Rep. Joe Mitchell and Sen. Rich Taylor met with members of the Mt. Pleasant Area Chamber Alliance to discuss the end of the 2019 legislative session on Friday, May 10, at Access Energy in Mt. Pleasant.
The legislators chatted with residents about the new property tax bill, children’s mental health, medical marijuana, felon voting rights and the judicial nominating committee, and what they thought was successful and what was unsuccessful this past year.
A new bill passed by the legislature this year requires cities and counties to hold public hearings and document plans to increase property tax revenues through higher tax rates or increased property value assessments or both. If a city’s or county’s tax revenues would increase by more than 2 percent, a two-thirds majority of the council would need to approve it under Senate File 634.
Mitchell said the bill was designed for taxpayer transparency. While some residents have voiced concern that it will affect IPERS — Iowa’s retirement system for public employees — Mitchell assures that the property tax bill will not touch IPERS.
“We have Republicans who say it’s not going to touch IPERS, and Democrats who say it is going to touch IPERS,” Mitchell said. “Then we have IPERS, who is an independent, nonpartisan agency, who came out and said this bill is not going to touch IPERS. Who do I believe? I believe IPERS. This is getting blown out of proportion how it will affect cities and counties. I think it’s a good bill for the taxpayer.”
Taylor, however, said it will harm local government’s ability to pay for IPERS.
“My feeling about the bill was it was unnecessary,” Taylor said. “I think we’ve got a good local representation, and I trust them that they’re not going to raise my taxes unnecessarily because it’s also raising their taxes ... I believe we’re going to hear from all our cities and counties that this isn’t working for them. I would guess we would revisit this next year.”
Children’s Mental Health
Gov. Kim Reynold’s signed a bill on May 1, that creates a system for children needing help with mental health problems after it was passed by the Legislature.
The new law requires core services for children, regional crisis stabilization, mobile response teams, 24-hour hotline access to services and $1.2 million for home and community-based children’s mental health services.
Robb Gardner, CEO of the Henry County Health Center, said that the new law is “tremendous.”
“Children’s mental health is a crisis in our state,” Gardner said. “What I ask for you next session is you’ve got to appropriate it. It’s a great first step,” Gardner said, addressing Mitchell and Taylor.
Taylor said that the new bill signed by Reynolds was an enhancement to a law established two years ago, but there still is no money.
“What I’m afraid is going to happen is this is going to be pushed down to the regions and the counties,” Taylor said. “I don’t see any state funding to run this program. I hope I’m wrong, but it looks to me like we’re going to push it down to the regions to fund it.”
Mitchell agreed, saying that next year they are going to have to focus on getting funding.
“We did appropriate $3 million to go to AEA (Area Educational Agency),” Mitchell said.
The Iowa Senate went a bill to Gov. Kim Reynolds that would expand Iowa’s medical marijuana program. The bill would remove the 3 percent cap on THC and replace it with a limit of 25 grams per person for every 90 days. THC is the chemical in marijuana that makes people feel high.
Taylor said that this bill will help so many Iowans.
“This allows a lot more people to be treated with this drug at a lot higher doses than what they really need rather than the 3 percent we originally had,” Taylor said. “Seven years ago, I told people this is something I wanted to get done. I really want to make a strong medical marijuana bill available for Iowa. I think we could have gone a little further and described more conditions, but at least we opened it up.”
Taylor said that marijuana is a drug, and just like anything else, if it is not controlled there will be problems. “But this is very controlled. Doctors are going to have to give prescriptions, and people will have to jump through hoops to get it,” Taylor said.
Felon Voting Rights
Although the Iowa House passed a proposed amendment to restore voting rights to former felons, it was denied a vote by the Senate, a decision that disappointed Taylor.
That’s something that I’ve seen is necessary,” Taylor said in favor of restoring voting rights to former felons. “Inmates I’ve seen over the years have said, ‘We get out, we go back to society, but we’re not accepted. We’re not allowed to vote.’ That is very important to them.”
Taylor said that restoring former felons’ voting rights is something he thinks is important to a lot of Iowans.
“I think we should have gotten that done,” Taylor said. “Even so, I’m hoping the governor goes in and issues an order allowing voting rights back for felons until the Legislature can act. We do need to make a permanent fix. We need to tell people that just because you make one mistake, doesn’t mean you’re not ever allowed to redeem yourself.”
Mitchell said that restoring former felons voting rights would impact 50,000 to 60,000 people who would then be able to vote. It would not include people found guilty of sexual misconduct or murder.
“We made a provision for that,” Mitchell said.
Judicial Selection Changes
A new law changes the way judges are selected in Iowa. The law removes the senior justice from the panel that selects names for Iowa Supreme Court justices and appeals court judges to send to the governor for final decision. The senior justice will be replaced with an appointment by the governor.
Mitchell said he has been in favor of this bill since the beginning of the legislative session.
“A lot of lawyers aren’t from rural areas and our lawyers in rural areas are grossly underrepresented,” Mitchell said. “A lot of our lawyers are from urban areas that have different viewpoints of rural areas. We saw that as a problem and this will help correct it.”
Mitchell said he doesn’t the law making a huge difference in what judges are selected, adding that he thought the judicial nominating commission was already a political process.
Taylor disagreed, saying that the way it was before was non-political.
“I know an awful lot of attorneys here in Mt. Pleasant,” Taylor said. “I don’t know if they’re Democrats or Republicans. I never bothered to ask them. They’ve got their job to do and they’re the experts. I’m not going to ask my mechanic to pick my doctor. I want my mechanic to tell me what mechanic I need. I want my doctor to tell me what specialist I need. The nominating committee has been nonpartisan for years. Now, the governor will have complete control of the nominating committee and she’s already gotten control of picking the actual nominees to be the judges.”