Legislators hear from public concerned about potential bills

(Above) Speaker of the House Linda Upmeyer and State Senator Amanda Ragan fielded questions for more than an hour last week from constituents.-Reporter photo by Chris Barragy.

by Marianne Gasaway

The Clear Lake Bank and Trust Community Room was filled Friday with North Iowans wanting to share their thoughts on bills trying to make their way to a vote in the state legislature.

Speaker of the House Linda Upmeyer (R-Clear Lake) and State Senator Amanda Ragan (D-Mason City) participated in the first Legislative Forum of the new session hosted by the Clear Lake Area Chamber of Commerce.  The two experienced legislators wasted no time in reminding the more than 75 persons in attendance that funnel week had not yet arrived and much of what constituents were hearing about likely will not make it out of committee.

“Right now, anyone can file any bill.  At the first funnel they have to come out of committee and get to the other side.  I don’t think a lot of what you are hearing will come over; or it will have a lot of change if it comes over,” said Upmeyer.

The issue raising the most concern was House File 542 and SSB 1221.   Those who oppose the bills say they are intended to stop conservation projects in Iowa by taking away the tax credits for donors who privately give land or conservation easements to private non-profits for conservation purposes. House File 542, sponsored by the Farm Bureau, seeks to stop all public conservation projects in Iowa.

Upmeyer reported Joe McGovern, president of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, was slated to be at the Capitol Monday, March 4, to discuss the issue with legislative leadership.

“I don’t expect this bill to stay in its current form,” said Upmeyer.

Other issues of concern within the Judicial System, including the judicial selection process.  At least one member of the audience told Upmeyer and Ragan “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  However, the two leaders said they believe Iowa’s great plan can possibly be improved upon and the state is modeling a system used in Connecticut which is considered to be the best.

“I never think discussing something is a bad idea,” said Upmeyer.

Local attorney Dave Eastman urged legislators to find funding to increase fees paid to defense attorneys, saying no one wants to take the job because the pay is prohibitive.   Soon judges will have no choice but to release the accused because they are being denied their right to counsel, he said.

Upmeyer and Ragan said they believe the issue will be taken care of in the new budget.

Former Clear Lake educator Sandy Christ railed on the state’s funding for schools and said that was likely behind a proposed bill which would eliminate the need for nurses and librarians in schools.    She also expressed her disapproval for a school voucher system which she said would reduce accountability for home schools.  “It’s not in the community’s best interest,” she said.

Ragan told Christ the measure was coming to a sub-commit-

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