Fairfield Ledger

Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 24, 2018

Legislators debate gun control

By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor | Feb 19, 2018
Photo by: ANDY HALLMAN/Ledger photo Fairfield High School students meet with State Rep. Phil Miller (D-Fairfield) after the Legislative Briefing Saturday at Best Western Fairfield Inn. From left are Natalie Brader, Cami Schaefer, Miller, Blu Schultz and Jordan Guezimane.

Gun control, mental health and school vouchers were among the topics debated at Saturday’s Legislative Briefing at Best Western Fairfield Inn.

The four legislators in attendance, State Senators Rich Taylor (D-Mt. Pleasant) and Mark Chelgren (R-Ottumwa), and State Representatives Phil Miller (D-Fairfield) and Dave Heaton (R-Mt. Pleasant), were asked for their thoughts on the Second Amendment in the wake of a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people died. A woman from the audience said the amendment was written in the era of “muskets and duels.” She asked what the legislators could do to curb violence in schools, and wondered if more metal detectors were the solution.

Taylor said the Senate is looking into a bill that would allow police officers to carry their guns onto school property, which he said they are barred from doing (Although Iowa Code section 724.4B permits guns on school grounds provided the person is a peace officer, correctional officer, or member of the armed forces and is carrying the weapon in connection with his or her duties).

Taylor said the biggest problem is mental health, and that Iowa is the worst in the nation in providing it because it has so few psychiatrists and so few beds for patients.

“I’d say metal detectors are iffy at best, and you also have to hire a person to man it,” he added.

Chelgren said a bill going through the Senate would prevent the school’s emergency plans from becoming public, and that making them public aids those wishing the school harm. He also spoke about the bravery of the teachers at Parkland and at other schools who sacrifice their bodies to protect students, but who “had no opportunity to stop the perpetrator.”

Chelgren agreed with Taylor that lack of funding for mental health was a critical part of the problem, too, and said Iowa had the fewest psychiatrists per capita in the country. He talked about the Secure an Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE) fund, which goes to school infrastructure. He said it might be better to direct that money to online content instead of using it to construct buildings. Plus, he said the money often helps schools consolidate their buildings into one large building, and he wondered if that made school shootings more deadly.

“Kids are still going to schools, they’re just jammed into bigger buildings,” he said. “Maybe we don’t want all the kids in the same building.”


Not just mental health

Miller had a different attitude, remarking that “mental illness is something people around the world suffer from,” and that it was not the only reason school shootings keep happening.

Miller mentioned that the U.S. Congress passed the National Firearms Act in 1934, which banned machine guns and destructive devices such as grenades and missiles. He said the Congress did this to keep “weapons of war” out of the hands of the general public. The suspect in the Parkland shooting is believed to have used an AR-15, a semi-automatic rifle.

Heaton followed up on Miller’s comment by saying “I don’t understand why an AR-15 is available to everyone. I don’t get how you’re able to pack a weapon in the Capitol building, and all you have to do is show a license to carry.”

Heaton said weapons should not be allowed in a courtroom or a place where people are engaged in intellectual disputes.



Sponsor John Morrissey asked the legislators for their views about funding for the courts. He spoke about how Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court Mark Cady pleaded with the Legislature not to let funding fall any further behind. Morrissey spoke about how courthouses across the state are having shortened hours as a result of the cuts, such as not being open during the noon hour.

Miller and Heaton said they hoped the state could put money back into the judiciary.

Chelgren said there was a plan to cut $5 million from the judiciary, and that was changed so that the cut would be a little over $1 million.

Taylor said, “For us to cut the courts’ budget is like a punishment.”

Taylor also took the opportunity to circle back to gun control, adding that neither a courthouse nor the state’s Legislative Chamber is a place for guns.


School vouchers

Audience member Steve Presley asked the legislators to vote no on a school voucher bill that Chelgren had filed. He said the bill is being promoted as school choice, but he thought that was a misleading characterization, since he said parents already have the choice to send their kids to private schools or home-school them. He specifically asked Chelgren to withdraw the bill.

Chelgren responded by saying the bill establishes education savings accounts for all students. The state gives school districts about $6,500 per pupil each year, and his bill would give 87 percent of that to parents to decide for themselves whether the money goes to a public school, private school or home-school. Chelgren said the state should prioritize funding children over funding institutions.

Taylor said he was against school vouchers because he thought they would hurt public schools and small schools especially. Heaton said he was glad to retire so he won’t have to “worry about school vouchers.”


Mental health

Audience member Dee Sandquist asked how legislation being debated in the Capitol would affect county mental health budgets. Chelgren spoke about a bill he’s written about integrated health homes, which is a team of professionals working together to provide care for adults with serious mental health illness. His bill would prevent managed care organizations (MCOs) from closing the homes without going through a review process.

His bill would also require MCOs to give 60 days notice to patients if they were changing a policy. He said MCOs have not only failed to notify patients of changes with advanced notice, but have even done so only after the policy has changed.

Taylor said the Department of Human Services is strapped for cash, and the state needs to give it more.

Miller said one way to relieve the burden on rural providers is through telemedicine, where a patient meets with a doctor remotely, such as through a videochat.


FHS students

Fairfield High School and Maharishi School students attended the briefing as guests of the sponsors. FHS student Natalie Brader said it was the first forum she’s attended.

“It allowed for good discussion,” she said. “I don’t know how often you can do these, but more than once a month would be great. It’s a good balance, and I like public opinions being heard. We’re a small town, and we don’t always get heard.”

FHS student Cami Schaefer said she follows mental health issues, particularly as it relates to school shootings.

“We have to get right at the source of the problem,” she said.

Schaefer said it was nice to learn how state government works, about how bills have to pass through subcommittees, then committees before they’re voted on by the full chamber.

FHS student Blu Schultz is taking a class on American government, and the teacher Mark Eubank often engages the students in discussions of current events on the state and federal level.

“Recently, I saw the State of the Union Address, so I wrote about that for class,” he said. “Immigration is a subject we’ve talked about as well.”

Schultz said Saturday was the second forum he’s attended, the first being one organized for FFA members.

FHS student Jordan Guezimane said he doesn’t follow politics much, but he’s also in Mr. Eubank’s American government class, so that forces him to follow it a little bit. Every other week, the students have to research a political topic and write a report on it. Guezimane wrote a report on President Donald Trump’s budget proposal to increase military spending and border enforcement agents.


Maharishi School students

Maharishi School students Beatrice Winn and Olivia Goodale attended Saturday’s briefing. Goodale said it was great to see “democracy in action,” where members of the public got to ask questions of their elected officials. Winn said she wants to study international relations after high school, so she loves to follow current events.

“I studied abroad in France last year, and I met people from so many different countries, and that’s what got me interested in international relations,” she said.

Goodale’s dad is a farmer, so she’s interested in political issues that impact agriculture and the environment. Winn wrote an essay for school on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that defers deportation for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as minors. She researched President Trump’s views on the subject, and the effect of the program on the immigrants themselves.

“Imagine being deported to Argentina or some place where you don’t know the language. It’s got to be hard for people,” Winn said.

Winn said she enjoyed the experience Saturday immensely, and she wants to come back.

“I tend to pay attention more to what’s happening at the national or international level, so it was nice to hear what’s happening at the state level and what Iowa is prioritizing,” she said.

Goodale said she saw how important mental health and school security are to members of the community based on the emotion those topics generated.

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