UPDATE: The Ides of March came early for scores of legislative bills that met their demise on Thursday.
The mid-March foreboding proved prophetic for measures dealing with traffic-camera regulations, texting while driving, minimum wage increases, voting rights for convicted felons and abortion services delivered via telemedicine that failed to survive this week’s self-imposed legislative “funnel” deadline.
Other casualties of the "funnel" included bills authorizing gun owners to possess “silencers,” cracking down on wage theft by employers, revamping sentencing laws for juveniles convicted of murder and other Class A crimes, and banning minors from using tanning facilities.
The "funnel" describes a requirement for non-money bills to be approved by one legislative chamber and a committee of the other house by Friday to remain eligible for consideration this session.
The normal frenzy of a funnel week was somewhat muffled this year by the reality of a divided Legislature, with control split between Republicans who hold a 53-37 edge in the Iowa House and Democrats who have a narrow 26-24 majority in the Iowa Senate.
“It’s kind of a low-key week. We haven’t done a lot,” said Rep. Josh Byrnes, R-Osage, chairman of the House Transportation Committee. “It’s just a different session.”
Nevertheless, lawmakers remained on track to fashion legislation to address problems associated with harassment and bullying of students in schools, exempting military pay from state income taxes and providing other advantages to veterans, banning minors’ access to electronic cigarettes, regulating government and private use of drones, expanding access to broadband especially in rural areas, and beefing up protections for elderly Iowans.
“It’s an effort to compromise,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs.
“The work product would be very different if it was just Democrats who were in control; the work product would be very different if it was just Republicans in control,” he added. “We believe the voters sent us here to get something done, to look for common ground and compromise, and that’s what we’ve pursued, so the work product is the product of the hand that the voters dealt us.”
While the funnel is designed to winnow the General Assembly’s work load by removing issues that fail to generate consensus, lawmakers found creative ways to keep issues alive. A fireworks bill was converted to a House Ways and Means Committee bill, which made it exempt from the funnel. Likewise, a proposed gas tax increase, an anti-bullying bill, and a measure to expand support services for refugee families were placed on the exempt appropriations track while boosting school aid by 6 percent in 2016 and allowing voters to register online were amended to policy bills still eligible for debate.
Yet other bills dealing with sports fantasy games, blood alcohol tests for drunken boaters, and allowing all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) to operate on county roads and city streets survived by a procedural move to place them on the unfinished business calendars in both the House and Senate. A Senate bill designed to fill the void of services for delinquent services due to closure of the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo did not survive the funnel, but legislative leaders still expect to address the issue in some manner yet this session.
Byrnes said the texting bill arrived from the Senate too late to tackle a policy decision of that magnitude on short notice.
“We talked about it because I knew it was going to be coming over,” he added. “There were a couple of people who had concerns that this is a pretty big policy bill to just shove through fast.”
Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, that the Senate Judiciary Committee did not consider the gun “silencer” bill even though it passed the House 83-16 will broad bipartisan support in February.
“I find no reason why this common sense piece of legislation should not be taken up for consideration and sent down to the governor,” he said, noting the Statehouse was flooded with email and phone calls supporting House File 384.
Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, did not take up any weapons-related bills this session, saying they were divisive and he preferred to concentrate on areas of consensus.
Likewise, Sen. Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, expressed disappointment that the bill to ban telemedicine abortions stalled in the Senate. A group of GOP senators indicated they plan to mount an effort next week for a leadership bill or some other legislative vehicle to get it to the Senate floor for debate.
“That’s a bill that Senate Republicans are strongly behind and one that we’re disappointed that is still not going to move forward,” he said. “It’s something that is important to protect the health of women and eliminate a bad medical practice.”
Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, leader of the subcommittee assigned the telemedicine bill, said he did not take it up because the Iowa Board of Medicine already made the practice illegal – an administrative decision that currently is the subject of a court challenge and a judicial stay order.
For their part, legislative Democrats expressed dismay that efforts to expand educational opportunities and funding have stalled in the House.
“We hope that maybe the House will see the light yet and I’m not sure how they will do it, but we certainly are asking them to reconsider killing bills that deeply affect our children,” said Senate President Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque.
Gronstal said he was disappointed a Senate-passed wage theft bill died in the House.
A bill seeking to legalize a number of fireworks products in Iowa was salvaged from the funnel scrap heap when Rep. Tom Sands, R-Wapello, pulled it under the umbrella of the House Ways and Means Committee he chairs.
Sands said a number of legislators and constituents favored the measure while others are “dead set” against it, but he felt it needed a fair debate to determine how much support exists for the change.
“Up here, something can die nine times and still find a way to find some life some way and this would be one for that particular bill,” he said of the funnel-proof House Study Bill 672.
