A parental rights bill, school choice legislation and changes to unemployment benefits were among the topics discussed in a virtual forum Friday with State Rep. Martin Graber (R-Fort Madison ) and State Senator Jeff Reichman (R-Montrose).
Last Tuesday marked the 100th day of this session, with House members having had a few days off last week and the Senate continuing to hammer away at remaining bills.
Graber said the Senate passed the governor’s “school choice bill” that gives eligible families taxpayer-funded scholarships to pay for private school expenses.
Iowa Governor Kim Reynold has made the issue one of her top legislative priorities for the year, but it has also been one of the Legislature’s most controversial proposals. Democrats seem universally opposed and say the measure will hurt public schools while Republicans are divided, particularly in the House.
A similar bill died at the Iowa House last year, despite the governor’s support.
“There aren’t enough votes in the House to pass it, so even if it comes back, it won’t pass. Now that could change,” Graber said.
He said the bill has been revised and the current version circulating in the House provides up to $10,000 in scholarships to eligible families and focuses on large school districts like Des Moines and Cedar Rapids.
“You either have to be at 300% of the poverty line, which puts you at $82,000, or you have to have an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, and those would be the only people who would be eligible and they would be eligible for an education savings account. This money would be allocated to the student and held by the state and you have to apply to use it. The extra money would then remain in the school system the student left.
He said it differs from the governor’s proposal and the Senate’s version of the bill.
Graber said another bill extending this year’s session is the unemployment bill.
In this case, Graber says the House passed an unemployment bill and it’s pending in the Senate.
Much of the debate centers on a one-week waiting period before receiving benefits.
House File 2355 is an edited version of a Governor’s proposal. It reduces the maximum amount of unemployment to 16 weeks, from 26 weeks under the current law. The bill also redefines suitable employment, forcing unemployed workers to accept lower-paying offers earlier in their job search.
The Senate version of the bill also introduces a one-week waiting period before Iowans begin receiving unemployment benefits. Senate Republicans are not united on the inclusion of the one-week deadline.
Reichman said some wanted the week-long delay to allow for fraud detection or week-long maintenance shutdowns.
“We know this is done quite frequently and what are they doing? The company transfers its payroll to taxpayers. It’s really not the best practice.
He said he had proposed an amendment that after two legitimate weeks off work, the first week (of benefits) would be reinstated and benefits would be paid for the full duration.
Graber said he supports Reichman’s amendment that grants a person benefits for that first week after a one-week delay to allow the claim to be fully considered.
“So you get that first week (of benefits) back rather than losing it.”
Parents’ Rights Bill
Reichman said it’s difficult to summarize the bill because, like most bills, it has been revised and amended many times.
For example, the original bill required the program to be posted online for parents, but this has since been eliminated.
“I still get emails about it. People are releasing the first draft of it, not understanding that it’s being revised,” he said.
Graber said there was a bill in the beginning that called for placing live cameras in classrooms.
“It would literally be live and that’s a problem I foresee. There’s a whole bunch of stuff. A pedophile or someone could go online and watch young children all day if they wanted to or maybe target them. The live camera is probably not where we want to be. »
However, he said there might be a use or need for a static camera in classrooms if there was a question at a later date about what was said or taught.
“I would see it as something not so much to watch the teachers say, as something to say ‘hey, here’s the unbiased camera recording of what happened in the classroom’ and if young Johnny did anything something he shouldn’t have done or whatever, if there’s something that happened you can go back and look.
He said it would not be published and broadcast live. Instead, the images are said to be “a kind of honesty broker”.
He said he could stand a camera in the classrooms under those conditions, but not the live cameras.
“It’s like with the body cameras of our police officers. If I’m not doing anything wrong, I’m fine with that and it’s probably the best defense mechanism I have.
Another part of the bill requires transparency regarding required and supplementary reading materials assigned to students or available for study in school libraries.
Graber said a fellow lawmaker told him his son was allowed to view a book containing graphic photographs of the Holocaust.
“Now here’s a 6 or 7 year old seeing things they probably don’t need to see.”
He said many would argue that this problem does not exist in Lee County, but he plans to continue his research after the legislative session ends.
“It will probably surprise you and me what is in our school libraries. People will say ‘well, it’s in the public library.’ That’s quite another matter. It’s public money that finances it, whereas here it’s taxpayers’ money that finances it, so I think we have to look at it differently.
He said the bill gives parents tools to choose what their children are exposed to and learn from.
“Parents should be the final authority on what their children learn or don’t learn, or what they are exposed to.”
Keokuk Homeless Alliance
A woman from the Keokuk Homeless Alliance asked lawmakers for help with a specific client’s case.
The Alliance operates a temporary shelter at the First Christian Church in Keokuk.
She said her client had substance abuse issues and had been convicted of a non-violent Class D felony, which appears to be preventing him from getting public housing.
“This is a glaring example of a problem we are having,” she said. “This class D crime makes it difficult to access the public housing system. He was homeless in various shelters across Iowa.
She said they were able to get an ID card for the man on Friday because he ended up staying in one place long enough.
“What I’m wondering is what it would take for this to be erased and for this person to come out of this chronic homelessness.”
Reichman said he would need to learn the details of the person’s case and research the law and see if it allows or requires a person to be disqualified from public housing due to a Class D felony.
“If that person is stable enough and the offense goes back long enough, the housing manager should have the flexibility to grant that person housing,” he said.
“I would say, assuming the background case is there, we have to try to help him get it, if we can.”
Shelley Oltman, director of the Keokuk Chamber of Commerce and host of Friday’s forum, asked the woman to stay online afterward and offered to put her in touch with some resources.