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A good crowd turned out Saturday afternoon at the ISU Extension office for the second of three legislative forums scheduled for this year in Mount Ayr.
State Representative Cecil Dolecheck (R-Mount Ayr) and State Senator Mark Costello (R-Imogene) updated constituents on discussions and progress being made in teh Iowa State Legislature.
Dolecheck said priorities in the House were centered on having a “world class” educational system in the state. The final state spending number for Iowa school districts has not quite been settled yet, said Dolecheck, as the House and Senate are trying to agree on what percentage increase should be in the bill. He said that those discussions should be concluded soon so that districts would know what kind of level of funding they will have next year.
As part of the school funding bill Dolecheck said additional money will be provided for transportation equity. That gives rural districts extra funds to coverage the cost of transporting students further each day that urban districts have to. He also said both parties are working together on legislation to help educators deal with disruptive behavior in the classroom to keep students and staff safe as well as get students the support they need.
Other priorities he briefly discussed were access to affordable health care, helping rural EMS systems and expanding broadband in rural areas.
Costello began his presentation saying the Senate was working on proposals for Medicare work requirements for some recipients, a pro-life amendment, only allowing legal citizens to vote in Iowa elections, felon voting rights and flood relief.
Responding to a comment from the audience wishing to increase requirements, regulations and testing for home-schooled students in light of several high profile tragedies that have occurred in the state, neither Dolecheck or Costello thought that was necessary. Costello, who home-schools his children, said a few extreme examples shouldn’t effect everyone else. He said home-schooled students’ test scores have been very good and the vast majority of home-schoolers are doing a great job.
There were also questions about the funding and operation of the Department of Human Services (DHS). Problems have been identified at the facility in Glenwood which works with troubled youth. Dolecheck said funding is not the problem with the DHS and the situation in Glenwood was not a funding problem.
“Sometimes things happen,” said Dolecheck and should be addressed.
There was a discussion Emergency Medical Services (EMS) like paramedics, EMTs, and first responders. Dolecheck said legislation passed through committee this year gives counties the ability to make long-term investment in EMS programs and infrastructure while also proposing additional funding to local EMS.
Dolecheck said with many towns relying on volunteer fire and EMS departments,they want to ensure that small communities are able to attract qualified individuals. He wants to double the volunteer EMS tax credit.
Other items discussed in response to audience questions were mental health funding by counties and the burden that puts on rural landowners; allowing the DNR to buy more property and what kind of land they should be able to purchase; statewide wind turbine regulations; fetal death certificates; rural broadband efforts and pilot programs; and the paying of college athletes in the state for use of their likeness for marketing purposes.
The final legislative forum of this session will be held on Saturday, March 28 at 1 p.m., again at the ISU Extension office in Mount Ayr.