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Legislature Adjourns; Campaign Begins

John Pemble/IPR
Iowa State Capitol

State lawmakers brought their 2016 legislative session to a close last evening before darkness fell,   wrapping things up a week and a half past their scheduled shutdown.    

The roughly seven-point-three billion dollar state budget is now on its way to the governor, and lawmakers go home to campaign for re-election.  

One of the most highlighted ambitions for the 2016 session did not come to pass, and that’s a long-term plan to clean up Iowa’s rivers and streams.

“Iowans who want clean lakes, rivers, and streams will have to wait another year,” said Rep. Mark Smith (D-Marshalltown), the top minority Democrat in the House.

Senate Democrats offered ideas but not a bill.    Both parties vow to try again next year though the chasm between Democrats and Republicans on how to pay for water quality improvements remains vast.

Other parts of the governor’s agenda fared better.     In January, the governor and the chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court urged lawmakers to address racial disparities in Iowa prisons.   Lawmakers have passed a bill scaling back penalties for robbery and non-violent drug offenses which analysts say will benefit African-Americans.

"This is the first time in the four years that I have served that we have done any criminal justice reform that actually reduces penalties in a significant way for felons,”  said Rep. David Dawson (D-Sioux City). 

Lawmakers also agreed to keep the names of juvenile offenders confidential, another priority of the NAACP.  

The governor’s Medicaid modernization program got launched despite lawmaker’s concerns. 

So what else is left for next session?   Crumbling state buildings, for one. Lawmakers did not approve upgrades for parts of the capitol complex while the Regents universities did get money for their building needs.     

Des Moines Democrat Matt McCoy warns there may be no more fancy new campus buildings as long as the governor insists on not borrowing money for infrastructure.

”As long as the governor insists on pay-as-you-go,” McCoy said, “I’m putting the word out today that if I'm here next year any future appropriations for regents is going to be zero until we address these critical buildings.”

On another last minute budget item, it remains to be seen whether there’ll be layoffs at the Department of Transportation, with resulting shutdowns of maintenance garages and other interruptions.  Lawmakers gave the DOT only half of the ten million dollars they asked for to cover bargained raises for employees.     

One transportation budget-writer too worried.

“We’ll see what they do,” said Rep. Dan Huseman (R-Aurelia.)    “We’re giving them half.  Are they going to lay off half?   I don’t think so.”

It’s clear those budget fights will persist through the fall election and into next year.    In another signature move by Republicans this year, a nearly $100 million tax cut package primarily for small business was approved.  

Democrats argued that cut into funds for education and other priorities.   

“We should change the conversation from how much we’re allowed to spend to how much we should spend,” said Republican House Speaker Linda Upmeyer

Looking ahead, abortion opponents will continue their fight against Planned Parenthood .   Led by Democrats, lawmakers defeated an effort to cut off all government funds for the abortion provider.   

“We continue to press forward on issues of life,” said Rep. David Heaton (R-Mount Pleasant.)  “My caucus firmly believes in that.”  

As part of the Planned Parenthood compromise, the tax credit for adoptive families will be doubled.

In other 11th hour action, lawmakers reached agreement on oversight for Iowa’s newly privatized Medicaid system.  They turned down an effort to expand Iowa’s medical marijuana law.