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Legislature going into extra innings

Published: Monday, May 6, 2013 11:57 a.m. CDT

Recently in Major League Baseball, the New York Mets and Miami Marlins played an exhausting 15 inning game.  Eventually, the Marlins emerged victorious with a 4-3 win in this marathon contest that lasted no less than 5 hours and 31 minutes and stretched into the wee hours of the next morning. 

I am not quite sure how many die-hard fans were left in the stadium at the close of this game, however, one thing was for certain: no player from either team was going home until one of them scored the winning run.

In this respect, baseball is kind of like the Iowa General Assembly.  We are required, by law, to pass a balanced budget before we can adjourn this year’s session.  Until both the House and Senate can agree on a budget, none of the “players” will be going home.

May 3 was supposed to be the last of the scheduled 110-day session for 2013.  However, due to various circumstances, this year’s legislative session will once again go into “extra innings.”

As you might expect, given the current dynamics of the Iowa Legislature — the House is controlled by Republicans and the Senate by Democrats — there has been very little agreement on the various budgets which has sent them to conference committee.

Each conference committee is comprised of 10 members, five from the House and five from the Senate.  For each chamber, three of the five members come from the majority party and two members come from the minority party.

So each conference committee is made up of five Democrats and five Republicans.

The conference committee is charged with the task of crafting a compromise solution that will pass both chambers, forwarding these budget bills on to the Governor’s desk for his approval and bringing an end to this year’s legislative session. 

Currently, the following budget bills are in conference committee: Administration & Regulation; Agriculture & Natural Resources; Economic Development; Education; Health & Human Services; and Justice Systems, with the likelihood of more to follow.  This scenario has been repeated in recent years, so unfortunately it is not a surprise for either side.

What is most inexcusable about this, though, is the background that sets up this appalling state of affairs.  There is a large amount of frustration that comes from time being wasted during the 110 days of the scheduled session. 

There seemed to be many days, especially in the Senate, where little, if any, business was conducted and it was not uncommon for legislative business to be “wrapped up for the week” by Wednesday afternoon (after only really getting started on Tuesday).

What’s more is that yet again this year there seems to be a large volume of bipartisan bills coming out of the House that appear to be going nowhere in the Senate.  I can understand the Senate leadership holding up House bills that passed on a party line vote, but how can you excuse holding up a bill that passed the House 99-0 (House File 477) way back on March 12?!

Recently in talking with a fellow House freshman, he told me in an exasperated tone, “If I were to run my business the way this place [the Legislature] runs, I’d be broke in two weeks!” 

Even though this colleague and I are on different sides of the political aisle, we share a common frustration with how slowly work gets done. 

Why does this seem to be the case?  I am sure there is more than one reason, but I believe a major component of the lethargic action of the Legislature is political manipulation.

We are blessed in this state to have a citizen-run, bi-vocational legislature.  For the most part, there are very few career politicians in the Iowa General Assembly. 

However, those that do exist, understand that those of us who have lives outside of politics are anxious to get home when the allotted time for the Legislature has expired.  They (the professional politicians) use this restlessness as leverage to get what they want towards the end of the session. 

The pressure becomes even more intense as the session drags on past the legislators’ compensation.

This kind of political foot dragging is inexcusable and a disservice to the people and taxpayers of Iowa!  As only one of 150 members of the Iowa Legislature, I cannot do much to end this nonsense other than bring awareness to it and encourage the citizens of Iowa to hold their respective Representatives and Senators accountable should they continue to engage in this political game of “chicken”.

Just like in baseball, extra innings will be very exhausting both for the participant and the spectator. It’s unfortunate that certain players were not engaged enough in the first nine innings of the legislative process to wrap up the game in regulation.

However, one thing is for certain, the game will not be over until we resolve our budget differences.  Let’s hope it doesn’t last as long as 15 innings.

I appreciate and welcome your comments and feedback. Please feel free to contact me with your issues or concerns as they arise either by phone (515-281-3221), email (greg.heartsill@legis.iowa.gov), or in person when visiting the Capitol or a town hall forum. 

Also, if you would like to subscribe to my weekly electronic newsletter, please send a quick note via e-mail and I’ll put you on the list.

Friday, May 10, I will be at the Sully City Hall at 3 p.m.; and finish at Monroe City Hall at 5:30 p.m. I hope to see you at one of these forums.

I am honored to be your representative in the Iowa General Assembly.

Until next time, God bless!

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