The big three issues to be worked on during the current state legislative session will be education reform, the economy and budget and property tax reform.
During a legislative luncheon Jan. 25 at Lakeside Casino, Rep. Joel Fry, R-Osceola, and Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, shared their knowledge on the issues Iowa is currently facing.
Fry was the first of the two politicians to speak to a crowd of approximately 35 people.
He said the Legislature has only been in session for just more than two weeks. One of the first things discussed was Gov. Terry Branstad’s proposed budget.
“The governor recommends appropriating $6.5 billion, or which is $316.4 million over what we’re currently spending in 2013 for the fiscal year 2014. That’s about a 4.3 percent increase of spending over our previous fiscal year,” Fry said. “The question and the conversation on the House side of things continues to be how much do we continue to spend and grow our spending, or where is that fine point at which we don’t grow government or grow spending and try and catch other pieces up to the current fiscal year?”
Fry said since mental-health reform legislation has been passed, the current focus is to better understand how to move from the old system to the new system of mental-health delivery.
“As it relates to county supervisors,” he said, “helping to figure out how the transition funding will happen in order to get from the old to the new system.”
Fry said he will be, again, working on the geriatric sex abuse bill.
“There was some very strong interest in my own district about that, and we will be reintroducing that bill,” he said. “It all originates out of the issue up in northeast Iowa where the nursing home resident was sexually abused by a sexual perpetrator who was also a resident of that nursing home.”
Fry said he wanted to make the distinction concerning the issues of mental health and the second amendment in the national media.
He said second-amendment rights and mental health have recently been tied together.
“The mental-health pieces that I am talking about that I am working on don’t have a lot of influence or backing in the second-amendment right conversation that’s going on nationally because this is an initiative mental health-wise that we’ve been working on in this state now for quite some time,” he said. “Be very careful when you hear that to not get those two pieces mixed up.”
When it was Sinclair’s turn to address the crowd, she quickly brought up a topic that has caused a lot of attention across the state.
This is the issue of reducing or consolidating Iowa’s 99 counties.
Sinclair said she would fight against that with “everything she has.”
“You should be able to go to your supervisors,” she said. “You should be able to go to your mayor, your city council members and talk with them about what you need. We shouldn’t worry about not being able to contact our supervisors without driving to Des Moines.”
Sinclair said it’s an issue that has popped up year after year, but she doesn’t think its going to go anywhere this year.
Then, Sinclair addressed education reform.
Branstad’s $187 million education reform proposal would increase pay for new teachers, revise the system for teacher advancement and recognition and encourage high-school students to complete a “career-ready” portfolio in addition to traditional tests like the ACT and SAT.
“I love the fact that we’re working on getting the very best teachers into the classrooms, into the hard places to fill, and that we’re taking a proactive step in doing that,” Sinclair said. “That’s a good, solid idea.”
She added, she loves a year-long student teaching experience.
According to Sinclair, it’s the responsibility of the Legislature to set allowable growth the year prior to the budget year so school district’s can know what they’re budgeting.
Recently, the Senate passed out of a subcommittee a 4 percent allowable growth and property-tax relief that offsets the increase in allowable growth.
“So, we used that taxpayer trust-fund money, which about 16 million dollars of it, to offset the increase in allowable growth,” Sinclair said.
Sinclair said she voted for it, but there’s a part of it she doesn’t like, and she’ll try to get the part changed when it’s debated with the full Senate.
“It’s not ongoing. It’s this year,” she said, “and if we’re going to place that allowable growth out there, which schools deserve to know what they’re budgeting, but if we’re going to do that, to me, the state needs to cover the cost of that, and I appreciate the property-tax relief. I want to see it permanent rather than just this year when funds are available.”