The 2015 Session of the Iowa General Assembly ended late afternoon on Friday, June 5 (it was the 145th day of the session) when the Iowa Senate voted to concur with the House in passage of HCR 9, a concurrent resolution to provide for adjournment sine die.
At 145 days, this session ran 35 days beyond the soft closing date of 110 days and, in recent memory, was eclipsed only by the June 30 end date in 2011 (the very last day of the fiscal year).
Decisions Key to Adjournment - Two key decisions paved the way for final action in 2015:
1. School finance: the House and Senate agreed on a total spending amount for K-12 school spending. This had been at a stalemate since late January with Majority Republicans in the House standing firm for an increase of 1.25% and Majority Democrats in the Senate at 4.0% (though, they did offer to split the difference with the House and settle on 2.62%).
The final decision was an increase in base spending on K-12 schools at 1.25% (the House-preferred number) with an additional $55 million in one-time spending on K-12 schools that brought the overall increase for the upcoming fiscal year to 2.62% (the Senate had offered a compromise of a 2.62% increase in the base, but settled on this combination of base and one-time money).
Base spending increases were approved for FY16 that bring base general fund spending up to $7.175 billion (like school finance, this was the House-preferred number) with an additional spending package of one-time items in excess of $140 million to bring total new spending in FY16 to slightly more than $7.3 billion (closer to the number preferred by the Governor and the Senate).
Issues Resolved in Final Week
A number of key issues, in addition to the budget, were resolved and will move to the Governor for his consideration:
- Broadband expansion (a Governor Branstad priority);
- Streamlined applications and approval processes to facilitate the construction of cell towers and broad band service in rural Iowa;
- Keeping open (at least temporarily) state mental health institutions in Mt. Pleasant and Clarinda;
- Transparency in the Iowa insurance exchange marketplace and additional patient literacy protections to encourage better health insurance choices by patients, especially those with chronic conditions;
- Funding for construction of a new statewide public safety radio system to meet federal interoperability standards.
Issues Unresolved and Set Aside for Next Year
Other issues receiving significant legislative consideration, but never final passage, were set aside for consideration next year:
- Legalization of fireworks;
- Performance funding for our state universities;
- Legalization of suppressors for fire arms, and other related gun matters;
- Anti-bullying efforts, including on social media (a Governor Branstad priority);
- IowaNEXT, a $25 million investment in quality of life initiatives (also a Governor Branstad priority).
2016 will be an election year and the soft close for the 2016 session will be 100 days, meaning mid-April. However, in the last five years the General Assembly has required overtime in order to finish its business.
State law gives Governor Branstad 30 calendar days to review and act on all legislation sent to him during the last three days of the legislative session and after. Given the flurry of bills adopted in the last week (including all of the general fund spending bills), it will be at least a week or more before he and his team actually receive the enrolled bills from the General Assembly.
In fact, for the Governor and his team, the real close of the legislative season won’t occur until the first week of July as they review all the policy language and budgets that were passed in the final week.