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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Minimum wage hike, pre-abortion ultrasound among Iowa bills dropped for Funnel Week
DES MOINES — Bills dealing with raising the state's minimum wage and establishing a pre-abortion ultrasound requirement for women were among scores of issues that reached the end of their 2015 legislative life at the state Capitol on Thursday.
Friday marks a self-imposed deadline for policy measures to pass through one legislative chamber and a standing committee of the other house to remain eligible for consideration in the split-control Legislature's session, which is expected to shut down in May. However, the Iowa House and Iowa Senate will not be in session again until Monday following an Easter-weekend break.
With Republicans controlling the House and Democrats holding sway in the Senate for a fifth straight year, generally only bills that garnered bipartisan support were moving forward. Ideas with a more ideological bent were ushered to the sidelines.
'It's just been a miserable session in terms of seeing good legislation go to the House, and die and really nothing coming back of any significance,' said Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, in assessing what he viewed as a 'sleepy' session.
'It's been one of the slowest and least-productive sessions I've ever seen,' said Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines. 'I think we should do the budget tomorrow and go home.'
Sen. Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, also thought the pace was slow. With the 'exact same makeup for five years,' he said, 'everything we can agree on has kind of been agreed on.'
Thursday's funnel shutdown was devoid drama that has marked past sessions. But one surprise was the announcement by Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Tod Bowman, D-Maquoketa, that legislation seeking to regulate ride-sharing companies such as Uber was being tabled because there was not sufficient time to address concerns, particularly over inconsistencies with how taxi services are regulated.
Uber is operating in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines and is considering the Quad Cities. Some cities have set local ordinances, but a House bill sought to create statewide regulations.
The senators voted to approve House bills that would require five-year renewals of handicapped parking permits and require citations issued using automated traffic cameras to detail how the revenue would be used.
House File 588 would eliminate permanent handicap parking permits and require long-term permit holders to renew them, with a physician's approval, every five years, while House File 597 requires any traffic camera citation include an itemized list of fines and fees, and the revenue that any entity will receive as a result.
The Senate Judiciary Committee passed bills dealing with synthetic and imitation drugs, disorderly conduct at funerals and sexual exploitation by school employees, while the Senate Human Resources Committee established a system for tracking psychiatric beds in the state but adjourned without addressing a bill that would require doctors to provide an ultrasound image of a woman's fetus before performing an abortion.
'A handful of Democrats have refused to allow a subcommittee on 20 pro-life bills filed over the past five years, so they are just repeating a pattern,' said Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan.
He added he was 'absolutely appalled' that he was not allowed to make a statement as ranking GOP member at the close of the committee's last 2015 meeting.
Committee Chairwoman Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Cedar Rapids, said the ultrasound bill that came from the Iowa House was 'medically unnecessary' and ran counter to allowing women and men in Iowa to make their own medical decisions.
Across the rotunda, the House Local Government Committee approved a Senate bill that would bar a county board from approving the payment of a separation allowance or severance pay to county officials elected to serve as auditor, treasurer, recorder, sheriff, county attorney or supervisor.
Thursday marked the end for a Senate bill that sought to ensure legislative oversight of a Medicaid managed-care transformation plan being pushed by Gov. Terry Branstad. But Senate President Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, said she expected the issue to resurface during budget negotiations.
Similarly, a Senate-passed bill seeking to reduce the criminal penalty for first-time marijuana possession died in a House committee, but Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center, said it could become an amendment to the bill dealing with synthetic drugs.Another bill that sought to raise the state sales tax by three-eighths of 1 cent for natural resources and outdoor recreation uses failed to survive the funnel, but Sen. Dick Dearden, D-Des Moines, said it could become a Ways and Means Committee issue that is 'funnel-proof.' The same status preserved a bill to legalize the possession, sale, and use of fireworks for future debate.
'We've got a live round,' said Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel. 'I'm optimistic it will get debated this session.'
House Democratic Leader Mark Smith of Marshalltown said he was disappointed majority GOP representatives refused to consider a 'modest' raise in the state minimum from $7.25 an hour to $8.75 an hour by July 2016. 'It would help about 180,000 Iowans have better money to spend in the state of Iowa and fell on deaf ears,' he said.