FUNNEL ROUND UP:
This was the second funnel week at the Capitol. The “funnel” is a self-imposed deadline set by the Legislature created to expedite legislative process. All non-money bills had to make it through the House or Senate and a committee of the other chamber to be considered “alive” for the rest of the session. There are some exceptions to the rule — bills dealing with tax increases, for example, are “funnel-proof.” But this week ended the chances for a variety of initiatives. Here’s how some key initiatives fared in funnel week.
- FUEL TAX: Two bills aimed at raising money for the state’s infrastructure could still get a vote this year. One bill raises the state’s fuel tax by 10-cents over three years. The other, cuts the per-gallon fuel tax but raises the cost on wholesalers. “I would say proposal No. 1 which we passed out of subcommittee 5-0 has taken kind of a back seat because the plan No. 2 seems to have a lot more support than just a straight up 10-cent fuel tax,” State Rep. Josh Byrnes, R-Osage, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said.
- ANTI-BULLYING: Legislation allowing school officials to enforce school anti-bullying policies for incidents happening off-campus and requiring school officials to notify parents when bullying involves their children is still alive. The anti-bullying initiative was one of Gov. Terry Branstad’s priorities outlined in his January “Condition of the State” speech. Similar legislation pushed by the governor’s office last year was never called for a vote on the House floor.
- FIREWORKS: Efforts in the House and Senate to legalize some fireworks in Iowa continue despite opposition from firefighters, medical societies and insurance interests. HSB 672, assigned to a House Ways and Means subcommittee Thursday, funnel-proofs the issue, which is being pushed by the fireworks industry and retailers who see out-of-state retailers profiting from Iowans seeking fireworks.
- MINIMUM WAGE: Legislation to raise the state’s $7.25 minimum wage incrementally to $10.10 by Jan. 1, 2016, has been introduced in both chambers. SF 2260, which the Legislative Services Agency says would have an annual $6.5 million general fund impact on the state by 2017, was “referred from calendar to committee” Thursday, a move to prevent funnel death. Although the issue has strong Democratic support and received GOP votes when last raised in 2007, Republicans say they prefer to create an economic climate that attracts business development and the creation of skilled, high-wage jobs.
- TRAFFIC CAMERAS: A House committee passed a measure that would authorize automatic traffic enforcement devices on state and local highways, require signs that alert drivers to the presence of cameras and establish a uniform fine system for red-light and speeding violations caught on camera. However, the measure stalled due to lack of consensus and, in the meantime, the state Department of Transportation implemented regulations Feb. 12 for traffic enforcement cameras used to monitor red-light and speeding violations along state highways passing through Iowa cities or counties. City officials in Sioux City have challenged those DOT rules in court.
- TEXTING WHILE DRIVING: The Senate passed a bill this week that would make texting while driving a primary traffic offense that could elicit a stop by a law enforcement officer. Iowa drivers could continue to talk and drive, but engaging in any other form of electronic communication could result in being ticketed for a moving violation and a $30 fine. Senate File 2289 was designed to change Iowa’s current texting law, which is a secondary offense and a ticket only can be given if there’s a violation of another motor vehicle law. However, the bill died in the House, where representatives did not have enough time to give the policy change adequate consideration.
Here is a status report on some issues of interest in the Iowa Legislature’s 2014 session:
- Increase state gas tax (HSB514/SF2130)
- Strengthen anti-bullying/harassment efforts in schools (HF2409/sf2318)
- Regulate government and private use of drones (HF2289/SF2157)
- Legalize sale, purchase, possession, use of fireworks (SF2294/HSB672)
- Exempt military retirement pay from state income taxes (SF303)
- Prohibit access by minor to e-cigarettes (HF2109)
- Fine social hosts who knowingly allowing underage drinking (SF2146)
- Expand access to broadband (HSB515/SSB3119)
- Tougher protections against elder abuse (SF2117/HF2106)
- Strengthen/reform power-of-attorney law (SF2168/HF2422)
- Approve buyout to end live dog racing (HSB621)
- Legalize fantasy sports games (SF2148/HF2128)
- Increase penalty for kidnapping minors (SF2201/HF2253)
- Broaden civil commitment for sexual predators (SF2211)
- Allow ATV operation on secondary roads (HF2395/SF2287) Bowman
- Expand statewide preschool program (SF2268)
- Modify definition of obscene materials to exclude live acts (HF359)
- Require Taser training for law enforcement personnel (SF2187)
- Freeze resident tuition at state universities
- Modify first-offense OWI penalties with ignition interlock devices (SF2103)
- Require pawn shops to return stolen merchandise (HF514)
