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Jones/Whiting Hold First Town Hall Meeting of 2020

February 5, 2020
By Anesa McGregor , Emmetsburg News

by Anesa McGregor

Representative Megan Jones and Senator Zach Whiting met with 15 area residents, educators and local government officials to discuss and listen to issues that concern people most today.

Jones began with a short explanation about her first three weeks of the second session in Iowa's 88th Assembly of the House of Representatives, which began in January.

Article Photos

DURING THE FIRST TOWN HALL MEETING of 2020 Representative Megan Jones and Senator Zach Whiting met with 15 concerned voters on Saturday, Feb. 1 to discuss and listen to issues that are important to area voters. These issues range from mental health to what the surplus budget money is spent on. -- Anesa McGregor photo

As Jones explained, the norm at the beginning of the second session is to first agree on the amount of money for education for the next fiscal year. Education is generally the main topic of conversation for the first 30 days.

Whiting explained that the senate discussed the Invest in Iowa Act, which Governor Reynolds spoke of during her State of the State address.

"There is consideration on raising state sales tax by one penny," Whiting stated. "A portion of the additional penny three-eighths of a cent would fund the IWILL program. The remaining five-eighths of a cent is still undetermined."

Whiting continued to discuss other important issues such as mental health and funding, the availability of daycare, budgets, and supplemental funding to schools.

Mobile Barbershop

"Governor Reynolds is also talking about William Burt during her address and how she restored his voting rights last year," Whiting said. "Burt served time in prison and is a felon.

"Burt had the idea for a mobile barber shop where he would go into remote areas and offer services to those who cannot get to a barber shop. He has a van set up as a barber shop and I was lucky to be able to get a look inside when Burt brought the van to the capitol," Whiting continued. "We have been working on a bill that would allow this mobile barber shop, but there are specifics that need to be worked out."

"Would the person seeking service go to the van or would he go to the person's house?" asked one county resident.

"There are some people that cannot get out, especially this time of year," Whiting replied. "Yet, they still want and need the services of a barber, so yes there may be a situation in which the mobile barber shop goes to the person's home."

"We need to be cautious in how the bill will read to put safety for people above anything," Whiting continued.

"Safety is what concerns me," the resident stated.

Mental Health

The focus of the town hall meeting turned to mental health with Jones and Whiting expanding on opening remarks.

"I recently went to an Iowa State Association of Counties (ISAC) meeting to listen to the concerns of local government regarding mental health," Whiting said. "The biggest concern voiced by the supervisors at the meeting was funding. We need a workable solution when looking for a sustainable funding source."

"In 2010, Iowa voters voted 60 percent in favor of a one cent state sales tax increase to fund IWILL (Iowa's Water and Land Legacy), also known as the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund," Jones began. "Three-eighths of one cent would go to this program leaving five-eighths of one cent that has not been earmarked for anything specific yet," Jones continued. "We need to rethink the original formula that was created, keeping three-eighths of a cent for IWILL and look at other programs such as mental health."

According to Jones, Iowa's mental health system is funded at a county level. Looking at other states, Iowa is only one of four other states to fund mental health at the county level.

"We need to keep counties in the game, but potentially look at the state possibly paying for 70 percent of mental health and the state paying 30 percent," Jones explained. "This keeps the Counties involved in ways that still gives them control of mental health at the local level."

Children's Mental Health

"One concern at the county level is children's mental health," Palo Alto County Supervisor Craig Merrill said. "With all the core services that are required, there will not be enough money at the county level to cover it all."

"There is going to have to be money injected into the system somewhere. We just need to figure out where it will come from," Whiting responded.

"Mental health issues for students in classrooms is on the rise and as teachers our hands are tied," Stephanie Kirk, teacher, said. "Is there anything in mental health that will allow the schools to hire someone who is trained to deal with children's mental health issues or is there something for teachers?"

"Do we put the burden on schools or on the mental health system?" Jones questioned. "This is why it is so important that the formula for the additional one cent sales tax be revised."

"We need to find ways to do things flexibly," Whiting said. "Guidance counselors are not trained to deal with mental health. Something to look at is possibly training teachers to see signs."

"Everyday I am called names, have things thrown at me, my room torn apart and vandalized," Kirk stated. "As teachers we are not allowed to touch a student. We go home and vent to our family about the things we deal with. It's our family that gets the brunt of our stress."

"In school we have what is called Violent Student Behavior. This is where a student has a violent outburst and begins throwing chairs, tearing things off the walls, and various other things that put my other students at risk," Kirk continued. "Something has got to be done."

She explained that school policy in a situation described above is to remove the other children into the hall and wait out the outburst. Then it is business as usual.

"I am tired of my wife being called the "c---" word on a weekly basis," David Kirk, Counselor and Ruthven Mayor. "Something needs to be done to fix the situation.

An early mental health issue can change into more severe issues by the time that person reaches adult age.

"If it is cost that is the issue, look at it this way; it costs $580 per day to keep a child that has a mental health issue in a treatment center," Kirk continued.

Children's mental health has only recently been looked at seriously, left untreated, we are beginning to see the outcome according to Kirk.

Something happened in our educational system where teachers were told to be nice and now it has morphed into teachers being afraid of lawsuits if they even try to break up a fight.

Jones and Whiting both agreed some good ideas and issues were brought up that they will take back to the capitol with them for further study.



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