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Mental health dominates Eggs & Issues

The Hawk Eye - 1/26/2020

Jan. 26--Mental health dominated Saturday's legislative forum at Southeastern Community College.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has proposed a new plan that would shift the burden of paying for mental health services from property taxpayers to income taxpayers.

However, locals are skeptical this new plan would do more harm than good.

"The plan is only giving the regions an extra $3 million," Des Moines County supervisor Tom Broeker said Saturday during the legislative Eggs & Issues breakfast hosted by the Greater Burlington Partnership.

Broeker, who sits on both the state mental health commission and the South East Iowa Link mental health region, said funding for mental health already is complicated enough without introducing a new plan.

Broeker said regions now pay between $25 and $47 per capita. Reynolds' plan would standardize mental health funding at $40 per capita, which could be devastating for those regions that already put in more than $40 per capital into funding their system.

Hope Haven Director Bob Bartles said this new plan would reduce funding for SEIL operations by 10 percent. He said this, combined with the new services the regions will be mandated to perform without additional money, will have devastating results.

State Sen. Tom Greene (R-Burlington), a former pharmacist, has introduced a bill he hopes will decrease the difficulty of getting the severely mentally ill timely mental health care.

"If someone is in crisis, you cannot wait three weeks for an appointment," Greene said at the event.

Under Greene's plan, pharmacists would work with individuals who are mentally ill but stable to ensure their dosage remains the same or that only minor adjustments are made as needed.

Pharmacy students, Greene argued, are the best asset Iowa has in addressing the mental health crisis in the state. Greene said this collaboration would free up psychiatrists to work with more severely mentally ill individuals.

The bill is working through subcommittee. Greene is hopeful it will be one of the approximately 200 bills this session to make it through both the House and Senate and onto Reynolds' desk.

Another bill Greene hopes to pass is one regarding medical marijuana. Last year, medical marijuana passed both the House and Senate, before being vetoed by Reynolds, who said she was concerned about allowable dosages.

"It should be up to the physicians, not the politicians," Greene said.

Greene is hopeful that this session, the bill will be signed into law instead of being rejected on the governor's desk.

Medicaid was another bid discussion item. Both Rep. Dennis Cohoon (D-Burlington) and Greene agreed the privatization of Medicaid was the wrong decision for the state.

There were two other major discussion items, neither of which had to do with healthcare.

In the wake of shootings in Burlington last year, members of the community began talking about increasing penalties for those who are caught illegally carrying guns. Every violation of this rule, whether the first violation or the 15th, carries the same penalty. Many in Burlington began to call for new legislation to change this law.

"With what is going on in Virginia, no one wants to touch guns," Cohoon said.

Minimum wage also was discussed at the event.

Illinois, Missouri and Minnesota all have minimum wages set higher than Iowa's minimum wage, which is on par with the federal minimum wage. Cohoon said he believes this is not enough for Iowans.

Cohoon is in favor of phasing in a new minimum wage over the course of six months. He expressed concerns that instituting a short-term increase, such as going up to $8.25 an hour, would not be a good solution as the effects soon would be diminished. He said he would be in favor of going up to $10 or higher.

"It will be gradually phased in," Cohoon explained.

The community forum -- and the legislative Eggs and Issues breakfast that precedes it -- are held on the third Saturday of the month, December through April. The January events were meant to be held Jan. 18, but weather caused both to be delayed by a week. The next community forum will be Feb. 15, weather permitting.

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