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Lawmakers Hear Concerns At Town Hall Gathering

February 14, 2017
by Dan Voigt , Emmetsburg News

A strong message was sent to State Representative Megan Jones and State Senator David Johnson during Saturday's Legislative Town Hall meeting. Opposition to the impending revamp of Iowa's Collective Bargaining law was expressed to the two lawmakers throughout the Saturday morning session.

While the Collective Bargaining, or Chapter 20 legislation was a prime topic of conversation, other issues were highlighted by the lawmakers.

"We hit the ground running,"?noted Jones of the House of Representatives first days in session. "The biggest thing we faced right away was the shortfall in tax revenues. We had to cut the state budget, so rather than an across the board cut, we tried to look at areas individually."

Article Photos

COMMUNITY?INPUT - State Senator David Johnson, left, and State Representative Megan Jones, right, heard from area residents during Saturday’s Legislative Town Hall meeting in Emmetsburg. A common theme of concern during the meeting was citizen opposition to proposed legislation on collective bargaining for employees. -- Dan Voigt photo

According to Jones, the setting of 1.1 percent Supplemental State Aid for schools was done in a timely manner this year, and Jones noted that 43 percent of the state's budget is directed towards education.

Jones also noted that she is continuing to push for changes to laws regarding sexual exploitation of a minor by school employees, as well as cleaning up the tax codes. Jones is also working on legislation regarding concussions in students involved in athletics and also said that she is looking for an expansion of recycling, and the possibility of doing away with the bottle bill.

State Senator Johnson noted that he had become an Independent during the past year, and that his first goal is to always tell the truth.

"I continue to support water quality in this state,"?Johnson said. "We are at a place where we don't want to be with water quality."

Johnson also spoke about doing away with the deposit bill. "It has served its purpose. We need to just recycle cans and bottles with everything else and just expand our recycling."

Former State Representative Marcie Frevert opened the public comment by referring to the impending Chapter 20 legislation, which would reduce the items that public employees could negotiate.

"When this legislation was first written, the wise thing about it was that there would be no strikes," Frevert said. "The new legislation is being compared to a bargaining bill, and it's not. I would encourage a "no" vote on this."

"I would agree," Senator Johnson said. "This is a priority of the Governor and it's being pushed through on the fast track. What took two years to accomplish is being dismantled in two weeks."

Johnson continued, "This is gutting collective bargaining. This is not democracy, it's 'tyranny of the majority'. I've taken 100's of emails and phone calls on this. I'm totally with you, public employees and teachers. Some of those I've talked with on this are terrified of what will happen. This has been the worse session for education I've ever seen. 1.1 percent, that's the best we can do for our schools?"

"Teachers are talking about striking and taking the fine, and that's disturbing to me," Representative Jones said of the Chapter 20 issue. "I supported reforms for Chapter 20, but I?think we could come up with amendments if we work together on the issues. But, we do need Chapter 20 reforms."

As discussion on the Chapter 20 legislation continued, Johnson noted that the state has a $7.3 billon budget, and the state has offered up an additional $12.1 billion in tax credits and incentives. "That's one reason why we're funding education the way we are," Johnson said. "This attack on Chapter 20 is not about local control, it's about state control."

"Our state is cutting Troopers and just barely having enough to cover the roads. That is not acceptable," noted Lorrie McNally. "We want to punish the people who are trying to protect us. I'm having trouble wrapping my head around that."

"There's only so much money for the state to spend,"?Jones replied.

"The State is robbing the Cultural Fund because that money is sitting there. It's robbing Peter to pay Paul,"?Johnson said. "There's going to be a lot more of that."

It was noted that changing Chapter 20 had been discussed by Governor Branstad as early as 1974.

"Well, if this was not on the Governor's personal agenda, they why is it being rushed through in just two weeks?" asked Jim Reding.

"School Aid was done in an hour," Johnson noted. "So was the de-funding for Planned Parenthood and Chapter 20. I don't understand any of it. I thought we were about cutting red tape, things like this were better decided at the local level. I?agree, there is a secret agenda."

"We followed all the House Rules on transparency,"?Jones noted.

"I think the Representatives need more time to hear from the people on this,"?Reding observed.

The lawmakers were cautioned that changes to Chapter 20 could have long-ranging effects, such as a rise in crime, which would result in corresponding rises in taxes to protect the public.

"Chapter 20 is gutting everying in collective bargaining except base salaries,"?noted Scot Davis, Clay County Jail Administrator. "The people you are gutting in Chapter 20 are the people who protect you. We understand cuts have to be made, but you're making uniformed decisions in this case."

"In 21 years as a state employee, things are getting worse,"?noted Kori Kibbie. "We don't have the resources any more, there's lots of windshield time and we have to rely on each other more and more. The money should go to people who protect and help others. We need to forget the Republican and Democrat feelings and do the right thing!"

"If a majority of your constituents asked you to vote no on Chapter 20, would you vote no?" Jodi Ward asked Jones.

"If a majority of the constituents felt that way, I would vote no," Jones answered.

"You folks have to take care of the people who take care of you,"?Bill Huberty told the lawmakers.

The meeting wound down after a few more minutes of discussion and ended with a statement from Bill Frevert.

"We have been fortunate in Palo Alto County to have had someone in leadership roles in the Legislature over the years,"?Frevert said. "The people here will be waiting to see if you will back them up on this."



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