DES MOINES | After fighting over abortion, budgets, education, taxes and a host of other issues for the better part of 130 days, the Iowa Legislature ended its overtime session on bipartisan high notes late Thursday morning.
The Senate adjourned shortly before midnight Wednesday. However, an ideological train wreck in the House Republican caucus over abortion policy that prompted GOP leadership to ask minority Democrats for votes to approve the $1.7 billion human services budget extended the session until midday Thursday. Then large majorities voted for two of the major priorities of both parties and Gov. Terry Branstad – expanding health care access for low-income Iowans and the largest tax relief plan in Iowa history.
“This has been a remarkable session,” House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said Thursday. “We set very high expectations and the 150 of us, working together, met them all.”
He and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines, emphasized that despite divided government, Iowa lawmakers showed an ability to rise above their partisan differences.
“Unlike the gridlock that has paralyzed Washington -- the unwillingness to compromise, the unwillingness to govern, staking out positions and holding them to the last breath … we chose to behave like adults, to find common ground and to govern,” McCarthy said.
“Working together towards common goals means we can achieve great things,” House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said. “It means in one session we can pass education reform, health care reform and historic property tax relief.’
The session, as rancorous as it was at times, earned praise from many quarters. Branstad hailed the split-control Legislature for its landmark achievements that fulfilled the priorities outlined in his Condition of the State address in January.
“We worked together the Iowa way,” Branstad said. “Both parties in both chambers came together to pass the most significant legislative achievements we have seen in a generation. These results will benefit generations to come, ensuring higher student achievement, job creation and healthier Iowans.”
Lawmakers won accolades from interest groups, too. Many groups called the decision to accept federal funds to increase access to health coverage to approximately 100,000 low-income Iowans the right move for fiscal and physical health.
“Having access to affordable, quality health insurance is a significant determining factor in whether or not an individual is able to beat (cancer),” according to Jen Schulte, Iowa director of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. Not only will the legislation save lives, it will save the state money because the federal dollars will pay the cost of covering more uninsured Iowans.
The Iowa Taxpayers Association was as effusive about the tax relief package, calling it a “positive step forward for good business tax policy in Iowa.”
“After years of discussion, debate and ultimately failed attempts to reform Iowa’s property tax system, the legislature has passed significant reform to improve Iowa’s position in an increasingly competitive environment,” ITA President Dick Vohs said. “This reform helps protect and limit tax increases for all classes of property taxpayers.”
Likewise, John Stineman, executive director, Iowa Chamber Alliance, saw a lot to like in the package, calling it a “meaningful move forward to remedy Iowa’s uncompetitive property tax environment.”
“This legislation is a win for business, a win for local governments and a win for Iowa,” he said.
Mike Ralston, president of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry said passage of the tax relief bill “will provide predictability for Iowa businesses and immediate relief on their commercial and industrial property tax bills.”
“It is likely that the bill would not have advanced without the strong support of Branstad,” he added.
There were thorns in the bouquets the governor received for his role in the legislative achievements.
Matt Sinovic, executive director of Progress Iowa, a liberal interest group that opposes Branstad, said the progress came “after months of political back and forth, and too many delays by Branstad.”
Iowa Citizen Action Network’s praise sounded a similar theme.
“In the final hours of the 2013 Iowa Legislative Session, lawmakers and Branstad set aside petty politics and focused on the needs of Iowans," said Executive Director Sue Dinsdale.
Branstad has 30 days now to review bills sent to him by lawmakers. He can sign them into law, veto them or use his line-item veto to kill specific parts of bills.