DES MOINES | A legislative vortex swept away hundreds of proposed bills Thursday as the Iowa Legislature cut its 2014 workload to a shrinking list of priority items.
Measures to legalize medical marijuana, create a new crime for assaulting a sports referee, allow the sale of raw milk and require homeowners to disclose whether a for-sale property was used in the meth-making process missed a procedural deadline in the Iowa General Assembly without enough support.
The deadline is known as "the funnel." Under legislative rules, bills not dealing with state appropriations or tax issues are required to pass out of a standing committee by Friday or be sidelined for the remainder of the session, as Republicans who control the House and Democrats who run the Senate work to winnow this year’s workload.
Senators went home for the weekend on Thursday and House members left town Wednesday to avoid an impending winter storm.
Bills dealing with veterans support, bullying prevention and expanding broadband Internet were set to survive the Friday deadline and are moving forward in the Legislature. All three issues are part of Gov. Terry Branstad's relatively modest legislative agenda for the year.
"We're pleased with the progress," said Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers. "The governor in his Condition of the State address outlined a focused agenda that we thought would receive bipartisan support."
Rules establishing uniform fines and requirements for posting signs for automated traffic cameras, like the ones in Sioux City, also advanced.
Also advancing are proposals to ban abortion services via telemedicine, prohibit sales of e-cigarettes to minors, bar minors from tanning devices, expand the statewide preschool program and require stun gun training for police.
The Senate Judiciary Committee also approved bills giving judges more discretion in sentencing juveniles who commit Class A felonies, creating a misdemeanor offense for property owners who knowingly allow minors under the legal drinking age to consume alcohol on their premises, and easing some penalties associated with the transmission of an infectious or contagious disease.
Barb Kalbach, board president of the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action Fund, said her group was happy to see the Senate pass bills to raise the state’s minimum wage and crack down on wage theft, but she believed lawmakers were in “complete denial” about the serious environmental threats facing Iowa.
In a statement, Kalbach said "2014 is quickly turning into another 'play it safe, do nothing' session as (Gov. Terry) Branstad and legislative leaders from both parties have once again failed to take bold action to protect Iowa's rivers, lakes, and streams from factory farm pollution."
She hoped the arrival of the first funnel deadline would give legislators a chance to “hit the reset button” and focus the rest of the 2014 session “on the bread and butter issues that matter most.”
Last year, lawmakers reached bipartisan agreements to cut property taxes, invest in education and expand access to health care for low-income residents. Because this is an election year, lawmakers likely will be motivated to finish work quickly.
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The 100-day session is expected to end in April.
Among the bills that failed to advance in the House were an effort to amend the state constitution to add the right to bear arms and a proposal to make it easier for a woman to later sue a doctor who performed an abortion.
A bill calling for a 10-cent increase in the state’s fuel tax to pay for infrastructure also stalled.
Some bills are not subject to this deadline, like budget bills, and legislative leaders could always revive a bill later in the session. Typically hundreds are introduced in both chambers before the first deadline.
Legislative leaders said they were satisfied with the progress made so far in the session.
"I think our priorities are safely out of committee in this funnel week," said Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, citing legislation that would boost the minimum wage in Iowa and an effort to prevent wage theft.
Gronstal said he would prefer to focus on legislation that could find bipartisan support in the divided legislature.
"It always helps convince me to be willing to move bills forward if I make an evaluation that they have a path to being signed into law," Gronstal said.
House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said he expects between 40 and 50 bills passed out of House committees. He thought a higher percentage of bills could gain support in the other legislative chamber because a number of issues moving forward have bipartisan support.
Gronstal said a bipartisan group of legislators is still working on the proposal to increase the state’s gas tax and a transportation budget bill currently on the Senate debate calendar could become a vehicle if a consensus develops among lawmakers and the governor before the General Assembly adjourns this spring.
“We certainly have a number of bills to deal with in the next three weeks, so our workload next week is going to be significant,” Gronstal said. “I don’t see it as terribly lighter than in recent years.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.