As the 2013 legislative session kicked off Monday in Des Moines, two Ottumwa organizations began preparing for three legislative forums this spring.
The forums, sponsored by the Ottumwa Area Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters of Ottumwa, have been a staple in Ottumwa’s political discussion for several years.
Area state representatives and senators compose the panel, which fields questions from the public about anything they’re tackling in the Iowa Legislature.
“I encourage as many individuals, businesses and organizations to attend as possible,” said Terry McNitt, executive director of the chamber. “This year I know there are a lot of topics on the table that are going to affect a lot of people.
“If you don’t attend, if you don’t take part, if you don’t ask questions ... it’s your fault. If something happens and it doesn’t go your way, you’re part of the fault.”
During the first forum, legislators usually give the public an update on what has happened in the legislature in the past month.
“This year I’m expecting again a lot of the bigger areas they talked about last year: mental health, education, tax reform,” McNitt said. “Those affect all of us.”
Legislative attendees at last year’s forums included state Sens. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa, and Sandy Greiner, R-Keota, and state Reps. Mary Gaskill, D-Ottumwa, Curt Hanson, D-Fairfield, as well as former state Rep. Kurt Swaim, D-Bloomfield.
“It has a big impact, talking to your legislators,” McNitt said. “You have a personal, one-on-one impact on the outcome. It’s going to be an interesting year. There are going to be some long, hard-fought battles.”
McNitt said he’s enjoyed partnering with the LWV because they have solid rules that keep the forum moving and give everyone a chance to speak.
As attendees file into the room, they are given a number if they want to ask a question. Throughout the forum, the numbers will be called in order, the person will have an allotted time to speak and then each legislator will have a chance to respond.
“I think it’s a great thing to have because it gives us a local voice,” McNitt said. “A couple years ago we had the gas tax on the table and that’s back when prices were very high. Though a lot of us feel that it’s not high because it’s below $3, it’s still high. Everything we do depends on fuel ... heating, cooling. I think this year they’ll be putting the gas tax on the table again.
“The last time when it was on the table, we had a very strong crowd because a lot of people are impacted when they throw more tax on the pumps.”
McNitt has his own questions and requests from his legislators. He wants them to work on new, revenue-generating projects, as well as examining “how they divide things up, who gets cut and who gets the money.”
“They can’t just keep taxing people and taxing people,” he said. “The money’s got to come from somewhere, but they haven’t figured out where it’s going to come from yet.”
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