By Steve Woodhouse
---- — Sen. Amy Sinclair and Rep. Greg Heartsill participated in a legislative forum, with approximately 20 in attendance, at the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce Friday afternoon. The two opened with an update of progress made in the Legislature thus far. Sinclair reiterated her frustration at the lack of actions taken in the Senate.
“It's not a lie,” she said. “We're doing nothing.” One of the bills passed in the Senate was the acceptance of the House's proposal of providing millions of dollars to counties, for transitional expenses, related to the formation of new mental health districts. Marion County is among the counties eligible to receive some of this money.
Guns have been a topic of discussion and legislation at the state and federal levels for several months. However, the legislators told the crowd that no gun laws will be changed this session.
Knoxville Mayor Don Zoutte called out Gov. Terry Branstad's lack of faith in the federal government to live up to its promise of paying 100 percent of the costs for a Medicaid expansion, while the Governor tells local governments to trust that the state will backfill them for losses related to property tax reform.
Sinclair said the $400 million promised by the state for the backfill would become permanent in the standings bills. It would take the House, Senate and Governor, to remove this money from future budgets. Heartsill added that if the Legislature does nothing to reform property taxes, the state is looking at a $2.6 billion property tax increase over the next 10 years.
Education was discussed. Sinclair voted against the Senate's education proposal, but discussed the points of the bill she liked. This included the switch of time requirements from 180 days to 1080 hours, continued to allow online learning opportunities and offering incentives to the best and brightest to enter into the field of teaching. What she did not like is the lack of a fiscal note for a bill that could cost $610 million a year.
“I don't know that that's sustainable or practical,” Sinclair said. She is also concerned about the lack of choices offered, lack of competition among schools and the fact that the bill does not address student achievement or parental involvement.
The Senate also approved 4 percent allowable growth, or increase in spending, which former House candidate Megan Suhr asked Sinclair about. Sinclair said she would rather see allowable growth set at the same rate as inflation; 4 percent is too much for that. Sinclair wants to make sure the Legislature passes a reasonable rate, and not an “arbitrary” number each year.
The legislators said they have also been working to “clean up” the Iowa Code book, with includes updating language and ensuring that proper deadlines are in place for them. When asked if this was the best use of the Legislature's time, they said it is necessary.