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Neighbors Growing Together | Oct 22, 2017

Unresolved issues in capitol likely to be decided or dropped

By James Q. Lynch and Rod Boshart, Gazette Des Moines Bureau | Apr 24, 2017

DES MOINES — After 20 years of sharing control with Democrats at the Iowa Capitol, Republicans this year used their majorities in both the House and Senate to pass landmark legislation for a GOP governor.

As this year’s legislative session neared the end, lawmakers depending on party affiliation on Friday either congratulated themselves or declared disaster.

The session seemed sure to spill into today, with major issues including funding for water quality improvements, expansion of the state’s medical cannabis program and the must-do budget unresolved.

“We will very likely look back on this session as being genuinely historic in the efficiency, the quantity — the quality, I hope — of the work that was accomplished,” House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said as the Legislature shuffled toward adjournment after 103 days and-counting in session.

Gov. Terry Branstad, who has had GOP majorities in both chambers just three of his 23 years as governor, appreciated the team effort.

“I think it ranks as one of the most productive and significant of all of the years I’ve served,” he said about the session.

For Democrats, the session was a nightmare, a “special interest, out-of-state agenda with attacks on workers, attacks on women and attacks on working families,” said Senate Minority Leader Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids.

The parties spent most of Friday in caucuses behind closed doors to decide what to do, if anything, about funding water quality projects, expanding access to medical cannabis and the $3.7 billion standings bill that combines policy with a laundry list of spending.

Lawmakers also cleaned their desks, took end-of-session photos and traded rumors on adjournment.

House Republicans were trying to decide late Friday whether to go along with the Senate on medical marijuana. Senators had approved an expanded measure to allow making and dispensing cannabis products in Iowa for adults to legally possesses and administer under a doctor’s direction to treat up to 18 “debilitating” medical conditions.

The other option was to lift a July 1 expiration on Iowa’s current but limited law and make the pot-based epilepsy drug Epidiolex available if it gets federal approval.

Another late sticking point was water quality.

The House and Senate each approved a water quality improvement plan, but were refusing to agree on which one — if either — to send to the governor to sign.

The Senate version would appropriate $744 million earmarked for specific purposes. The House plan calls for $513 million, but included a bonding feature that floor manager Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, said “explodes the funding possibilities” and would give preferences collaborative efforts involving cities, industries, rural landowners and others.

The must-do standings bill, Senate File 516, included a number of unrelated budget issues — cutting $440,000 in legislative branch expenditures next year, limiting non-public school transportation to $8.2 million for the next two fiscal years and appropriating $150,000 for Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds’ transition to the governor’s office when Branstad eventually leaves to become U.S. ambassador to China.

Before adjourning, the Senate voted 42-6 Friday to expand traffic enforcement powers for Iowa Department of Transportation officers to issue citations for one year.

Lawmakers will revisit the issue before deciding how to proceed in what was described as a “turf conflict” with the Iowa Department of Public Safety, which houses the State Patrol.

The state faces a lawsuit over Iowa DOT powers that Waterloo Sen. Jeff Danielson, one of six Democrats who opposed the amended version of House File 463, said could “cost us millions of dollars” in traffic fines if the agency loses the case.

If history is written by the winners, this session will go down as a victory on Senate President Jack Whitver’s score card.

“We didn’t get everything done, but we accomplished a lot of really big policy changes that I think that are going to benefit this state for years and years to come,” the Ankeny Republican said.

Or. Hogg predicted, until 2018 when voters throw Republicans out in favor of Democrats.

“I think Iowans will bring us back in 2018 because I don’t think this is what they wanted last November when they went to the polls,” he said.

Voters flipped control of the Senate, giving the GOP a 29-21 advantage over Democrats, and increased an existing Republican majority in the House to 59-41.

House Minority Leader Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, called the session “the worst session in history for women, children and seniors.”

Restrictions to public employee collective bargaining, workers’ compensation and tort reform that limits damages in medical malpractice and asbestos cases are bad bills, Smith said. If Democrats scored any wins, he said, it was in what didn’t happen.

“I remember the old Nixon thing, ‘He kept our boys out of Northern Ireland.’” Smith said. “We did not have the voucher program for education go through, and we consider that a major victory.”

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