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In the first of two Legislative Coffees sponsored by the Mount Ayr Chamber of Commerce, District 12 State Senator Mark Costello and District 24 State Representative Cecil Dolecheck covered a range of topics with constituents Saturday, February 27 in the Assembly Room of the Ringgold County courthouse.
To open the meeting, both legislators reviewed their respective committee assignments as well as highlights so far in the current legislative session.
Dolecheck included the 2.4 percent increase in state supplemental aid to schools and the voter integrity bill as two main accomplishments.
In response to the voter integrity bill, Mary Kathryn Gepner asked both legislators had evidence of widespread voter fraud in Iowa in the recent general election.
Both answered no, but Dolecheck said three county auditors had been ruled to have overstepped their bounds by the Iowa Supreme Court. Dolecheck said the new bill allows auditors some recourse if they are accused of an alleged infraction, an avenue not allowed under current Iowa law. Dolecheck said the new bill would lessen the need to bring such allegations before the Supreme Court.
In a follow up question, James Smith asked why the bill provides other restrictions to voting, such as shortening the hours of open voting.
Costello replied that many of the changes were requested by Iowa county auditor.
Joan Jackson asked about restricting ballot drop-off boxes to only one per county.
Dolecheck explained that in most counties, the distance to travel to a drop-off box and to the county auditor’s office was nearly the same. The number of drop-off boxes is not a restriction on voter accessibility.
He added in extremely large counties, such as Pottawattamie and Kossuth, could be addressed through technical corrections.
James Saville asked if more people voted in the past election than ever before, and if the goal is to increase voter participation, why make any changes to the current voting laws at all. He said to date 32 states had taken steps to restrict voting.
Costello said the bill is not an attempt to suppress voting.
“It’s just trying to clear things up to make sure that it’s very secure and people can’t have questions about these things,” he said.
Bill Stump asked if public tax dollars are currently being diverted to private institutions. He used the example of the high number of students enrolled in Iowa Connections Academy (ICA), which has partnered with the CAM school district to provide fully online education to students.
Dolecheck said the funds from the increased open enrollment in ICA are used by the CAM district to hire teachers.
Tess Rinehart stated her opposition to the proposal to provide “scholarships” to public school students to enroll in a private school.
Costello said many parents and students feel “trapped” in low-performing school districts. Besides, he added, students in only 34 school districts designated as low-performing would qualify for the scholarships.
Dolecheck said unlike the Senate bill, the House has decided to work on individual pieces of the Gov. Kim Reynolds’ education plan, including the voucher proposal.
Joyce Weehler asked about students jumping from one school district to another strictly to play sports.
Dolecheck said some lessening of restrictions came as the result of COVID, but a House bill would address that issue.
Paul Dykstra asked the legislators to be aware of the effect the sale of high-priced hunting ground is having on property tax rates in rural counties. The majority of the tax burden, he said, was falling on current residents of a county rather than the out-of-state owners.
The next Legislative Coffee is set for Saturday, March 27 at 1 p.m. in the courthouse Assembly Room.