BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – With legislators running back and forth between Des Moines trying to finish up the 2022 session, Lee County legislators Jeff Reichman and Martin Graber spent their lunch hour Friday talking about issues holding up the session.
At the monthly legislative forum sponsored by the Keokuk and Fort Madison chambers of commerce, the two pushed around the budget bill snagged in Des Moines, along with the school voucher program and a bill that would give parents a higher degree of examination of public school curriculum and reading materials.
“One of the hangups or hold ups is that the Senate has passed the school choice bill, but the house has not. My understanding is there’s not enough votes in the House to pass it. If it comes back over it’s not going to pass right now. But that can change,” Graber said.
Graber said the current version in circulation is one that allows up to $10,000 in scholarships focused mainly on larger school systems in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. The House bill sets the income threshold at 300% or about $82,000 for a family of four. The Senate bill sets that threshold at 400%. Both bills would also require an Individual Education Plan.
Under the House plan, the families will be eligible for a $5,000 scholarship with the remaining $5,000 staying with the school district the student is transferring out of.
“It makes sense on how it works, but also keeps money with the school system that the student leaves,” Graber said.
Graber said he believes the House will be back in session in the middle of next week.
Reichman said now the negotiations begin around the remaining bills in play.
“We’ve reached the point in time where it gets into the gamesmanship – which goes on every year,” Reichman said.
“You got stuff we want, I’ve got stuff you want and leadership is negotiating those things.”
He said the budget is about $70 million apart in the chambers and one of the sticking points is unemployment. He said the Senate would like to get the budget closer to the governor’s proposal and cut a bit of spending.
The unemployment deal is stuck on an issue regarding a week delay, or forfeiture in unemployment benefits.
“The House passed their version without the week – they call it delay, I call it a forfeiture. That got taken out by them. They sent it to us and we put the week back in it, they took it back out again, and that forces it to a reconciliation committee. But I don’t think they have the votes to pass it,” he said.
“A one week delay would be a forfeiture. Siemens did a one-week shut down, and now its a three-week shutdown, so people get paid for all three weeks, however, if they do just one week, that is forfeiture.”
Graber said people can’t live on the amount of money 26 weeks of unemployment provides.
“That’s not a place I’d want to be. What happens under the proposal is you don’t get week one back. I would like to believe that everyone would have their finances under control, but that’s not the world we live in. Fifty percent of folks say that one week would hurt them.”
The so-called Parents’ Rights bill has a proposition to post curriculum online for parents to see what literature and planning is involved at the state’s public schools. Reichman said he’s received many comments from constituents on the bill and the current senate version has that provision removed.
“I think that’s the version we’re working from. That’s the big aspect of it from what I know,” he said.
But he said the bill is supposed to generate openness to public schools and accessibility for parents, but he’s hearing about plans to circumvent the law by changing words and hiding curriculum.
Keokuk Chamber Director Shelley Oltmans asked if there wasn’t already a curriculum review process. Reichman said it’s his understanding there is, but it doesn’t go far enough and he supports the Parents’ Rights bill.
Graber said one of his problems, which has been removed from current legislation, is a camera in each classroom.
“One of the problems there was that the cameras would be live, there’s a whole bunch of things I have a problem with there including pedophiles,” Graber said.
“The live camera isn’t something we would want to do, but a camera that is static and recording could work. If there was a question as to what happened you could go back and see what happened. Not watching teachers per se, but here’s the impartial of what happened in the classroom.”
Oltmans said she would have a problem with that if her child was in the classroom as it would suspend that child and family’s right to privacy.
“It’s not that you’re gonna post it or watch it all day long, but more of an honesty broker,” Graber said. “I could easily be supportive of cameras in the classroom, but not with a live feed that goes out to the world. The live camera thing has died in the house, but there is a place for static cameras.
“If we’re not doing anything wrong, we have nothing to hide. Parents should be the final authority on what their kids learn or don’t learn and what they’re exposed to and when they are exposed.”
Graber also mentioned the Veterans Trust Fund that was signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds earlier this week.
The bill allows the investment of Veterans Trust funds, which are currently at about $36 million. Graber reintroduced the bill this year and made adjustments to the previous bill which helped get it passed through the legislature and the governor’s office.
“We will have a greater return on average, so we will have more money going to veterans, so I’m personally very excited about that bill,” Graber said.
The trust is funded with Iowa Lottery revenues and Reichman said the new law will help increase the trust to more than $50 million.
“Martin picked it up and polished it and it was signed yesterday. So that’s done and good for him for picking that up and getting it reissued,” Reichman said.
Oltmans pressed the issue on the budget difference.
“You know the saying, a few million here and a few million there and pretty soon you’re talking real money,” Reichman said.
“The House passed a bill, sent it to the Senate and now it’s in appropriations. The difference in money is on their side now. They will come up with an answer and it will come back to us.”