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Senate passes wide-ranging budget bill

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DES MOINES — The Iowa Senate passed its last piece of the fiscal 2013 budget Tuesday, but not before members tried to debate a handful of “dead” issues that included a ban on traffic enforcement cameras, a proposal to allow Iowans to use “stand your ground” reasonable force in protecting themselves and a new effort to readjust the school calendar to discourage districts from starting classes in mid-August.

Senate President Jack Kibbie, D-Emmetsburg, called it a “close call” given that the standings appropriations bill was a wide-ranging fiscal 2013 budget bill that covered multiple subjects, but in the end he ruled that most of the hot-button policy issues that senators attempted to add to House File 2465 were not eligible to be debated.

“I don’t blame anybody for offering amendments on a bill that’s the last train out of town, and I hope this is the last train out of town,” Kibbie said, confiding that he had long fought to keep school districts from starting class before Sept. 1 and restricting state Department of Education officials ability to grant waivers to virtually every district — hurting tourist attractions and businesses that rely on families and young people as employees.

Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, the lead sponsor of the traffic camera ban amendment, said Tuesday’s outcome “means this issue is probably dead for this year.”

In the end, senators voted 26-22 — along partisan party lines — to approve the $2.785 billion approach favored by majority Democrats that included a 4 percent “allowable growth” increase for K-12 schools for the 2013-14 school year and fully funded local government property tax credits for next fiscal year by using $55 million out of a newly created taxpayer trust account.

Senate Democrats also voted to put on hold a decision by the state Board of Regents to close Malcolm Price Lab School in Cedar Falls by earmarking $3 million to keep the research and development school at the University of Northern Iowa open for one year while the issue gets further study. Senators also approved $137,000 next fiscal year for the state Department of Public Health to establish an Iowa youth prevention suicide hot line that would include an anti-bullying Internet site and texting capabilities.

The House-passed version did not include any K-12 school “allowable growth” money and rejected efforts to fully fund the property tax credits using a one-time source — an amendment offered by Sen. Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, during Tuesday’s Senate floor debate that failed by a 22-26 margin.

Senators did approve an amendment by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Red Oak, to move up the enactment date on a disaster relief measure already signed by Gov. Terry Branstad to make help available for victims in southwest Iowa hit by severe weather and tornadoes last month.

They also approved an amendment 46-2 offered by Sen. Rick Bertrand, R-Sioux City, that resurrected an “infused” alcoholic beverages bill that had been sidelined in the House earlier in the session. Under the bill, Iowa bartenders and restaurateurs would be able to mix and store “infused” drinks for up to 72 hours. Infused drinks blend spirits such as vodka, gin and tequila with ingredients such as spices, herbs, fruits, vegetables or candy, and under current law, bars and restaurants are not allowed to keep such “infused” liquors or mixed drinks for more than 24 hours.

Tuesday’s vote was significant because it meant both chambers now have passed all their budget pieces and most will be negotiated by House-Senate conference committees.

“I think we’re making progress,” said House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, whose House chamber was devoid of floor action and most members Tuesday and likely will be so again today. “We seem to make two steps forward, one back, two steps forward, one back,” he said. “So I think, you know, net we continue to move forward. I am satisfied that everyone is working and we’re working toward resolution.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, also indicated progress is still occurring but the Senate is not slated to convene again until Thursday morning. “We’re getting closer and closer. We really are,” he said.

Also Tuesday, the Senate voted 26-23 to approve Senate File 2293 by requiring that state officials track available data on health-care expenses, with an eye on finding ways to control costs and slow the growth of insurance premiums. The proposal would require the state insurance commissioner to establish a health insurance and cost containment bureau. Senators also approved language that sponsors said would fix a $35 million state program — the Iowa Comprehensive Health Association, or HIPIOWA-FED — that is charged with insuring Iowans with pre-existing conditions, but that advocates contend is denying coverage to HIV-positive residents.

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