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Local legislative forum: Side by side, not eye to eye

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• Legislators from both sides of the aisle come together for local forum, but put some distance between themselves on some topics


MUSCATINE, Iowa — Mark Lofgren thinks his colleagues in the Iowa Legisla-ture could learn something from the eighth- graders at West Middle School.

Lofgren, R-Muscatine, told a crowd of about 60 at Saturday’s final 2011 legislative forum that students he visited last week work well together, “but that’s not what we see at the Capitol. Both parties need to work together.”

The five legislators at the forum, who represent portions of Muscatine and Louisa counties, took on pointed questions and suggestions, including:

n  A mandatory retirement age for themselves (which drew no support),

n The future of nuclear energy in Iowa (all are in favor, despite Japan’s trouble following last month’s earthquake)

n The new dove-hunting law (all but Lofgren voted in favor, and all said they heard from dozens of constituents on the proposal). “The only group totally against that bill,” joked Sen. Tom Courtney, D-Burlington, “was the doves.”

All five acknowledged checking out the proposed legislative redistricting maps when they were released Thursday morning by the Legislative Services Agency, but of the five only Sen. James Hahn, R-Muscatine, lives in the same proposed district as another incumbent, Sen. Shawn Hamerlinck, R-Dixon.

Hahn said during a break in the 90-minute forum that legislators “are a long way from the finished product” on redistricting but that he wouldn’t vote for the map the way it is now. Hahn is up for re-election, should he choose, in 2012.

Other forum topics included:

n On a now dead $14 million extension of unemployment benefits, Courtney said House Republicans failed to act after the Democrat-controlled Senate approved it. Rep. Tom Sands, R-Colum-bus Junction, said House Republicans looked into the proposal but determined that Iowa didn’t meet federal guidelines for the extension.

n Rep. Jeff Kaufmann,

R-Wilton, said important votes on two-year budgeting, continued full funding for preschool and other issues probably won’t be decided until near the end of the session, which is scheduled to conclude by Friday, April 29.

Lofgren said state-sponsored preschool would cost about $80 million in 2011-12. “I support preschool,” he said, “just not $80 million worth. I’m not going to sacrifice K-12 funding.”

n Asked about Repub-lican pledges to create jobs, Sands, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said that “a

better question is, how many more regulations will be passed to kill the jobs we

do have?”

Courtney, a member of the Senate Rules Committee, wasn’t buying that argument.

“Forbes Magazine ranks Iowa as the third- or fourth-best place to start a new business,” Courtney said. “If we’re over-regulated in some areas, let’s fix those. I anxiously await (Gov.) Terry Branstad’s [promised] 200,000 new jobs.”

n All five legislators support allowing Iowans to vote on the gay marriage issue, which Kaufmann said is properly done through amending the Iowa Constitution.

But Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal,

D-Council Bluffs, has said he won’t allow a bill to do just that out of committee, Courtney said.

The Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling on gay marriage, now two years old, hasn’t had the effect that many people feared, Courtney said.

“How many heterosexual marriages have been devastated because of this?” he asked. “We should have seen that devastation by now.”

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