By Kay Henderson
DES MOINES (Reuters) - The Iowa House began debate of a controversial labor bill on Wednesday that Republicans say makes common sense changes to Iowa's labor rules, while Democrats say it will "gut" the state's collective bargaining law.
Democrats offered more than 100 different amendments to make changes in the bill -- all of which were being rejected by Republicans who hold the majority of seats in the Iowa House.
However, while Republicans intend to pass the bill in the House this week, perhaps as early as Thursday, Democrats control the debate agenda in the Iowa Senate, and they do not intend to bring the bill up for debate.
"I'm not sure what amendment we're on," State Representative Kirsten Running-Marquardt (D-Cedar Rapids, IA) said late Wednesday afternoon as the debate neared the three-hour mark.
"The length of this important debate is unknown to me, but I want the people of Iowa who are listening and watching to know that the Democrats in the Iowa House stand with you and we are willing to go all night, all week and as long as we're able ... in our opposition to this bill."
The bill, as it stood early Wednesday evening, would no longer allow government workers to negotiate over their health care benefits.
Representative Ron Jorgensen, a Sioux City Republican, said while workers in the private sector bear more and more of their own health care costs, most state government workers pay nothing out-of-pocket for health care.
"We cannot continue to have the taxpayer fund benefit plans that currently far exceed what the private sector averages are," Jorgensen said.
Representative Nate Willems (D-Lisbon), a labor lawyer, said the bill not only takes aims at state workers' benefits, it applies to local police, fire fighters and teachers as well.
"This is a very bad bill," Willems said, "and in all honesty I don't believe I can find one part of this bill that makes an improvement."
(Editing by Jerry Norton)