Deadline week at the Capitol ended prematurely this week when reports of the "snow storm of the year" came out. The House rushed through committee work on Wednesday in order to send their people home before the storm hit on Thursday afternoon. The Senate followed suit with all but three committees, which decided to defy nature and finish up their work without forcing quick debate.
Bad things sometimes happen in the rush to get through the funnel. Bills and amendments are written in haste, and votes taken with promises that the legislation is "a work in progress." That means imperfect bills emerge from committees, whose main jobs are really to perfect the bills before they hit the floor. As you look through bills of interest, you might find some things that need to be changed with the surviving bills.
So as you look ahead at the next couple of weeks, legislators will be spending most of their time in floor debate, moving bills off their calendars and over to the other chamber for ongoing committee work. Amendments will be offered to perfect those imperfect bills, and get them fixed before moving on to the other chamber for ongoing discussion.
The next funnel deadline will be in just three short weeks - about 11 working days. Bills that want to continue their path to becoming law need to have passed the House or Senate, and be out of the other chamber's committee by Friday, March 14. After that date, only the Appropriations and Ways and Means Committees will continue to meet regularly, as bills coming out of those committees are considered funnel-proof.
Budget subcommittees are also wrapping up their work in the next week or two, with most discussions going on behind the scenes. The rumors of joint targets may be greatly exaggerated. Republicans controlling the House are concerned about the State Auditor's report that the Governor's proposed budget overspends by $144 million. Democrats that control the Senate say the state is sitting on nearly $1 billion in reserves and should use some of that to pay for much-needed infrastructure and other one-time investments.
So while leaders continue to work on a joint target, it may be mid-March when new revenue estimates are released before the two sides come together on a final budget number.In the meantime, budget subcommittee chairs are getting their budgets ready, making language changes, and setting priorities for funding. So now is the time to put the pressure on for your funding priorities.
While this year is largely just a "budget year," due to the passage of so many broad policy initiatives last session, there are a few policy questions the Legislature is attempting to address this session. Among those policy issues would be the future of the Iowa Juvenile Home / State Training School for Girls, making texting while driving a primary offense (meaning you can be pulled over for doing it) and anti-bullying legislation. There are also a number of bills dealing with guns, abortion, minimum wage and other hot-button issues, most of which will probably pass one chamber of the Legislature but die in the other chamber.