Year’s second legislative briefing draws smaller crowd

By Cheryl Allen
Posted 3/15/23

State Senator Dawn Driscoll and State Representative Heather Hora joined interested constituents at Halcyon House in Washington on March 10 for their second legislative briefing of the year.  …

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Year’s second legislative briefing draws smaller crowd


State Senator Dawn Driscoll and State Representative Heather Hora joined interested constituents at Halcyon House in Washington on March 10 for their second legislative briefing of the year.  The briefings are hosted by the Washington Chamber of Commerce, a nonpartisan organization.

A smaller crowd and cooler emotions characterized this event, in contrast to the previous briefing held in Kalona on Feb. 10.

Sen. Driscoll opened the event by highlighting two bills she introduced that made progress this week. 

She was especially proud that her Senate File 443, first introduced in 2017, went to the Senate floor.  The bill requires that “if you have a population of 125,000 or more, in order to run for a County Supervisor, you must reside in the district, and you will be voted on by the district.”  This would allow for someone from Hills or Lone Tree to “have a seat at the table” on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, for example.  

“It actually went through the Senate with bipartisan support,” she said.

“I feel like it’s especially important for rural Iowa to have that ag voice be heard,” she added.

The other bill put forward by Driscoll that passed the Senate unanimously was Senate File 84, which provides minimum penalties for acts relating to the sexual exploitation of a minor.

Rep. Hora briefed the gathering on what has been happening in the House.

“This week in the Iowa House has been a great week for championing children,” she said.  “We’ve passed prohibition on gender procedures on children. . . Transition surgeries and hormone therapy will not be allowed, and that passed the Senate.  We actually took the Senate file up in the House, passed it, and that is ready for the governor’s signature.”

“There will be no gender identity or sexual orientation taught kindergarten through sixth grade,” she said. “And then we passed the parental/guardian consent for gender identity at school.  So those are some of the things that we passed out of education [committee] this week to protect our children.  We’re very proud of that.”

Once open for public comment, a variety of concerns surfaced from the attendees; however, the two issues that came up more than once were the public notice bill and the fact that no legislative briefings were held on Saturdays.

Senate File 480 was approved by an Iowa Senate committee on March 8; it would create a new state website for schools, cities, and other entities to publish public notices.  Presently publication of such notices is required to occur in newspapers.

Willie Stone, Superintendent of the Washington Community School District, was the first to bring the bill up and noted his support of it.

“That will be a big one for us.  This brings us up to our current reality or mode of how we do things, being able to post things online instead of having to post them through the paper,” he said.  

Rep. Hora responded, “We believe that it’s important to keep that in the newspaper because there’s still a large part of our society that gets their information from the newspaper.  I don’t think there’s anything that will prevent it from being posted online.  But the newspaper is an important part of our communities, so I think that won’t go anywhere in the House, I believe.”

Sen. Driscoll remarked, “I know that our technology chairman – she was the one who was running the bill – she’s just passionate about keeping up with the times.  That’s a big thing for her, to be able to have that access being on the internet, as well as in the newspapers.”

Matt Bryant, publisher of the Southeast Iowa Union as well as other newspapers, spoke out against the bill.

“Most people are online, but not everybody is online.  And even if they are online, the Iowa Newspaper Association already puts all public notices online,” he said, noting that adding another government division to track online public notices is the opposite of streamlining government, which the governor aims to do.  

“These papers also provide a neutral third party, instead of the government monitoring the government,” he continued.  “You can’t alter a newspaper public notice once it’s in the papers,” he added, indicating that that may be possible online.

“I will always advocate on the side of newspapers,” Rep. Hora said.

Ron Slechta, publisher of The News, also spoke out against the bill.

“I just want to thank you for being supportive of newspapers.  I’m passionate about keeping legals in newspapers,” he said before reiterating some of the points made by Bryant.  “Also, we have 2000 subscribers, many of whom don’t have access to the internet.”

Millie Youngquist, Washington City Council member and Mayor Pro Tem, also mentioned the bill. 

“I was going to speak on the publication bill, too.  It would save the city money, but I questioned whether the public accessibility and transparency would be there if it weren’t in the paper,” she said.  “So I’m happy to hear some of the other comments that were made today.”

The desire for a legislative briefing to be held on a Saturday in addition to the three Friday briefings this spring was also brought up by multiple constituents.  Not everyone can get away midday during the workweek, especially hourly workers, it was noted.  

The legislators expressed their open availability for phone and email conversations, but both held firm on giving their Saturdays to their families and other commitments.

The next legislative briefing will be held on Friday, April 14 from 11:30 a.m. - 2 p.m. at Washington County Hospital & Clinics, 400 E. Polk St., Washington.