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THE PEOPLE'S CAPITOL

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This legislative session continues to be one for the history books.  Thousands of Iowa workers, union members, and teachers crowded into the Capitol to oppose changes to labor laws, with lines wrapping around the Capitol for public hearings and debates.

There were more committee hearings on the "defunding Planned Parenthood" bill, flooding the Capitol with pink-clad opponents and black-clothed supporters.  On Thursday (February 16), more than 25,000 Iowans gathered at the steps of the State Capitol for the "Day Without Immigrants Boycott" to oppose anti-immigrant legislation.

Crowds appear to be the new normal at Iowa's State Capitol.  State troopers and cameras are stationed around the Capitol  and in committee rooms to make sure the crowds remain respectful.  The Capitol has never been more chaotic, crowded, or loud.  But crowds aren't the only thing different about this session.  

The Iowa Senate debated the collective bargaining (labor) bill for 30 hours, going through the night without a break.  New Senate leaders broke with tradition and set a time to end debate, something that has never been done in the Iowa Senate.  The "time certain" deadline ends debate immediately and legislators must then vote (without discussion) on the remaining amendments and the bill.  That angered Senate Democrats, who then decided to request the rare "Call of the Senate."  This move locks the doors of the Senate Chambers, and Senators are not allowed to leave until the votes are completed.  State troopers are sent out to get any missing Senators (there was only one Senator missing - he was excused but was required to come back to the Capitol for the final vote).  Calls of the Senate are rare, and even rarer this early in the legislative session.

So far the Iowa Legislature has:

  • Passed a bill cutting $117 million out of the current state budget.
  • Passed 1.1% school funding increase for next year.
  • Passed major labor reforms to limit public employee collective bargaining.
  • Started the process to "defund planned parenthood" (the bill is in the House now).

With only two weeks to go unti the first deadline, legislators say they still need to pass several priorities out of committee, some of which have not yet been drafted.  These include Voter ID, changes to Iowa's certificate of need process, medical malpractice reforms, local government minimum wage bans (called "pre-emption" - this stops cities and counties from setting minimum wages higher than the state minimum wage), and gun rights legislation.  

That's a heavy lift for two weeks, and many people think that other issues will likely fall to the wayside as the more controversial issues take up valuable legislative time and attention.  Many want to discuss medical marijuana expansion (new poll shows 80% of Iowans support), and legalizing fantasy sports betting and fireworks.  The next two weeks will be interesting, so watch our social media posts for breaking news.

All bills need to be voted out of their assigned committee by Friday, March 3, 2016. This is called the "first funnel" deadline. Only bills in the Appropriations, Government Oversight, and Ways and Means Committees are exempt, as are bills sponsored jointly by House and Senate leaders (which is a possibility now that one party controls both chambers).

Bills that fail to make this deadline can no longer be discussed or debated.  They are dead for the year - but your lawmakers can always bring them back to life by making them an amendment to another bill.  Where there is a will...