House Republicans letting the air out of the ball as ‘overtime’ approaches

Deflated BasketballBy Bob Eschliman


There has been very little urgency in the General Assembly – particularly on the part of House Republicans – to finalize the budget during the final official week of the 2015 legislative session.

The House Republican leadership unveiled its budget targets last week, nearly two weeks after Senate Democrats released their own, and the House of Representatives has yet to approve any substantive appropriations bills for FY 2016. The Senate, on the other hand, adopted its first budget bill earlier this week, and took up several more on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, it has now been two weeks since local school districts were required to file their certified budgets with the Secretary of State’s Office, and there hasn’t been any progress in conference committee on state percentage of growth for supplemental state aid. Education funding is one of the largest pieces of the budget each year.

As Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) put it Monday afternoon, the House of Representatives “took two days off” to start the week. While the House did convene each day, it did not take up any floor debate either day.

The Senate, however, did not take up any business on Tuesday. That is, at least in part, because there is very little legislation outside of appropriations bills that either chamber may take up without taking special procedural action.

And, most of that legislation – such as the medical cannabis bill stalled in the House and the abortion prerequisites bill stalled in the Senate – doesn’t have a lot of support within the majority parties of their respective chambers.

Wednesday, the House took up three bills that passed unanimously, or nearly unanimously. They were:

  • Senate File 482 – a substitute bill for House File 642 – an act to reorganize and modify Iowa Code 99B, which governs games of skill or chance and raffles.
  • House File 534 – an act to provide stipends for the Mental Health Professional Shortage Area Program.
  • House File 650 – the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund and Revenue Bonds Capitals II Fund appropriations bill.

The Senate, on the other hand, unanimously adopted House File 615, which allows for the establishment, operation, and dissolution of rural improvement zones. Then, it took up the following appropriations bills:

  • Senate File 493 – the education appropriations bill.
  • Senate File 496 – the Judicial Branch appropriations bill.
  • Senate File 497 – the justice system appropriations bill.
  • Senate File 498 – the administration and regulation appropriations bill.
  • Senate File 499 – the economic development, Iowa Public Employee Relations Board, Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, et al. appropriations bill.
  • Senate File 630 – the federal funds and block grants appropriations bill.

Except for SF 630, which was adopted unanimously, all of the appropriations bills were adopted on precise 26-24 party-line votes. The Senate also adopted Senate File 635 – an act to amend Iowa Code as it relates to numerous matters under the purview of the Iowa Department of Transportation – on a 43-7 vote.