Union County residents got a chance to engage with local lawmakers Saturday morning at Creston’s Restored Depot during the first of three legislative coffees hosted by the Creston Chamber of Commerce.
More than two dozen people gathered at the depot’s mealsite where District 21 House Representative Tom Moore and Iowa State Senator Tom Shipley fielded written questions on topics ranging from educational spending to illegal gambling.
During his opening remarks, Moore thanked those who voted for him during the “spirited” election and remarked on the state legislative session.
“I think our session is off to a great start,” said Moore. “It seems to be a little less contentious on both sides – of the House anyway.”
Moore updated constituents on the work of the House Education and Appropriations committees, which passed an additional $7.8 million for transportation and $2.9 million for per pupil equity.
“Those two bills ... will go over into ‘standings,’ which means it’s an ongoing expense and it is something that can be counted on by the schools,” said Moore.
Moore said the approved funding made a total package of approximately 2.3 percent, which is what he said Governor Kim Reynolds requested, which he said added approximately $89.3 million to education spending in the state, ranking Iowa fourth in the U.S. for K-12 spending.
“I think that really does establish the fact that we’re concerned about K-12 education being a priority.
Moore said those two bills, and Medicaid make up for 80 percent of the state’s budget.
Moore also shared that state legislatures are voting this week to approve the Secure an Advance Vision in Education, a funding stream formerly known as the statewide school infrastructure sales and services tax – also known as the local option sales and services tax for school infrastructure.
“We’re looking at a 20-year extension on that,” said Moore.
Moore said the House Education Committee is working on a bill to “eliminate” the Praxis test, which measures the academic skills and subject-specific content knowledge needed for teaching.
“Once [teachers] complete all this education, they have to pass this standardized test to get their license. We’ve had issues. Rural Iowa has issues with teacher shortage,” said Moore.
Moore added that the goal isn’t to completely eliminate the exam, but to allow some leeway for those who do not pass the exam on the first try. Moore said the changes would allow a year to retake and pass the exam for those who have been offered a teaching contract. The effort is to reduce barriers to teaching in rural communities which struggle with attracting and retaining teachers.
Shipley discussed three bills he is working on – changes to state laws pertaining to vaping products, animal cruelty and illegal gambling.
Shipley proposed increasing the legal age for purchasing vaping products from 18 to 21 to decrease the use of vaping products among teens, which he said has become a pervasive problem in schools.
Shipley said proposed changes to animal cruelty would call for stricter penalties for those who violate the law and make a second misdemeanor offense a “first-level” felony.
“We are going to have one little amendment on there, but very little, because we’re not changing definitions,” said Shipley. “Frankly, the livestock industry gets very suspicious when this stuff comes along that’s going to be over-reaching or that’s going to be used against them at some point. And they have every right to believe so, because they have groups out there that want them gone.”
Shipley said a carbon-monoxide monitor bill resulted after members of the Creston community brought it to state legislators. Both Moore and Shipley said, while it is a priority, how to enforce such laws would need to be further addressed.
Shipley said he is continuing to work on a bill to get industrial hemp in Iowa, which is a result of changes made to the Federal farm bill.
“I cannot believe how many people have been in contact with me and my colleagues that want to start this process. We’ve had people even from out of state who want to come in with a lot of money and want to invest in a processing facility. We don’t need to worry about growing it.”
Jeremy Rounds of Creston asked Moore and Shipley if they are supporting or decreasing state resources to address nuisances properties, which burden city budgets.
Shipley said he’s “more than happy” to come up with a plan to help offset some of the funds being spent by local entities.
Jerri Henderson of Creston asked Moore and Shipley about their views on sports gambling and recreational marijuana.
Shipley referenced the Iowa Sen. Joe Bolkcom bill calling for the legalization of recreational marijuana.
“That bill is tucked safely in someone’s desk and can’t see the light of day,” said Shipley.
Moore said legislators are working with the “players” – the Iowa Horsemen, Iowa Lottery, the casinos and the professional sports major leagues – on four gambling bills
From the bills proposed, the legislature is trying to craft what Moore describes as “the best (comprehensive) bill.”
“My position is this is not an expansion of gambling,” said Moore.
Moore said the purpose is to bring the $150 billion industry out of the shadows.
“The intent of our bill is to legitimize it, ... regulate it, tax it, and ... provide treatment for those that have a problem with it,” said Moore.
Mitzie Cellan of Creston asked if a better selection of managed care organizations (MCOs) is in the works.
Shipley said a third MCO is expected to come out to Iowa this summer, which will force more competition between the two existing.
“We hope, if you’ve got some issues ... get ahold of us and we’ll see if we can help walk you through that,” said Shipley. “You wouldn’t be the first one we’ve done that with ...and, usually with pretty fair results.”
Moore said, over the past two years, the state has increased oversight of the MCOs.
“Our constituents shouldn’t have to come to us to get the services,” said Moore.
Julie Lanning of Creston, who works for a local community bank, asked if Moore and Shipley would support equalizing tax payments, or lack thereof, by credit unions.
Shipley said he does, but that the problem is with bigger credit unions such as the University of Iowa Credit Union, which he said is eager to get citizens to deposit their money at their bank, but don’t provide the services needed to serve the community, such as ag loans.
Moore said, “yes and no.”
“The problem we have is, how do we separate those?”
Moore said deposits made at larger credit unions are substantially more than small credit unions, which he said exist in Creston. He also pointed out that deposits made to large banks, such as Citibank or Wells Fargo, far exceed the amount being deposited at small credit unions, so it wouldn’t be fair to make a blanketed statement to tax all credit unions.
“That requires someone above my pay grade tax-wise,” said Moore.
Bob Jungst of Creston asked about Shipley and Moore’s positions on payday lending, which both said they aren’t as familiar with.
Shipley said the issue would have to be a priority for somebody in a high level position.
Moore weighed in, too.
“I would love to see those lower income people go to the banks, but ... we’ve got those regulatory things that say ... they have to qualify to pay off those loans, so it’s a Catch-22,” said Moore.
Mike Lange of Creston asked if the state can support the current students-to-teacher ratio, which is 13.13 to one, and if it’s expected to go any lower.
“That per pupil number of 13.1 is misleading,” said Moore.
Moore said the number is an average of all classrooms in the K-12 system across the state. Some classes, such as family-consumer science that have six students can’t be compared to an elementary classroom with 28 students in it.
“There’s that balance that we’ve got to think about,” said Moore. “We are keeping pace.”
Lang also asked Moore and Shipley of their opinion of restoring felon voting rights.
“A bill will happen but it will have a bunch of caveats on it,” said Shipley. “It’s one thing if they’ve been convicted of a drunk driving and done time, it’s quite another thing on a kidnapping charge. There are some crimes that are so egregious, you’ve given it up if you’ve done something that bad.”
Both agreed that time must be served and restoration must be paid before any eligibility is considered.
“And what you can pay restitution for? I don’t think there’s any restitution for taking someone’s life ... for kidnapping ... for rape,” said Moore.
The next legislative coffees are scheduled for 8 a.m. March 9 and April 13 at Creston’s Restored Depot mealsite.