- Allow teaching license revocation for sexual liaison with student (HF2389)
- Allow producers to expand corn check-off to 3 cents a bushel by 2019 (HF2427)
- Fix snafu that repealed sales tax on heavy equipment (SF2272)
- Allow blood testing for OWI boat operators (SF2337)
- Increase mo-ped speed limit from 30 to 39 mph (SF2192)
- Extend court protections to pets in domestic abuse cases (SF2118)
- Require schools to report radon testing/mitigation plans (SF366)
- Establish statewide emergency warning task force (SF2137)
- Establish Gideon fellowship in state public defender’s office (HF2132)
- Allow golf cart operation on streets in unincorporated areas (HF236)
- Allow use of crossbows to hunt deer (HF499)
- Change maximum weight of vehicles under lemon law (HF2181)
- Provide licensing of “scrapping” recyclers (HF2332/SF2250)
- Create specialty license plate with space for not-for-profit group decal (SF371)
- Establish refugee family support services (SF2176)
- Change snowmobile regulations for some minors (SSB3179)
- Revamp crimes for contagious/infectious disease transmissions (SF2086)
- Increase K-12 state aid by 6 percent in fiscal 2016 (SF2077/2079)
- Expand uses of horse racing purse money (Hf2290)
- Issue Sullivan Brothers award of valor license plates (SF2108)
- Extend school merger/consolidation initiative (SF2056/HSB558)
- Toughen criminal penalties for human trafficking (SF2311)
- Expand electronic reporting of campaign finances (SF2119)
- Extend sales tax rebate for Iowa Speedway in Newton (SSB3162)
- Establish screening for dyslexia (SF2070)
- Ease sanctions for violations by teen drivers with school permits (SF2288)
- Provide liability protection for volunteers on public land (HF2397)
- Nullify Racing & Gaming Commission administrative rule on appeal standard (HJR7)
- Protect children’s identity from theft (HF2116)
- Revise state child-care assistance eligibility guidelines (HF2070/SF2251)
- Establish Iowa employment rides initiative (SF2076)
- Establish Iowa suicide prevention center in Iowa Department of Education (SF2173/HF2245)
- Revise tax calculation for compressed natural gas (SF2338)
- Expand list of banned precursors used to produce methamphetamine (HF159)
- Expand apprenticeship/job training program (SSB3052)
- Create derelict building grant program (HSB655)
- Provide licensure help for veterans/spouses (HF2319)
- Allow private employers to give veterans hiring preference (HF2234)
- Allocate an extra $2 million to low-income heating assistance (SF2110)
- Establish state regulations for traffic enforcement cameras (HF2202)
- Toughen prohibition for texting while driving to a primary traffic offense (SF2289)
- Raise minimum wage (SF2260)
- Ban abortion services via telemedicine (HF2175)
- Crack down on wage theft in employment (SF191)
- Authorize possession of “silencers” and certain offensive weapons (HF384)
- Restore felons’ voting rights (SF2203)
- Revamp sentencing for juveniles facing Class A convictions (HF2386/SF2309)
- Bar minors under age 18 from tanning devices (SF2174/HF2030)
- Require state rules for restraining pregnant inmates (SF2190)
- Establish state health insurance exchange (SF2112)
- Boost penalty for murdering a peace officer (HF2114)
- Expand strip searches at county jails/city holding facilities (HF2174)
- Clarify sexting law dealing with text messages (SF2174)
- Establish alternative services formerly provided by Iowa Juvenile Home (SF2322)
- Change gun permit requirements for military members (HF2143)
- Change K-12 forward-funding law (HF2194)
- Require health insurers to distribute excess revenue to policyholders (SF2183)
- Provide special state school aid targeted to low-income students (SF2226)
- Reinstate merit protections for some state employees (SF2244)
- Maintain local school board control over curriculum (HF2439)
- Allow cities to regulate/restrict rental occupancy (SF2304/HF184)
- Reduce training for farm manure applicators (HF2367)
- Require prompt pay for private construction projects (SF2155)
- Give second-chance “consent decrees” for kids in minor trouble (SF2095)
- Set goal of having nation’s healthiest kids by 2020 (SF2285)
- Verify income, assets, and identity of Medicaid recipients to prevent fraud (HF2275)
- Change employment background checks for some state-regulated entities (HSB533)
- Authorize state licensure of sleep technologists (HSB574)
- Ease requirement state agencies purchase from state prison industries (HF2083)
- Add jailers to interference with official acts statute (HF2133)
- Authorize silver alerts for missing seniors (SF2189)
- Establish philanthropy accounts in schools (SF2129)
- Extend time for sexually abused minors to bring civil/criminal actions (SF2109)
- Make service station gas pumps more accessible to handicapped (SF2284)
- Add fine arts to core curriculum at schools (SF3048)
- Allow online/electronic voter registration (HF2243/SSB3130)
- Change state agency rulemaking/decision-making authority (HF2385)
- Establish urban-ag academy with Board of Regents (HF2210)
- Establish state Lyme disease task force (SF2090)
- Require state agencies to provide online fee database (HF2274)