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State senator Mark Costello and state representative Cecil Dolecheck met with local constituents Saturday, March 30 for the final Legislative Coffee of the current session of the Iowa legislature.
With only roughly a month left in the session, Costello remarked that April 5 is the date of the second “funnel” for bills (with the exception of appropriations) to be weeded out those that will not advance out of the legislature this session.
As Education Committee chair in the House, Dolecheck focused his comments mainly on those bills affecting that area.
He said an extension to the SAVE (Secure an Advanced Vision for Education) bill was currently in the Ways and Means committee. The SAVE legislation provides sales tax revenue for school infrastructure.
Also extended was additional weighting in state aid to school districts who choose to whole-grade share.
Another notable change was to the passing score on the Praxis test required for new teachers to become certified in Iowa. Dolecheck explained the state had originally set a passing score equal or above the top 25 percent in the nation. As a result, some prospective teachers have had difficulty meeting that standard and becoming certified, even though they had been highly successful in their academic and student teaching experiences.
New legislation set an objective cut-off score similar to that used in surrounding states. The legislation also allows a new teacher be hired by school districts but continue their efforts to pass the Praxis while they teach on their temporary certification.
Following their opening remarks, the legislators turned the floor over to questions from the nearly two dozen constituents in attendance.
Mary Kathryn Gepner asked Dolecheck about proposals to use tax dollars to fund private or home schools.
Dolecheck said any such legislation was unlikely to pass off the Senate floor.
Gepner also asked about any possibility families could opt out of mandatory vaccinations for their children as conscientious objectors.
Costello said any such legislation had not made it past the first funnel period. He added, however, families could continue to opt out due to religious convictions.
Gary Keplinger, Ringgold County Democratic chair, asked if the legislators would support scrapping the current privatization of Medicaid and returning to the state providing health insurance to the disabled and poor.
Costello and Dolecheck, both Republicans, said they did not support such a proposal.
Costello said the state has made huge progress in addressing the problems that plagued the move to privatization in 2016, and the move is saving Iowa taxpayers money.
“We are holding providers accountable,” he said. As a result, “emergency room visits are down and quality of care is up.”
Judy Hensley asked the legislators to look into instances where a series of case workers may visit Medicaid families. She said the case workers may not know or make personal connections with the families.
Mary Ellen Taylor also asked the legislators to look into dental health coverage to children under Medicaid, a service that is currently not covered.
Taylor also addressed the “personhood” bill currently passed out of the Senate.
The bill increases penalties for fetal homicide along with defining an “unborn person” as “an individual organism of the species homo sapiens from fertilization to live birth.”
Taylor asked if this “unborn person” would qualify as a tax deduction or if miscarriages could be considered murder.
Costello said the bill does nothing but increase penalties for the death of an unborn child to make them equal to those currently in place for all other criminal deaths.
Mount Ayr school nurse Stacy Andresen had two questions related to her position.
She said a lack of children’s mental providers severely hinders access to such services in this part of the state.
Dolecheck said the education appropriations bill includes funding for additional providers. He said the state plans to fill four positions per year and will forgive student loans if the providers practice in rural Iowa a minimum of five years. Costello added the goal that these providers would choose to remain in rural Iowa after their five-year obligation is met.
Andresen also asked about a bill before the Senate that removes the requirement that school districts maintain the health records of their students.
She argued that currently there are no provisions in place for coordination before schools and public health agencies to share that data.
Dolecheck said the Iowa Association of School Boards supports this legislation in order to remove some of the administrative burden of school districts.
Paul Dykstra thanked the legislators for their stand on bills that placed restrictions on the availability of contraceptives without the approval of a physician.
Dykstra also objected to provisions in children’s mental proposals that would allow a teacher to diagnose a child as mentally ill. That label, Dykstra said, would stay with that individual for the rest of their lives.
He also objected to allowing the use of curricula created by Planned Parenthood to be used in Iowa public schools.
Picking up on the topic of mental health services, Bob Malcom asked if there were any plans to reopen any of mental health facilities closed in recent years.
Dolecheck turned the floor over to Dykstra, who has been at the forefront of bringing additional services to rural Iowa.
He explained a new facility is scheduled to open this fall in Osceola that would provide a range mental health services to adults ages 18 and up. The goal is to build upon this model to open similar facilities aimed at children’s mental health.
Dolecheck added the goal is to keep individuals out of an institutionalized setting and closer to home.