Batavia confinements discussed at breakfast
Three Iowa legislators, Curt Hanson, Dave Heaton and Rich Taylor, agreed Saturday the legislature is half-way through its session and there’s no agreements on big items under consideration.
Saturday was the third and final Fairfield Area Chamber of Commerce Legislative Breakfast, where these three talked with community members and high school students.
Larry and Pam Mitchell, residents of Batavia, spoke to the legislators about a proposed Confined Animal Feeding Operation to be built just over the Jefferson County line in Wapello County, close to Batavia and their home.
“Batavia is on an aquifer and rural water cannot provide enough water for two CAFOs of 5,000 hogs each,” said Mitchell. “I’d like to know how one person can take away value of 230 homes? I don’t live in the country; I live in town; why do I have to put up with the smell?
“Do I have rights to clean air, clean water — do I have any rights? Rep. Hanson tells me it’s a local issue and to go to my Wapello County Board of Supervisors. They listen, but there’s little they can do.
“Are you going to let one person ruin the lives of 600 people? What can be done?”
Taylor said he was trying to pass legislation to provide more Department of Natural Resources staff to monitor CAFOs.
“We’re trying to expand the quarter-mile restriction to a half-mile,” said Taylor. “I wouldn’t care for it at all, but I don’t know really what you can do.”
Mitchell said people in Batavia are planning to sell homes and move out of town.
“I’m on the agriculture committee and today’s the first time I’ve heard about Batavia’s situation,” said Taylor. “I’m new in the Legislature, only been on the job three months, but I’ve already learned nothing happens fast.”
Fairfield businessman Randy Dillon said it seems to be an externalized cost.
“Someone is putting a smell in the air, how can that be captured and returned to those suffering? It needs to be recovered from the guy imposing the smell,” said Dillon.
Taylor said he’d look into the issue.
“But by the time anything happens, it will be too late for you,” Taylor said to Mitchell.
Iowa does not have laws about smells, but it does have laws about environmental pollution, said Hanson.
“If you destroy the odor, you’re destroying the nutrients, which is worth a lot of money,” said Heaton.
Heaton said the Senate has not passed a budget. He mention Sen. Thomas Courtney, a Democrat of Des Moines, had open heart surgery. That, coupled with the division in the Senate, meant nothing was moving.
Taylor said the hot issue in the capitol last week was Medicare expansion.
“What the governor has planned costs more and covers less,” said Taylor. “With the governor’s plan, Iowa Care goes away, leaving 70,000 without insurance. And I don’t see anything in the plan for mental health.
“Dave [Heaton] has been working on mental health for a long time, I hate to see it provide less.”
Heaton said Medicare expansion is one of the most complex issues he’s worked with, as well as one of the more important issues in years.
“Our critical access hospitals are very concerned how health care will be delivered in Iowa,” said Heaton. “Some people want vertical integration, which is managing health care by the larger systems or providers in the state.
“I’m concerned our critical access hospital will be at the bottom of the totem pole in this.
“Our hospitals make their money on out-patient care and vertical management would move surgeries up to Iowa City,” said Heaton.
Heaton said mental health care reform is in the second stage now, and legislators are working on a tune-up bill.
Hanson said it’s typical for several bills and issues to get pushed to the end of the session.
“I met with Deb Cardin [CEO of Jefferson County Health Center] and Dr. [Michael] Greiner Friday,” said Hanson. “It will cost Jefferson County Health Center $320,000 if Medicare is not expanded.
“Dr. Greiner was worried it will be much more lucrative to work in a larger, urban setting than smaller, rural communities,” he said.
“And that concern leads into school reform and rural districts,” said Hanson. “We don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Fairfield Community School District Superintendent Art Sathoff asked when the Legislature does approve an allowable growth number for school districts, would it likely be valid for one year or two years?
“Will we be right back in this spot a year from now?” asked Sathoff. “What do you anticipate?”
Heaton said he didn’t have the answer.
Taylor said it’s the Senate’s intention to set the allowable growth percentage for two years, so school administrators can plan their budgets.
“How about the school start date?” asked Sathoff.
Heaton said the Legislature would not take away the waiver which districts can request to start a new school year earlier than the state recommends.
“One of the concerns I’m hearing from rural school districts is bus and transportation costs,” said Hanson. “I received a very good letter from the superintendent in
Van Buren County. She’s projected in two to three years, transportation costs will be 25 percent of student costs. That creates a two-tier system of school districts in the state, rural and urban. Urban schools will be able to spend more student-cost dollars in the classrooms.
“Of course, transportation costs are dictated by geography.”
Heaton agreed transportation costs for rural schools needs to be addressed by the state.
Fairfield businessman Randy Dillon asked about Medicare.
“Apart from the impact on critical access hospitals, is per capitation a better system?” asked Dillon.
Heaton said if looking to improve the health of an individual, “Yes, it helps,” said Heaton. “But looking at saving money, it doesn’t help. You maybe end up with a healthier person, but it doesn’t save money.”
Hanson said he was surprised to learn in talking with Cardin and Greiner that the health center does not set its own rates, but rather insurance companies set rates.
His big concern is mental health.
“I want mental health care to be affordable, accessible and acceptable,” said Hanson. “I want it easier for families to access and not be stigmatized. It’s in our own best interest.”
Heaton agreed a big problem in mental health care is accessibility.
“We don’t have enough providers,” he said. “And we don’t know how we can absorb additional clients.
“We will need mid-level health care providers, such as nurse practitioners and physicians assistants, in all areas,” said Heaton. “Health care jobs are plentiful, but it’ll take six to 10 years to develop more infrastructure.”
Heaton pointed out the high school students attending the breakfast, saying they should look at medical careers that don’t take as many years of training as a doctor.
“That brings up our Career Academy readiness program,” said Sathoff. “Any talk [in the Legislature] of financially helping such programs?
“Van Buren wanted to send students to participate in our Career Academy, but couldn’t afford the transportation,” said Sathoff. “Career Academy, Project Lead the Way — those are expensive programs.”
Heaton said if a transportation proposal could be worked out, he would include funding for transportation costs instead of using dollars out of the classroom.