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Iowa State Legislature heads into overtime: What is still on the table

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DES MOINES, Iowa (KWWL)- The 2021 Iowa Legislative session is officially headed into overtime. The scheduled 110-day legislative session ended on Friday, but both chambers will be in session next week, with many items still needing to be ironed out.

Lawmakers can continue to stay in session past day 110, though they will not be paid.

State lawmakers still have a lot of work to do to pass the $8 billion budget for 2022. There are also disagreements between the two chambers on tax cuts.

Closed-door negotiations and conversations between House and Senate Republicans are ongoing.

"We are having conversations with the Senate to try to figure out where the middle ground is on everything, whether it's budget policy, tax policy, and other pieces of policy in general that are out there," House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford said.

In an interview with KWWL's Ron Steele, that aired on "The Steele Report" Sunday morning, Grassley said funding increases for the Iowa Department of Corrections, Department of Public Safety, and investment in childcare are his caucuses' top priorities in the budget.

"We had to make sure as we were passing any tax credits or incentives for families that they fit within our budget," he said.

RELATED: Iowa Speaker of the House, Pat Grassley, talks about the session for this week's edition of The Steele Report.

Senate Republicans passed a bill that would eliminate the income tax triggers from the state's 2018 tax reform bill and phase out the inheritance tax.

"We obviously want to return money to Iowans, but we also have to make sure we do it in a sound and responsible manner," Grassley said. "Like in 2018 when we put the triggers in."

Grassley said the triggers allowed lawmakers to provide the largest tax cut in the state's history responsibly.

"Whatever we do, it's going to tie in from the standpoint of making sure that it fits within the budget," he said. "All of that is part of the negotiations that are ongoing."

The negotiations are taking place within the Republican caucus and behind closed doors, leaving Democratic lawmakers and members of the public on the outside looking in.

"Democrats are wanting to ease the tax burden on working families, and there are ways that we can do that in terms of helping working families, whether it's with childcare or building a home or purchasing a home, and those types of things" House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, D-Charles City said. "We are in the dark because of the way that this process has been handled in this negotiation, which I think lacks transparency, and we are ready to see how this is going to end."

Senate Republicans are pushing for the transition over a period of time to have the state takeover funding mental health services, which are currently handled by the 99 counties in 14 regions.

Grassley said his caucus is not sold on the idea, telling reporters during a recent press conference without what he calls "guardrails," he did not see "any interest in the house to begin that down that path."

"Having the state being the one picking up the cost, you're looking at over $120 million, just to start taking over that cost, and every year it's going to continue to grow," Grassley said. "I think the best word we use is guardrails, to make sure that we don't end up with a situation where we have a program that's growing out of control, and then we can't fund and maintain that level of service."

Currently, Iowa is the only state in the country that funds mental health services off of local property tax.

"It is not that there's not an interest from the house at looking at eliminating and lowering tax property tax levies," Grassley said. "We want to make sure we're doing it responsibly, and we do not take away that local control that the services provide. It is a difficult balance to strike."

During his weekly press conference with reporters on Thursday, Grassley said he thinks any sort of agreement on the mental health levee will be difficult.

"Whether we can get there or not, I don't know that but that needs to be part of it if there is going to be a deal," he said.

Bills Still Up in the Air

In addition to the budget and tax cuts, state lawmakers are still negotiating compromises on several policy issues.

The Iowa Senate is currently considering SF 342 or the "Back the Blue" bill as it's been dubbed.

The bill, which passed the house on April 14th with some Democratic support, would elevate criminal penalties for people in a "riot" or "unlawful assembly" and increase qualified immunity for police officers.

"The bill has a lot of moving parts within it so we are in conversation with the Senate," Grassley said.

Senate File 549, a bill introduced by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds to increase ethanol and biodiesel sales in the Hawkeye State, is also on the table.

"I think the bill that we have worked on with the governor, with the senate, with other groups, within the industry, struck that compromise, but we are seeing some pushback from all sides of the industry that it doesn't do everything they want," Grassley said. "I can't tell you the exact outcome of it, but it is a difficult push."

Last week, lawmakers sent multiple bills to Governor Reynolds' desk for her signature. They include legislation that would allow for the expansion of charter schools and allow parents to teach their kids how to drive, eliminating the requirement for a driver's education instructor.

Grassley did not predict how much longer state lawmakers will be at the state capitol but said that members would be there as long as there is important work to be done.

As of Friday, lawmakers' per diem was cut off. Most state lawmakers hold other jobs outside of the legislative session so it is not clear how long they intend to go.

Grassley joked on "The Steele Report" Sunday that he told lawmakers who are farmers, "this is their time to go get the planting season wrapped up right now."

You can watch Grassley's full Sunday morning interview here.

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Daniel Perreault

Reporter

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