program, the House adjourned for the year.
House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, deemed the session, which last a week beyond it scheduled 100 days, a success.
“We set some high goals and yes, I think it was a successful session,” the speaker said. “It was a productive year. I think we moved the state forward.
“I think at the end of the day it is going to be one of the most successful general assemblies in the history of Iowa — I’m talking about the biennium. I think there’s a lot of things for Iowans to be excited about,” Paulsen said.
While lawmakers worked through Wednesday to put the finishing touches on a host of bills Wednesday, Gov. Terry Branstad declared at least partial victories for five of his seven of his priorities that survived the legislative meat grinder. However, two priorities — anti-bullying and broadband connectivity — landed on the scrap heap.
That frustrated Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, too.
“I’m disappointed in the bullying bill,” he said. “We put together a decent bill in the Senate and for some reason not a single Senate Republican voted for it. Then the House sent us a fairly cobbled together piece that in some respects we think is worse than current law.”
He also met with the governor’s staff Wednesday on a “skinnied down” version of the broadband bill.
“We were prepared to move a bill forward, but the governor’s office said, ‘No, we’ve got to have essentially a whole bunch of the same stuff that failed on the House side the first time,” Gronstal said.
Branstad saw it differently.
“We thought we had an agreement” with House Democrats on broadband, Branstad said, but only two joined 42 Republicans in voting for it.
Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, was not as positive as others in his assessment of the session. It started well, he said, but “Democrats continue their war on the taxpayer.”
It would have been worse if not for House Republicans and Branstad continuing to hold spending in check, Dix said.
Gronstal agreed both parties had “significant successes” to brag about as lawmakers hit the campaign trail.
“I’m proud of the work we’ve put into doing the people’s business,” Gronstal said. “I’m proud that we will have another year of tuition freezes at our state regent institutions … that we were able to get some additional things done on water quality and skilled workforce and lots and lots of other things.”
House Minority Leader Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, expressed a similar sentiment.
“I’m proud of things we’ve done in a bipartisan way and disappointed in the things we were not able to accomplish in that manner,” he said.
“So I think there are certainly things we can be proud of having accomplished and there’s certainly some we’re disappointed we didn’t get accomplished,” he said.
Doing the easy thing and the right thing are rarely the same, added House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake. Although legislative efforts, at times, were overshadowed by campaign efforts, she said, “Thankfully, in recent days I believe we have risen above the fray and renewed our focus.”
They also broadened their focus to pick up Senate File 2360 to allow a small group of Iowans who suffer seizure disorders to possess and use cannabidiol, a marijuana derivative. The effort was given little or no chance of passage even a month ago, but it cleared the House 77-20 and the Senate 38-8.
Lawmakers took their time to approve the final pieces of their session work. The House convened at 8:38 a.m. Wednesday and adjourned more than 21 hours later at 5:54 a.m. Thursday. The Senate convened at 10 a.m. Wednesday and adjourned more than 20 hours later at 7:48 a.m. Thursday.
One of the highlights of the day was that for the first time since 1991, lawmakers fully funded the Resource Enhancement and Protection program. It was part of the $86 million Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund budget, SF 2349, which included $24 million for major maintenance at Capitol complex buildings and about $147 million for one building at each of the three regent universities.
Another $5 million was included in SF 2363, a one-time $139.7 million debt reduction and strategic investment bill, to raise REAP funding to $25 million in its 25th year. The bill also would pay off $60 million in Vision Iowa bonds and provide nearly $28.6 million to fund the last year of building projects at regent universities.
“This was carefully, painstakingly negotiated with House Republicans,” said Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Other provisions included over $1 million for education services to former residents of the Iowa Juvenile Home, nearly $11 million for Iowa Care supplemental services and $1 million for radon testing in schools.
Another high point was appropriating enough money to the regent universities that for the first time in 40 years, they are freezing tuition for a second year in a row.
The usual lengthy debate of lawmaker’s pet policies and projects as part of the standings bill, HF 2473, was short-circuited by procedural steps that limited amendments.
Rep. Chris Hall, D-Sioux City, urged his caucus to vote against the $3.2 billion catch-all bill because of the issues it didn’t include, such as education, seniors and families in need. The procedural move meant that those amendments and the issues they represented did not receive debate or the “honest vetting Iowans expect from transparent government.”
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Chuck Soderberg, R-Le Mars, said that although the bill may not have included everything lawmakers wanted, “what is included is good.”
In an early Thursday morning Senate debate on the bill, efforts to amend the bill to legalize fireworks, shut down the common core curriculum, ban traffic enforcement cameras effective July 1 and bar local governments that operating traffic enforcement cameras from working with the state to withhold tax refunds for drivers with unpaid fines for violations were knocked down as irrelevant to the budget measure.
The House tried to resurrect HF 2381, a bill to allow Iowans to buy suppressors — silencers — for their guns, by tacking it on to the standings bill. The Senate removed that and made a last-ditch effort to boost K-12 school funding by 6 percent in fiscal 2016.
Both chambers agreed to personnel settlement agreement language in HF 2473 that barred “hush money” confidentiality payments by the legislative, judicial and executive branches of state government.
The House accepted SF 2297, the Senate version of a bill to modernize what Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, called Iowa’s “quite draconian” criminal law as it relates to infectious and contagious disease, specifically HIV/AIDS. The current law had been written when there was less known about HIV/AIDS and fewer treatment options.
Also as part of the wind-down, senators voted 27-23 to move the governor’s apprenticeship and STEM education funding proposals into an economic development budget. HF 2460 proposed to expend $3 million to aid job-training efforts for existing businesses and put another $3 million toward a new apprenticeship program to give the state’s workforce the skills needed for tomorrow’s jobs, Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, said. He noted that demand already outstrips the available money.
Gov. Branstad has 30 days to decide whether to sign or veto the appropriations bills lawmakers sent him.