A session update

Forum brings discussion on education, school safety, mental health care, tax reform

The second of this year’s Marshalltown Education Association legislative forums brought conversation on school safety, mental health care, the state budget and more Saturday. State House Minority Leader Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, right, spoke with educators and members of the public during the event

With lawmakers several weeks into the 2018 state legislative session, State House Minority Leader Rep. Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, offered an update from Des Moines Saturday.

“We’re now getting ready for the second (legislative) funnel, and that gives you a lot of indications of what things are pretty much dead for the rest of the year,” Smith said to the small audience gathered in the Marshalltown Public Library cafe area. “Things can come back to life as an amendment or by being put into Ways and Means or being put into an appropriations bill.”

He said there are some education bills still alive, such as legislation for educational savings accounts, or school vouchers.

“The House version did not make first funnel, so it’s dead in House; it’s still alive because it’s in the Ways and Means Committee in the Senate, and so they could bring it out,” he said of the school vouchers bill.

Additionally, Smith said this year’s allowable growth for public schools was set at 1 percent after House Democrats proposed an amendment for a 3 percent increase, which was struck down.

“You hear a lot of concern about Iowa’s economy right now, and there should be concerns about it; the farm economy is soft,” he said. “We still had, by the December Revenue Estimating Conference, a growth of 4 percent; so, we felt that if our economy is growing at 4 percent, we could do at least 3 percent for schools.”

Discussion was also had on the idea of allowing firearms in public schools. That discussion is being held nationwide in the wake of a school shooting in Parkland, Fla. In February.

“My view is the fewer gunshots we have fired in schools, the better,” Smith said. “We’ve had Marshalltown Police involved in our schools here for a long time, I think that’s helped us keep violence down; those kinds of efforts, in my opinion, are better than arming teachers.”

Marshalltown Schools Superintendent Dr. Theron Schutte attended Saturday’s forum and shared his thoughts on school safety.

“I think over the years, and particularly since Sandy Hook, most schools have taken significant steps to further create safety within their walls, while trying to also sustain as welcoming an environment … as they can,” he said, adding there is a school resource officer at Marshalltown High School, and that expanding such officers to other district buildings may be a good idea if resources become available.

Schutte added that district school buildings remain locked during the school day, and that the district provides mental health care through partnerships with Center Associates and Ardent Community Wellness Center. He said the district would benefit from more resources in that area as well.

“The earlier that we can intervene, the better chance we have of helping them be successful,” Schutte said of students in need of mental health services. “There’s not a lot of money out there, we’re squeezing money from different directions for that; I would much rather see efforts toward how we can support those needs, rather than putting the money into special glass or doors.”

Smith said he was happy to see a mental health care bill pass the House recently.

“One thing that was passed this last week that I think was positive … was a mental health service delivery reform bill,” he said. “It cleans up a lot with the committal process of people, it establishes the access centers that the governor called for in her state of the state address.”

While Smith said he thinks such crisis centers can be helpful, he advocated for getting more psychiatrists practicing in the state. He also said one “shortcoming” of the bill was a lack of language on children’s mental health services.

State tax reform legislation was also discussed.

“The Senate passed a reduction in the budget, a tax-cutting measure that amounts to $1 billion during the first year, and would cause significant cuts,” Smith said. “There is going to be considerable fight on that issue, I think, during the next week or so.”

Additionally, Smith said he expects cuts to the current fiscal year’s budget to be decided sometime after the Revenue Estimating Conference on March 9.

State Sen. Jeff Edler, R-State Center, was originally set to attend the forum but was unable to make it Saturday.

To follow legislation during the session, visit http://www.legis.iowa.gov


Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com