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Legislature still deadlocked on school funding

Other non-fiscal bills trickle through

Published: Thursday, May 14, 2015 11:24 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, May 14, 2015 1:56 p.m. CDT
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(File photo)
A bus pulls into the Newton Community School District transportation center on a recent morning. The state legislature has been deadlocked on K-12 education funding, so some Iowa legislators have placed their focus on other subjects, such as bills that would reschedule marijuana as a medicinal drug.
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(File photo)
Craig Miller Jr., a Newton native, shown here with his wife, Debbie, is one of many Iowans hoping the state legislature can pass a bill that would reschedule marijuana and allow medicinal cannabis to become a more practical reality for chronically ill for Iowans, such as Debbie. The Iowa Legislature is now in its second week of extra time in this year’s session, largely because K-12 education funding levels have not been approved.

As the state legislative struggles to reach an agreement on K-12 public education funding, other bills have been thrust into the limelight, while others have faded into the background. The session has lingered into May for the second consecutive year; May 1 was the final day legislators were paid per-diem expenses.

The school-funding debate, which is the main factor creating the “overtime” days, is a largely a partisan battle about how much state revenue is really available for spending. Democrats contend $7.341 billion can be spent on the K-12 budget, while Republicans claim only $7.175 billion is available — a difference of about $266 billion.

Jasper County legislators don’t have as large a role as others in deciding on education funding. Sen. Amy Sinclair (R-Allerton) is a ranking member of the education committee, but the dispute over K-12 funding is mostly between party leadership in both chambers.

One idea for a compromise is committing to the GOP’s proposed 1.25 percent increase, plus a one-time infusion of $55 million that would establish a middle ground between the partisan camps without violating House GOP principles of not taking surplus money to fund ongoing expenses.

“It’s a concept,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs) told the Associated Press. “It’s been discussed by both sides with some interest on both sides.”

Senate minority leader Bill Dix (R-Shell Rock) was skeptical about lawmakers being able to adjourn this week even with weekend work. “I just don’t see it happening,” he said.

Meanwhile, other bills have made some progress through the legislature in the overtime days of May. Medical marijuana legislation has made some headway, with both a bill in the House (HF 567) and one in the Senate (SF 484) making it past voting hurdles this month.

Both bills mention rescheduling marijuana on a different medical and law enforcement drug list on the state level, without addressing specific conflicts that come up regarding federal scheduling.

HF 567 was passed by the House by an 83-13 tally on March 17, with both Dan Kelley (D-Newton) and Greg Heartsill (R-Columbia) voting in favor. The Senate narrowly approved an amended HF 567 on May 5 by a 27-23 margin, with Sen. Chaz Allen (D-Newton) voting in favor of it and Sinclair voting against it.

The bill was amended by the Senate on May 7, and the House had not taken action on the Senate amendment as of press time Thursday.

SF 484 was passed by the Senate by a 26-19 vote on April 15, with Allen and Sinclair voting in favor and against it, respectively, as they’d done with HF 567.

Once taken up by the House, it was assigned to the House Committee on Public Safety, where Heartsill serves as a member. However, a fiscal note wasn’t added to the bill until May 5.

Allen cast one of the deciding votes Monday on HF 650, a bill that funds infrastructure projects, and is separate from the general fund. The bill, heavily amended in its Senate version, cleared the Senate on Monday by a 26-22 vote, with Sinclair among the senators opposed to it.

Both chambers assigned conference committees to reconcile the bill. It had been passed by the House on April 29 by a 97-1 vote, with Heartsill among the 97 “yes” votes and Kelley being the lone representative to vote against it.

In a news release, Allen said the legislation includes $500,000 for improvements to the Newton Correctional Facility during the next fiscal year, and $250,000 more in FY 2017.

“These investments are urgently needed to modernize the industrial kitchens at the facility, making them both more efficient and safer for everyone involved,” Allen said.

Allen said HF 650, as amended by the Senate, also includes $3 million for state’s Housing Trust Fund, $7 million for community attractions and tourism, $500,000 for regional sport authorities, $500,000 for rural YMCAs. $5 million for improvements to state parks, $6 million for recreational trails, $3.1 million to improve water quality, $9.6 million to clean up and improve Iowa lakes and $2 million for water trails and the removal of dangerous low-head dams.

SF 506 is a bill that would change eminent domain procedures. It would make it a requirement than non-utilities, such as companies building pipelines to move oil for private companies, only proceed with eminent-domain steps if that process is recommended in an annual state energy report.

Allen is not the author of SF 506, but he is on the Commerce and Local Government committees. He could not be reached for comment for this story.

Contact Jason W. Brooks at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or jbrooks@newtondailynews.com

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