Local teen makes opinion known at legislative forum

2018-02-18 | The Hawk Eye

Feb. 18--A 17-year-old West Burlington High School student broke the mold of usual participants in a public forum Saturday morning with state lawmakers.

"Honestly, I'm 17, I don't really pay attention to most of this stuff half the time if I'm going to be completely honest with you" said Joche Burt. "But I have been listening when they were talking about Medicaid and health care."

Burt, who also attended last month's legislative forum at the Burlington Public Library to help moderator Bob Bartles with a sign-in sheet for the event, spoke confidently from notes she had written down as she addressed state Sen. Tom Greene, R-Burlington.

Burt said she was "speaking on behalf of the younger community, especially young girls" when conveying her concerns about a bill Greene proposed to force work requirements and drug tests on Medicaid recipients.

"I know you said the intent of your bill was to 'curb the people who are working the system,' so I have three questions for you: First of all, what is your definition of people 'working the system?'"

She went on to ask how the senator would ensure Iowans lawfully utilizing Medicaid services weren't negatively impacted by his bill and pointed out how the 2016 closure of Burlington's Planned Parenthood clinic left many young women without health care services they previously depended on.

"There's a lot of girls, especially my age, who have no options at all, and that's just making everything worse," Burt concluded to a round of applause.

Although Greene's bill has yet to be voted on in a committee, a similar bill that passed a Senate subcommittee last week would mandate more expansive work requirements and drug testing provisions for Iowans on public assistance programs like Medicaid, the Family Investment Program and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Earlier in the 90-minute forum when Greene was asked about his Medicaid bill, he said the intent of the legislation was to combat abuse of the system.

"At the pharmacy I've seen people pull up to the drive-up window in an Escalade, leather, tattoos, piercings, jewelry and hand me their welfare card," said Greene, a former Burlington pharmacist. "The abuse is there. With limited amounts of funds for the DHS (Department of Human Services) budget, I want to make sure that every dollar in that budget goes to those who truly need our help and assistance. I never have been one to deny compassionate care. That's what I'm trying to go after."

Rep. Dennis Cohoon, D-Burlington, and Rep. Dave Kerr, R-Morning Sun, also attended the forum.

Constituents lobbed questions at the legislators about collective bargaining, Medicaid privatization, tax credits and services for victims of domestic violence, in addition to concerns about the Iowa Public Employees' Retirement System (IPERS) and the safety of American votes on Election Day.

Eggs and Issues

At the Greater Burlington Partnership's monthly legislative forum Saturday morning, the conversation largely centered on tax reform.

Last week GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds unveiled a tax package focused on simplifying rates for individuals and small businesses.

"The problem that we usually run into with any kind of tax change is, when you make a change, it's almost like a leaky pipe where you put on tape here and spring a leak somewhere else," said Rep. Cohoon.

Although Reynolds wants to phase out a provision in the Iowa tax code that allows federal taxes to be deducted from state returns, Cohoon said he heard talk last week that probably wouldn't be done this year.

"It's kind of a moving target," he said.

Funding for Southeastern Community College also was discussed, with many in the room imploring the legislators to spare community colleges from budget cuts this year as much as possible.

"I hope you consider supporting the local community colleges before we worry about giving a tax break," said Ryan Drew of Burlington. "Nobody in here likes paying taxes, but if we don't have a trained workforce, we're not going to have anything to sell to a business coming to Iowa. That's the most important thing we can do."

The next Eggs and Issues forum will be 7:30 a.m. March 17 at the Greater Burlington Partnership, followed by a public forum 9 a.m. at the Burlington Public Library.