Philosophical divide thwarts Iowa Legislature's 2013 output
“Both sides are more rigid and we don't have the flexibility we used to have”
DES MOINES – Divided government continued to dampen the output of Iowa Legislature in 2013.
Republicans in the Iowa House and Democrats in the Iowa Senate who hold controlling majorities in their respective chambers managed to agree on 146 bills and joint resolutions that passed both chambers in the same forms this year. That compared with 138 in 2011 and 142 in 2012 – also sessions when control was split between Republicans who held sway in the House and Democrats who narrowly controlled the Senate.
Before that, the lowest number of enrolled bills and joint resolutions approved in recent years was 184 during the second session of the 79th General Assembly in 1999, the first session of the 81st General Assembly in 2005, and again during the first session of the 83rd General Assembly in 2009.
By contrast, the 73rd General Assembly sent then-Gov. Terry Branstad a combined 602 bills during its 1989 and 1990 sessions. Since then, lawmakers gradually have lowered their legislative output to where the annual bill total has exceeded 200 only twice in the past 12 years.
Lawmakers say the three straight years of below-average legislative output are a result of divided government. Republicans hold a 53-47 edge in the Iowa House and Democrats narrowly control the Iowa Senate with a 26-24 majority.
“I think in the split-control Legislature, the bigger issues on the docket was where more time was invested and there was less time invested in those bills people knew had little likelihood of getting to the governor’s desk,” said Rep. Tom Sands, R-Wapello, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Sen. Wally Horn, D-Cedar Rapids, agreed that a lot of measures fell victim to the Legislature’s philosophical divide.
“There were a lot of conservatives who wouldn’t let certain bills go through and there were a lot of liberals who wouldn’t let a lot of bills go through,” Horn said. “Both sides are more rigid and we don’t have the flexibility we used to have.”
Richard Johnson of the Legislative Services Agency said the 2,187 bill draft requests his agency received this year was down considerably compared to the first year of previous general assemblies, as were the amendments that were requested and filed.
“I think after several years of divided government, most of the individual members don’t put forward some of their requests that they know have little chance of consideration,” he said.
Johnson said some of the numbers are reflective of the fact that 2013 was “more of a leadership-driven session than others” with individual bill requests lagging but study bills sought by committee leaders exceeding the previous two sessions.
Also, the focus on reform efforts in education, property taxes, mental health and medical assistance expansion areas also relegated many other minor issues to the legislative sidelines during the 130-day session which concluded last month, he said.
“Every session is completely different and this certainly had a different flavor as well,” Johnson noted.
(James Lynch contributed to this story)
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Enrolled bills, joint resolutions passed by Iowa Legislature
Source: Legislative Services Agency