Iowa lawmakers move up 2014 legislative deadlines

DES MOINES – Top Iowa lawmakers have decided to move up some key deadlines in the 2014 legislative calendar, signaling a desire for a shorter session next year.

The legislative timetable was recently adjusted to reflect earlier procedural deadlines for proposed bills. That means that bills must now receive committee-level approval in the House or Senate by February 21, instead of February 28th as originally planned. If not approved by that date, most bills are considered dead for the session.

“I expect it’s going to be a focused session,” said Republican House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, of Hiawatha, who said the schedule changes were agreed upon by Republicans controlling the state House and Democrats who hold a majority in the Senate.

Paulsen did not give a goal for adjournment, but said he wouldn’t be surprised to conclude before the 100-day timeframe during which members get daily expense payments.

The desire for a speedy session is not a surprise. Next year is an election year for many state lawmakers, as well as Gov. Terry Branstad, meaning that officials will be eager to conclude work in Des Moines and return to their districts to campaign.

In addition, 2013 was a notably productive year, with bipartisan legislation on property tax cuts, education policy and health care – so the expectations for substantial policy work are minimal. Paulsen said there will be policy to address in 2014, but acknowledged that members did some heavy lifting in 2013.

“I think a fair number of the more significant complex issues, we were able to work through those last session,” Paulsen said.

Lawmakers in Iowa work during the first half of the year, with the sessions officially lasting 110 days in odd-numbered years and 100 days in even-numbered years.

On the official calendar for 2014, the session is still listed as having 100 days, with a concluding date of April 22. But lawmakers can adjourn earlier if they pass the state budget.

Democratic House Minority Leader Mark Smith, of Marshalltown, said Paulsen sought his input and he had no problem changing the schedule.

“I feel we ought to be able to get our work done in that time,” Smith said. It’s wise always for us to be motivated to get our work done as quickly as we can.”