Not many folks take advantage of the legislative forums that are held throughout the state during the legislative session. Usually these are held on Saturdays in cities and towns around the state. Members of the legislature for the area come in to answer questions from the public.
We hadn’t been this year, so we made our way down Muscatine last Saturday morning. Muscatine County includes Senators Tom Courtney, Chris Brace and Bob Dvorsky as their senators. The representatives for Muscatine County include Gary Carlson, Tom Sands and Bobby Kaufmann. Kaufmann was absent last Saturday.
On the surface the forum seemed peaceful, we could feel an undercurrent of tension. This is not a report so much as an attempt to recreate the atmosphere in the room.
The questions for this particular day centered around legalizing medical marijuana and the conversion of Iowa’s medicaid to private administrators for medicaid. Despite Governor Branstad’s claim that the transition went well, it was very obvious from the comments of all the legislators that there were huge glitches.
Bob Dvorsky was the last to answer one of the questions about the medicaid transition. As he answered the emotions of having been railroaded by the governor seemed to well up and spill out in his answer. He was quite frustrated at the way the administration had handled this whole transition from beginning to end.
From the Muscatine Journal report:
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.
Dvorsky also noted (but not reported in the article) that to cover those on medicaid the system should have around 1500 advocates for the 530,000 Iowans in the system. There are currently two advocates.
Another topic Saturday was the strange situation of medical marijuana in this state. Two years ago the legislature was heralded for the swiftness with which access to medical marijuana was passed and signed into law. What was missing from that legislation was the legalization of obtaining or possessing marijuana. Thus any good medical marijuana could do is totally negated by the inability to buy or possess marijuana. Two years later Republicans refuse to move on fixing those problems.
The bill is currently stalled in the House Ways and Means committee. Tom Sands is the chair of that committee. He claims that he is looking to Republican leadership in the House on whether or not to move the bill along. Once again from the Muscatine Journal:
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.”
What Sands didn’t say was a couple of things. For one thing, as chair of Ways and Means he has quite a bit of influence on what the leadership would do. The other thing is that House leadership means Linda Upmeyer. Now, I do not know the inner workings of the Republican party in the House, but it must be noted that Ms. Upmeyer is the past president of ALEC. Mr. Sands is also reported to be a member of ALEC. ALEC as most know is a lobbying group of businesses which is most noted for writing business friendly “model” legislation. Among the members of ALEC are liquor companies and pharmaceutical companies which have a stake in keeping marijuana as illegal as possible.
In that same vein, a group of mothers of epileptic children who have been able to obtain medical marijuana oil to control their children’s seizures were in attendance to plead their case that the special dispensation be continue beyond its current July 1st end. One mother told how her daughter has gone from 200 seizures a day to less than 16 this year.
One would think that this would be a no brainer for the legislature to move on quickly and probably near unanimously. Oddly, in their answers the Democrats were quite aware of this situation and were working on it. The Republicans both claimed they were unaware of the situation.
Mixed in to all of the topics was the ever underlying budget questions. As usually happens the Republicans claimed that the state had no money. What balderdash! What chutzpah! In the interim between last session and this session the Governor made a couple of administrative tax cuts that cost the state hundreds of millions in revenue, perhaps a billion. This in a state that has a budget of approximately $7 billion. The Republican led House refused to even discuss these cuts. Now they plead poverty! Takes a lot of guts to do that. Add to those cuts didadtrous economic initiative like Oroscom which has cost at least $100 million taxpayer dollars going to build a private business.
In short, another session that showed how Republicans could care less about Iowans, their health needs or real priorities. No wonder citizens stay away in droves. In the words of Senator Dvorsky, “the answer is November.”