Saturday was the last Eggs & Issues legislative forum of 2014 and the first for Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds. She joined state legislators Sen. David Johnson (R-Ocheyedan), Rep. Dan Huseman (R-Aurelia) and Rep. Megan Hess (R-Spencer) for breakfast sandwiches and discussion.
“It’s great to be here, and it is an honor to have the privilege to serve as the lieutenant governor of this great state,” Reynolds told the crowd. “This is the first time I have had the opportunity to participate in Eggs & Issues, so it is great to be here.”
After conducting a STEM town hall meeting the day prior to the forum, Reynolds said the Spencer community was doing “great things” with the program.
“I want to thank Iowa Lakes Community College, which is the hub of northwest Iowa, for really making a difference and providing this great STEM education to our young people,” she said. “All the kids in the (Spencer) district kindergarten through fifth grade – all 900 kids – are accessing the stem programming. That’s a great statistic you should be proud of.”
Not only is Reynolds pleased with the progress of the STEM program, but she said she is pleased with the progress the state legislature is also making.
“Iowa is really a bright spot in this nation, and we have a great way to tell,” she explained. “We are one of only three states that have a split legislature with a House that is controlled by Republicans and a Senate that is controlled by Democrats. And yet with that make-up, we were actually able to come together last year in a bi-partisan manner to have really the best legislative session we have ever had in our state. We think we have an opportunity to really build on that momentum that was set last year.”
Using that momentum from last year’s session, Reynolds said that a number of proposals and bills Gov. Branstad outlined in his Condition of the State address are moving forward. The first of which was a resolution pertaining to the Renewable Fuel Standard.
“Our RFS resolution from the House and Senate really challenged the Obama administration and the EPA to change their decision on reducing the fueling levels for the RFS,” she said. “Within the first week the House and Senate had passed that resolution. All of Congress is on board to reverse that decision that made a tremendous impact not only on the price of gas but on the income for rural Iowans, Iowa farmers and Iowa in our efforts to reduce our reliance on foreign fuel.”
The education-related initiative, Bully-Free Iowa Act, is another bill the governor’s office would like to see put into action.
“Bully-Free Iowa is meant to empower parents,” Reynolds explained. “It lets parents know if their child is being bullied or doing the bullying. That wasn’t happening all the time, and we want to make sure they are aware of it.”
She continued, “We want to make sure that, when our children are in school, they’re in a safe environment, so they can get the best education possible and be successful in their education and throughout their careers.”
Attracting veterans to Iowa by making “Iowa very veteran-friendly” is another goal the governor’s office wants to achieve through the Home Base Iowa Act.
“We are proposing to exempt military pensions from the state income,” Reynolds said. “There are 26 other states that do that, so we want to make sure we put that in place. We are providing more funding to military homeownership. Right now, they can get $5,000 that can go towards closing costs or a down payment.”
Education-related benefits are also a part of the veteran bill.
“We want to give veterans credit for their training and experience when applying for occupational licensing or academic credit if they want to continue education,” Reynolds said. “If they move to Iowa, we want to, at our community colleges or colleges or universities, have in-state tuition not only for the veteran but for their spouse, children and dependents, as well.”
A couple of other proposals Reynolds mentioned included Connect Every Iowan and the apprenticeship program. Connect Every Iowan is a program that will “increase access, adoption and use of broadband technology” in rural Iowa. The apprenticeship program will provide training that will equip Iowans with the skills necessary to fill “existing jobs” with businesses and industries across the the state.
Spencer constituents brought forth to the panel of lawmakers a variety of questions and topics to discuss. The following are some of the highlights from the final session of the legislative forum.
Val Newhouse, president of Iowa Lakes Community College, asked the panel to “address some more outcomes of the STEM program.”
Reynolds emphasized progress the STEM program has made in the state in the last 18 months since it was established in 2011.
“Iowa is leading the nation,” she said. “We had 40,000 students in the first year. This year we will be able to reach 100,000 students. The student growth has been exponential. With the first round of assessment, we have seen increased test scores in school in students participating in STEM and increased interest with these subjects.”
Hess focused on the impact STEM can have on students emotionally.
“STEM helps build confidence at a really young age,” she said. “An unintended consequence of STEM is helping students who don’t know their place in the world find it.”
Both Huseman and Johnson said they were impressed by the success the program has had in such a short amount of time.
Mike Heuck asked about the status of legalizing Charlotte’s web, an “oil extract made from a marijuana plant” that helps persons with seizures and neurological disorders without any addictive side effects. The bill concerning Charlotte’s web did not make it through the legislatures last funnel.
“It’s amazing how a fireworks bill can stay alive, but this can’t,” Heuk said.
Johnson said the issue will go to an interim committee.
“Being in committee will set it back a year,” he said. “I’m open to it but cautious about it.”
Heuk stressed he and others like him with children suffering from seizures have no interest in legalizing recreational marijuana, and Charlotte’s Web is a completely separate issue.
“We don’t want recreational marijuana legalized. This is not a smokable product,” he said. “This is an oil extract. It has no street value. It does nothing but treat neurological disorders.”
“We need to separate this extract from the definition of medical marijuana,” Reynolds said. “That is part of what the interim committee will do. Then, it will find a path to get this through.”
According to Hess, there is hope for the drug.
“The bill may be dead, but the issue certainly isn’t,” she said. “There are a lot of groups that are going to need to be involved, and we need to make sure doctors will be responsible…It’s families like yours pushing the issue that is really bringing the change.”
Jerry Crew with Stop RICL, a group opposed to the building of a transmission line east across Iowa to export wind energy out of the state, asked legislators about the wind in relation to the transmission line.
“What happens when the wind doesn’t blow?” he asked the panel. “Where is the power going to come from?”
According to Johnson, the wind is always blowing, even if the turbines aren’t turning.
“When those turbines aren’t turning, it’s because they can’t get access to the grid,” he explained. “You can’t force those electrons to go anywhere if they aren’t connected to the grid, so the turbines stop turning until they have access.”
Reynolds also mentioned to Crew the RICL transmission line is not an issue handled by the state legislature.
“We have the Iowa Utilities Board and process in place for issues like this one,” she said.
Not satisfied with the answers he received, Crew said that Stop RICL has been opposed by local legislators.
“(Hess) and (Johnson) have opposed us the whole way on this issue,” Crew said.
“We have stayed neutral on this issue because the legislature is not the way to deal with this issue,” Hess responded to Crew’s claim. “The appropriate way to deal with this is through the IUB.”
Hess added, “I will not compromise my position. I will not lobby for the Stop Rock Island Clean Line group.”
Crew went on to say that his group continues to talk to legislators about the issue because they want the law to be changed regarding issues like the RICL transmission line.
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