WOLFE: Hotel/motel bill died because time ran out

Mary Wolfe

Currently, a person who rents a hotel room for more than 31 consecutive days pays no state or local excise tax on the entire stay – which isn’t fair, right?

House File 760 – which State Rep. Norlin Mommsen, R-DeWitt, and I co-sponsored – sought to amend Iowa Code section 423A.5 so as to require that a person who rents a hotel room pays the excise tax on the sales price of the first 90 consecutive days of the rental period – e.g., for a rental period of 100 consecutive days, the hotel guest pays the excise tax on sales price of the first 90 days only.

Clinton County legislators and community leaders have been working on getting similar bills passed for years. This year we came very close to succeeding, but unfortunately House File 760 stalled out on the last day of session.

To be clear: The reason that House File 760 didn’t make it onto the Governor’s desk this year had nothing to do with partisan politics – all three Clinton County legislators supported the bill, and a large majority of legislators from both chambers and from both parties supported the concept embodied in the bill.

But for some reason, despite that bi-partisan support, and despite the fact that House File 760 passed out of the House Ways & Means committee on April 1, the bill didn’t start moving between the House and Senate chambers until the very last week of session, and thus it didn’t become clear that the bill’s floor managers in the House and the Senate disagreed on the wording of one sentence of the bill – the sentence intended to exempt landlord-tenant apartment rentals from being subject to the excise tax – until a few days before session adjourned.

So in my opinion, the fact that the House and Senate leadership chose to wait until the middle of the last week of session to allow both chambers the opportunity to vote on House File 760 is ultimately why House File 760 ended up dying on the last day of session.

Had the bill passed out of either chamber just a week earlier, there would have been ample opportunity to identify and address the relatively minor semantics issue upon which the bill’s floor managers disagreed – but since the wheels didn’t fall off the cart until the very end of session, there was simply not enough time to get all of the necessary parties in the same room at the same time and hammer out a compromise.

Sen. Chris Cournoyer, Rep. Mommsen and I all worked super hard to try and ensure that House File 760 was signed into law this year, and I know that many other people from Clinton County spent a lot of time reaching out to colleagues across the state in a (very successful) attempt to generate statewide support for the bill.

And I know that there are a lot of people across Iowa who, like me, are frustrated and disappointed that House File 760 failed to move forward on the last day of session – and that frustration and disappointment is totally understandable. However, there’s always next year, and all we can do now is make sure that any and all concerns about the bill’s drafting are resolved over the interim, and that an agreed upon bill is pre-filed in both chambers prior to the start of session, and that the House and Senate leadership commit to passing the bill early in the session so as to leave plenty of time to address any last minute problems.

And that’s what we’ll do. We’ll nail it down, and we’ll get it done.

State Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, represents District 98 in the Iowa House of Representatives.