DES MOINES, Iowa — With limited time left before the Iowa Legislative session ends, lawmakers have one more opportunity to revive failed bills — with the legislative equivalent of a hail Mary pass, otherwise known as the standing appropriations bill.
Often dubbed a "Christmas tree" or "kitchen sink," the standing appropriations bill is a sweeping measure that includes billions in state spending for a variety of purposes across several state agencies. It is often the last bill passed in the session and attracts last-minute and sometimes controversial amendments on issues that lawmakers hope to get through in the rush to adjournment.
"It gives us one more bite at the apple," said Sen. Matt McCoy, a Des Moines Democrat, who is trying to revive a bill that would require some businesses to offer more leave benefits to parents of adopted children. "It makes sense to have an opportunity to take a second look at some of those issues."
The Democratic-led Senate approved their version of the bill last week, providing nearly $3 billion in spending, most of that going to basic support for K-12 education. But a number of policy plans that had won support in the Senate but not in the House were also included, like a measure that would require breast density data in mammogram reports, a retirement incentive program and new policies for schools dealing with bullying.
The bill will now move to the House, where the Republicans in the majority may have their own modifications. They have not put out their version of the bill, but in past years, they've tried to tack on policies dealing with loosening gun control, for example. The measure will likely end up in a negotiating committee as lawmakers try to resolve their budget issues and close down the session.
"Realistically, sometimes this is the way that otherwise important policy issues end up getting addressed," said Gov. Terry Branstad. "It's one of the reasons I always say, nothing's dead until the Legislature adjourns."
Senate minority leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, questioned this practice, saying that for "policy that doesn't work its way through the process, there should be a really good compelling reason as to why that should be put on to (the standings bill). "
Lawmakers agreed that reviving a policy proposal through this process was a challenge. Even if they can get agreement, the governor could still veto the language. But many said it was a valid tool to keep ideas alive.
"It's our last effort before we adjourn for the year and if it doesn't make it this session, we'll try again," said Senate President Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque.
Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, said the bill is sometimes criticized, but he also noted that it can be a tool for collaboration.
"We listen all session to complaints that we're not compromising," he said, later adding: "Well, the standings bill is kind of a big compromise."
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