Legislators answer questions on distracted driving, education funding

Rep. Lee Hein, Sen. Dan Zumbach, and Sen. Carrie Koelker visited with constituents on Feb. 16 during the Farm Bureau forum in Anamosa. (Photo by Kim Brooks)
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     Jones County Farm Bureau hosted another legislature forum on Saturday morning, Feb. 16 in Anamosa. Rep. Lee Hein, Sen. Dan Zumbach, and Sen. Carrie Koelker were present.

     Approximately 15 people were in attendance for the forum, and asked a wide range of questions of our area legislators.

     With the first funnel approaching on March 1, many bills may not make it through.

     Hein has been a strong advocate for funding rural EMS services throughout Iowa. After talking with the chair of Public Safety, he said he thinks they have a funding mechanism to work toward. He a bill has been drafted that increases the fines for excessive speeding and reckless driving offenses by 100 percent.

     “That 100 percent will go to rural EMS,” said Hein.

     In the Transportation Committee, of which Zumbach serves, he said the hot-button item is the hands-free cell phone bill.

     “We have a lot of support,” said Zumbach. “As I travel around, there’s very little resistance.”

     Linda Stickle of Anamosa was surprised to hear there was so much support out there.

     “I am very very opposed to it,” she said. “I really don’t think my Republican legislators should be picking and choosing in my life what I can do and what I can’t do. I want to make my own decisions in my life. I don’t want you guys to do that for me.”

     Stickle said it’s not like the Republicans to be in favor of more regulations.

     “The majority of us are well capable of talking and driving,” added Stickle. “We’ve learned to take electronics and be efficient in our lives. We’re all distracted. At what point does it stop?”

     Koelker said she’s heard from law enforcement who are in support of the bill.

     Zumbach said the state already requires professional CDL driver’s to use hands-free mobile phone devices while behind the wheel. It only makes sense to pass the law onto others.

     “That industry has adopted it without question,” Zumbach said of semi drivers. “But yet we’ll turn around and allow 16-year-olds with virtually no experience to do whatever they want?”

     It’s not as though the state is putting a stop to all cell phone use on the road. Zumbach said there are two options: Either stop using your phone altogether or use it hands-free. “You can still your phone as long as it’s a one-touch deal. It makes for a better environment. We’re putting too many people at risk.”

     Zumbach added, “In all truthfulness, the support is way stronger than those who oppose it.”

     Monte Marty, a resident of Clayton County, was in attendance at the Jones County forum. Marty questioned where things were on the natural resources trust fund.

     “The majority of Iowans support it and what to see it funded,” he said.

     Marty also seemed to throw Farm Bureau, as a whole, under the bus for perhaps having too much influence in Des Moines over how funding bills like this are divided. (Marty admitted to be a Farm Bureau member himself.)

     Hein said he’s met with Governor Kim Reynolds about the bill, which allocates roughly $180 million out to other services (trails, parks, DNR land acquisitions, etc.). But with so many pieces to the pie when it comes to the trust fund, he said it likely wouldn’t see traction until the next session.

     “This is way too big of an issue with lots of moving parts. We need to have the discussion this session, work on it next summer, and hopefully have a bill ready to go out in some form the beginning of next session so we can pass it through,” suggested Hein. “I think we need to redefine the code of how the money is spent.”

     Zumbach took offense to Marty’s accusation about the control Farm Bureau might have over something like this. “Not going to accept your premise that Farm Bureau has too much control on this. It’s not true.”

     Zumbach said this trust fund bill has been out there for quite time, under both Democratic and Republican control in Des Moines. “And no passed it because it’s too big too loose,” he said.

     He said legislators on both sides of the aisle would like to see the funding reshaped.

     Hein said Farm Bureau would also get behind the bill once it’s ironed out.

     Jerry Retzlaff of Monticello asked if there had been discussions regarding schools funding students’ college credit at various community colleges.

     “I know the Monticello School District, as well as Anamosa, spend a lot of their funding for training and schooling classes at Kirkwood,” spoke Retzlaff. “My understanding is there’s no way they recoup any of that cost. So in effect, our local schools are paying part of their college education.”

     Zumbach said schools on all sides of the issue have expressed concern. He said there’s a lot of finger pointing going on.

     “Our regent schools are getting concerned because a lot of kids are getting more of their post-secondary education at our community colleges,” explained Zumbach. “So they’re not spending four years at Iowa or Iowa State. They’re upset because they’re losing some of that money. Our community colleges are a little concerned because they’re coming out of high school with a bunch of credits and they’re not spending as much time or dollars at our community colleges. Our high schools are concerned because they’re spending all kinds of money that is going into those kids’ college funds.”

     When it comes down to it, Zumbach said they don’t know how it’ll all work out.



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