2019 Legislative Session - Week 8

Posted on Friday, March 8, 2019

Lawmakers raced bills through the committee process this week as Friday’s funnel deadline approached.  Most legislation that hasn’t passed subcommittee and full committee in the House or Senate by now is officially “dead” for the 2019 session.  Some measures are exempt from funnel—generally those dealing with government oversight, taxes and spending.  That means the vast majority of policy-focused bills are now either dead or eligible for debate on the House and Senate floors.  With that in mind, lawmakers will begin shifting their attention toward tax cuts, generating revenue and budget appropriations.

Several of Governor Kim Reynolds’ top priorities cleared funnel.  In the Senate, the Human Resources Committee passed SF 348, which would allow pharmacists to dispense hormonal birth control to adult women without a doctor’s prescription.  The committee also approved a bill, SSB 1197, that would address children’s mental health treatment by creating the Children’s Behavioral Health System Board.  On the House side, a proposal to amend the Iowa constitution to restore felon voting rights passed out the Judiciary Committee.  Reynolds pushed for this change in her January Condition of the State address.  Even if HSB 68 passes both the House and Senate this year, however, it would need to clear both chambers again in 2021 or 2022 before Iowans can consider the amendment at the ballot box.

Another elections-related measure also made the funnel deadline.  HF 608 would create a system to track and count mailed-in absentee ballots, including by reading postal bar codes.  This measure arose from November’s contested House District 55 election.  Initially, incumbent Rep. Michael Bergan (R-Dorchester) won the race by nine votes.  Democratic challenger Kayla Koether argued that a county auditor wrongly disqualified 29 absentee ballots due to lack of a postmark.  Although the ballots’ postal bar codes indicated they were mailed on time, whether they qualified as “intelligent bar codes” that could be used in lieu of a postmark was an open question.  The House opened for legislative session with the race still undecided.  A special contest committee in February voted to seat Bergan on a party-line vote, as did the full House.  On Tuesday, the House State Government Committee unanimously approved HF 608, sending it to the full House for consideration.

Next Friday will mark another key legislative milestone, with the Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) meeting.  Every December, the REC gathers to determine if the money in state coffers matches their previous projections.  They also estimate how much more tax revenue the state should rake in by the end of the fiscal year in June.  Using that information, the REC gives lawmakers a preliminary budget number.  That’s the figure the House and Senate majorities use to determine their budget targets early in the legislative session. The March REC is essentially a “spot check” on the December projection, to ensure that the state actually has the money the legislature is spending.