Community forum focuses on mental health issues

With the legislative session underway in Des Moines, lawmakers are starting to make the rounds; discussing what bills are being introduced and debated before the General Assembly.

On Saturday, the Ottumwa chapter of the League of Women Voters held a forum with five local lawmakers. Several items were discussed between the crowd and panel; from commercial property tax reform, to gun rights.

â??I think the whole audience agreed that, that is a lot of our problems with guns, is the mental health situation,â?? said State Representative Mary Gaskill of Ottumwa.

From the second question of the forum until the end, almost every single question focused on the mental health redesign that is being worked on in the General Assembly.

â??I have been trying to listen and take in all of the questions and what we are doing. I will take all of that back up to the state house and work with those people that are working on the mental health program and see if we can get some of these problems solved,â?? Gaskill added.

The current proposal would change Iowaâ??s mental health system from a county based service system to a mental health program funded by the state and enforced by regions, a program many county supervisors are against.

â??I disagreed with the process that was done last year, and now it comes down to the question of the funding side of it. I think we need to properly fund mental health, but I do not want to fund a bad system without a well thought out plan,â?? said State Senator Mark Chelgren of Ottumwa.

All five lawmakers Saturday agreed with Chelgren, that their county supervisors are not on-board with the current proposal and that they do not want to lose local control.

â??I think we have had more time to assess it and evaluate it and of course we have a lot more concerns now. I do not think that there is going to be a push to have it done right away unfortunately, and so I think this is going to be one of those lingering effects,â?? Chelgren added.

Another topic discussed was education reform. State Representative Curt Hanson of Fairfield, a former educator himself, informed the crowd that allowable growth and education reform are two different topics. And that if allowable growth for school districts is not passed and not at a sufficient level, tax payers are going to pay the price.

â??That need to be addressed first in my opinion so that we can allow school districts and superintendents to plan for the future,â?? said Hanson.

Hanson added that Governor Branstad needs to let more people in on the process.

â??We have to have teachers, local school board members and parents involved in this. We just cannot continue to dictate form the top and control everything from the top down as has been the plan of this governor,â?? Hanson said.

The league will be hosting two more forums, one in March and another in April.

The forums are sponsored by the Ottumwa Area Chamber of Commerce.