The Ottumwa Courier

April 7, 2013

A peek into the Iowa state Legislature

Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — OTTUMWA — The quest for expanded health care and economic vitality should not come at the expense of future generations, area legislators say.

At the last legislative forum of the year, state Sens. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa, and Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa, as well as state Reps. Mary Gaskill, D-Ottumwa, Curt Hanson, D-Fairfield, and Larry Sheets, R-Moulton, gave some insight into progress being made in Des Moines — or in some cases, they said, a lack of progress on the most important bills.

Both Democratic representatives support Medicaid expansion, saying it would cover more Iowans who need it, and that it would save the state money more so than would the governor’s proposal. But, Hanson asked, “is it the best deal in the long run? That’s hard to determine.”

Rozenboom said legislators need to be careful in making a decision and that “there’s no rush.”

”As much as we all want to do things, it’s what we can do,” he said. “Sometimes it comes down to a question of compassion. For me, that question of compassion extends beyond today, and that includes for our children and grandchildren. If we cannot stay within our budget today, we will pass that on to our children and grandchildren.”

Sheets said it would be irresponsible for the state government to believe that the federal government will fulfill its promises by paying fully for Medicaid expansion for the first two years and 90 percent thereafter.

”Once Iowa commits to Medicaid expansion, there’s no backing up,” he said.

Chelgren had concerns that the disabled and elderly already on Medicaid will not receive the same level of services if thousands of additional Iowans jump into the system.

”At a certain point, the system can’t handle the extra load,” he said.

The proposed — and controversial — CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) south of Batavia brought citizens out to the forum to ask legislators for advice on what they can do to stop the operations from moving in.

Sheets said he would prefer local control on the issue rather than the Iowa Department of Natural Resources having the final say. Chelgren agreed, saying anytime there’s an opportunity to empower local government, that’s what should be done.

”I’m hoping we can get it so the board [of supervisors] can make those decisions, rather than the matrix used across the state,” Sheets said.

Chelgren also said he understands that the economic vitality of Iowa is thanks in large part to farmers.

“But the quest for economic vitality should not supersede the health of our citizens,” he said.

Gaskill encouraged anyone with concerns to talk with local pork producers to try to come to some kind of agreement.

”When it gets to the state level and changing the Iowa Code, I’m very dubious that anything can be done ... even though many of us support local control, there are more right now who do not,” she said.

When CAFOs originated, they were proposed as an economic development tool, though knowledge of their environmental and health effects were largely unknown at the time, Hanson said.

”I think we shot ourselves in the foot back in those days when we didn’t look at the overall environmental impact of hog confinements,” Hanson said. “There are ways to have less problems with odors ... ways to reduce that pollution and smell. However, they’re not widely used by most corporate animal feeding operations. That’s something maybe we should look at and see if we can put new regulations on it. But I don’t see us rolling back requirements and turning to local control right now, even though I’d like us to.”

One citizen asked the legislators why the Constitution was not being enforced when it comes to the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling in 2009 to make gay marriage legal, alleging that the judges overstepped their bounds in making the ruling.

Gaskill said the mistake came long before the ruling four years ago.

”I think we made a mistake many years ago in Iowa Code when we called it marriage,” Gaskill said. “Actually, the state sanctifies civil unions. It should be called ‘civil union’ for all of us. When you get married in a church, that’s a marriage. I think marriage is very sacred, but I do believe that those people who live in this community and work and pay taxes, if they’re in a committed relationship ... they should have the same type of advantages I had for 50 years in my marriage for taxation purposes or when they go to the hospital. I think this is something that’s long past, and it’s time to move on.”

Sheets said he believes marriage should only be between one man and one woman. While Chelgren did not take a specific stance on either side of the issue, he did say the Constitution places a limit on what legislative bodies can do.

”Its goal is to empower the citizenry,” Chelgren said. “It limits our ability to tell you how to live your life.”