Local legislators served a generous portion of 'Eggs and Issues'

Sunday, January 21, 2018
Iowa Sen. David Johnson, I-Ocheyedan; Iowa State Auditor Mary Mosiman; Iowa Rep. Megan Jones, R-Sioux Rapids, and Iowa Rep. John Wills, R-Spirit Lake faced questions from a large audience at the first Eggs and Issues forum of this year's legislative session in Spencer. (Photo by Colin van Westen)

This year's first Eggs and Issues of the legislative session began with area legislators and the Iowa state auditor joining with community members for breakfast and discussion about state issues on Saturday morning in City Hall.

The forum began with brief opening statements to the large audience introducing topics that have been discussed at the statehouse from District 1 Rep. John Wills, R-Spirit Lake, District 2 Rep. Megan Jones, R-Sioux Rapids and Sen. David Johnson I-Ocheyedan. Iowa State Auditor Mary Mosiman also joined the forum, she introduced the role and responsibilities of her office including their work to stop fraud at all levels of government and her desire to audit more cities to make sure they are handling tax money appropriately.

Mary Marske asked the panel, "What are you going to do to protect women's reproductive rights?"

Johnson, Jones and Wills agreed that contraception was widely available in the state and that Planned Parenthood was not the solution to problems with reproductive rights in the state.

"I think it is very simple as far as Planned Parenthood goes, as soon as they stop providing abortions, maybe we can move ahead and allow them to do whatever women's health services that are out there, that are needed," Johnson said.

"No one has been denied family planning services. ... Planned Parenthood's business model is not solvent, they were going to be dwindling off in numbers even before we passed legislation," Jones noted.

"I would definitely say we did not reduce the amount of women's health care last year, in fact we expanded it," Wills said. "I believe there were 13 Planned Parenthood clinics that were receiving government assistance. We said if you are providing abortions, you can't receive those funds.

Travis Johnson, assistant county attorney for Dickinson County, questioned the panel about changes proposed that would require police departments and prosecutors offices to pay for copies of evidence including images and videos used in the discovery phase of a trial.

"The bill requires the state and law enforcement entities to furnish any evidence we have," Travis Johnson said. "The current rule is we have to provide the opportunity to view the evidence."

Jones said she sponsored the bill because law enforcement agencies have been charging defendants blanket fees of up to $65 whether the evidence is two pictures or 80 videos. The defendant should only be charged actual cost for reproducing media. She also pointed out defendants have a constitutional right to have the evidence brought against them.

Wills added, "In order for our courts to survive and do well, this issue needs to be brought to the attention of the state."

Both Travis Johnson and Jones agreed this issue will most likely be settled in the courts.

Travis Johnson offered a compromise, "Put some strong language in there to encourage police departments and county attorney's offices to be reasonable about their fees. ... Don't put the costs on our police department and our county attorney's office."

Jerry Crew asked the members of the state Legislature about the possibility of Educational Saving Accounts being made available.

"I just have questions, where are we going to get the money. We are in a very tight budget year, I think everybody knows that. ..." David Johnson said. "Public education is in the constitution and it is something we are going to provide. I am all for school choice if we do it right. I am not sure I have seen a plan yet."

Mosiman pointed out education and Health and Human Services take up about 75 percent of the state's total expenditures which makes it difficult to fund other important departments like the judicial branch and public safety.

Wills indicated the governor has included a change as part of her proposed tax reform in 529 educational savings accounts which would allow the accounts to be used for K-12 as well as college savings.

"I am a school choice proponent who feels we can't hurt the public education system," Wills said. "We have to develop that balance."

Jones agreed with both David Johnson and Wills. She said the budget might prevent any action, but pointed to the proposed changes in 529 educational saving accounts as a possible compromise.

Bob Becker asked the panel, specifically Mosiman, if Iowa Public Employees Retirement System is fiscally solvent.

"We have four different public pension systems, each of them have a different publicly funded level. Approximately 20 percent of those public pension systems are unfunded which impacts every tax payer," Mosiman said. "At least in IPERS which is the largest one, financial experts or actuaries predict it will become fully funded within the next 30 years."

"There is no emergency and there is no problem with IPERS," Wills said. "Don't worry about waking up tomorrow and your IPERS is gone."

David Johnson and Jones agreed they do not see a need for changes in IPERS this year.

Clay Central-Everly Superintendent Dennis McClain questioned the panel about the one cent sales tax, also known as the SAVE tax. The tax is set to expire in 2029.

David Johnson, Jones and Wills all agreed they are in favor of extending the SAVE tax, but each offered a different compromise to allow the tax to continue.

"So either we extend it to 2049, now we have another year in there so we should think about extending it further than that or else just eliminating the sunset," David Johnson said. "The schools are relying on that, I believe it is very important to rural schools. ..."

"It would probably be a lot easier to remove that altogether, but if extending it is the compromise, that's what we re going to have to do," Jones said.

"In general, I am in favor of extending SAVE," Wills said. "I don't know to what level or how many years."

Elderbridge Agency on Aging CEO Shelly Sindt questioned the panel about funding for services helping the growing population over 65 years old.

"I don't know," Wills bluntly replied. "I always say I will tell you the truth whether you like it or not."

While David Johnson said the Medicaid system needs to be administered by the state, he had no good answer about where funding for elderly programs would come from.

"I don't believe there are any major reforms that have to be done," David Johnson said. "In order to find some saving that could be directed into the Agencies on Aging. It is just a funding issue that we are going through right now. I don't have a good answer for you."

Jones added that without more young people in the state, it will be hard to support senior services.

Rob Aiken renewed the debate about Managed Care Organizations in Iowa.

"I am looking forward to directives from the governor's office on what she wants to do because this whole system was changed on us without legislative approval," Jones said. "It was done through the executive branch. I don't know how to fix it, I am all ears when it comes to making changes."

"The governor says she is going to fix it, but I stand with Speaker Upmeyer who said just two weeks ago that if the governor doesn't fix it, the legislature is ready to fix it," Wills said.

Mosimer focused in on how her office could help saying that she looks forward to working with the Department of Human Services to stop fraud, waste and abuse.

David Johnson countered with concerns about the governor's commitment to MCOs.

"I wish I were so optimistic about the governor's speech," he said. "I don't know what her plan is, but publicly she stated we are going to stay with the MCOs. ... It is a huge, huge mistake that Governor Branstad put upon this state and took off for China leaving it in the hands of his lieutenant governor."

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