DES MOINES – The calendar says mid-February, but funnel frenzy was in full form at the Statehouse Wednesday as lawmakers felt the squeeze of an approaching deadline to keep their favorite bills eligible for consideration this session.
Members assigned to 44 subcommittees in the House and Senate found themselves stacked in tight quarters with essentially one week left to get non-money bills through a standing committee under an accelerated time frame put in place by leaders of the split-control General Assembly. About the same number of subcommittees was slated to convene on Thursday.
“People are trying to keep their ideas alive and the clock’s ticking,” said Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City. “The funnel’s coming up fast. I think it’s just going to be a whirlwind for the next week to try to get things out of committee.”
Lobbyists were functioning under the grim reality that bills which failed to gain traction by early next week probably would fall off the table at a Statehouse where control is divided between Republicans in the House and Democrats in the Senate. This year’s first self-imposed legislative deadline for most measures to win initial committee approval to stay alive effectively is next Thursday.
Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he would be OK if he could get his fellow representatives to stop coming up with new requests.
“We always have a core group of bills that no one cares about, but the system cares about – the bar, the courts, law enforcement,” Baltimore said. “There’s always a frenzy before the funnel because the bills, while they aren’t exciting, are complex and important to make the system work.”
He estimated he has 50 bills left to address and 15 to 20 of them will make it out of committee.
Baltimore’s counterpart across the rotunda, Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he’s facing a similar crunch due to this year’s accelerated legislative calendar. He has a list of “must do” and “might do” bills that he plans to work through over the next week.
“It’s kind of put up or shut up time to try to get a bill out of committee,” Hogg said.
“I’m going to try to avoid having 15 bills next Thursday in committee, or 40 which has happened in previous years,” he added. “We’re trying to do them in a way that we can give them the individualized attention that they need and yet still get through the volume of bills that people would like to see us pass.”
Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said moving up the funnel deadline this year has forced legislators to make sure they have their priorities moving early.
“We’re not unlike other people who sometimes procrastinate,” Gronstal said. “There’s a lot of traffic usually on April 15 at the post office in the late evening. There’s certainly some of that that’s reflective here.”
House and Senate leaders are working with Gov. Terry Branstad to agree to a “global” spending target for the fiscal 2015 budget much earlier than they have in past years.
“We’re working diligently on getting us in a place where we can get to an end game on the budget much quicker than we have in the past,” he said.
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