Senator David Johnson, Representative Megan Hess and Congressman Steve King were all in attendance at the Town Hall Meeting in Emmetsburg on Saturday. Legislators and Palo Alto County residents discussed a number of topics including youth in politics, school start dates, voting, healthcare and ATV laws.
Hess announced the upcoming Funnel Week, which cuts down on the number of bills available for consideration by the legislature. Bills have to pass through three-member subcommittees before reaching committee and surviving the funnel. "It's been an interesting week with the scope of issues that have past my desk," said Hess.
King gave an update on national news. "We talk a lot about what we see in the national news and right now, that's sequestration. There's no reason a nation as rich and successful as we are can't live within its means. We're the generation who has the least excuse to pass our debts along to the next generation. What I'll be calling for is a balanced budget amendment as a condition to raising the debt ceiling," said King.
Hess brought up the importance of getting young people involved in politics and her involvement in the Page Program at the capitol. "I support a bill in the house that would require a financial literacy class to be taught in our local schools. Of course, schools don't want another mandate but I think it's important to teach our students what's all happening."
Johnson agreed, "I think we need that leadership in our communities. Where are they coming from and what they are learning is very important to Iowa."
Deb Hite asked about the need for a standard school start date across Iowa. "I would certainly vote to have a standard start date," said Hess. "There's a bill that just went through the education committee that I voted for. Right now, schools need to have a certain number of days and so an early dismissal counts for a full day. If they leave at noon, they're missing 3.5 hours of school. We're changing it from days to hours so those kids will need to be in school a certain number of hours. Those early dismissals, the late starts, those would be hours put back into the end of the school year."
"The impact is state wide. Kids go to school for 15 minutes and get dismissed and it counts for a full day? That's really a disservice to our kids," said Johnson. "Plus we have young people employed and they have to leave early so things start shutting down. Some water parks shut down in mid-August because all their employees are gone."
One-lever election voting is a topic gaining traction in the area. "I am in favor of a bill that eliminates the option of straight ticket voting," said Hess. "When you vote, you need to be an informed citizen. We've had a record number of people voting by absentee ballot the last few years and I think the benefit to that is so you can see your ballot and see who's on it and go do your research. There's really no excuse to be voting straight ticket. You could still end up voting a straight ticket by filling in each circle."
Medicaid expansion was also covered by the legislators. "The governor will come out this week with an alternative plan that will involve the state providing it a much better program," said Johnson.
Johnson summarized a letter from the Iowa Hospital Administration CEO stating Iowa had no hope of becoming the healthiest state in the nation when so many Iowans have no insurance. "I want to say two things about that. In the gallop health poll, two years ago we were ranked 19th in the country. A year ago, we were 16th. Now we've moved to 9th according to this. And we can't become the healthiest state? We're on our way right now."
"I would be very interested to see the details of that plan," said PACHS administrator, Desiree Einsweiler. "Our health is good as far as an overall state population but how will hospitals pick up that bill? We write off 3% of our charges every year because people can't pay. People are getting the care that they need but hospitals are going out of business. You can't maintain a business when you're giving away care but at some point, we're going to have to stop the bleed on the hospitals or they'll be shutting down."
Johnson was optimistic about the governor's plan saying, "It may take a while to work out the details but I'd like to give it a chance."
Police officer, Darrin Adams, suggested legalizing the use of ATVs on our roadways. "There's so much talk on ATV use on our roadways. I guess I'm supportive of it. I feel like we could make money overnight if we allowed ATVs on our roadways. We have a lot of the laws in place already that would allow it. There are hundreds of those machines across the state that would generate some revenue for us," said Adams. It was suggested money could come from licensing and insurance as well as a tourism perk. "I just think there's an economic incentive to do this," said Adams.
Hess agreed and brought up a bill in support of allowing counties being responsible for the use of those vehicles. "I've actually got a petition in this district requesting that bill to move forward," said Hess.
The next Town Hall meeting will be at 8:30 a.m. on April 13 at the Emmetsburg Chamber of Commerce.