- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 27, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - While Iowa lawmakers with much yet to do are struggling to conclude their legislative session, state representatives and senators in many other states have clearer schedules to follow toward adjournment.

Legislative leaders in Iowa’s Republican-led House and Democratic-majority Senate reported to the state Capitol on Wednesday as they keep trying to negotiate a budget deal. Leaders - who are grappling over spending overall as well as education and health care funding - did not indicate that they expected a speedy resolution.

“I would say there is still a significant gap,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, a Democrat from Council Bluffs, who later said Democrats were “close to the end of our ability to tweak.”

Iowa’s rules specify no hard deadline for adjournment. Daily expense payments for lawmakers ended May 1, but the real final date is July 1, when the new budget year starts. With the Senate proposing an overall general fund budget of about $7.34 billion and House Republicans seeking to spend $7.17 billion, the difference is not large - but finding compromise has proved elusive.

Most states set some time limits for their legislatures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In 39 states, there is some kind of restriction, either a set number of days to meet or a fixed date for adjournment. Some states have those rules set by the constitution, whereas in Iowa, the per diem payment rules function as an indirect enforcement mechanism.

“If it is set by constitution, they cannot change those and they must follow them, or they are violating the constitution. Anything passed after the deadline is subject to a lawsuit,” said Brenda Erickson, a senior research analyst with the NCSL. She said a system like Iowa’s provides more flexibility, though she noted that “flexibility and procrastination can run hand in hand.”

Some neighboring Midwestern states, like Nebraska, Minnesota and South Dakota, have rules on the length of session written into their constitutions. Of course, there are often techniques to get around such rules, such as ways to stop the clock or returning for a special session.

Republican House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, of Hiawatha, said he wasn’t sold on a different system for Iowa.

“I have never thought we should switch when I have talked to people from those general assemblies,” Paulsen said. “Some of them, they just simply adjourn and turn right around and come back in special session. I don’t know that there’s much value in something like that.”

The Iowa Legislature has been meeting annually since 1969 and the per diem rules have been in place since the late 1970s, with a slight modification a few years later, according to the Legislative Services Agency. Since 1982, lawmakers have worked into June just once, in 2011, when squabbling over spending and social issues stretched until June 30.

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, who chairs the House Government Oversight Committee, said he thought the Iowa system had merits.

“I’m glad that our per diem runs out because I think that’s a good motivator,” he said.

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