Constituents are still showing up in big numbers for opportunities to question and share concerns with their Iowa legislators.
On Saturday morning, the League of Women Voters held a second forum for the year at the Nevada City Hall. They’ve been holding forums in various locations during the legislative session, to give people from all over the area a chance to engage with their state representatives and senators.
On hand to answer questions Saturday were Rep. Dave Deyoe (R-Nevada), Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell (D-Ames) and Senator Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames).
For some, like Mike Bryant, a retired firefighter from Ames, the morning was emotional. Bryant’s voice cracked and he held back tears while speaking of the recent death of his comrade, Steve Buser, an Ames firefighter, and stating his concerns about issues related to fire service training, medical services and retirement benefits for public employees.
Others, like Jean McMaken of Huxley, wanted legislators to explain how the changes being made with regards to public workers were making things better.
Deyoe said Iowa has had a good system for many years, but in the past five to six years, several administrative rules have made the system more expensive and there have been some inequities that needed to be addressed. In the last 10 years, he said, there have been a number of court rulings and administrative rules changes. He said there’s a concern about the growing amounts that attorneys are getting from being brought into matters. He said Republicans have wanted to bring the system back closer in cost to what it was before.
Wessel-Kroeschell said some of these issues go back to the fact that this has been a “fast and furious” legislative session. She is alarmed by the big bills that have come through and the “very little amount of time” that has been spent considering some of these issues.
One thing being looked into with public workers is how shoulder injuries are handled, and these are big matters, she said, when you consider that its very hard to return to work following a shoulder injury.
Quirmbach said the changes with regards to public employees is “once again a solution in search of a problem. If it’s not broke, I don’t know why we’re fixing it,” he said, but said he sees a long list of things that are a “brutal attack on working people in this state” during this session.
Quirmbach said he’s pleased to see the public push back on a lot of these matters. “You’ve got to keep it up…keep speaking out,” he said.
Jim Handsaker, a farmer from the Story City area, went after Quirmbach a little, however. After commenting that farmers have been getting less income the last few years, Handsaker said he hears all the talk about needing to give more money to schools, “but has there ever been a deduction” of money to schools?,” he asked.
And then Handsaker came down on Quirmbach, who he said has called Gov. Brandstad a liar and had quoted a Des Moines Register article on another matter. “I would suggest you expand your information sources please,” Handsaker told the Senator.
Following the forum, Quirmbach said he has not called Branstad a liar. “I said that his claims that Medicaid privatization would save money and improve quality were lies. There is a difference between characterizing a statement and characterizing a person,” he said. Quirmbach said he has problems that Branstad continues to claim savings when it comes to Medicaid privitazation, even “in the face of evidence of increased costs.”
“Branstad’s claims of ‘more efficient’ operations are contradicted by the hundreds, if not thousands, of reports from all over the state of service denials and late, inaccurate or denied payments to providers,” Quirmbach said. “In my remarks, I cited three examples from Story County. Branstad continues to claim savings, despite the increased state payments to the MCOs announced last fall and the further increases that came to light in the (Des Moines Register) story Friday. Note that the latter came to light only as a result of an open-records request by the Register. Branstad and crew did not volunteer the information that so clearly contradicts their repeated claims of savings.”
Quirmbach elaborated on information sources, saying that every day he receives clippings of news from all over the state and from many newspapers. He also reads the Des Moines Register, he said. But his sources of information are greater than just newspapers. Quirmbach said when his senate district boundaries were changed, he went out and knocked on every farmhouse door in his district and spoke personally to those who answered. “I have a widely diversified series of information sources,” he said.
Deyoe wanted to comment on the funding to schools, saying there was a time that schools didn’t get an increase and that was in 2009, when Gov. Culver made an across-the-board 10 percent reduction in school budgets. “We only have $60 million in new revenue (for FY 2018), but we are still going to give K-12 $40 million.”
Wessel-Kroeschell remembered the 10 percent across-the-board cuts, but reminded people those happened during a terrible downturn in the economy nationwide. She still believes that in the past few years, Iowa has not been handling its resources well, citing $12 billion in tax giveaways as a problem for the state budget too. “We should be giving money to schools… they are surviving… but they could be doing a lot better.”
Water quality was another issue brought up at the meeting by Rebecca Cordray of Nevada.
Deyoe said one of the biggest misconceptions is that water quality is getting worse. “It’s not,” he said. “Twenty-five years ago, Iowa had only three streams that could support trout; now we’re up in the 60s to 70 that can support trout.” He also commented that more farmers are developing practices to help with water quality issues.
Wessel-Kroeschell it’s a problem that the state only does voluntary testing with farmers; she believes it’s difficult to find out if changes being made are having an impact.
Quirmbach said water quality should not be a partisan issue, because we all end up drinking it or using it. He still supports the 3/8 percent sales tax envisioned in the state constitutional amendment passed in 2010. After the forum, Quirmbach stated, “Sixty-three percent of voters approved the amendment, which directs that, of the next sales tax increase, 3/8 percent would go to a trust fund to be used only for environmental concerns, like water quality and outdoor recreation. “Despite the strong vote for the amendment, the Legislature has never seen fit to enact the tax increase the voters are so clearly willing to pay,” he said. “It’s (water quality) nowhere near where we need to be.”
There were other interesting questions and discussions, but the forum ended with a question from a Story City mom, Laura Carlson, who home-schools and doesn’t feel the legislature should have the right to tell her that she needs her son to have a meningitis vaccine, when he doesn’t attend public school.
Wessel-Kroeschell said vaccinations have overall worked very well in this country, and people can certainly use religious exemptions. But the woman asking the question said she didn’t have a religious reason for not getting the shot; she just doesn’t like the government telling her what to do.
Quirmbach said he thinks it’s more of a public health issue than just a school issue. “Meningitis kills young people…and it can happen very suddenly,” Quirmbach said. “We don’t want your son at risk or putting other children at risk in a lot of other environments.”
Deyoe said his philosophy on vaccinations and other things regarding home-schoolers is for less regulation as long as they are not being funded by the state. “If we were to give them a voucher or fund them in some other way, then there has got to be more accountability,” he said.