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State Representative Cecil Dolecheck and State Senator Mark Costello held their final legislative forum with about a dozen constituents Saturday, March 27 in Mount Ayr.
The legislators opened the hour-long session by previewing work yet to be completed during this legislative session.
Costello said the upcoming week is the second and final “funnel” week, a time when proposed legislation must have passed one chamber and been through committee in the other chamber to be eligible for floor debate this session. Exceptions would be budget bills or ways and means bills.
Besides budget considerations, Costello said work on broadband access for rural Iowa and working toward moving mental health service costs away from counties are two initiatives among others receiving attention in the legislature.
Dolecheck highlighted work in the House dealing with education issues. He said the House had chosen to debate components of the governor’s education proposals rather than consider them as a whole as had the senate. House debate continues on charter schools, tax credits, and other proposals dealing with school choice. He added the House is considering additional funding for those school district that maintained in-person learning during the current school year.
Dolecheck echoed Costello’s remarks about broadband access and mental health funding as two important issues continuing to be discussed in the legislature.
In the open forum portion of the meeting, county resident Mary Kathryn Gepner brought up the topic of loosened restrictions for the purchase of firearms as compared to recent legislation that tightened voting procedures in the state.
Dolecheck answered the recent legislation on voting guarantees the integrity of the voting system and clearly lays out the timeline for voting procedures.
The Constitutional Carry legislation, he said, actually goes beyond the voting legislation by instituting background checks and targeting mental health concerns.
“You have a mental problem, you can still vote in the state of Iowa,” he said. “If you have a mental problem you can’t get a gun because you can’t pass a background check.”
Keeping with the voting discussion, James Saville asked why the recent legislation limits one absentee ballot drop off box to one per county.
Saville used a comparison between the population of Ringgold County with a population of about 4,900 and of Polk County with a population of 490,000.
“Do you think there’ll be a lineup to drop in a drop box?” Dolecheck asked. “I don’t think so… the counties are the same geographic size, and I don’t think there will be a lineup… anymore in Polk County than it will be in Ringgold County.”
Joyce Weehler asked why the limit on dropboxes was imposed.
Dolecheck replied that legislation in 2018 allowed absentee drop boxes but it didn’t intend for the multiple drop boxes to be deployed in a single county.
When Costello mentioned the need for security and the possibility of ballot tampering, Weehler explained that each absentee ballot is carefully scrutinized several times by election officials before it is added to the official ballot count.
Dolecheck said much of the recent attention about absentee voting stemmed from three county auditors in the last election who mailed out unsolicited absentee ballots to residents with most confidential information already filled out.
“This [recent voting legislation] guarantees, in my opinion,” said Dolecheck, “the integrity of the system so we can be assured, moving forward that in Iowa, your vote counts.”
Ringgold Count Development Director Jodie Geist asked the legislators to keep working on broadband access for rural Iowan.
Dolecheck said funding has been set aside for that purpose, and the legislature has determined line-of-sight delivery is the best method to bring Internet access to rural areas.
In a final comment, Weehler asked the legislators if they could do anything to restrict the advertisement of online gambling in Iowa. Especially during the NCAA tournament, she said she was worried young people were being exposed to fraudulent ads promising guaranteed winning bets.
Dolecheck agreed with Weehler’s opposition to the ads, but he added the legalization of online betting in Iowa was a way to regulate and monitor it.
Costello pointed out he had voted against legalized gambling in Iowa from the beginning.
The annual Legislative Coffees are sponsored by the Mount Ayr Chamber of Commerce.