The stances of local representatives over the issues varied — per usual — at the Legislative Coffee Saturday morning at Wilson Middle School, but together they agreed ongoing flooding in the region was devastating — and that Iowans will overcome the hardships.
This session, State Representatives Mary Ann Hanusa, R-Dist. 16; Jon Jacobsen, R-Dist. 22; and Charlie McConkey, D-Dist. 15, were joined by State Senators Dan Dawson, R-Dist. 8; and Tom Shipley, R-Dist. 11, to answer questions from about 100 inside the middle school’s theater.
But each of them had their own experiences to share about the flood over the last two weeks that has inundated farmland, ravaged infrastructure and displaced thousands along Pottawattamie County creeks, the Missouri and Platte (Nebraska) Rivers and elsewhere.
“The two counties closest to us were the hardest hit in the state,” Hanusa said. “Please, keep those affected in your thoughts and prayers.”
McConkey said the flooding is “epic and surreal,” with the projected $1.7 billion in restorations to be made is likely short of what the actual cost will be.
Jacobsen said when it came to the flooding and its aftermath, he and his colleagues were not republicans or democrats — but Iowans united to help one another.
“I am proud of how the local agencies and communities have come together on this,” he said.
Dawson recalled a conversation on Monday with Mills County Sheriff Eugene Goos that the flood was on a scale not seen since Missouri River flooded in 1952, which displaced 87,000 people and cost millions of dollars in damages before inflation adjustments.
“There are over a dozen breaches of levees, water levels at 30 feet when the levees are 27 feet.
Hundreds if not thousands heads of livestock perished, homes ruined, communities shaken,” Dawson said. “To me, the disaster and tragedy has shown that people here take care of each other in the end, it’s something to be proud of.”
Shipley visited areas affected by flooding on Friday and said he has never seen anything like it before. Drone footage captured by Mills County Emergency Management Agency workers of the waters around Glenwood was like looking over the ocean, he said.
Questions submitted by members of the crowd ranged over topics including a bill to set budget limits for counties and cities, sales tax deposits for education funds, an act to regulate gambling online for activities like fantasy sports, a bill to ensure those who use solar panels to sell excess energy back to the grid still pay fees for maintenance and more.
McConkey said the bill for budget limits would be a disaster as it would tie the hands of local governments to limit costs of, for example, police and fire departments.
On the topic of Secure an Advanced Vision for Education, Shipley said the SAVE bill to fund education renovations will almost certainly happen, and would have been enacted sooner but the legislative session last year simply ran out of time.
Jacobsen said there’s uniform support for SAVE among the legislature.
Hanusa commented on the gambling reform bill that would allow sports betting in Iowa. She said there are concerns among both major parties on what the final version of the proposal will include.
“One concern in particular is the ability for minors to gamble on their phones,” she said. “If we go down this path, I want to make sure that cannot happen.”
A solar panel energy proposal titled “House Study Bill 185” could go both ways, McConkey said. Renewable energy is needed but energy companies are concerned residents who produce extra energy through solar and sell it back to the grid aren’t paying for using the grid, he added.
Dawson said he supports the bill, as did Shipley, who likened the effort to making sure those who drive electric cars still pay to help maintain roads since they do not pay a gas tax.
A question from the crowd asked the representatives what could be done to help American Sign Language be recognized as “an actual language,” for academic studies and qualifying for college — as some universities require credits in foreign languages for admittance.
Each agreed it should be included while courses to teach ASL should be expanded.
“ASL is the third-most requested language after English and Spanish for interpretation in courtrooms,” Jacobsen said. “It’s paramount we encourage it.”
Hanusa added she was recently named to the public employees retirement board in the legislature. A series of audits — internal and external — demonstrated to her the board is well-run and managed.
The final question asked if any of the representatives present knew of “any legislation dealing with Iowa’s minimum wage.”
The next legislative coffee will be April 6 at Wilson Middle School, beginning at 8:30 a.m.