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What's Ahead: Short Session?

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The Legislature took action on its first day to speed up the session (normally set for 100 days, ending April 22), by moving all timetables up by two weeks.  The funnel deadlines this year - the dates by which legislation needs to pass key milestones in order to remain alive - will be February 21st and March 14th.  Whether this rule change actually ends up shortening the session by two weeks remains to be seen.

To stay alive this year, a bill must be voted out of the committee of origin (that is, the committee where it begins) by Friday, February 21.  If it does not, it is no longer eligible for debate.  In essence, it is dead.  The second legislative funnel deadline is March 14, when a bill must have passed the House or Senate, and then been voted out of committee in the opposite chamber.  So, a House bill must have passed the House and then passed out of a Senate committee by Friday, March 14 in order to continue to be discussed.

One of the major reasons for the shorter timetable this year is the election in November, when Iowa will see its first open U.S. Senate seat in many years, in addition to at least two open Congressional races.  There are legislators running for Governor and Congress, and all 100 Representatives and half (25) of the Iowa Senate have to run for re-election if they want to return to the Capitol next year.  With narrow margins in the Senate (Democrats control with one vote) and House (Republicans control with three votes), there is a lot at stake in November, and legislators want to get back home and work on their re-elections as soon as possible.

Another major reason for the attempt at the shortened session is the fact that last year's Legislature passed more major legislation in a single year than most people in the policy arena can ever remember passing.  Major property tax reform.  Education Reform.  Mental Health Redesign and Health care reform.  All while working in a bipartisan fashion and building the largest budget surplus in state history.  Many agree that trying to fatten that resume up even more in an election year is just going to backfire on last year's accomplishments.

Legislative leaders have set a goal of finishing up by April 4, a little more than two weeks before legislative pay runs out.  So look for lots of agreement and expect anything that looks controversial to be set aside for future years.