DES MOINES, Iowa --- 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 May 23. 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 a sweeping 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 proximately 100,000 low-income Iowans the right move for the 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.
Earlier: Branstad praises Legislature
12:15 p.m. - DES MOINES, Iowa --- Gov. Terry Branstad today is hailing the members of the Legislature for their landmark session achievements.
The five-term GOP governor says lawmakers succeeded in approving significant property tax relief, transformational education reform, and meaningful health modernization that focuses on quality outcomes for low-income patients while modernizing of the Medicaid system.
The governor noted that the priorities outlined in his Condition of the State address last January have been fulfilled.
“We have demonstrated today that Des Moines is not Washington, D.C.,” Branstad said in a statement.
“We worked together the Iowa way. Both parties in both chambers came together to pass the most significant legislative achievements we have seen in a generation,” he added. “These results will benefit generations to come, ensuring higher student achievement, job creation and healthier Iowans.”
Among the 2013 session accomplishments
Approve largest tax cut in Iowa history
Provide permanent property tax relief
Provide about $90 million in annual income tax savings to Iowa taxpayers
Prevent shift of the tax burden to other classes of property
Cap of 3 percent growth for agricultural/residential property classes
Fully fund local property tax credits in fiscal 2014 with an extra $33 million
Enact transformational, systemic education reform
Make teaching profession more attractive with leadership roles and higher pay
Create a new process that calls for reliable student assessments
Offer school choice with independent accreditation for private schools
Strengthens home-school options
Replace “allowable growth” with 100 percent state aid in the school finance formula
EXPAND HEALTH CARE:
Iowa is the national leader for patient outcomes for our Medicaid population
Create new model for providing health care for low-income individuals
Quality Iowa approach for federal financing
Provide backup financing to protect Iowa taxpayers should federal funding end
Establish first system to have Medicaid patients pay premiums
Commit $2 million for medical residency programs in Iowa
Provide $2 million to launch the Rural Physician Loan Repayment Program
Related: Bipartisanship puts legislative train back on track to adjournment
12:15 p.m. - DES MOINES, Iowa --- Adjournment of the run-on Iowa legislative session became a two-day affair after ideology tripped the House on its way to completing a 2014 budget.
However, 39 Democrats joined 41 Republicans to put the train back on the tracks this morning, voting to send Senate File 446, a historic – and controversial -- expansion of health care access to low-income Iowans to the governor.
“I love this bill,” floor manager Rep. Dave Heaton, R-Mount Pleasant, said. “Why do I love this bill? Because I’m watching bipartisanship. I’m watching passion. I’m watching trust. I’m watching a willingness to work together and accept the fact that, even though there are differences within us, we’ve focused ourselves to agree.”
The bill creates the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan that includes elements sought by legislative Democrats to cover Iowans who have yearly incomes of up to $15,300 by providing a premium subsidy paid for with federal funds.
It also includes Gov. Terry Branstad-led GOP approach for Iowans earning less than $11,000 annually who will be eligible for the same benefits currently provided to state employees.
Shortly after that, lawmakers crowned the session with House Speaker Kraig Paulsen’s highest priority, a $400 million tax relief bill.
“Iowans have been very clear that they want property tax reform and relief and we were able to deliver for them in a way that has never been done before,” the Hiawatha Republican said moments before the House voted 84-13 to approve Senate File 295, which provides property tax relief and limits property tax growth, and creates a mechanism for returning revenue surpluses top taxpayers.
To House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines, the end of the session – that came at 11:09 a.m. on the 130th day of a planned 110-day session -- was a sign of legislative maturation.
“We came together and governed,” McCarthy said.
Democrats objected to language in the budget that calls on the Governor’s Office to approve, on a case-by-case basis, taxpayer-funded abortions. More than a handful of Republicans objected to that language because it did not ban all taxpayer-funded abortions as well as tax funding for Planned Parenthood for birth control or cancer screenings.
Without their votes, the 51-member GOP caucus needed Democratic votes to pass the $1.7 billion budget. So House Democrats went from the minority party to the majority party, McCarthy said.
It was a difficult for his caucus to support the human services budget, but in the end, he said, House Democrats chose to support their Senate colleagues in finding common ground.
“We matured a lot as a body,” he said. “If the federal government looked at what Iowa did with divided government, it could learn a lot.”
Paulsen believes the bipartisan spirit and the respect the House caucuses showed each other at the end of this session bodes well for the 2014 session.
“It may prove helpful,” he said. “I don’t think any of it was hurtful.”
Earlier: Lawmakers return Thursday to wrap up session
3:15 a.m. - DES MOINES, Iowa --- State lawmakers will be back in the morning to continue their attempt to finalize bipartisan agreements on tax relief, school reform, more health-care coverage for needy Iowans, and an increased state budget.
Shortly before midnight Wednesday, the Iowa Senate passed a final adjournment resolution but put a motion to reconsider on it pending House action on Thursday – the session’s 130th day. The unusual procedure was done to accommodate a situation in the Iowa House where about a handful of Republicans balked at approving a health and human rights budget bill that contained abortion language they found objectionable.
