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040216-legislatvie forum

Iowa legislators took questions from the public during a forum at Muscatine Community College on Saturday, April 2. In attendance were (left to right) State Sen. Tom Courtney, District 44;  State Sen. Chris Brase, District 46; State Sen. Bob Dvorsky,  District 37; State Rep. Gary Carlson, District 91 and State Rep. Tom Sands, District 88. 

EMILY WENGER/MUSCATINE JOURNAL

MUSCATINE, Iowa— A wide ranging discussion of issues ranging from mental health, PTSD and Medicaid reform took place Saturday morning during a legislative forum at Muscatine Community College. 

Democratic State Senators Bob Dvorsky, Chris Brase, and Tom Courtney, and Republican State Representatives Gary Carlson and Tom Sands were present, and answered questions from members of the public.

Mental health

Muscatine County Supervisor Kas Kelly asked for support of SF 2236, and not HSB 650, which is a study bill, and does not contain equalization dollars. The Muscatine County Supervisors agreed to sign a letter at their meeting in opposition to HSB 650, at which time Supervisor Kelly pledged to attend the legislative forum and reiterate their concerns.

“The study bill is a non-starter, it is not going to work for what we need, so please please do support SF 2236 so that you can untie the hands of the supervisors and let us finish the job that we started a couple of years ago,” Kelly said.

Senators Courtney and Dvorsky said that they intend to support SF 2236, and Senator Brase agreed.

“As you’re well aware Kas I represent part of Scott County too, and the Board of Supervisors have been talking to me a lot, about this issue and how hard it is and just the regional mental health impact this is having, and you know that I support it, and I’ve been talking with our Ways and Means Chair, doing what I can to help move it along,” he said.

Sands said that while he understands the opposition and the urgency in mental health funding, he feels that HSB 650 is the best option.

“If we do nothing the levy sunsets, so the House Study Bill if nothing else was a place marker to extend the levy, now on the Senate File that you’re mentioning, that probably is a non-starter in the House as it is written,” he said.

Medicaid reform

Catherine Hahn, a physical therapist and a parent of a young man who is disabled and is affected by the privatization of Medicaid, and said that she has still not received the new card and sees more issues presenting themselves in the future.

“This changeover has caused a lot of consternation,” she said, "it's affecting a lot of people."

Courtney said they sent the oversight bill back to the House, and he will work as hard as he can to get it put through to the house.

“This is tough, this is going to be tough,” he said, “this was the governor’s plan, and he did it without any input from the legislature as you all know, and it affects around half a million people, and it’s a big deal."

Dvorsky said that there is a significant lack of information and accurate information that is affecting what can be done about the bill, and that the Governor’s office said the private corporations could police themselves, although he still feels the need for more oversight through the government, rather than through private parties.

“In my 30 years in the legislature this is the worst debacle I’ve ever seen, and I don’t know how we get out of it but I think the answer may be in November,” he said.

Medical cannabis

Michelle Van Winkle and Jon Custis both spoke on the issue of medical cannabis in Iowa, where a bill is currently being held in the Ways and Means Committee, which is chaired by Representative Sands.

Van Winkle, a U.S. Army veteran, registered nurse, and a certified cannabis nurse, said she hopes to encourage politicians to move the bill through in Iowa before the current bill sunsets in July.

"We have 10,000 children in the state of Iowa with epilepsy," she said, "but only about a hundred of them are going to qualify for this medical condition that this will be approved for and that can be prescribed by regular doctors."

Rep. Sands said that there are still questions relating to the bill, and he is waiting for direction before moving the bill to a subcommittee.

"I think there's a lot of questions that need to be answered," he said, and added, "the bill sits in my committee and it's sitting there until I get some direction from the house Republican leadership on how they want it and when it'll be debated."

Others stated that it would take time for the bill to move forward, but they understand there are issues that need to be dealt with.

Sen. Brase said that he is aware of the need for medical cannabis.

"I'm supportive of it, I've seen these young children who deal with seizures and I've seen the emotions that their families deal with,” he said, “and we do need to move forward with something, unfortunately, it's not going to move forward as quick as all of us would like, and that's the reality"

Custis, also a veteran, spoke on behalf of veterans like him who experience pain and PTSD that is helped by medical cannabis, many of whom he said no other drug worked.

“I’m here this morning to ask that Representative Sands champion the vets in Iowa and put PTSD and pain back on the list for medical cannabis,” he said, and added, “Please stand up for the veterans who cannot stand up for themselves.”

While Sands assured him the veterans were being heard, he reiterated his statement that he is waiting for direction from Republican leadership.

Senator Courtney said that he agreed with Dvorsky that the issue needs action.

“It astounds me that there is something that will help stop people’s pain and the legislature can’t seem to figure it out that we ought to let them do it,” Courtney said, “and I just don’t get it why we can’t make it work, so we’ll keep struggling, keep coming to Des Moines.”

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