Nearly 75 People Attend Legislative Forum at the Hallagen Center

By Christy Aumer, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – About 75 people gathered to hear from Linn County legislators about topics and issues in the state of Iowa at the Hallagen Center at the Mercy Medical Center, Saturday morning.

The forum was hosted by the League of Women Voters of Linn County, as part of its education program that encourages citizen participation in government. The League is open to men and women, and aims to keep voters informed about their community.

State Representative Democrats Todd Taylor, Art Staed, Kirsten Running-Marquardt, Tyler Olson, Daniel Lundby and Republican Kraig Paulsen, as well as State Senator Democrats Wally Horn and Robb Hogg were in attendance Saturday, and began the forum with a brief opening statement. Nearly all of the legislators touched base on timely topics like the budget, education reform and mental health.

Attendees could then submit written questions, instead of using a microphone like many forums. League of Women Voters of Linn County Jean McMenimen said this helps eliminate duplicate questions, as well as group similar questions together.

State Senator Hogg made it clear early on in the forum his viewpoint on education reform.

"Anytime you hear education reform, I want you to say 'so-called' in front of it," Hogg said. "The number one job at the state level is to provide funding." Last week, the Iowa Senate voted to approve a 4 percent increase in state aid for K-12 public school districts for the 2014-15 school year.

Kathy Dowd-Ulrich, a retired special education teacher from Washington High School, said it's counter-intuitive to do any type of reform without allowable growth. "Our schools have to continue educating, it's not just going to stop," Dowd-Ulrich said. She believes her legislators are doing the best they can with Governor Terry Branstad in office.

Representative Staed said the bill falls short and doesn't take into consideration the changing nature of our schools. He mentioned before and after programs, as well assistance during the summer.

Roxann Dittmer, a preschool teacher at the Linn County Child Development Center, said she's in the classroom every day; she would like to see more input being taken into consideration from teachers. She mentioned she has written to Representative Paulsen several times.

"Sometimes, people forget how well our students are doing," Ditmer said. "Sometimes, they make it out like we're failing."

Senator Hogg said if you want world-class schools, you've got to pay for world-class schools. Dowd-Ulrich believes its Iowa's nature "across the board" to want the best and not pay for it.

The drought became a point of discussion towards the end of the forum, asking legislators what can be done to prevent and protect from it.

Representative Lundby said it's a widespread issue and affects every household in one way or another. "Please, pray for rain," Rep. Lundby said. "Do your rain dance."

Representative Running-Marquardt echoed Lundby, saying climate change is a real thing, and it's not going to stop.

Linn County resident Kim Colberg said he's grateful the legislators come on Saturday mornings to talk with community members. "It's nice to get their point of view, to hear it from them," Colberg said, a forum attendee for about five years.

The next legislative forum will be held from 10:30 to 11:45 a.m. on Saturday, March 16 at the Hallagan Center at the Mercy Medical Center.
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