The split-control Legislature inched toward adjournment on its 18th day of overtime session Tuesday.
House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said progress on the outstanding issues holding up the session’s end was “excellent” and he told reporters “I think that there’s a very real possibility that we are done tomorrow.”
Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, concurred, but declined to put a timeline on when lawmakers might adjourn.
“We’re trying to work through all of the items that are left in contention so that when people come back we’ll be able to finish up,” Gronstal said on a day when members of the House and Senate spent a combined five minutes on the floor in their respective chambers conducting business.
“There are hopeful signs all over the place,” Gronstal added, although most of the negotiations were taking place in private settings. “We are working in good faith with the other side to try and find resolution.”
Both chambers were scheduled to have full contingents back at the Capitol on Wednesday, with the Senate expected to take up a property tax relief compromise hammered out last week and the House slated to consider pieces of the proposed $6.483 billion spending plan for fiscal 2014.
Gronstal said progress was being made on an education reform package that is among Gov. Terry Branstad’s top priorities, but added “that’s one of the areas that still separates us.” Unresolved differences included home school and home rule provisions favored by Republicans and evaluation provisions favored by Democrats.
Paulsen said he and Gronstal had taken the lead on finalizing the education reform plan.
The governor indicated this week that his office and legislative negotiators were “close, very close” on an education reform package, but warned he needs to see changes in teacher accountability provisions to sign off on the bill.
Incremental progress also was reported in trying to merge elements of competing health-care approaches that would result in more needy Iowans receiving health insurance coverage. However, Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, said legislators “want to see the end of the movie” – that is all of the elements of the policy and budget agreements before casting the votes needed to pass bills and go home. He still held out the possibility of lawmakers needing to return for a few days next week to finish up.
Paulsen said negotiators were “working through the last pieces” of the state budget, noting there were still a handful of outstanding issues on the health & human services budget – that includes taxpayer-funded abortions, Medicaid expansion funding and mental-health redesign spending – “but I believe we will get there.”
The House speaker declined to indicate whether he thought the Legislature’s final work product would negate the need for lawmakers to reconvene in special session later this year.
With 128 days under their belts, members of the Iowa’s 85th General Assembly are making their way up the list of longest annual sessions but are no where near the 172-day 2011 session that ended on June 30 or the all-time record of 175 consecutive days set by the 62nd General Assembly in 1967.