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Legislators At Town Hall Meeting

Constituents Address Variety of Topics

February 5, 2013
Jane Whitmore , Emmetsburg News

Education, mental health and lake restoration were among the concerns that constituents from Palo Alto County brought to the attention of state legislators Saturday morning.

State Senator David Johnson from Ocheyedan and State Representative Megan Hess from Spencer met with 20 residents at the first of three Town Hall meetings Saturday.

John Joynt, Emmetsburg Superintendent of Schools, questioned the legislators on allowable growth in education.

"We need education reform before we allow allowable growth," said Hess.

Johnson noted that the Senate passed out 4-percent allowable growth.

"I'm not ready to go 4-percent," he said, noting that the House may come up with another figure. "It will go to negotiations and could come out with two or 3-percent. We'll get some allowable growth done."

County Supervisor Ron Graettinger asked about mental health reform.

Sen. Johnson said there is a recommendation for up to $20 million for those counties who need the money, but they haven't seen that bill yet. He also noted that they must also fully fund Medicaid.

"That's always a moving target. We never know how many Iowans are going to access services," said Johnson.

Graettinger asked about Medicaid expansion from the federal government.

Johnson said an actuary projected what the cost would be to add 150,000 low income Iowans to the Medicaid roles. The actuary projected a median cost of an additional $17 billion by the year 2020 in state money. The federal government would have to provide $49 billion.

Johnson wondered, "Where is that money going to come from?"

Hess added, "Since 2000, we have provided 65-percent more in Medicaid and that's without expansion. We need to look at that. In saying that, it doesn't do anyone good to have an unsustainable program. We need to make sure the decisions we make are fiscally sound."

Supervisor Linus Solberg stated that the governor's speech did not mention mental health.

Johnson pointed out that the governor's budget proposal had $30 million for mental health statewide.

"We're not sure exactly how that will be spent, but that's our job," said Johnson. He noted that the study committee on mental health continues to meet.

"It's hard to certify budgets by March 15 if we don't know the amount of funding," said Palo Alto County Auditor Carmen Moser.

Rick Jones, chairman of the Five Island Restoration Committee, expressed concerns about funding for lake dredging. He referred to an editorial piece from Storm Lake that talked about the governor's budget, moving all of the money specified for dredging lakes to another fund.

"The DNR budget had $8.7 million and in the governor's proposed budget, he moved $7 million of that to another fund," said Jones. "We have a commitment here on our lake for $200,000 over the next three years. Obviously that would just shoot that down. I know it's just a proposed budget, but I'm asking for your assistance to get that money moved back."

Johnson stated, "In the current year we've got $6 million in lake restoration. The governor's budget takes that down to a million dollars in fiscal year '14 and then puts it up to 6 (million dollars) in fiscal year '15. We're under funded with lake restoration and that's important to me and it's important to this community, Storm Lake and Clear Lake. It seems the governor's priorities are to get the state parks back into better shape."

"The supervisors are concerned about this too, because we've got five lakes. If we get done with this (Five Island Lake), move on to another lake," added Solberg.

Supervisor Keith Wirtz brought up gun control. He referred to information that would allow schools to have a certified person have a gun in schools.

"I think it's a good idea," he said.

Hess said there is a better bill coming out next week.

"As we get more rules, our law enforcement gets spread out more," she said, "and it takes longer to get law enforcement to a school. It's scary. At the end of the day there is nothing that is going to go through the House that puts any more restrictions on guns."

Johnson added, "There are different approaches here. One would allow someone with a concealed weapons permit to be within a gun free zone, that would include schools. In the Senate there is a bill that would allow school staff to have a fire arm in the school. So I don't know where this is going to end."

"I had that conversation with a friend of mine," said Joynt. "There are some larger schools with armed guards, highly trained, very highly trained. That's different than getting a permit. We could do that and I think for 33-cents per thousand on your tax levy I could make that happen, I told him. He backed down."

Conversations continued on education reform, including teacher evaluations and funding for education, community college funding and job training.

The next Town Hall Meeting will be at 8 :30 a.m. Saturday, March 2, at the Emmetsburg Chamber of Commerce.



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