State lawmakers end with flourish

BY SHAWN GUDE | APRIL 27, 2009 7:28 AM

It was a busy weekend for Iowa legislators.

Looking to wrap up the session early, sleep-deprived legislators pushed through myriad appropriations and policy bills in the final days.

“It was a very intense, but a very good weekend in terms of outcomes,” Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, said of the session, which ended just before 6 a.m. Sunday morning. “We worked some long hours.”

Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, offered his own synopsis of the weekend.

“There’s a lot of hurry up and wait situations. I guess I’m one of the luckier people,” said Dvorsky, who is the head of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “A lot of people, unfortunately, have to wait and stand around.”

In the end, Democrats — who control both chambers and the governorship — passed some of their coveted legislation, yet failed to approve other more controversial bills. One such measure would have ended federal deductibility and given the majority of Iowans a tax increase. College students would have received an extra $100 as well.

Pro-labor legislation also failed, as did a bill that would have raised the legal blood-alcohol concentration for boaters from .08 to .10.

Still, legislators passed numerous noteworthy bills over weekend.

Lawmakers in both parties signed off on a proposal altering the state’s so-called 2,000-foot law, in which registered sex offenders are barred from living within 2,000 feet of schools and other facilities frequented by minors.

The new law retains that ban for the most serious sex offenders. Others wouldn’t be subject to the 2,000-foot residency rule, but all registered sex offenders would be prohibited from going to schools, childcare facilities, libraries, and other places without written permission.

Dvorsky, who worked extensively on the issue, said he was “extremely happy” with the approved legislation, calling the existing law “totally ineffective.”

Jacoby also praised the bill, counting it as one of the session’s major accomplishments.

The Senate unanimously approved the bill, and the House passed the measure 93-3.

Legislators passed another widely supported measure that seeks to expand health-care coverage for children by making it easier to qualify for the state’s Hawk-i program, the state-administered children’s health plan. The bill originally included a commission intended to help the uninsured find coverage, but critics complained it would have added an unnecessary layer of government bureaucracy.

While Dvorsky said he would have liked to see the commission included in the bill, he counted the move as a success. It showed legislators are serious about expanding health-care coverage for children, even during economic malaise, he said.

Finally, Democrats pushed through a massive, $830 million bonding plan intended to stimulate Iowa’s economy, improve the state’s infrastructure, and help the rebuild parts of Iowa still reeling from the flood. Republicans collectively decried the plan, arguing it would unnecessarily saddle future generations with debt.

“You can do the math and see this going to hurt our kids,” Randy Feensta, R-Hull, said of the proposal which will end up costing the state over $1 billion after interest.

But area legislators — all Democrats — backed the plan.

“I think, on balance, it’s strong proposal that we can afford and will provide jobs stimulus [and] important disaster recovery initiatives,” said Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City. “I think we can manage it.”

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