By Michael McAllister
Three weeks into the 2020 session of the 88th Iowa General Assembly, Grinnell area residents had the opportunity to hear comments from and direct questions to elected state officials.
Approximately 50 people attended the event, which was sponsored by the Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce and the Grinnell League of Women Voters and held at the First Presbyterian Church.
During the hour-long session, Tim Kapucian, representing Iowa Senate District 38, and Dave Maxwell, representing Iowa House District 76, provided opening statements and responded to questions.
The League of Women Voters altered procedures by asking attendees with questions to submit their queries in writing prior to or during the session. Terese Grant, President of the Iowa LWV, read questions to Maxwell and Kapucian. The procedural change improved the efficiency of the query process.
In opening remarks, Kapucian, Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, noted that his committee has sent seven bills forward. “We’re up and running.” He predicts legislation to strengthen no-texting-while-driving restrictions and more state troopers on the roads since another trooper academy has been funded.
He also noted that “left-lane camping”—slow drivers in the left lane of the interstate—as a matter likely to receive attention.
As for raising the speed limit, he stated, “Not on my watch.”
He remarked being “totally shocked” at the popularity of the state’s black and white license plate, citing the sum of $4 million added to the road use fund. Other specialty plates are likely to follow.
The Senate will work on an education budget to submit within 30 days of Governor Reynolds’ State of the State Address, and he expects legislative attempts to deal with incidents of aggression on the part of students in classrooms.
Kapucian will meet with new Department of Human Services Director Kelly Garcia in the coming week.
In general, in Kapucian’s view, the Iowa Senate is off to a fast start.
Representative Maxwell took a different view of House activity, calling development slow. He predicted legislative efforts to settle disputes between banks and credit unions and grain elevators and lenders. A specialty license plate carrying a patriotic theme has been proposed, with proceeds going to flood mitigation throughout the state.
Maxwell also mentioned an effort to make the black bear a game animal so that the animal’s population can be regulated.
After opening remarks concluded, 16 questions were directed to the legislators.
While questions were specific—some referencing bills by number—responses were less so due to the newness of the session. Both legislators commented that the first week of the 88th General Assembly, which convened on January 13, was largely ceremonial, and activity during the subsequent two weeks has been hard to evaluate.
“It’s like playing with silly putty,” Maxwell commented, referring to assessing initiatives this early in a session.
Almost half the questions dealt with monetary matters—taxing and funding. Topics included mental health funding, the 3/8-1% sales tax proposal, income tax vs. sales tax, Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) funding, Medicaid reimbursement, and emergency room reimbursement.
In these areas, Kapucian and Maxwell emphasized individual contact to resolve individual cases. “Sometime it just takes a little nudge,” Kapucian said, referencing a Medicaid provider and a nursing home reimbursement problem.
They urged attendees to contact them about specific issues. Contact information for both Kapucian and Maxwell is provided at the end of this article.
As for funding in general, Kapucian referred to Iowa’s “pretty good surplus” and the country’s “booming economy.” He noted that, when he first became a senator 11 years ago, the state took in “just under $4 billion.” Now that figure is “over $8 billion.” Thus the state has the means to fund worthy projects.
During a discussion of the 3/8-1% sales tax issue, Senator Kapucian noted that he will not run for his senate seat again. “Whoever wins my seat will get to work on that next year,” he predicted.
Other questions introducing other topics included the following.
Daylight savings time: Will it become year-round? Neither legislator expects the measure to move forward.
IPERS: Wil it be altered? Neither legislator expects significant changes.
Maternal and child care improvements in SF2062: Will Republicans support this bill? Both legislators need more information but agreed that the topic is important.
An amendment to the Iowa Constitution stating that the document does not protect abortion rights: Will the legislators commit to voting against the amendment? Maxwell stated he needs to study the proposal more and “as of today” cannot commit, but he added that he is “not all that conservative when it comes to issues like this.”
Kapucian referred to himself as “pro-life,” and spoke in favor of the constitution amendment process since it brings the issue to the vote of the people. “I’ve always voted to let the people vote,” he asserted.
The proposal, Kapucian added, would need to pass two general assemblies and then be put on the ballot, and the legislature one year from now will not be the same as it is today. “I welcome the chance to see how a majority of Iowans really believe,” he concluded.
LGBTQ rights: Why have so many limitations been proposed? The initiatives have not advanced, the legislators stated, and they do not expect additional restrictive efforts. Representative Maxwell asked that he be provided with specific numbers for bills in the House.
Consumer protection relating to fraudulent practices at a MedPharm dispensary: What protection is available? Neither legislator was aware of the issue and both asked that they be contacted specifically about it.
Companion animal protection: How will the bill get to the floor? Maxwell reported that the bill is still alive. Kapucian noted that in the Senate there is concern that livestock could become involved (even though the bill excludes livestock), and that issue is being addressed.
Kapucian further addressed the topic by complementing Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig for appointing Dr. Katie Rumsey to the department to deal with companion animal issues, puppy mills specifically. He noted that she has impressed animal advocates with oversight improvements. Three mills have been closed and others brought into compliance.
Redistricting: Will the legislators support Iowa’s “gold standard”? Yes. Both gentlemen responded quickly in the affirmative. They do not want to make changes to the current system.
Child care: What will be done to improve the situation of 24% of those providing child care living below the poverty line? The question was directed to Representative Maxwell. He considers the issue important and needs to investigate it further. If possible, he will report in his next newsletter, and he invited individual contact via email also.
Senator Kapucian cited Governor Reynolds’ proposals to increase assistance for child care, possibly through the use of tax credits, as a step toward improvement of the current situation.
Checks and balances: Does the Iowa legislature function independently, “or is it more like what we are seeing at the national level?” To assure the questioner that the legislature takes no cues from Washington, D. C., Senator Kapucian mentioned negotiations involving spending proposals for education. The house, the senate, and the governor will work to achieve a balance, and “we will come together,” he asserted, adding, “I hope that we’re not perceived as functioning like Washington, D. C.”
That last line prompted applause from the audience.
The next two coffees are scheduled for March 7 and April 4—9:00 to 10:00 at the First Presbyterian Church.
Contact information for Representative Maxwell and Senator Kapucian follows:
Senator Tim Kapucian