Final decisions must be made on the next state budget, while advocates continue to urge action on high-profile issues like expanded state investment in water quality measures or a broader medical marijuana law.
House Republicans and Senate Democrats must resolve their dispute over the GOP aim to “defund” Planned Parenthood. Republican Representative Dave Heaton of Mount Pleasant notes this has been a fight in the legislature in each of the past five years.
“I am not going to predict the outcome,” Heaton told reporters. “I can’t.”
Republican House Speaker Linda Upmeyer of Clear Lake sees a clear path to resolving the final “sticking points” in the budget.
“We’ll continue to work our way through that and get those issues resolved, but we will resolve them,” Upmeyer told reporters on Thursday. “We always do.”
Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey has said farmers need “significantly” more state grant money to install conservation measures in their fields, but Northey doesn’t expect major action from this year’s legislature.
“It will be a lost opportunity,” Northey said during a weekend appearance on Iowa Public Television.
According to Northey, the threat of federal regulation and a Des Moines Water Works lawsuit challenging the way three northwest Iowa counties manage farm chemical run-off has “gotten people’s attention.”
“We’ve seen so much engagement by farmers and groups and cities and other organizations out there that are engaging in water quality,” Northey said, “sense there’s a momentum to make these kinds of improvements that the legislature is sensing that some dollars could do some good.”
More than $20 million is already set aside in the legislature’s current budget plan for water quality measures. House Republicans voted last week to redirect currently-collected state taxes on water usage and casinos to water improvement projects. Northey, who is a Republican, favors that plan because it doesn’t raise new taxes.
Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs told reporters on Thursday that the House GOP plan “isn’t much of a solution.”
“The House plan pits water quality against every other priority in state government because it produces no new revenue and, in fact, steals existing revenue that comes to the state,” Gronstal said, “which makes it hard to fund education.”
MEDICAL MARIJUANA, BOARDING SCHOOL REGULATION
There are a handful of other issues that may be resolved before lawmakers adjourn for the year. Gronstal said that includes legislation to establish new state oversight of private boarding schools.
“I think it would be horrible to leave a situation where people can establish facilities to allegedly take care of kinds and where really bad things go on,” Gronstal said.
The Midwest Academy in Keokuk and Montrose was closed in January after allegations of sex abuse surfaced.
A group of advocates continue to press lawmakers to set up a state-sanctioned production and distribution network for medical marijuana. They want Iowans with a variety of illnesses and conditions to be able to use it. There are “many ideas” but no consensus on the issue, according to House Speaker Upmeyer.
“There are people with interests in that and there have been discussions, so we’ll see how it goes,” Upmeyer told reporters.
Upmeyer has argued the state should wait for the federal government to act and set a uniform national policy for medical marijuana.