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Session Review

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The Legislature wrapped up its 12th week of work this week, leaving only four weeks left to negotiate complex issues like education reform, property tax rebalancing, ongoing mental health and disability services redesign, Medicaid expansion, and a two-year budget.  Now legislators can go longer than these four weeks, but they won't get paid.  That can be a very powerful incentive - many legislators live in hotels while they are in Des Moines, and those bills can add up quickly.

On Thursday (April 4), State Auditor David Vaudt announced he is resigning to take a job as the Chair of the Governmental Accounting Standards Board, a position he'll keep for seven years.  The Governor will appoint someone to fill the remainder of Auditor Vaudt's term (which runs through 2014). 

The House and Senate have not been able to agree on ways to reform the state's education system - so the bill (HF 215) has now been sent to a conference committee.  A conference committee is a small group of legislators from both parties, both House and Senate, who meet to hash out differences on a bill and decide on a compromise.  Their "report" cannot be amended and must either be voted up (pass) or down (fail).  The legislators on this conference committee are: Rep. Ron Jorgenson, Rep. Cecil Dolecheck, Rep. Quentin Stanerson, Rep. Sharon Steckman, Rep. Frank Wood, Sen. Herman Quirmbach, Sen. Tod Bowman, Sen. Mary Jo Wilhelm, Sen. Joni Ernst, and Sen. Amy Sinclair.  Some of the areas of difference include:

  • The Senate version has four optional career ladder models for teachers; the House version has two.
  • The Senate version raises starting minimum teacher salary from $28,000 to $35,000; the House raises it to $32,000.
  • The Senate version includes 4% increase in allowable growth funding. That’s the formula used to determine how much school districts can increase their budgets and how much they get in state aid per student. The House bill calls for a 2% increase.

The House Appropriations Committee voted out the Medicaid Expansion Bill (SF 296), but only after they replaced all language with a single amendment that included a few lines saying this bill would create the Healthy Iowa Plan.  This is what people call a "shell bill" - it simply states what the bill is about, but doesn't provide details.   Republicans want to amend the Governor's Medicaid Expansion alternative (called the "Healthy Iowa Plan") into the bill, but the proposal was not yet ready when the bill was debated. Democrats on the committee were upset that the plan wasn't yet available, and that time is running short for such a complicated discussion. However, since that time, the Governor's plan was released.

House Republicans plan to amend the committee amendment (the "shell") to include the Governor's plan or a hybrid of it.  House Democrats are frustrated by this strategy, as it limits their ability to debate the bill as passed by the Senate. You see, House rules do not allow "third degree" amendments - that is, an amendment to an amendment to an amendment.  So, if the House Committee "shell" amendment is the first amendment, the Governor's Healthy Iowa Plan would be the second amendment.  No "third" amendments are allowed to that amendment.  What legislators do agree on is that they want to get the bill moving and into conference committee as soon as they can, so legislators can begin the lengthy process of negotiating a compromise on this politically charged issue.  Just don't expect a short debate!

Finally, the House has moved all its assigned budget bills except Infrastructure to the Senate (Administration/Regulation, Education, Federal Block Grant, and Transportation).  The Senate is working on it's list, but only Economic Development has been passed out.  Agriculture/Natural Resources is on the calendar ready for debate; Justice Systems and the Judiciary budgets are ready for committee action next week; and Health/Human Services is still being drafted.  The Standings budget will also start in the Senate, but you usually won't see it until the final week of session.  Work on budgets will pick up next week.

So hold on to your hats, this ride is likely to get pretty bumpy over the next few weeks.