Medicaid, water quality and the Bakken pipeline were among the topics discussed at a "Legislative Wake-up" forum in Nevada on Jan. 23. Five state legislators representing the local area participated in the forum, which was held by the League of Women Voters of Ames and Story County.

Moderator, Linda Murken, explained the forum was an opportunity for residents to "receive updates from our local legislators and ask them questions."

Present for the forum were Sen. Herman Quirmbach, Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, Rep. Dave Deyoe, Rep. Rob Bacon and Rep. Lisa Heddens.

Wessel-Kroeschell said the legislature would need to provide oversight for Gov. Terry Brandstad’s proposal to privatize Medicaid. The change would require the addition of 134 new ombudsmen, she said.

Heddens said the privatization of Medicaid could reduce the state’s costs from $51 million to $36, but "Iowa is lowest in the nation for Medicaid rates." She is concerned that the proposed changes to the program will come "at the expense of people with disabilities, and the elderly."

Heddens said that 60 percent of Medicaid participants are children, 20 percent are pregnant women and single adults, and 20 percent are elderly and people with disabilities. However, 80 percent of the expenditures come from seniors and those with disabilities, so changes to the system could negatively affect those people the most.

"We had a well-run Medicaid program as it was," said Heddens. The administrative costs for the program were only 4 to 5 percent, she added.

Mary VonAh-Gregory, one of the residents attending the forum, asked the legislators about the Bakken pipeline, a proposed underground oil pipeline that would cut through Iowa. The pipeline would take crude oil from northwest North Dakota to Patoka, Ill. The pipeline needs the approval of the three members on the Iowa Utilities Board.

"How is it that we have three people who are responsible for making such an important decision?" VonAh-Gregory asked the legislators. "Our rivers and our soil are our most precious gifts," she said. VonAh-Gregory said the pipeline will put those gifts in jeopardy.

Heddens said she is very concerned about land, soil and water quality. "I’m hearing from a lot of folks about this," she said.

Deyoe said he is concerned that landowners are treated fairly and that eminent domain does not cause unfair deals for any property owners. He said 70 percent of the landowners had already signed contracts, and those people were receiving "fairly large agreements."

Deyoe added that the pipeline might offer safety advantages, compared to the large amount of oil that is being transported through Iowa on railroads right now.

"I do continue to have concerns about the environmental impact," said Wessel-Kroeschell.

Bacon said, at first, some landowners were telling him they didn’t want the pipeline going through their land. Then some of them got checks for allowing the pipeline, and that changed their minds.

Others, who are not landowners, have told Bacon they don’t want the pipeline going through their area. "When it’s on the railroad, if there’s a spill, at least we know where the spill is," he said.

Quirmbach mentioned that Branstad had changed the membership on the Iowa Utilities Board about a year ago. He questioned why the IUB has the final say in the matter when "the pipeline serves no customer in Iowa."

Quirmbach was also concerned that there is a $250,000 liability limitation for oil spills from the pipeline. "I think the Legislature needs to substantially raise that limitation if we move ahead with the pipeline at all," he said.

Rebecca Coates, another resident at the forum, asked the legislators about the governor’s suggestion to use some of the 1 percent sales tax for water quality improvement. The one-cent tax currently generates more than $400 million and is used solely for school infrastructure needs.

"I don’t like it," Bacon said flatly.

Deyoe said Branstad had an "interesting, creative proposal," but there are "concerns on both sides of the aisle" about it.

Wessel-Kroeschell said she thought the proposal should go to a vote of Iowa residents if it is to be considered at all.

Quirmbach said the one-cent tax is crucial for "keeping our school buildings modernized. I think it breaks faith with voters. … We don’t need to shortchange our schools to improve water quality."

The forum on Jan. 23 was the first Legislative Wake-up held in Nevada. Another will be held in Nevada on the morning of March 26, with socializing from 8:45-9 a.m., and the forum from 9-10:15. It will be held in the City Council chambers.

Forums will also be held in the Ames City Council chambers from 8:45-10 a.m. on Feb. 13, March 12 and April 9.