Editorial: Legislators shouldn’t rush bills at the end of the session


The State Capitol Building’s golden dome makes it easy to spot when nearing Iowa’s largest city. 

Editorial Board

Currently Iowa state legislators receive $168 as a per diem, which is a payment for expenses related to their position, including housing, transportation between the Capitol and their homes and food while away from home. That amount is in addition to an allowance for expenditures such as mailings related to serving their constituents, and a salary of $25,000 (which has not been increased for a long time). 

However, the per diem stops after the legislature has been in session for 100 days. Legislators begin to act more quickly as that deadline approaches. The time limit allegedly serves as an incentive to legislators to complete their business in a timely fashion.

The per diem amount is reimbursed without any verification requirement; in other words, legislators do not have to save and submit receipts. And it is lower for people who live within 50 miles of the Capitol, as they are not expected to incur housing expenses.

The amount is set by the IRS. About 15 years ago, Iowa legislators elected to follow Federal tax regulations, rather than have separate rules.

The ISD Editorial Board is not quibbling with the amount or the method of reimbursement. We believe legislators, like all other employees, deserve fair wages and should not incur unreasonable costs to hold a job. 

We instead note that the legislators still often run past the 100 day target, and often have a rush of bills to finalize at the last minute. Sometimes important rules are added to unrelated bills.

When major, last-minute changes are made, citizen input is reduced or eliminated. And this year, the annual budget may be passed without including the amount the state will pay for its second largest expenditure (Medicaid).

That is the same Medicaid program which was privatized because Republican legislators argued that the switch would save money and increase efficiency. The Des Moines Register won a Pulitzer for showing that, in fact, patient service has declined and costs have risen.

Now we see that the more “efficient” program does not enable legislators to budget in a timely fashion. Each day the legislature is open after its 100-day deadline costs the public at least $10,000 in staff and reduced transportation reimbursement.

The citizens of Iowa have been fair to legislators and reimburse them according to national standards. In return, we expect professional and timely legislative action with a chance for all citizens to provide input on important legislation.