The 2014 legislative session is scheduled to end Tuesday, April 22nd but it’s unlikely we’ll finish up on time this year.
The pressure for adjournment will ramp up significantly this week because the pay for legislators also stops on Tuesday, which means we’ll be working on our own dime until we adjourn for the year. After a long winter, warm spring weather this week also serves as a sign it’s time to shut down the session.
The only bills we are required to pass every year are those setting the state budget. The good news is that all of the major budget bills have passed one chamber or the other. While a few are ready for the Governor’s signature, several pieces of the budget are being sent to special conference committees comprised of legislators from each party and each chamber to reach an agreement.
Our biggest differences right now center around education. I think there are significant shortfalls in the Republican education plan that need to be addressed before we adjourn. House Democrats firmly believe we should expand preschool, set basic state aid for our k-12 schools, and reduce tuition at our community colleges and state universities this year. Those are all key pieces to building our skilled workforce that should not be ignored.
Some have suggested that the recent scandals surrounding the Branstad administration are delaying the end of session, but that just isn’t the case.
Serious questions have been raised about hush money, secret confidentiality agreements, and Branstad officials replacing civil service workers with political appointees and their friends. One of the Branstad officials involved was even fired after it turned out he lied to the Governor and legislators.
We’ve had several bi-partisan Government Oversight hearings on those issues over the last month, but so far those hearings have raised more questions than answers. Sensitive to more unfavorable headlines for the Governor, House Republicans bowed out of the Government Oversight hearings last week. They’ve even gone so far as to say we should ignore the whistleblowers dismissed from their jobs and paid money to keep quiet.
Regardless of the party in charge of the executive branch, it’s our role in the Legislature to hold the Governor and his administration accountable. That’s why the Government Oversight Committee exists. It’s important for us to listen to the whistleblowers, gather the facts and make sure all of the questions are answered.
While no one knows what will happen after we gather all the facts, it will take more time than the few days left in the legislative session.
Since the Oversight Committee can meet year round, there’s no reason the issues surrounding the Branstad Administration should hold up adjournment this year. The fact-finding mission of the Government Oversight should continue over the interim and then we can have a thoughtful discussion next legislative session to take whatever action needed, to make sure this doesn’t happen again.