Government Relations Report: First Funnel Week Edition

by Davis Brown Law Firm

This week marked the first major procedural deadline of the session, commonly referred to as the “funnel.” By March 8, House bills must have been voted out of a House committee and Senate bills must have been voted out of Senate committee in order for them to survive. The second funnel week is April 1-5, by which bills must be voted out of one chamber and a committee in the other chamber. With only three weeks until the second funnel deadline, the anticipated return of Senator Tom Courtney from heart bypass surgery on March 11 will be crucial. Without 26 votes the Democrats will not be able to begin clearing bills off of the debate calendar.

Ways and Means, Appropriations, and Government Oversight committee bills are “funnel-proof,” meaning that they are not subject to the two deadlines. These committees typically do not meet during funnel week to give other committees time to complete their work. As a result, little movement was seen this week on tax and budget issues.

Traffic Cameras

Eleven bills were filed this session to either ban or regulate the use of automatic traffic enforcement cameras. In the final days before the funnel deadline, rumors circulated that the certain members of the two chambers were working together to devise a compromise proposal. Despite that effort, none of those bills survived the funnel. However, let’s not forget last year when the same ban bill was funneled and then referred to the Appropriations and Ways and Means committees, and ultimately passed the House. Don’t count on this issue to be completely dead until we gavel out for the year.

Social Issues

Overall, the two chambers seem to be abandoning hot-button issues in favor of bills where compromise can be found. Both chambers allowed members to hold subcommittees on bill that energize their political base, but few made it through the funnel. House and Senate Joint Resolutions to amend the constitution to declare marriage between one man and one woman were funneled, as was the perennial personhood amendment proposed by six members of the House. Although it passed out of subcommittee, a bill to legalize medical marijuana also did not make the funnel deadline.

Gun Bills

Two bills passed the House Judiciary committee last week relating to guns. HF 75 would allow local governments to sell seized firearms and ammunition with a value less than $500. HF 81 requires local governments to keep confidential the names and addresses of holders of nonprofessional permits to carry weapons. An amendment was added to HF81 in committee to allow law enforcement access to the information in the course of an investigation. Gun bills that did not survive the funnel include an amendment to the constitution of Iowa to include a provision similar to the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, and a “stand your ground” bill with more than 30 co-sponsors.

Local Government Bills

Each year, there are numerous bills relating to local governments. This year is no exception. The House State Government committee passed HSB 75, a bill that would fundamentally change the way cities calculate special assessments, abandoning a 110-year old, court-tested formula. HSB 75 was reassigned to the House Ways & Means Committee. Also voted out of the House State Government committee was HF 60, a bill to allow an individual city to hold an election to impose a local option sales tax. Currently, a city cannot impose a local option sales tax unless it is also approved by the voters of the county and all continuous cities. The Senate State Economic Growth committee also passed the “Buy American” bill, SF 70, requiring American products to be used for public improvements.

Ed Reform

The Senate released its education reform plan this week. The plan matches up more closely with the plan originally introduced by the Governor, with one notable difference. The Senate plan includes 4 percent allowable growth, while the Governor has proposed zero allowable growth with more State money for schools. The House passed a scaled-back version of the Governor’s plan with 2 percent allowable growth last week. We expect a conference committee to be appointed this week to try for compromise on the bills.

Budget Projections

The House Republicans and Senate Democrats released their budget targets, and are about $500 million apart. House Republicans budget target comes in at $6.414 billion, and Senate Democrats are at $6.901 billion. The sticking point for this year’s budget continues to be whether and how to spend the state’s $800 million surplus. Republicans prefer to rebate that money to taxpayers; while Democrats have included some one-time money in their budget.

Tort Reform

In his condition of the state address, the Governor again proposed a certificate of merit and limitation of $1 million on non-economic damages for medical malpractice cases. The bill, HSB 36, was amended in the House Judiciary committee to replace the certificate of merit idea with medical malpractice panels that would review claims in malpractice suits. A Senate proposal on medical malpractice suits, SSB1236, was introduced late and did not survive the funnel. The bill put restrictions on exert witnesses, required suits to be tried in two years, and set up a health court pilot project and Department of Public Health Task Force on unnecessary medical procedures.

Although many bills did not survive the funnel, no bill is ever truly dead until the legislature adjourns. There are still plenty of ways to resurrect a bill. House and Senate leaders can turn any piece of legislation into a leadership bill, making it funnel-proof. Bills can be re-assigned to any of the funnel-proof committees to be considered. A legislator could also attach a previously dead bill as an amendment onto a live one. And when all else fails, an amendment can be added onto the standing appropriation bill, which is the last bill to be voted out of both chambers. The standings bill is intended to fix legislation that has already been passed, but inevitably becomes a “Christmas tree” of other amendments. So if your issue didn't survive the funnel - cheer up! There are still plenty of ways for it to be resurrected.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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