Public questions new and veteran Iowa legislators


Public questions new and veteran Iowa legislators            

OTTUMWA — The League of Women Voters and their sponsors hosted a forum in which two of the legislators were new to the job. But the two answered just as many questions as the two multi-term legislators.

The league's forums work so that each question is answered by all four lawmakers. There is no debate or back and forth with the audience, typically.

Mariannette Miller-Meeks is a Republican member of the Iowa State Senate, representing District 41. Holly Brink is a Republican member of the Iowa House of Representatives, representing District 80.

Ken Rozenbloom is a Republican member of the Iowa State Senate, representing District 40. He was first elected to the chamber in 2012. Mary Gaskill is a Democratic member of the Iowa House of Representatives, representing District 81. Gaskill was elected to the office in 2002.

During her opening statement, Brink got some chuckles when she talked about the learning curve for new legislators.

"We [talk about] learning something new every day," she told dozens of audience members Saturday morning. "For me, it's been something new every 10 minutes."

She's already, however, filed her first bill on an issue important to her: 4-year old preschool.

The freshmen aren't just learning things like chairing a committee or how to file a bill or even where to hang their coat. Miller-Meeks said the Iowa Senate has its own way of doing things. Monday through Thursday, she's at the Capitol learning. On Fridays, she works at her day job as a doctor.

The four were asked about redistricting with the background being "here's a system that works well, but we hear the Republicans want to change it."

Gaskill, the only Democrat on the panel, said she's pleased with the nonpolitical way the system works now.

Rozenboom asked where this information, this word that there are Republicans want to fiddle with the system, comes from.

"Forgive me if I'm a little cranky," he said, but at no time have other Republicans brought such a subject up with him. He said he believes it was a political strategy brought up simply to rattle some campaigns. "Like IPERs," he added.

Rozenboom also talked about the issue of mental health. The panel was asked about support of community employment. But the senator worries about what some people consider the opposite of community employment, sheltered workshops.

"I think the feds ruined it," he said. "I believe doing away with sheltered workshops was a mistake."

The Olmsted Act, which Rozenboom referred to, generally states that those with mental health issues should be encouraged to do everything out in the community. Live, hang out, work. Some disabled people, he said — and echoed by Gaskill — are so disabled that a sheltered work environment, with a staff member there to support the individual, is the only way they can reasonably have some measure of independence.

All of the representatives seemed to be in favor of disabled individuals being able to work.

"Our [society] should be able to make use of everybody to the best of their ability," Brink said.

In a related issue, Rozenboom said he'd like to take a look at Gaskill's proposal on the Iowa Bottle Bill. He's working on one, too. For years, one of the jobs disabled individuals could do in a structured work environment was sorting pop cans and bottles.

Rozenboom is working on a bill that addresses two of the main sticking points. Food establishments would not be forced to take cans back, and redemption centers that do accept cans would get two cents per can instead of one cent per can. Redemption center managers have publicly stated that one cent is the amount they always received despite the fact that machinery, insurance and salaries have gone up for them.

Another related issue is the funding for disabled programs, controlled now by a private Medicaid business deciding on the revenue stream into Iowa. Miller-Meeks believes there may need to be more oversight of the private businesses. Though she's just started in Des Moines recently, she has already spoken with the DHS director, the Medicaid director and plans more meetings, hopefully including the MCO (businesses) that control who gets paid, when and how much.

She believes the current difficulty for providers to get paid should start to be relieved as the businesses figure out what things are supposed to actually cost. When she ran over on her timed response, she asked for more to explain the issue.

Rozenboom believes health care does need to be looked at. But historically, he said, something had to be done: In 1984, health care was a 6 percent piece of the budget. That has ballooned to 21 percent this year.

One other cause: Gaskill talked about pushing for a state bill to fund education at 3 percent rather than the 2.38 percent the governor had mentioned at the start of this session.

The league will be hosting a forum of a different sort this month: The time scheduled for sheriff's candidates in Wapello County will be 7 p.m. on Feb 21.