DES MOINES — The 87th Iowa General Assembly under Republican control produced the most bills since Democrats last held sway at the Statehouse in 2010.
The GOP-led Legislature passed 176 enrolled bills and joint resolutions during its 118-day run at the Capitol that ended May 5. That was up slightly from 174 approved in 2017.
Currently, Republicans hold a 59-41 edge in the Iowa House and a 29-20-1 lead in the Iowa Senate, with Republican Kim Reynolds in the governorship.
“Each year is different. I guess we have some very small bills many of which are not very controversial,” said Richard Johnson of the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency. “Certainly, the numbers are up again a little bit.”
The previous three General Assemblies — each lasting for two years, with annual legislative sessions — had been directed under split control with Republicans holding the majority in the Iowa House and Democrats in charge of the Iowa Senate. During that six-year span, the legislative output ranged from 138 to 146 bills annually, ranking them among the lowest in modern times.
“I think in that split control after a while both the majority and the minority just thought, ‘well, we could request more but our ideas are not going to be considered by both houses,’ so I think that did suppress the numbers,” Johnson said.
Before that, Democrats held a trifecta in the Statehouse for four years by controlling the legislative branch, with Democrat Chet Culver as a one-term governor.
They passed 226 bills in 2007, 196 in both 2008 and 2010 and 184 in 2009.
Legislators requested nearly 300 more bill drafts in 2018 compared with the second year of the previous biennium, and introduced 1,000 bills this past session compared with 855 in 2016.
Study bills and amendments also were up by comparison, Johnson said, but he noted the 87th General Assembly tackled some complex issues that narrowed the focus and held down the bill count.
“It took them so long to get to appropriations and the Ways and Means tax decision didn’t come early, either,” he said. “So from that standpoint, there were important bills that had to be drafted later in the session. I think that was one of the major differences.”
There still are 37 bills awaiting action by Gov. Kim Reynolds after she inked legislation Monday intended to address Iowa’s opioid epidemic. The governor has 30 days after the Legislature adjourns to take action on bills sent to her desk.
That includes legislation to provide the largest state income tax cut in Iowa history and nearly a dozen spending measures that make up large portions of the state’s $7.48 billion budget for fiscal 2019. They cover funding for education, health and human services, justice systems, agriculture and natural resources, economic development, transportation, infrastructure, administration and regulation, and various standing appropriations for state government.
Republicans, like Senate President Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, called the past two years of legislative action was “the most consequential General Assembly in the modern history of our state.”
In his closing remarks at the end of the 2018 session, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said majority Republicans took bold steps that “would positively impact our state and set the course for an economic revival in Iowa,” while Reynolds praised major accomplishments in tax reform, protecting life, Future Ready Iowa, water quality, health plans, mental health and opioids.
But House Minority Leader Mark Smith of Marshalltown saw it differently, telling his colleagues in his farewell observations that working Iowans who will expect to see a tax break will instead get a higher property tax bill and new sales taxes for online purchases and streaming services.
“In the months ahead when Iowans expect to see the promises made by this Legislature impact their own life, they’re going to find an empty box,” said Smith. “The 2018 session was indeed historic — for the special interests, but not for everyday Iowans.”
The last time a Legislature passed more than 200 bills in a year was 226 in 2007, and the combined 350 bills over the past two years was down markedly from the combined 602 bills that the 73rd General Assembly sent then-Gov. Terry Branstad during its 1989 and 1990 sessions.
Since then, lawmakers gradually have lowered their legislative output to where the annual bill total has exceeded 200 only twice in 12 years.