With less than three weeks to go in this session, lawmakers are scrambling to get things done. We are actually in pretty good shape time-wise, but everything must fall into place in perfect order.
As of now, all budget bills have passed in at least one chamber, except the massive Human Services bill.
Three bills have passed both chambers and will now to conference committee where Representatives and Senators will meet to work out compromises. One bill has even been sent to the Governor for his consideration.This is the Transportation Appropriations bill which I floor managed here in the House.I would guess that a couple more will head to conference committees next week, so we are well on our way to adjournment.
Two topics which may make our shutdown messy deal with education reform and property tax relief. It would appear that the Senate has no interest in taking up an education reform bill this year.
Several property tax proposals that were sent from the House have also stalled in the Senate.At least there are some negotiations going on with this one, so I am optimistic something will pass and be signed by the Governor. If however, we fail to compromise in the next few weeks, we could adjourn for the year, and the Governor would have to call us back this summer to work on these two issues.
The Governor is tough and experienced.When he wants something, we will fight tooth and nail for it.Plus, he has several powerful tools at his disposal ñ the line-item veto and the simple veto. There was talk earlier in the session that the Governor was considering vetoing the entire budget if property tax reform did not take place. I hope that does not happen, but as you can see, the Governor does have the upper hand at times.
On Wednesday, we caucused for quite some time to begin discussion on the mental health redesign. Senate File 2315 implements much of the work done last summer and fall by workgroups set up by the Department of Human Services and a legislative interim committee. Beginning in FY 2014, Iowa's mental health and disability services system will change dramatically.
As of this writing, several legislators were still meeting to discuss money and final details, so I will not make comments on the bill right now. This is very complicated legislation, and I hope we are doing the right thing and that we get it right.
Also on Wednesday, the House amended the Senate Infrastructure bill and sent it back across the rotunda.I floor managed the bill, and the process went smoothly. Debate lasted for about an hour and a half, which is not bad.
I've run this bill for a number of years, and sometimes it takes 4 or 5 hours to get through all of the amendments and debate. This bill appropriates dollars to a variety of agencies and departments. The money comes from gambling revenues and funds maintenance projects around the state as well as things such as lake restoration and soil conservation.
We also provided some infrastructure dollars for our Community Colleges and continued to fund several building projects at our Regents Universities. The total list of programs and projects is long and there is not room here to name every one. My charge as chairman of the Infrastructure budget committee is to put together a bill that focuses on infrastructure and at the same time, keep the legislation from becoming a Christmas Tree. I believe that is exactly what we did.
Finally, the House passed the huge education budget this week. During debate and discussion, it was revealed that the Regents Universities are setting aside a portion of tuition payments to offer as scholarships to other students.
What this means is that on average, 21.3% of the tuition paid to the schools is set aside for scholarships.I'm running out of space, but this is an intriguing story and I will write about it in more detail at a later time.
You may reach me at the Capitol during the week by phoning me at 515-281-3221, or at home on weekends at 712-434-5880. You may write me at the State Capitol, Des Moines, Iowa 50319.
My home address is P.O. Box 398, Aurelia, Iowa 51005. If you have email, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.