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Bills live and die in face of Iowa Legislative funnel (List)

Scores of bills fall victim to legislative 'funnel'

The State of Iowa Law Library at the State Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)
The State of Iowa Law Library at the State Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

DES MOINES — Plans to ban cellphone use while driving, make children attend school until age 18, require Iowans to show a photo ID to vote and offer gamblers a smoke-free casino experience fell victim Thursday to a deadline requiring committee approval to remain alive for more work this legislative session.

However, 11th-hour efforts in the House and Senate enabled bills seeking to rewrite portions of state gun regulations, expand broadband opportunities in Iowa and require doctors to provide an ultrasound image of a pregnant woman’s fetus to her before performing an abortion to advance in the legislative process.

“I’d say for the most part all of our priorities are alive,” Senate President Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, said on Thursday, on the eve of the self-imposed “funnel” deadline for non-money measures to clear a standing committee in the House or Senate to remain eligible for further consideration this session.

As the split-control Legislature is not in session Friday, any bills not exempt as appropriations or tax-policy measures effectively became ineligible in the winnowing process.

Most “must-do” measures championed by majority Democrats in the Senate and majority Republicans in the House survived, along with most of Gov. Terry Branstad’s policy priorities. Those include an anti-bullying bill for schools and measures dealing with broadband incentives and tougher laws to combat domestic violence — although the latter two were carved up and provisions may show up in other bills that survived the funnel deadline.

“We don’t expect the Legislature is going to approve, verbatim, our recommendations,” said Branstad. “But we are pleased our top priorities have passed out of committee in some form.”

House Democratic Leader Mark Smith of Marshalltown lamented that the funnel “has not been kind to our members,” with scores of proposals offered by minority House Democrats and minority Republican senators headed to the Capitol paper recycling bins. While disappointed with his losses, he was equally glad to see Republican ideas he viewed as “right-wing extreme” measures “disguised as mainstream legislation” fall by the wayside.

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Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, said his members offered a number of common-sense solutions that went ignored, but he was buoyed by Senate Judiciary Committee passage of a bill by a 10-3 margin that included provisions that would bolster gun rights for Iowans.

Backers of the bill said it faced considerable revisions and faced an uncertain future in the Senate.

“Any time we can further promote and protect Iowa’s law-abiding citizens for their rights to keep and bear arms, I think we should be supportive of that,” Dix said.

“We’ll look at that proposal when it comes to the floor. But that’s clearly a guiding fundamental principle that we are going to adhere to, ... protecting law-abiding citizens.”

The bill is a wide-ranging measure that seeks to clean up Iowa’s permit process for carrying weapons, increase training requirements, create a weapons-permit database accessible to law enforcement, make firearms suppressors legal, require people carrying weapons to have their carry permit on them, and allow parents to let children possess handguns while under their direct supervision with no age restriction.

Committee chairman Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center, said he has members of his Democratic caucuses who have mixed feeling about provisions of the bill so he ran a separate bill to legalize the use of suppressors to preserve that proposal for future action.

“At this point in time, it is clear to me there is not yet a consensus,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs.

“There are people of good faith working together on that issue. We will see if they find consensus. There are multiple sticking points for people.”

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Across the rotunda, the House Transportation Committee did not take up a bill that proposed to ban hand-held cellphone use while driving and address other distracted driving activities, but chairman Rep. Josh Byrnes, R-Osage, said a bill dealing with distracted driving is eligible in the Senate so the issue could be revived via the amending process.

“I’d say it’s still alive and well. We’re waiting for it to come over from the Senate,” said Byrnes, who also allowed to succumb to the funnel a bill trying to get slower drivers on interstate highways to stay in the right lane.

With only Republicans supporting, the House Human Resources Committee passed House File 58, a measure that would require doctors to give an ultrasound before performing an abortion. Democrats called the proposal an intrusion into the medical process, while supporters said it would help expectant mothers make an informed decision before opting for an abortion.

Also Thursday, Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, lamented the demise of a bill he championed to raise the compulsory school age from 16 to 18 which failed to clear committee.

“We kind of ran out of time this year,” Quirmbach said. “It often takes multiple years to introduce new ideas and to educate people and to move them along.”

He noted that a bill he introduced several years ago to ban minors from tanning salons went nowhere in past sessions. But it appears it might have the momentum to get to the governor’s desk having cleared committee hurdles in the House and Senate.

Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, made another attempt Thursday to pass a law that would pass constitutional muster in sentencing juvenile offenders who have been convicted of class-A murder. High courts at the federal and state levels have called life prison terms without parole cruel and unusual punishment.

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill, 10-3, that would give judges in Iowa discretion to impose one of three sentences — life without parole, life with immediate parole or life with parole after a defined term of years but without specifying that term of years.

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“I think it’s the only realistic chance of getting to the governor’s desk that is also consistent with the constitution,” he said.

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