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Weather forecast accelerates Iowa legislative work

Published: Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014 10:35 a.m. CDT

DES MOINES (MCT) – There’s the funnel deadline for getting legislative proposals out of committee and then there’s the weather forecaster’s deadline for getting out of town.

Those two “fronts” collided over the Capitol Wednesday as lawmakers adjusted their schedules to complete committee work before another winter storm blanketed much of the state.

With meteorologists putting the northern half of the state under a blizzard warning and the southern half under a blizzard watch beginning Thursday morning, lawmakers were making tracks out of Des Moines before, well, they would leave tracks.

Weather forecasters are predicting rain turning snow by late morning. Four to 6 inches may fall and winds are expected to increase to 25 to 35 mph with gusts to 50 mph Thursday afternoon creating blizzard conditions.

Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, who has one of the longest commutes of any legislator, headed for home Wednesday.

“I’m concerned about how road conditions might be when you live probably closer to International Falls than you do Des Moines,” said Johnson, who was stranded while driving home in blizzard conditions in 1997. “I believe people who can will be on the road. The weather is closing in and it’s very unpredictable.”

House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said he had a few people ask whether the schedule could be adjusted because of the forecast.

It was “partially just luck” that the House was able to squeeze Thursday committee blocks onto Wednesday’s calendar.

“We told the chairs that if they got their work done they were done for the week,” Paulsen said. “It appears that all the committees are rolling through and getting their work done.”

Senators, however, will be on the job. It appears that Judiciary, Transportation, Commerce and Economic Growth will be meeting Thursday.

Judiciary Chairman Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, doesn’t expect perfect attendance, but is confident of a quorum.

“We’ve got work to get done and we need to get it done,” he said.

It’s not that the committee has been procrastinating, Hogg said. Judiciary has approved upwards of 25 bills “and I have another 11 on the agenda for (Thursday).”

“They’re not all must-do, but there are some that are must-do” including a proposal on sentencing juveniles who have committed Class A felonies and another on the transmission of the HIV/AIDS virus.

The House’s “very focused and pragmatic agenda” may have been a factor in wrapping up pre-funnel committee work Wednesday, Paulsen said.

Legislature leaders said early on that if bills didn’t gain a consensus quickly they likely would be passed over for consideration.

“I don’t know if the bill count is lower than previous years, but it does seem the committees are getting their work done pretty efficiently,” Paulsen said.

The downside of the focused agenda, he said, is that “I know there are a couple of folks disappointed their bill didn’t move.”

Although some outstate lawmakers were anxious about traveling Thursday, Paulsen said “people were willing to stay as long as they needed to.”

Hogg had a suggestion for avoiding future “snow days.”

“Maybe it’s time for a constitutional amendment to have us meet in the summer,” Hogg mused.

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©2014 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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