WASHINGTON — Washington County residents filed into the courthouse on Saturday morning to hear from four area legislators.
The briefing was hosted by the Washington Chamber of Commerce. Legislators present were Sen. Kevin Kinney (D-Oxford), Sen. Rich Taylor (D-Mt. Pleasant), Rep. Jarad Klein (R-Keota) and Rep. Joe Mitchell (R-Mt. Pleasant). The legislators took comments from the audience and discussed a variety of topics from abortion, the sustainable state aid (SSA) rate, mental health and emergency medical service (EMS).
Members of the community approached the legislators with questions about a resolution that passed in the state senate that would amend the Iowa Constitution to declare there is no right to abortion.
Sen. Taylor said he personally was not in favor of abortion but also felt that health care was not the government’s decision and felt it should be left up to the individual.
“I don’t think anybody’s in favor of abortion but I can’t make that decision for you,” he said.
Rep. Klein said he was anti-abortion and not in favor of abortion but explained the resolution is not a done deal yet. The amendment would need to go through two general assembles then to a vote of the people, he said.
“Whatever side of the issue you’re on, you’re going to get a chance to weigh in and that’s the goal,” he said.
Sen. Kinney said he felt the proposed amendment was getting into “murky waters” because abortion has already been deemed a right but this amendment could reverse that decision. Rep. Mitchell reiterated the proposed amendment does not ban abortion but amends the constitution to say it is not a fundamental right. The proposed amendment would have the same effect as the 2017 heartbeat bill, he said.
Sustainable state aid (SSA) for the Washington Community School District needs to be at 3.3%, according to a member of the Washington Education Association. The state has set the rate at 2.5%. Because of the gap in funding, the district could face reduced access for mental health for students, less programs offered and fewer classes.
Addressing the needs for mental health services, Kinney said a bill is being looked at for telehealth that would allow children to be in a room at school and speak to a mental health provider over the phone. However, Kinney said not all providers are on board because without the child being in a licensed facility, they cannot charge the same amount they would in a licensed facility. Personally he has not made a decision on where he stands with the bill because he feels all students have a right to an education and a right to be safe.
Taylor agreed with the representative, saying he felt the state was behind inflation at the 2.5 percent rate. He would like to see a psychologist available in every district, if not every school building.
“If we have one in every district where they are available, even if only by telehealth, they could be in one school building and if they need to get to the next one, they could because they’re only a few miles from each other,” he said.
Gov. Reynolds has recently unveiled her plan dubbed the Invest in Iowa Act which along other things, would raise sales tax by 1%. Half of that money would go toward conservation and the other half toward mental health reform.
Legislators heard from Washington County Supervisor Jack Seward, also a member of Southeast Iowa Link (SEIL) a regional mental health organization. Seward told the legislators that under the proposed tax, money would remain in the most populated areas of the state and the moral rural areas, such as Washington County, would see a decrease in funding due to population size.
Taylor agreed with Seward’s assessment, saying there was no guarantee the funding would be in place for the following years and has not made a decision on whether he supports the act or not. Kinney said he felt the property tax, which currently funds mental health, is a controlled source of income. Sales tax is not a steady income and can fluctuate.
Klein agreed, saying he felt “the devil is in the details” and did not think it had the votes to make it out of the house let alone get out of committee.
A hot topic of discussion all over the state is the funding for Emergency Medical Services (EMS). Richard Young, Washington County Supervisors and owner of Washington County Ambulance spoke up about how the introduction of Managed Care Organizations (MCOs) have hurt funding for medical services. With the Medicare reimbursement rate being only 80 percent, Washington County alone is loosing out on more than $300,000 in funding, he said.
A bill is being discussed that would allow for money from sports betting to go toward funding EMS. Klein said this could be a huge benefit to the community if passed.
“That’s been one of the funding streams we’ve been looking at and that would be the single biggest expenditure on EMS in state history if it passes,” he said.
Addressing the problems with the MCOs, Taylor said he was disappointed in the state and how it handled the situation with ambulance service.
“It was a mistake then and it’s still a mistake. If I have any chance we’ll revert to what we had which actually worked or our lower overhead,” he said.
Kinney said he has been working for the past four years to get something passed to assist with this problem. He is currently sponsoring a bill that will make EMS an essential service, he said.