Local legislators still working to reopen IJH

Bills to reopen the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo are set to make their way to committees in the Iowa House and Senate.

Local legislators talked about the issue at a legislative forum hosted by the Marshalltown Area Chamber of Commerce Friday. Rep. Dean Fisher, R-Garwin, Rep. Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, and Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center, were in attendance.

Sodders said he wants to start from scratch using the same buildings at IJH, but continue to provide services to these troubled teens. He said many of the young girls who were forced out of the facility have now run away from home.

“Let’s get them back to a stable environment,” Sodders said. “It is important that we get this back up and running.”

Fisher said he will be introducing a bill in the House that is similar to a Senate bill proposing to reopen IJH.

“Hopefully, we’ll get that worked through committees very soon,” Fisher said.

The facility was closed Jan. 15 by Gov. Terry Branstad and the Department of Human Services.

“What we have done is a major failure to Iowa children,” Smith said.

On another topic, Smith said he continues to focus on the issue of increased propane prices. He said the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program is running low on money and needs more funds.

“We’re hoping to put more money into that program,” Smith said.

Smith also expects more talk in the future about banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, though he said the issue has gotten “lost in the weeds” this week.

“I think it’s prudent that we continue to press this and get them banned to people under the age of 18,” Smith said.

A proposed 10-cent gas tax increase to pay for repairs of roads and bridges in the state made it out of a House subcommittee this week, but it’s unclear if it will go much further this legislative session. Fisher said about two-thirds of his constituents are against a gas tax hike.

“I wouldn’t bet that it would pass,” Fisher said.

Smith agreed and said the probability of a gas tax increase being approved this year is “extremely low.”

Sodders said he is also focusing on broadband Internet access and wants a measure in the bill to provide support against cyber attacks, citing the recent attack on Target customers.

“That’s probably the next big attack,” Sodders said.

The next legislative forum will be at noon Feb. 14 at Fisher Community Center.