Legislators talk poverty issues at forum

The issue of dealing with poverty was one of the main discussion items during a forum featuring three area legislators Thursday.

The forum, hosted by Child Abuse Prevention Services, focused on children and family issues and featured Rep. Dean Fisher, R-Garwin, Rep. Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown and Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center.

Smith said he is concerned with the growing gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” in the state.

“Poverty is at a 25-year high in rural Iowa,” Smith said. “That’s a major concern.”

Rev. Don Czapla, of St. Henry Catholic Church, asked the legislators what can be done to encourage the poor to work instead of relying on assistance.

Fisher said there needs to be incentive to get people to get trained for available jobs, instead of having them choose not to work.

“We’ve got to change this dynamic,” Fisher said.

Smith, who is starting in his role as the House minority leader as the legislative session opens Monday, said they will look into a bill to increase the minimum wage in the state.

Sodders also said there needs to be more encouragement for people to get higher education.

“We have a problem when you have to work two to three jobs and you still don’t have enough money,” Sodders said.

Sodders and Fisher also talked about the announced closure of the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo by Gov. Terry Branstad.

Smith and Sodders are part of a lawsuit against the governor attempting to keep IJH open.

“I’m working on legislation as well in case the lawsuit doesn’t pan out,” Sodders said.

Fisher also continues to fight to keep IJH open and will plan on talking about the issue in the Iowa House.

“I feel strongly that (IJH) is a huge piece of our child welfare system,” Fisher said.

Many of the child welfare workers in attendance told the legislators they were against legalizing medical marijuana in the state. Smith also addressed the issue of e-cigarettes and the lack of a law in place to ban their sale to minors.

Smith said he predicts the sale of e-cigarettes to minors will be banned as a result of work in the 2014 legislative session.