In the waning days of the 2015 legislative session, Iowa lawmakers are focused on the state budget and school funding.
That potentially could leave a number of other priorities left undone when the Iowa Legislature adjourns sometime in the coming weeks.
"There are a lot of things that could have happened this year that should have happened," said State Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, speaker protem of the House. "We're going to (have to) come back next January to see if those priorities can be addressed."
State Rep. Mary Ann Hanusa, R-Council Bluffs, said the first seven weeks of the session were dominated by debate over raising the state's gas tax. The Legislature voted in late February to approve a 10-cent hike to address Iowa's deteriorating bridges and roads. It was the first time the state had raised the gas tax in 26 years.
"That conversation just kind of sucked the air out of the room until the bill was passed," Hanusa said.
So far this session, lawmakers have not been able to agree on a budget or on how much new money to provide to schools.
Legislators must resolve the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 before they can end the session. The Democrat-controlled Iowa Senate and Republican Gov. Terry Branstad are proposing an overall general fund budget of about $7.34 billion but disagree about how to spend the money. House Republicans want to spend about $7.17 billion.
House Republicans and Senate Democrats are trying to hammer out a compromise on how much state supplemental aid should go up for K-12 education. Currently, House Republicans support a 1.25 percent increase, while Democrats support a 2.6 percent increase.
State supplemental aid took up $2.9 billion of the Iowa's nearly $7 billion budget for 2015, so educational funding has to be resolved before lawmakers can agree on a budget.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said he believes both sides are negotiating in good faith.
"We are trying to work diligently with each other," he said. "We are respectful of their priorities, and we hope they are respectful of ours."
Two other Branstad priorities remain undone in the remaining days of the session.
A bill that would give Iowa school educators more authority to combat bullying passed 43-7 in the Democrat-controlled Senate in March, but the House has yet to take it up.
Some lawmakers are opposed to a provision that would let school officials not inform a parent about a bullying case if notification would be harmful to the student.
The bill allows administrators and teachers to investigate bullying off school grounds and expands the definition of cyber bullying to include social media.
Windschitl is one of the lawmakers questioning the bill. A parent should be notified if a child is bullied, he said. He also questioned giving school officials more authority to combat bullying off school grounds.
"Nobody likes bullying," he said. "But I think school districts can address this under current law."
Supporters believe the measure would pass the House, if it came to a vote. Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers pointed out the measure passed the Iowa Senate with broad bipartisan support, with only seven of 50 lawmakers opposed.
"Every child in Iowa deserves a safe and respectful learning environment," he said.
Rural broadband Internet expansion
Another Branstad-backed bill would expand broadband in Iowa. It passed in the House 89-5 in April, but, like the anti-bullying measure, remains in limbo in the Senate.
"We've been traveling the state, and we hear from businesses and individuals that their businesses and communities are ready to grow if only they have broadband built out," Centers said.
Gronstal said Democrats are skeptical about grants offered in the bill. Internet companies already allocate a portion of their budgets to expanding.
"The trick is to create incentives that actually incentivize, that makes them do something they weren't going to do before," he said.
Mental health institutes
State lawmakers also must resolve differences over spending for health and human services, in particular funding for two state mental health facilities.
Branstad did not include funding for the facilities in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant in his budget proposal, released in January. He has said the facilities are outdated and that patients can be treated elsewhere. His proposal removed funding beginning in July.
Critics say some patients with special treatment needs have no other place to go.
Senate Democrats are trying to restore funding for the facilities. Some Republican lawmakers announced a proposal, backed by Branstad and the Department of Human Services, that would keep the facilities open through Dec. 15. The agency would then find private vendors to take over.
Other key items that still may be addressed this session include a bill to legalize fireworks in Iowa.
Another is a measure to allow children younger than 14 to use a handgun with a parent's supervision, to limit public access to a database of those with concealed-carry permits and to legalize silencers on firearms.
This report includes material from the Associated Press.
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