116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Last summer, I had to request a new gimp sticker. “Gimp sticker” is one of several nicknames I coined in jest, along with “hobble-hanger” and “stagger tag,” for that awesome state-issued tag that lets mobility-impaired people like me park in the best parking spots. After leaving mine behind in a rental car during an out-of-state vacation, I was surprised to learn that I would have to redo the application process. Having established my eligibility decades earlier, I had always been able in the past to obtain a replacement placard without needing to reapply, as persons with disabilities (PWD) placards issued in Iowa were “non-expiring,” or good for a lifetime.
To curb abuse, state policy has changed since I last replaced a PWD placard. (I like my nicknames better.) Thanks to the number of able-bodied boneheads who snagged their elderly grandparents’ placards and used them after their funerals, I now have to obtain a letter from my physician every five years confirming that I still have a hitch in my giddy-up that warrants accessible parking. My new “owie sign” (I use that one when I’m driving with little kids) now comes with two specially-shaped punches to denote the month and year it expires, along with a stern printed warning that any additional punch will render it void.
Like all government rules, legislation was needed to enact the new five-year term of PWD placards. House File 588 took effect six years ago on Jan. 1, 2017. It was covered by news media including The Gazette both at that time and when it was signed into law by then-Gov. Terry Branstad in April 2016.
It was a change that was quite pertinent to me (I’d gone through a number of placards over the years.) Still, I was oblivious to it until my request for a replacement was rejected pending new documentation.
Being “involved in politics,” I had always prided myself on “keeping up” with what was going on — with both elections and legislation. How, then, did a piece of legislation that would affect me slip past my curious mind? Perhaps because in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t as interesting as others. House File 588 wasn’t controversial. It was passed in a bipartisan legislature with only a couple of “nay” votes, and wasn’t part of any public signing ceremony.
No, our interest is piqued by the more sensational stories. Most of the more enthralling ones have a national focus. Thanks to smartphones, social media and 24-hour cable news channels competing for our viewership with one fascinating headline after another, we’re never left wanting for a story that elicits a reaction. A congressman-elect from New York admits his personal story is fabricated. The President (known to fib a bit about his own history) has an embarrassing stumble — sometimes on a set of stairs, sometimes over a simple sentence. Orange Man Bad writes something appalling on social media. The House of Representatives can’t choose a speaker (as I write this, the 11th round of balloting has failed.)
State and local issues aren’t always as exciting. Like national ones, state issues affect every Iowan in a general sense, but it’s hard to capture someone’s interest if they aren’t directly and immediately affected. Not every Iowan is passionate about hazardous material policies. Container redemption laws aren’t a big deal to some. Many have private insurance, so they don’t think about Medicaid management. Those who live in populated areas might not have much to say about rural ambulance funding. Those without children might not have much interest in how education is funded. Collective bargaining laws are way above many peoples’ heads.
But Iowans certainly care about hazardous materials when a company wants to put a pipeline or a utility-scale solar project on their land. Changes to the bottle bill are a big deal to the grocery store employees who hate dealing with those huge bags of sticky beer cans or the parent whose kid joins a scout troop which funds its activities by collecting them to redeem.
Those who receive services through Medicaid care very much about keeping those services available, just as rural residents want EMT services available to them. People with children have plenty to say about how education dollars are being used, and even those who don’t read their district’s collective bargaining agreement and have some thoughts.
State legislative decisions become pretty important when they affect us directly, but that doesn’t mean we should wait until they do to take an interest. Those decisions will be made starting tomorrow, when the 90th General Assembly convenes for the annual legislative session. Like it does every year, the session will run through most of April, unless legislators can’t pass a budget, in which case they’ll stick around until they do — even after their per diem expenses end on April 28, if need be.
Some of it won’t seem terribly exciting. Some of it might. Hundreds of bills will be filed in each the House and Senate and be assigned to a committee tasked with deliberating bills of a certain subject, like education or agriculture. Many will never make it to the floor of their respective chambers for a vote. Those that do will have been deliberated during meetings of a subcommittee and then a full committee before taken up for passage by the whole body.
A lot of those bills will be passed with bipartisan support. Some will be passed on party lines after contentious debate. Some will receive little to no public comment; some will prompt the Capitol rotunda to be flooded with activists who wish to demonstrate in favor of or opposition to a huge measure.
The state legislative cycle is worth paying attention to. Yet many don’t even know who their legislators are. This is where I make my yearly pitch to change that: Iowans can find their state representatives and senators by visiting legis.iowa.gov/legislators and click “Find Your Legislator.” Many of us will have new legislators this year due to decennial redistricting, not to mention a recent general election that was preceded by a wild primary.
You won’t see your local legislator or any details about legislation on Fox News or CNN. Instead, look to The Gazette and reporters like Erin Murphy and Tom Barton to play an indispensable role in keeping you apprised of what’s shaking in Des Moines with daily coverage of every latest update and what it will mean for Iowans. Local news really is the pulse of a community. Unlike some sources, ours isn’t owned by a huge out-of-state corporation or funded by political donations or George Soros-linked dark money.
The legislative session is a whirlwind. It is the making and changing of the laws that govern us — laws that determine how we tax, how we grow, how we educate, care for our land, uphold the rights of our people and more. It’s a big job. Your legislators stand ready to do it. You should stand ready to tell them what you want out of it. Every Iowan is impacted by the work of the legislature, so it’s only right that the work of the legislature be impacted by every Iowan.
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