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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — The 2021 legislative session is going to go into overtime as top Republicans try to hammer out differences that are holding up adjournment.
Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said lawmakers will be at the Statehouse in May to complete their work given that agreements between the House and Senate have been elusive in cutting taxes and funding several priorities that have dogged legislators most of the 107 days they have been at the Capitol.
Both chambers also still have major work to do to pass an $8 billion-plus state spending plan for fiscal 2022.
Representatives debated bills Tuesday, and senators likely will engage in floor action Wednesday and maybe Thursday. But Friday — the last day lawmakers receive daily expense funding — will come and go without a clear path to adjournment emerging from closed-door negotiations among Statehouse Republicans, he said.
“We will adjourn at some point. It might be a week or so,” Whitver said in an interview. “We’re having good conversations with the governor, working with the House trying to find those common interests to end a successful session.
“The House passed over a lot of different bills and we passed over a lot of bills, and they’re not always on the same page. So it’s just trying to figure out what their priorities are, what our priorities are and making sure we can pass bills to keep moving the state forward,” he said.
Whitver said conducting legislative business during the COVID-19 pandemic has posed some unique challenges. As with other years when issues reached a temporary impasse, he expected some session days may be paused going forward to allow legislators/farmers who have to do field work or have other obligations to stay away from the Capitol while top leaders and key committee chairs negotiate.
For Senate Republicans, a successful session means lifting the 2018 income tax “triggers” to advance rate reductions and system reforms and implementing a transition to move mental health funding from local property taxpayers to the state general fund while boosting and improving service delivery.
However, House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, told reporters last week his GOP caucus is not sold on the state takeover of mental health services without better understanding the implications for managing a system now run by 14 regions and 99 counties.
Without some “guardrails” for ensuring equitable, quality services, Grassley said, “I don't see even any interest in the House to even begin down that path.”
On Tuesday, Whitver said “we certainly are open to changes, to guardrails, to whatever we have to put in there to make sure that bill becomes law. I think a lot of that is technicalities. It would be really disappointing to see a bill like that go down over technical differences. We’re completely open-minded to any changes they want to make.”
While some agreements may emerge, other bills may stall as lawmakers focus on a narrowing list of priorities.
For instance, senators sent the House a bill proposing sanctions for high-tech companies perceived by backers to be censoring free speech, particularly conservative voices, but representatives have narrowed the bill’s focus and put the issue in legislative limbo as efforts to end the session intensify.
“It’s something the Senate believed in and sent over to the House,” Whitver noted. “It just hasn’t seen a lot of traction yet. I guess it would be up to them if it passes or not, but it just doesn’t seem to have had a lot of momentum.”
The Senate leader said his GOP caucus is willing to stay as long as it takes to accomplish what they think their constituents sent them to do
“They ran for office to do something, not be somebody, and they want to get things done. If you have to stay longer, that’s OK,” Whitver noted.
“The session doesn’t have to end at 110 days. That’s just the day that we stop getting paid. I know a lot of our people are more than happy to stay around on their own dime to make sure that we get this legislation passed.”
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