Legislators hear public’s concerns
The Fairfield Area Chamber of Commerce held its final legislative briefing of the year Saturday at the Best Western Inn Fairfield.
The four area legislators who fielded questions from the public were Republican State Sen. Mark Chelgren, Republican State Rep. Dave Heaton, Democratic State Sen. Rich Taylor and Democratic State Rep. Curt Hanson.
Fairfield resident Adam Plagge asked the legislators for their thoughts on a few automotive political issues such as driverless cars, the gas tax, and whether Iowa will limit sales of Tesla Motors’ electric vehicles to protect local dealerships.
Hanson said the technology of driverless cars is well ahead of the liability laws that should govern them. He asked who would be responsible if one of the cars went awry and crashed into another car.
At the same time, Hanson acknowledged the promise of driverless cars, citing the large number of accident-free driving they have logged in California.
“I’m sure the Army would love to adopt that technology so they could have one soldier driving 200-300 trucks at a time,” he said. “I would also expect the trucking industry to be on board. The question is, what happens to those displaced drivers in our culture when 3-4 million people suddenly become unemployed?”
Heaton said the state firmly believes in protecting its dealerships.
“To buy cars directly from the factory would put our dealers at risk,” he said. “Right now, we’re engaged in using the computer to shop for vehicles at different dealerships, but if we were all of a sudden to open it up and allow [the customer] to go directly to the manufacturer, that important piece of marketing those vehicles would be put at risk. The value of those dealerships would be put at risk.”
Chelgren said he understands why legislators are concerned about protecting dealerships in the short-run, but he believes the state has to accept the changes technology has brought about. He said that’s especially true on a subject like education.
“We have an archaic educational system in Iowa, and it’s only a matter of time before the technology and opportunities for online education will change the way we do things fundamentally. If you’re a kid who has fallen behind in reading, we have all sorts of online programs for you to catch up.”
Chelgren said he worried that driverless cars might end up being used like drones to spy on people, which he said he is firmly against.
“I’ve always told people, ‘You should never trust your government more than they trust you,’” he said. “All the technology you’re talking about is drone technology. You’re talking about an automobile that can drive itself. If I program that car to drive through those doors and I’m nowhere near it, is that a danger?”
Chelgren said he worried about driverless cars being hacked and used for nefarious purposes.
Other members of the audience asked the legislators what they planned to do to encourage young people to stay in Iowa or move to Iowa from another state.
Heaton said the state needs to be concerned about attracting industries that will offer high-paying jobs.
“Those industries will require skills that the ordinary person on a production floor might not have,” he said. “Young people are going to have to be trained in math and trained in communication. We have to prove to the industries that we attract here that our community colleges can generate the employees they need.”
Taylor said the state has focused too much on giving tax breaks to big cities to attract businesses while it’s forgotten about the small towns.
“I do think we have one advantage, even for jobs with a wage of $8 an hour,” he said. “People will take these jobs because they want to live in small towns. The quality of life is better. We spend a lot of money in Mt. Pleasant making bike trails, ball diamonds and things for families to do together.”
During his opening remarks, Taylor said he was disappointed so many state legislators want to end the session early so they can start campaigning. He said there would be plenty of time to campaign once the legislature finished with the business it is called upon to do. He also said he was disappointed the state will not likely pass an increase in the minimum wage.
Hanson spoke about efforts to crack down on texting while driving. He said he’s heard a lot of complaints about people worring about being constantly stopped by police, and he wished more people would be concerned about the accidents caused by texting while driving.
Fairfield Schools Superintendent Art Sathoff said he was upset the legislature has not told schools what their allowable spending growth will be for the upcoming year. He said the legislature is violating the law by waiting so long to do that, and that the delay is putting a lot of pressure on local schools that have trouble planning because they don’t know what their budget will be.