Washington Evening Journal
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Legislators talk mental health, education in Washington
Briefing on Saturday morning was the second, possibly the last, of the legislative session
State Sen. Kevin Kinney and Rep. Jarad Klein met with constituents at the Washington County Courthouse Saturday morning, with most of the town hall style discussion focusing on matters of mental health and education.
Legislators said they were moving fast on multiple fronts as the session approaches its end, expected to close early in April. Kinney said one priority was a bill regarding privacy in law enforcement responses to mental health-related calls.
“When there’s a mental health report made to law enforcement … that information is public information,” Kinney said. “We’re trying to make it so … those services that are directed by law enforcement to different agencies are kept more private. It has nothing to do with the criminal act, which would still be public information, but it would help those individuals want to work with law enforcement because that information would be protected.”
Rep. Jarad Klein said he favored the policy.
“Public safety should not be a partisan issue … and this is a good example of that,” he said. “Unfortunately our law enforcement folks are too often dealing with mental health calls, and those people are not criminals. These are people that have mental health problems … that information is accessible to the public and should not be.”
Optimae Life Services Communications Director Kent Davis said mental health services needed more resources.
“Late in the session there’s going to be talks from the appropriations side,” he said. “I would just ask that you speak with your colleagues and let them know that when there are talks about direct support professionals, those who are serving people on the front lines, that we have continued support.”
Klein said mental workers deserved state aid.
“We should not have people from here going to Omaha to find help, that absolutely should not be happening,” he said. “Ultimately it’s going to come down to funding … we’re working the beds, we’re working the dollars, we’re getting them bumped up.”
Ryan Dexter, a pastor from Brighton, said the state needed to pay more attention to jail diversion programs for those facing addiction to illegal substances.
“When they are told they have to go to a treatment program, all too often it’s a 30-day program,” he said. “Every single time, I can’t think of an exception, they have said, ‘30 isn’t enough. We were just getting past withdrawal.”
Kinney said he hoped jail diversion programs, which often operate through governmental mental health services, were promising solutions but admittedly needed more development.
“There are programs that are starting to come to the forefront,” he said. “I really feel where we’re failing a lot of these people … it’s to be able to keep people on their medications. We’re missing a link there.”
Conversations about education took up the bulk of the briefing, in the wake of controversial state funding decisions in recent months.
“After what (Gov. Kim Reynolds) said about public schools after the shooting in Des Moines … and then the $1,000 retention bonus that didn’t cover all the employees, low SSA throughout the years, I’d like to know if you have any opinions,” said Highland Superintendent Ken Crawford. “I feel like we’re doing a lot of great things out here in small town Iowa and it seems like … she’s against the work that we’re doing.”
Klein defended state criticism of schools, saying the state had a difficult budget to balance.
“For 12-plus years, I’ve received nothing but a tax, she’s received nothing but a tax from the teachers’ unions,” he said. “It’s a two-way. If people don’t want to feel as though she’s on the attack, then you’ve got to stop attacking every single thing that she or we do … it’s, ‘I want more, you didn’t give me enough,’ and if you hear that for a decade or more and you keep getting reelected, you’re not going to listen.”
Klein said many education issues could be solved by changes in the process of education funding.
“I think this whole, ‘having SSA number right away’ that we have to do probably ought to be addressed,” he said. “We legitimately said, ‘Debates over, our timeline is up,’ and we pick a number to pass because we have to by law … we do kind of hamstring you guys in the decisions we try to make.”
Kinney said he supported more education funding, but agreed the issue needed to be depoliticized.
“I think we’ve got to get better at working and trying to come up with a workable solution,” he said. “Do I think we’ve been underfunding education? I personally do. Have I always said that? Yes I have. But you’re right in the fact that we have to work together. We have to come up and not be so accusatory all the time.”
Another education topic discussed at the briefing was a bill backed by Reynolds to provide vouchers for private school enrollments, something several Washington school district teachers voiced opposition to. Kinney said he agreed.
“One of the bills that’s still alive is the governor’s plan for vouchers that’s going to ship money from public schools to private schools the way I look at it,” Kinney said. “It’s going to hurt our rural schools the worst probably, because there are not private schools there, those kids are being forced to go to public schools while kids in urban areas have that option. But it’s going to be putting less money into the bucket, and there’s going to be less money going out.”
Klein distanced himself from the bill somewhat, saying it was unlikely to pass.
“In the house we have never had the votes to move it,” he said. “I would also say to the private schools, be careful what you wish for, because if you take the state money, you have to now do what we say … I’m favorable to parental choice, I’m probably not as favorable to her bill as it’s written. I would probably do some things differently.”
The briefing may have been the last of its kind for Washington this session, according to Washington Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Michelle Redlinger.
“We’ll let you know if there is a briefing next month, they may very well be done and it is on Easter weekend, so … we may not have one next month,” she said.