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Session Hits Halfway Point

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As we prepare to "spring ahead" and set our clocks for daylight savings time this weekend, the Iowa Legislature is also preparing to move ahead.  Friday (March 8) was the first legislative deadline, called a funnel. To survive, bills had to be voted out of committee before the Friday deadline.  Bills left behind in committee are dead for the rest of the year.  Of course, there are always exceptions.  Bills that spend money, deal with taxes, or are sponsored by the Government Oversight Committee or legislative leaders are "funnel-proof" and can be debated at any time.

Saturday (March 9) isn't only the day we move our clocks ahead, it's also the 55th day of the 110-day legislative session.  While the session is now halfway through, the Governor has only received and signed three bills into law (two bills changing Iowa law to match new federal laws, and one bill addressing pipeline safety violations).  If you think things will pick-up now that we're in the downhill side of session, think again!

This year, the close 53-47 Republican margin in the House and the closer 26-24 Democrat margin in the Senate are creating some problems with floor work, particularly in the Senate. Senator Tom Courtney of Burlington had emergency surgery two weeks ago, and has been out on medical leave.  He is expected back at the Capitol sometime next week, but probably on a very limited basis. The Senate needs 26 votes to pass a bill, so one person's absence can really slow down the workings of the Iowa Legislature.

The Administrative Rules Review Committee waived its in-person voting rules on Friday, allowing Sen. Courtney to vote from his hospital bed via telephone.  The Committee was voting on the Secretary of State's new rules that take suspected non-citizens off voter roles, rules which Senator Courtney has strongly opposed.  While committees can waive their in-person voting rules, Senate rules require legislators be present for any vote taken on the floor.

The Senate can certainly take action on legislation that has bipartisan agreement. However, any bills that are controversial - budgets, education reform, tax reform, Medicaid expansion to name a few - will have to wait until Senator Courtney's return and will need to be scheduled on the days he'll be available to vote. We all wish him a speedy recovery.

The Legislature will also begin to switch focus toward the second legislative funnel deadline on Friday, April 5. For a bill to survive the second funnel, it must be approved by either the House or Senate and then approved by a committee in the opposite chamber. Legislators spend the majority of the four weeks between the funnels on the floor, debating bills.  You can listen and watch live debate from your computers - just click here