Even though our latest state legislative session went into overtime, it still could be viewed as one of the least productive sessions in recent memory.
The 86th Iowa General Assembly adjourned its overtime session after 145 days.
Some unresolved issues have been through the Legislature for multiple years, only to die the same or slightly different death this time. We’ve chosen three that seem to us like they should be easily resolved.
- Expand access/availability of medical cannabis in Iowa.
Over the years we have supported further use of potential medicines that have been shown to relieve pain and suffering. Finally, after lobbying efforts by parents of children with seizure disorders, the Legislature approved a law last year that allows for the use of oil derived from marijuana to treat chronic epilepsy.
However, the law did not provide any way for the creation or distribution of the extract in Iowa. It’s made in other states, Illinois among them, but is illegal to transport across state lines. Turns out the efforts that went into passing the bill in 2014, for all intents and purposes, were for naught. The Legislature could not fix that problem during this past session.
- Ban cellphone use while driving, except for hands-free devices.
We have long held Iowa needs to strengthen its distracted driving laws, especially with regard to the use of electronic devices. Iowa is one of 44 states that have banned texting while driving. However, it is also one of just five in which it is a secondary offense, meaning an officer may not stop a driver for texting. A driver can only be cited after being stopped for a separate “primary” offense.
Once again, at least to a degree, the original law is rendered futile.
- Assist schools in preventing bullying of students.
This year, the Legislature had an anti-bullying proposal from the beginning of the session but failed to keep it alive. The proposed legislation would have strengthened the commitment to address cyberbullying by explicitly including “social networking sites” in the definition of “electronic.”
We’ve all heard of recent tragic incidents stemming from bullying and attacks on social networks.
Perhaps our lawmakers could have used more of whatever it was that worked when taking the needed step toward infrastructure maintenance.
On Feb. 24 (in the midst of falling gasoline prices) in less than a three-hour span, the Legislature passed a bipartisan transportation funding bill increasing the state’s gas tax by 10 cents per gallon.
A day later Gov. Terry Branstad signed the bill. And just days after that Iowans were paying the increased tax at the pump. It was a virtual legislative miracle. We were, quite frankly, a bit stunned state government could make a decision and move to the implementation phase so quickly.
It must have something to do with collecting revenue (aka taxes) that allows for such expediency.
Much of the extra time was spent hammering out differences on the $7.168 billion budget for next fiscal year. Differences about school funding increases proved to be the largest issue. In the end, lawmakers also failed to set k-12 funding for a two-year period, which was being pushed by the governor.
Doing so could have lifted a heavy burden from next year’s session, leaving legislators a better chance at accomplishing more on other issues.
Tracking this latest session was akin to watching a football game go into overtime, only to end in a tie. You come away feeling like nothing was decided -- and that you wasted some valuable time. The big difference here is the time wasted watching an overtime football game usually comes in at less than four hours.