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A lag in new laws?

BY JOSEPH BELK | FEBRUARY 09, 2010 7:30 AM

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A proposal in the state House of Representatives could restrict the Iowa Legislature to passing laws only once every two years.

Under the legislation, drafted by Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, the General Assembly would follow a two-year cycle. A shorter session in the first year would allow for “bill consideration only,” Jacoby said. In the following year’s session, legislators would focus on passing bills into law.

Jacoby said the proposed system has several advantages. An extended timeline would allow bills to undergo more scrutiny and allow for public input, he said.

Some other states require a bill to have been drafted for a designated period of time before it can be acted on, which, Jacoby said, allows for a more thorough review by both legislators and the public. California’s Constitution dictates that a bill cannot be acted on until 30 days after it is has been submitted.

Brenda Erickson, a senior research analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said many states encourage filing bills before sessions, giving legislators and their constituents time to evaluate them.

Jacoby said his bill would also improve government transparency.

“It would change the way we do business in the Legislature,” he said.

Supporters of the bill also suggested that the new system could cut costs. The resolution could save an estimated $1 million every two years, according to Jacoby. The change would save approximately 11 percent in administrative costs, he said.

Rep. Elesha Gayman, D-Davenport, the vice chairwoman of the committee, said she recognized potential advantages from a two-year bill cycle.

But while “it would cut down waste,” she still has concerns with the bill. For instance, the Legislature could miss out in funding situations — such as the Federal Stimulus Act — because it wouldn’t be in session to request funds, said Gayman, who is undecided on the bill.

But Jacoby said the Legislature could respond to a scenario demanding immediate attention; the governor can call a special session if necessary.

The bill is sitting in the House Administration and Rules Committee.


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