116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Proposed income tax cuts are on the move and work on the next state budget has started earlier than normal, pleasing majority Republican statehouse leaders.
From the minority, statehouse Democrats are frustrated by what they consider a lack of action on workforce issues and inadequate funding for public schools and attacks on teachers.
The 2022 session of the Iowa Legislature cleared its first hurdle Thursday as work concluded at the first funnel — a self-imposed deadline designed to keep lawmakers working and to whittle away legislation that does not have a future.
“Excited today that we’re finishing up a very successful funnel week,” Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said Thursday. Gov. Kim Reynolds “laid out a very bold and ambitious agenda at the beginning of session. I’m very happy and proud that the Senate has advanced almost that entire agenda.”
House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, was similarly pleased with the first six weeks of the session.
“We feel pretty good about following through with the commitments that were made at the beginning of session,” Grassley said. “Moving forward, budget discussions and continued tax conversations will obviously be happening.”
Dems not happy
Thus far, only one bill has passed both chambers and made it to Reynolds’ desk — the bill that set state funding for K-12 public education for the next school year.
Reynolds signed that bill into law Thursday. It set state funding at $3.58 billion, with state per-pupil funding increasing by 2.5 percent over the current budget year.
Democrats, however, said that funding level is insufficient to help school districts that are playing catch-up to years of small funding increases and now inflation.
More broadly, House Minority Leder Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, said she believes lawmakers had a chance this session to move issues forward but to date have taken a step backward.
“We had a lot of opportunities to move forward. We had a lot of opportunities to fight for working families,” Konfrst said.
“Democrats stood tall fighting for working families. Republicans fought for special interests, corporations and millionaires. And we have example after example of that.”
Legislation that has not yet been approved by both a subcommittee and full committee no longer is eligible to be considered for the remainder of the session.
That deadline does not apply to budget bills or tax proposals. And leaders can resurrect bills through legislative maneuvers, though those are not regularly employed.
But by and large, bills that did not survive this week’s funnel will be left on the legislative scrap heap, and lawmakers will focus on the ones that did pass.
“We’ll take some time to regroup here after the funnel concludes,” Grassley said. “A lot of bills have moved through the process … . (We) decide what of those we’re going to take action on as a caucus.”
One of the biggest decisions facing House Republicans is whether to approve a proposal to significantly expand taxpayer funding of private school tuition assistance. The proposal is supported by Reynolds and Senate Republicans, and Reynolds this week reiterated her support for the measure at a news conference at a Catholic school in Des Moines.
House Republicans balked at a bill last year and are considering a new approach this year.
“I can’t predict what the end result is, ultimately, but we’re going to continue to have that conversation, obviously, in the House,” Grassley said. “We’d like to work through that.
“It’s a very different plan than the governor went through last year. I think the plan will be to work through that, as a caucus, have further discussions, and see what something may look like where we can get the support.”
One topic not on the Republican post-funnel agenda is reducing penalties for marijuana laws or expanding the state’s medical cannabis program, which dismayed Konfrst, the House Minority leader.
She said many Iowans continue to tell legislators the current medical cannabis program is too restrictive, and she believes lawmakers should debate the legalization of marijuana.
“That’s all we’re asking for, is to talk about it,” Konfrst said. “It’s a complicated issue, and we think it deserves hearing up here at the Capitol. …. This is an issue that Iowans deserve to debate.”
When the session resumes next week, the two chambers likely will begin having more floor debate on the bills they just passed through committees. Some of the topics that may be up for floor debate soon include the Senate’s tax cuts bill and the governor’s proposal to require the E15 blend of ethanol at most Iowa gas stations.
Lawmakers also may begin work on the state budget. Reynolds and House and Senate Republican leaders all have announced their budget proposals, each of which is roughly in the $8.2 billion range — a small increase from this year’s $8.1 billion budget and well below the $9 billion they are authorized to spend.
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