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Iowa Politics Roundup: Labor Bills Could Fall Victim to Legislative “Funnel” PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 26 February 2010 15:05

Controversial bills backed by labor unions and opposed by Iowa's business community are at risk of not surviving the legislature's self-imposed "funnel" deadline next week -- a situation exacerbated by the sudden retirement of one Democratic lawmaker.

"We're still working to find consensus on those issues," said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-Des Moines). "There are negotiations that are occurring. If there are requisite votes for passage, then that will move forward. But right now, particularly in the wake of one of our members' serious illness ... that's more challenging."

When pressed to say whether Democrats would have already moved forward on the legislation if they had the votes, McCarthy said: "These are big issues with a lot of work. We're doing the best we can."

The legislature will once again pack its schedule with committee meetings in the week ahead because Friday, March 5, is the second "funnel" -- when all bills from one chamber must clear a committee of the opposite chamber to be considered alive for the remainder of the session. Budget, tax, and leadership bills are exempt.

The deadline will help lawmakers to wrap up this year's session in 80 days and meet a March 31 target adjournment date. "We think we are well on schedule to be able to get out of here four weeks from tomorrow," Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs) said.

Controversial bills about "fair share" and "prevailing wage" passed House committees but have not been debated on the House floor yet, leaving them two steps shy of clearing the funnel.

"I hope that the labor bills will be effectively off the table or dead next week. Time will tell about that," said House Minority Leader Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha), who has said the fair-share bill would repeal Iowa's right-to-work law. "It's my understanding right now that there are not enough votes to move those bills."

The sudden retirement of Representative Roger Wendt (D-Sioux City) decreases House Democrats' majority to 55-44 and increases the difficulty of getting the bills passed.

But House Speaker Pat Murphy (D-Dubuque) said leaders don't know for sure that they don't have the votes to pass the bills because House Democrats have not yet caucused on the issues.

Wendt Retires After Lung Cancer Returns

Wendt, a 76-year-old retired teacher and principal and chair of the House Education Committee, resigned suddenly after learning that his lung cancer has returned after 17 years.

"Due to a serious medical condition and the recommendation of my doctor, I will not be returning to the Iowa House for the remainder of the 2010 session nor will I seek re-election as state representative later this year," Wendt said in a prepared statement.

Governor Chet Culver is expected to announce the date for a special election in House District 2. Representative Gene Ficken (D-Independence), a retired teacher, is vice chair of the House Education Committee and will succeed Wendt as chair.

Wendt was serving his fourth term in the Iowa House. His wife Anita has worked as his clerk in the Iowa House. Wendt said he's "deeply proud" of his record improving education for Iowa children and equalizing school funding for districts such as Sioux City, which he said helps both property taxpayers and schools.

Culver called Wendt a dedicated and thoughtful public servant. "From his time in the U.S. Army to his four decades of service to students, families, and teachers to his eight years as a member of the Iowa General Assembly, his life and career can best be thought of in terms of 'service to others,'" Culver said. "For his life of service, I simply want to thank him, and to publicly recognize the tremendous impact he has had on the state we love."

Rally Over Manure Bill Turns Confrontational

An Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) rally at the Capitol advocating for clean water and protesting a bill about animal manure turned confrontational when the group of about 75 residents marched upstairs into the House majority leader's office.

The outspoken group carried colorful signs and demanded defeat of House File 2324, a bill that would exempt many farmers from having to have adequate storage for animal manure over the winter months. Iowa CCI members said the bill would essentially allow nearly 5,500 factory farms to dump manure on frozen and snow-covered ground.

"What we are demanding today is very simple: Kill House File 2324," said Vern Tigges, Iowa CCI's board president who's a family farmer from Carroll.

"I talked to Culver; he personally told me that if it passed he would veto it, but we've got to hold him to that," said Rosie Partridge, a business owner from Wall Lake.

Following a rally in the Capitol rotunda, the group marched up the Capitol's north stairway to the House majority leader's office. Efforts by the House sergeant at arms and state troopers to stop the group were unsuccessful and even led to some pushing and shoving.

Next came Representative Ray Zirkelbach (D-Monticello), who's the sponsor of the bill. He attempted to weave his way through the group in the hallway behind the Iowa House chamber, talk to them, and prevent them from going into the majority leader's office, to no avail.

"If you guys would talk to me directly, maybe we can get something done," Zirkelbach told Iowa CCI's policy organizing director, Adam Mason. The bill "doesn't do anything you're saying."

Zirkelbach, who was the manager of last year's bill prohibiting the spreading of manure on frozen or snow-covered ground, said this year's bill is intended to clear up the intent of last year's legislation.

"I'm the drafter of the bill," Zirkelbach said in an interview with IowaPolitics.com. "I don't understand why they wouldn't want to talk to me. I've seen 'em down there protesting and telling the wrong information, and they just turned me away."