Iowa's Legislative 'funnel' causing demise of more 2013 bills

State-based health insurance exchange and firearm permit holder confidentiality may not make the cut

The clock was ticking Wednesday for a host of legislative ideas that backers were trying to keep away from the Statehouse recycling bin.

Issues dealing with anti-bullying measures in Iowa schools, establishing an Iowa-based health insurance exchange, limiting the use of restraints for pregnant prison inmates, and requiring public safety officials to keep the names of firearm permit holders confidential all appeared headed for their procedural demise in the split-control Legislature.

In the House, majority GOP legislators put the kibosh on separate bills requiring suicide-prevention training for teachers, implementing building changes to protect children from falls out of windows, mandating radon testing and mitigation efforts in Iowa schools and new residential construction, upgrading dietary guidelines for the Statehouse and public cafeterias, and implementing “Iowa first” preferences in state government purchasing procedures. In the Senate where Democrats hold sway, bills meeting their 2013 demise dealt with protections against taking land via eminent domain for recreation, parole for juvenile murderers after 45 years in prison, and shielding cities from liability for sledding-accident injuries on public property.

The cause for the growing legislative carnage was Friday’s second self-imposed “funnel” deadline that requires non-money measures to have cleared one legislative chamber and a standing committee in the other house to remain eligible for consideration this session.

Legislators used procedural moves to refer some pet bills to the safe haven of Ways and Means and Appropriations committees that are funnel-exempt to avoid Friday’s benchmark and buy more time. Bills dealing with Medicaid expansion and Gov. Terry Branstad’s healthy Iowa initiative, creating a missing children safety fund, and raising the state sales tax by 3/8 of a penny for natural resources purposes all successfully used that escape hatch, sponsors said.

“The funnel’s doing its job,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs. “That’s the purpose of the funnel – to weed out things that don’t have consistent, broad-based support.

“Those issues tend to go by the wayside in the funnel,” he added, “so we can get our focus to the bills that do seem to have support in both chambers and support in both caucuses and then get about the business of crafting a state budget.”

House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, R-Garner, said the flurry of committee action in the days leading up to the funnel makes it hard to keep track of issues no longer in play given the Legislature’s ideological divide, but attention is given to make certain that priorities like property tax reform and education reform are advancing.

“We’ve been very focused about the kinds of things we’ve sent over and, while they may not like each and every one of them, I don’t think anyone can argue that we’re sending a whole bunch of frivolous stuff to the Senate,” Upmeyer noted.

“I think we’re trying to be very diligent and focused about what we’re sending over and I think we’re looking very carefully at what they send to us,” she added. “Right at this moment I honestly don’t know what’s surviving and what isn’t, but I’m sure by Friday I will.”

The House majority leader said most of the fiscal 2014 budget bills are moving through the process although many will end up in House-Senate conference committees. She said she was optimistic the Legislature was on track to end its 2013 work sometime in May.

“All the bills that we need are moving, so I guess there’s an opportunity yet to get our work done in a timely fashion and I hope we stay busy and do that,” she said. Legislators’ per-diem expense money is slated to run out on May 3, which is the session’s 110th calendar day and a target for adjournment.

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