The Iowa Senate approved a gambling package Wednesday that looks to study Internet gaming for a year and takes care of two other long-standing legislative issues.
The bill is a far cry from legislation that was bounced around early this session that would have legalized Internet gaming in the state.
Democrat Jeff Danielson of Cedar Falls, the floor manager for the bill, said the final package was the result of hours upon hours of negotiations, which he said he was proud of even though he could count “on my two hands” the number of times he’s been in a casino.
“I earn my money, I like to keep it,” he said. “Casinos are in the taking business, not the giving business, at least in terms of gaming.”
Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, tried to add an amendment that would have banned smoking in casinos, but it was ruled not germane to the question and failed without a vote.
The most debate came after Sen. Jerry Behn, R-Boone, moved an amendment that would have kept the referendum procedure in place. Proponents of the measure said changing the rules on citizens was unfair and the 10 percent requirement was too steep a requirement. But opponents said the requirement was too costly for local election officials and it stifled investment from casino companies that were nervous about the possibility of losing their investment every eight years.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said the legislation took care of at least two issues which “have vexed the legislature for a number of years.”
The Senate passed the measure 38-12 and it now moves to the House.
In other business, the Senate passed a mental-health bill that gives the state more control over mental-health treatment. The Senate version, which passed 27-23, on a largely party-line vote, creates eight mental-health regions in the state and the state assumes control over Medicaid-funded services while non-Medicaid expenses are still paid for by counties.
Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, said the legislation is the starting point for several years of mental-health reform that the state must undertake.
Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley of Chariton said Republicans thought the legislation was “too nebulous” for most of the party to support.
“We wanted to see a fiscal note, but they don’t have one,” he said.
Also Wednesday, senators voted 26-24 along political party lines to approve budget bills covering the judicial branch and administrative and regulatory functions that included a 50 percent funding level for fiscal 2013 — an effort by majority Senate Democrats to find middle ground with Gov. Terry Branstad’s demand for a two-year budget.
“We are ready to work with Gov. Branstad and Republican legislators on meaningful budget reforms that will shake up the budget-making process,” Gronstal said. Under this plan, the legislature would take action during the 2012 session to determine the final, appropriate funding level for the FY13 budget, he said.
However, Branstad told reporters he did not find that approach acceptable in resolving the current impasse over his intent to adopt a two-year budget and five-year long-range strategic plan for state government to bring more stability and predictability to the budgeting process.