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The People's Capitol (print)

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This legislative session continues to be one for the history books.  Thousands of Iowa workers and union members 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   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.  

New Senate leaders broke from tradition this year by cutting off the 30-hour non-stop debate over collective bargaining (labor legislation).  The Senate has always allowed unlimited debate on bills; it's not a rule, but what is called a "courtesy."  Since leaders broke from this tradition, Senate Democrats asked for a rare "call of the Senate."  This locks the doors of the Senate, and Senators are not allowed to leave.  State troopers are sent out to get any Senators not in the building.  Lets just say it's a big deal. If there is a theme appearing in the 2017 legislative session - "expect the unexpected" comes to mind.

February 17 marks the end of the 6th week of session, which is close to hte halfway point.  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, limits on "pain and suffering" in medical malpractice claims, 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 won't get the attention (and time) needed to pass this year.  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 decide what issues continue to get attention, and which will have to be set aside for next year.

All bills need to be voted out of committee by Friday, March 3, 2016. This is called the "first funnel" deadline. If bills are not voted out of committee in the next two weeks, they are considered "dead" for the year.  But remember that your lawmakers can always bring them back to life by making them an amendment to another bill.  Where there is a will...there is a way.