Iowa session extends after expense payments end

DES MOINES – Boxes were stacked in the corner of the Iowa Senate chambers on Thursday, but lawmakers are nowhere near ready to pack up.

Still, the legislative session will look different starting Monday. May 3 was the last day for much of the temporary staff and the student pages who work in the Legislature, as well as the final day of expense payments for lawmakers. Most of the 150 legislators will report to work early next week, but if negotiations drag out the numbers will likely dwindle to a smaller group of party leaders and those working on negotiating committees.

“The place reduces to decision making by a lot fewer senators,” said Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines. “At that point there’s a rush to come to a conclusion.”

The Republicans who control the House and Democrats who rule the Senate are still trying to find resolution on major issues, including education funding, property tax reductions and low-income health care. On each of those issues, there is plenty of work to do as lawmakers haven’t found agreement on how to assess teachers, whether to offer tax cuts or credits and if the state should expand the Medicaid program.

“You’d think we’d have enough sense to get out of here when our per diem runs out,” joked Sen. Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge.

The true drop-dead date for reaching compromise and a budget plan is June 30, before the new fiscal year starts July 1.

In 2011, the session stretched up until the last day of June, due to bickering over social issues and how to handle a budget gap, making it the third-longest session in Iowa history. Sessions tend to move more quickly in election years, when legislators want to hit the campaign trail, and in years when there is single party control of the Legislature and the governor’s office.

While the Capitol clearing out could make for easier parking or shorter cafeteria lines, most lawmakers said people will start getting itchy to get home to families and jobs. Because the Legislature is part time, many have other work waiting for them.

Rep. Lisa Heddens, D-Ames, works for a social service agency and does weekend work during the session. She said her co-workers and bosses are understanding about her Capitol commitments.

“They know two years ago, we were here until the end of June. I’m here to stay until this gets done. That’s what I was elected to do,” Heddens said.

Work on the family farm is waiting for Rep. Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, who said his father will manage without him until he can get back.

“We’ve learned to adapt on the farm without me there. He would much rather be on the farm then be here,” Grassley said.

Another constant presence in the Capitol – lobbyists – will still be in place next week, though their ranks will thin to those working on the issues still in play, said Republican lobbyist Craig Schoenfeld. He predicted that this session could go well into June like the 2011 session.

“All the ties were gone. It was 90 degrees in the Capitol. A lot of people were hanging around in the cafeteria doing other work and waiting to go upstairs,” Schoenfeld said.

A heat front like that might speed negotiations, said Rep. Josh Byrnes, R-Osage, who said the recent snow is not helping move things along in the Capitol.

“We need some 80 degree weather,” Byrnes said. “We need the farmers to start to get antsy and the golfers to want to start golfing.”

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.