Ames legislators have different goals this session

State Sen. Herman Quirmbach, Jan. 14, 2009, at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa. 

Alex Hanson

All eyes will be on a few certain issues that dominated the state legislature last year, but local Ames legislators have their own goals going into the new session in 2016.

Education policy

Along with the fight about adequately funding schools, state Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, chairman of the House Education Committee, said he plans on using committee work to change policy related to K-12 schools.

In 2012, the legislature passed a reform that includes new standards for third-grade level students in the state to be reading proficient or take an intensive summer school class to meet the standards.

The provision on requiring summer school takes effect at the end of next year’s school year.

“The education committee is going to be devoting a significant amount of time this spring to looking at what the Department of Education is doing to prepare for that,” Quirmbach said. “I want to know what tests they’re using, what their plans are for the summer school, I want to know what they have been doing the last three years because we’ve been giving them $8 million dollars a year.”

He also said he wants to know what universities are doing to prepare teachers to teach with the most effective standards.

Medicaid privatization

Quirmbach and state Rep. Lisa Heddens, D-Ames, both have expressed concern over the ongoing effort to shift Iowa’s Medicaid program to private management.

Republican Gov. Terry Branstad has said the transition would save the state money on the program and allow for more efficient care of those using the program.

Heddens said she is concerned about the transition and would like to see more oversight of the transition and privatization.

“It’s a real train wreck, and the federal government has said Iowa is not anywhere close to being ready,” Quirmbach said. “I have heard so many problems from doctors, hospitals, from Medicaid beneficiaries, and it’s one big mess. We’re nowhere prepared to go forward, and I really question the whole movement.”

Parental rights

State Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, said she is concerned about the number of parents who have parental rights revoked in the state.

“It concerns me that we’re not offering enough services and help to families who need it,” Wessel-Kroeschell said. “Whether it’s with food, housing or job training, whatever it is. It’s very concerning to me that we have such a high rate.”

She said she also wants to make sure that parents know their rights when the Department of Human Services comes to homes for issues regarding children.

Hot-button issues

When it comes to “hot-button” issues that grab attention such as a minimum wage increase, medical marijuana and others, Quirmbach said he expects to see those issues come up, but whether the GOP-led House will agree to them is another question.

Quirmbach filed a bill to raise the minimum wage to $8.75/hour last year, while others have introduced raises to $10.10/hour. The legislature passed a bill allowing cannabis oil to be used for children with severe epilepsy, but Quirmbach said the regulations are so tight that it is difficult to get ahold of the product for use.

“I would hope for just some basic compassion, whether it’s minimum wage or the cannabis oil, just some basic compassion that people could come together on,” Quirmbach said.

The 86th Iowa General Assembly convened Monday and is expected to be in session at least through mid-April.