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Johnson County legislators preview upcoming legislative session

Six Democratic legislators from Johnson County answered questions at a legislative session preview forum in Iowa City on Dec. 8, 2019. (MARY GREEN/KCRG)
Six Democratic legislators from Johnson County answered questions at a legislative session preview forum in Iowa City on Dec. 8, 2019. (MARY GREEN/KCRG)(KCRG)
Published: Dec. 8, 2019 at 9:30 PM CST
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Six Johnson County legislators told a small but interested group Sunday at the Iowa City Public Library about their goals, plans, and thoughts on the upcoming legislative session.

The forum, which the Daily Iowan hosted, featured Sen. Joe Bolkcom, Sen. Zach Wahls, Rep. Dave Jacoby, Rep. Vicki Lensing, Rep. Mary Mascher, and Rep. Amy Nielsen, all of whom are Democrats.

The event kicked off with a discussion on the state government’s budget surplus of $289 million from last year and how that money can be used once the 2020 session begins Jan. 13.

Bolkcom said the money most likely isn’t as flexible as people would like to think.

“Some other people in state government are suggesting that Medicaid, the state Medicaid program, is going to need a $200 million increase in fiscal year 2021,” he said, noting that commitment would tie up most of the surplus money.

Most of the legislators agreed that large of a surplus isn’t necessarily a positive turnout.

“It’s easy to have a budget surplus when you underfund every area of state government,” Mascher said.

The entire panel argued that more funding needs to go toward the state’s public education, especially to Iowa’s three public universities.

“It’s crazy that we, on the one hand, talk about how great education is, and on the other hand, we don’t really do anything to support it, either policy-wise or dollar-wise,” Lensing said.

Members of the public in attendance could also ask the senators and representatives questions about their own concerns.

Darrelle Wilkinson of Iowa City wanted to know what they planned to do regarding healthcare, particularly women’s reproductive healthcare, and if there was a chance of any bipartisan support for an effort relating to this.

The answer Wilkinson received drew the biggest applause of the night.

“I am going to work my tail off to get Democrats elected who support women’s protective rights. That’s really what we’ve got to do,” Mascher said.

Wilkinson said Mascher’s answer wasn’t unexpected.

“I was hoping that maybe there would be some bipartisan support, but I figured there probably wouldn’t be because this is one of the big issues,” Wilkinson said.

Some of the legislators said the Democratic Party will need to capture Iowa’s “trifecta” — majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate, along with the governor’s seat — before the change they want to see can happen in fields like reproductive healthcare, Medicaid and education.

They also detailed what plans they think could receive support from both Democrats and Republicans in this session, including legislation to target price gouging at mobile home parks.

“They’re seeing their lot rent go up 20, 30, 40, 60, 70%, and I think even Republicans can agree that’s not fair,” Wahls said.

Jacoby added that a bill allowing college student-athletes to be paid has the potential to cross party lines in more than one way.

“It’s one that, on one side is going to be bipartisan, having Republicans and Democrats for it, and then you’ll also have Democrats and Republicans against it,” he said.

The legislators also discussed a Board of Regents plan to lease the University of Iowa’s utilities to a private company for 50 years.

The university said it would start an endowment from the money that comes in from the partnership.

The senators and representatives had mixed feelings on whether or not this is a good idea, but most of them said they wished the process had been more transparent to the public.

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