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Local

Legislative leaders focus of community forum

Attendees ask thoughts on Medicaid, possible ILEA move

Iowa Sen. Jeff Edler, R-State Center, representing District 36, and Iowa Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, representing District 14, speak with community leaders from Jasper County during a Wednesday forum at the EJH Beard Administration Center.
Iowa Sen. Jeff Edler, R-State Center, representing District 36, and Iowa Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, representing District 14, speak with community leaders from Jasper County during a Wednesday forum at the EJH Beard Administration Center.

What was initially supposed to be a six-person forum at the Newton Community School District EJH Beard Administration Center, featuring three senators and three Iowa state representatives serving the state of Iowa and portions of Jasper County, quickly shrunk to a two-person seminar discussing their lawmaking priorities going into the 2019 legislative session.

Iowa Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, representing District 14, and Iowa Sen. Jeff Edler, R-State Center, representing District 36, were the only state lawmakers available from the Q&A with constituents during Wednesday’s community leadership forum, organized by Newton Community School District Superintendent Bob Callaghan and Newton City Administrator Matt Muckler.

Before the discussion began, Callaghan explained the absences of Iowa Sen. Zach Nunn, of District 15; Iowa Rep. Wes Breckenridge, of House District 29; Iowa Rep. Jon Thorup, of House District 28; and Iowa Rep. Todd Prichard, of House District 52 and leader of Iowa House Democrats.

Callaghan said Nunn and his wife were busy tending to their newborn child. Thorup, a career state trooper, was called to respond to an emergency. Breckenridge, who informed organizers of prior scheduling conflicts, was not able to catch a flight from Florida back to Iowa. However, Callaghan added he did not know the exact reason why Prichard was not able to attend.

Nevertheless, both Iowa senators were quick to open the informal forum to questions from local leaders regarding the effects of privatizing Medicaid, the possible relocation of the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) and other topics relating to Jasper County and the state as a whole.

Medicaid privatization

Addressing Iowa’s 2015 Medicaid privatization and its side effects is “hard to put in a nutshell,” but Edler insisted it is “being worked on.” Recognizing some of the numbers were flawed going into the agreements with the program’s Managed Care Organizations was an important find; once a mistake is realized, Edler said, is when it can be fixed.

The senator said he has heard very little complaining of recent Medicaid activities in his district. Most of the grievances brought to his attention trace back to the initial onset of MCOs taking over Medicaid services. The situation, Edler said, is getting better, but in reality Iowa does not have the infrastructure to “go back to a fee-based service and implement it right now.”

“Several other states are using the MCO model and it’s working relatively well,” Edler said. “Even when we were in the fee-for-service structure, we had the same issues going on. So, I think we need to keep progressing toward prevention and keep working to make the MCO work the best we can and try to provide the best service we can to the individuals on it.”

Sinclair said Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has made it very clear the state is not deviating from having managed care, citing several other states are “using managed care and did not see the issues we have here in Iowa.” Last year, she added, an oversight structure was passed because lawmakers saw the need to get the Medicaid problems fixed.

Repeating Edler’s claims that the state does not have the economic infrastructure to return to a state-controlled healthcare system, Sinclair said Iowa will likely stay within a managed care structure but could adopt a hybrid model much like Colorado, which utilizes a nonprofit intermediary.

No changes to IPERS

Jasper County Treasurer Doug Bishop addressed both senators and said there was a lot of talk during election time of possible changes Iowa Public Employees Retirement System (IPERS). Sinclair quickly told him she was not going to touch IPERS, and then further reinforced her sentiment by saying “nobody is touching IPERS.”

However, that does not mean a bill won’t be drafted, Sinclair said.

“There are 150 people in that building who all have the power to draft whatever bills they wish, whenever they wish, saying whatever they wish — IPERS is not going to addressed,” Sinclair said.

In an effort to keep a plan solvent, Sinclair said if the IPERS board chooses to look at something to keep the system financially sound, then “that’s a different conversation” to have.

“People took jobs in the public sector based partially on that promise of a retirement, and I’m not interested in changing anything,” Sinclair said.

Relocation of ILEA

Attendees also pleaded to Sinclair and Edler to consider supporting the proposal to move the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) from Camp Dodge in Johnston to Newton’s Legacy Plaza.

The Newton Daily News previously reported the aging training center is battling mold and moisture infiltration and had recently caused 90 cadets to fall ill when carbon monoxide levels rose in the facility. Funds have been set aside to demolish and remodel the ILEA on the Camp Dodge site, but the Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) Newton Campus has pitched its Legacy Plaza facilities — the former Maytag headquarters buildings — for more than two years.

Bishop told Edler and Sinclair an “absolute tremendous amount of tax dollars” will be wasted leaving the ILEA in Camp Dodge, which is within Polk County lines. When ILEA was searching for a new location, five sites were considered: the DMACC Newton Campus, the Former AIB College campus in Des Moines, the R&R Donnelly Warehouse in Des Moines, the Vinton School of the Blind in Vinton and the Toldeo Training Facility in Toledo.

The three-way partnership of DMACC Newton Campus, Newton Development Corporation and the City of Newton had presented the ILEA with three proposals between October 2016 and February 2018, the Newton Daily News reported in December. The last $10 million proposal outlined a plan to allow ILEA 50,000 square feet of space in Legacy Plaza Buildings 17 and 18, as well as the land south of DMACC to build a 100-bed cadet dormitory.

After Bishop outlined the situation to Edler and Sinclair, the latter senator said she had asked about the ILEA shift and DMACC proposal but lamented it would “take an act of God to get it moved” to Newton.

“An act of God or a bunch of rural legislators,” Bishop said. “There’s a lot of folks outside of Polk County that don’t think everything needs to go to Polk County.”

Callaghan described the Legacy Plaza facilities as “phenomenal” and “second to none.” Before the EJH Beard Administration Center was constructed, Callaghan said, another location that was considered was the former Maytag buildings. He called upon Edler, Sinclair and other lawmakers representing smaller communities in the state to support Newton’s proposal. Moving the ILEA to Newton, he said, is a “phenomenal opportunity to take the power away from Polk and spread it” across the smaller counties.

“Having been the son of the guy who built the law enforcement academy some 40 (or) 50 years ago, I think it’s outlived its need,” Callaghan said of the current ILEA center. “To provide wealth to other parts of the state, particularly one that is as centrally located as Newton is way wiser than continuing to keep all of the funds in one county.”

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com

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