2019 Legislative Session - Week 12

Posted on Friday, April 5, 2019

Lawmakers raced bills through committee this week, scrambling to beat the second legislative “Funnel.”  Most policy measures that didn’t pass out of the House or Senate, and a full committee in the opposite chamber by Friday are dead for the remainder of session.  Tax, spending, government oversight, and leadership bills are largely exempt from this deadline.  With the bulk of their policy work concluded, legislators will now largely focus on next year’s budget.

Funnel:  The Policy Priorities that Lived and Died

A parliamentary maneuver in the House saved one of Governor Reynolds’s top agenda items.  SF 513 would allow adult women to obtain hormonal birth control without a doctor’s prescription.  The policy proposal would authorize pharmacists to dispense pills, patches, and rings through a “standing order.”  The measure overwhelmingly passed the Senate last week.  While the bill hasn’t yet had a subcommittee hearing in the House, by placing it on the Unfinished Business Calendar, which is exempt from Funnel, the bill remains eligible for consideration for the remainder of the year.

The House similarly placed a Senate bill that would change how some of the state’s judges and justices are appointed on the same unfinished business calendar.  Under Iowa’s current merit selection system, nominees to serve as district judges, appeals court judges, and Supreme Court justices must first clear a regional nominating commission.  Half of the commissioners are appointed by the governor, and the other half are attorneys elected by a single organization, the Iowa State Bar Association.  Citing recent court rulings and other policy considerations, some Republicans say the current system doesn’t allow for enough balance and accountability.  Among other things, SF 237 would replace bar association members on the appeals and Supreme Court commissions with selected by House and Senate GOP and Democratic leadership.  The district nominating commissions would remain unchanged.  The bill passed the Senate in March on a party-line vote.  Democrats argue this move would unnecessarily politicize Iowa’s court system, arguing the present practice is a model for the nation.

A bill favored by Senate Republicans failed to advance in the House.  Under SF 538, able-bodied Iowans would be required to work, attend school, or volunteer for a set number of hours each week to receive medicaid coverage.  Disabled Iowans, those with mental health conditions, and other health exemptions within the bill would be exempt.  Democrats strongly oppose the proposal, saying it would result in higher costs and more red tape.  The bill passed the Senate in March on a party-line vote, but did not advance in the House.

In both the Senate and House, legalizing sports betting remains a live issue with bi-partisan support.  SF 366 would allow Iowans to set up online accounts through one of the state’s 19 casinos, which would administer the new sports betting program.  Gambling would be permitted on-site at the casinos or online. The proposal would also prohibit “prop betting” in certain circumstances, which is  wagering on individual aspects of gameplay beyond the final outcome, such as points scored by individual players.  A Ways and Means subcommittee recommended amendment and passage of the bill this week.  The committee is immune from funnel deadlines, making the measure eligible for consideration throughout the remainder of session.  The House has a similar bill eligible for floor debate, HF 648.

The fate of a House proposal remains an open question in the Senate.  A bill that would tweak the state’s medical marijuana law, HF 732 passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.  Currently, Iowans with certain conditions can buy cannabidiol (cannabis oil) products with a doctor’s certification.  However, these medications can only contain 3 percent THC, which is the hallucinogenic agent in marijuana.  The House bill would change the cap from three percent to 25 grams over a specified period of time, which could make some cannabidiol products more potent to provide relief to a specified number of conditions.  It would also make other, more technical changes.  The proposal overwhelmingly passed the House.  Although the Senate committee also passed the bill, they amended it to strike the THC cap changes. 

A bill calling for a constitutional amendment to restore felon voting rights, HJR 14, passed subcommittee this week, but did not receive a full committee hearing in the Senate; consequently, the bill is not eligible for consideration for the remainder of session.  The bill passed the House on a near-unanimous vote last week, 95-2.  The proposed amendment to the constitution would allow felons to vote after serving their sentences.  Senate Judiciary Committee Chair, Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale), said Republicans in his chamber were concerned about how paying restitution would fit into the picture.  To make it to the ballot for voter consideration, a constitutional amendment must pass the House and Senate twice over a four-year period.

Focus Shifts to Budget in Final Weeks of Session

Even as lawmakers advanced policy measures through their respective chambers and committees this week, the House and Senate have begun work on budget bills for next year.  The full House has already passed Education and Block Grant Appropriations bills, HF 758 and HF 756.  Most initial budget proposals have been introduced and are working their way through both chambers.  Only the Standing Appropriations, or “Standings” bill, remains to be filed.  Standings is traditionally the last bill passed during legislative session, and often includes additional appropriations as well as miscellaneous budget and policy items.