OTTUMWA — There were a number of topics discussed at Saturday’s legislative forum such as abortion, mental health services for children, poverty, treatment of races and more.
Sen. Mary Gaskill was the only one out of all the representatives in attendance, taking questions from the audience. Reps. Holly Brink and Ken Rozenboom and Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks were scheduled for appearances, but unable to make it.
Abortion, Gaskill said, is something people respond to differently. She said the public needs to decide upon its controversy on ballots.
“That’s what the constitutional amendment would do; you would have to go through two legislative sessions,” she explained. “This would be the first one and next year it would begin again on whether or not you want that in your constitution that a woman does not have a right to an abortion.”
Abortion is a topic Dr. Peter Reiter feels strongly about. He referred to Roe vs. Wade, which gives women a right to an abortion. He played devil’s advocate in a conversation about abortion after the forum.
“If you want to reduce abortions, it should be more funds and efforts toward supporting women, period,” Reiter said.
He said he does understand why some are against abortion. “I do understand people’s moral outrage about the idea of abortion; everybody understands it,” he said. “It’s not crazy that people think you should stop a pregnancy; it’s just impractical. It comes to a moral personal choice, and we do badly as a society and country when we try to legislate morality. If you want people to have what you think a better choice is — you better give them better choices.”
Mental health and poverty were brought up by Cardinal Superintendent Joel Pedersen. He asked Gaskill if there would be a way to provide funding for both.
Gaskill said she hopes so, as she and other representatives and county supervisors continue to focus on making children’s mental health better. Funding though can be an issue as, often times, supervisors will have to handle those matters, something that is “unfair.” Gaskill encouraged Pedersen to also work tirelessly.
Another attendee, also proactive about mental health resources for children, said there needs to be more social workers and counselors working with kids.
Gaskill agreed. “That’s how we get it done,” she said. “It’s really important that we provide good funding for our schools and our kids' needs. We need to support our schools better for the sake of our children. I would support anything that would help the kids.”
Patty Galvan Ramos, a League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) member, asked how she and Iowans can connect to those of color.
Gaskill’s answer was simple: “We as Iowans need to support the new people who are coming into our state,” she said. “We need them for jobs, if nothing else. It also enhances our ability to make us better people.”
Matt Johnson asked Gaskill to share her take on Rozenboom’s treatment of animals on his farm and address the legality of taking photos inside the farm, something Johnson pursued recently. He also asked Gaskill if there could be random inspections on the farm.
“That’s really a toss up,” Gaskill answered. “Do your businesses allow you to come into their businesses and take photos? You shouldn’t be prosecuted. That’s kind of what it’s about, but it’s also about animal cruelty. I agree that it’s difficult, but it’s a tough thing. I would like to have that happen that we just have random checks, but I don’t think the Department of Agriculture would go for that right now.”
League of Women Voters President Mary Stewart agreed on the animal cruelty portion, but said there was a bigger issue at hand.
“Yes, it’s about animal cruelty, but it’s also about public health — the way those animals are treated, that’s the food we put into our mouths. When you reduce funding for USDA inspections, that’s me you affect. When I purchase a package of meat at the grocery store, can I be confident that it received the inspections that it should have, that it is healthy?”
When it comes down to the purpose of the forum, Stewart said it is important to be transparent about the issues at hand.
“It needs to be brought at a personal level because sometimes issues are too complex and people are like, ‘Well I can’t deal with it,’ but if you talk about how it affects them day to day, then it makes sense,” Stewart said. “It’s really about the constituents. They felt free to stay afterwards and have conversations with Mary and it was a great opportunity for her — she gets to know what’s on people’s minds, too.”