House members went home for the night shortly before midnight with plans to complete the session Thursday morning, according to Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha.
The inability of the House GOP to put together 51 votes to pass the $1.7 billion human services budget threw a wrench into adjournment plans. Democrats, who said they were asked to put up votes to pass the human services budget, were discussing changes they might like in that bill.
“House Democrats have a few more things they want to work through and we’ll be back tomorrow to finish things up,” Paulsen said. “Part of the process is that’s a request they made and we’re honoring it.”
However, he expects representatives will complete their work in the morning.
“I expect to pass four bills in the morning and be done with some great work for Iowans,” Paulsen said.
Wednesday’s marathon session featured House and Senate negotiators reaching compromises on a trio of priority measures and putting the finishing touches on a spending plan to appropriate $6.483 billion from the general fund in fiscal 2014, spend nearly $204 million in state gambling profits for infrastructure needs and devote more than $452 million in one-time surplus funds for a variety purposes over two fiscal years.
“I think that has been a remarkable session,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs.
“Voters elected a Democratic Senate and a Republican House and a Republican governor and said deal with it. We could have chosen the partisan route that others have encountered in other places, including Washington D.C.,” he said. “We worked long and hard. We all have strongly held beliefs, but when it’s all said and done, this was the first session in 35 years that we were able to do something significant on property taxes.”
Supporters said the tax relief package was the largest in state history.
Not only that, lawmakers forged bipartisan agreements to implement education reforms, expand health-care coverage for nearly 150,000 needy Iowans, earmark $66 million to address the workplace “skills gap,” significantly boost funding for environmental and water quality programs, grow state funding for K-12 schools by $116 million over two fiscal years, and increase funding for higher education while enabling a tuition freeze at state universities in three decades.
“In just a whole host of ways, I think this has been a landmark session,” Gronstal said.
Gov. Terry Branstad agreed, saying it took a lot of patience and determination for legislators and his office to reach resolution on some challenging issues.
“From our perspective, people will look back on this legislative session years from now and remark on how much significant legislation was passed and in an environment with split control,” said Jeff Boeyink, Branstad’s chief of staff. “That’s one of the things were most proud of. Iowa gets to show the way in terms of how you can get things done with Democrats and Republicans putting election aside for a while and focusing on good public policy.”
Among Wednesday’s highlights was floor action on a wide-ranging tax relief package that will benefit all property classes, provide an estimated $120 credit to income taxpayers, and give a break to low-income working families.
Supporters called Senate File 295 a long-awaited compromise that will stimulate the economy by helping businesses create jobs and returning money to taxpayers’ pockets. Detractors called the package an unsustainable drain on state resources that will hurt education, public safety and local governments.
“This is a true watershed moment for the state Legislature,” said Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, who hailed S.F. 295, which passed the Senate on a 43-6 vote, as the first significant relief for commercial and industrial property owners since 1979.
“Just because it’s a compromise doesn’t mean it’s a good compromise,” said Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, one of six Democrats to vote against the bill. He said an “excessive” tax cut is not needed at a time when state government is not providing resources adequate to meet its essential obligations.
Rep. Tom Sands, R-Wapello, said much of the groundwork for Wednesday’s agreements was done during previous sessions, but noted that “this year we’re starting to see the result of all that hard labor and some negotiation.”
During Wednesday’s floor debate, House and Senate members passed a compromise calling for paying talented teachers a bonus to spend time coaching other teachers. House File 215 also calls for a study of teacher evaluation methods and grants new independence for parents who teach their children at home.
In the end, the governor’s call for education reform passed the House 95-0 and the Senate 40-10.
The bill included a “2+2+4” plan that is the equivalent of a 4 percent increase for K-12 school districts next fiscal year but removes half the money from the base funding as one-time money before calculating the 4 percent increase the following year.
“It’s not 4 percent, but at least we’re getting that,” said Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, noting that Iowa spends $1,000 less than the average national per pupil spending. “You have to invest in education. That’s our economic tool in this state.”
The compromise plan will provide between $306 and $310 per pupil funding for the education reform program, said House Education Committee Chairman Ron Jorgensen, R-Sioux City.
Also Wednesday, Branstad and legislative negotiators hammered out an agreement to use federal money to expand health-care coverage to 150,000 needy Iowans by financing insurance premiums for participants who help manage their costs with healthy choices.
The newly named Iowa Health and Wellness Plan contained elements sought by legislative Democrats to cover Iowans who have yearly incomes of up to $15,300 by providing a premium subsidy paid for with federal funds and the Branstad-led GOP approach for Iowans earning less than $11,000 annually who will be eligible for the same benefits currently provided to state employees.
The provision was included in the health & human services bill, passed by the Senate on a 26-24 vote, that provided supplemental money to carry the state’s Medicaid program through the current fiscal year that ends June 30.