Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Legislative Meetings

Legislative Meetings: A Matter of Emphasis

One of the annual post-election, pre-session rituals in our parts is a set of meetings between local governments and area state legislators. The big ones happened early this week, and showed some differences both in emphasis and news coverage.

I missed the Monday city meeting between the legislators and the Iowa City council. So I can't really tell you if the news coverage (PC, DI) focused on the juicy, paper-selling bar issues simply because the details of budgets are dry and dull, or if the neo-Prohibition agenda is really all this city council is interested in.

I'm reminded of Wikileaks yet again: Several of the officials at this meeting have off the record told me they agree that the 21 year old drinking age is a failure. Most prefer the "keep it out of the schools" compromise of 19 to my old enough to fight old enough to drink rights issue preference for 18. Yet none will say so in public.

I was able to attend most of the meeting Tuesday morning between legislators and county officials. I can't compare news coverage, because I was the only reporter on hand. But from what I saw, the list of topics appeared more diverse: unfunded mandates (a perennial issue: Feds kick stuff down to the states, states kick things down to the cities and counties), the state's new "must issue" gun permit law, and the ongoing Regency mobile home park problem.

Weapons laws were a big concern for county attorney Janet Lyness and sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek. "I don't think anyone intended the law to allow people to carry guns into courthouses," said Lyness. "We would appreciate a change or clarification."

"It's ludicrous to allow anyone to carry a weapon without showing they are competent," said Pulkrabek.

"Those of us at this table voted against that," said Rep. Mary Mascher (D-Iowa City). Other returning Democratic legislators on hand were senators Joe Bolkcom and Bob Dvorsky and Rep. Nate Willems.

One new face was also present: Rep.-Elect Jarad Klein (R-Keota), who defeated Riverside Democrat Larry Marek last month. "There are already exemptions for state and federal, bit not for (counties)," Klein said of the weapons law.

At the same time, and more generically, Klein said to the all-Democratic contingent of county officials: "I'm still at the stage where I'm listening and learning, even if we don't always agree."

"The mobile home issue has in some places become a very predatory issue that takes advantage of people," said county treasurer Tom Kriz. "It's a problem throughout the state. 99 treasurers will tell you the same thing."

But Lyness saw some progress locally. "The fact that (Regency is) trying to do some of the abandonments properly is a start. At least we have an attorney identified who we can work with."

Bolkcom said he and other legislators hope to put together a comprehensive mobile home bill.

Johnson County supervisors are currently considering a rural property maintenance ordinance (several large courts are conveniently located just outside city limits). "We don't have any property maintenance regulations in this county," said supervisor Janelle Rettig. "We have some responsibilities that we let go."

Mascher pushed back on the county's characterization that last year's across the board state budget cuts were 'irresponsible.'

"When we don't have the revenues we don't have alternatives," said Mascher. "The other options were not viable. I understand it puts counties and everybody else in a difficult position."

So that's the meeting I went to. Back to the one I didn't:

Iowa City's dogged emphasis on cracking down is further proof that, as they promised last spring when they passed the ordinance, 21 bars was just the first step. It's Iowa City's magic economic recovery plan: Get rid of the drunks and people will buy more jewelry and high-end glorified t-shirts. All they need now is a magic big flat parking lot that will fill up only with retail shoppers and not with University students and staff.

We haven't seen the last of this from the bar side, either, as Leah Cohen of BoJames comments on my Facebook:
Forces are at work for a broad based exemption to the 21 ordinance that may bring students out in 2011. That seems to be the only thing they vote on and it would influence council elections. The council put in the live music exemption while we were in the middle of the vote, so they cannot argue the illegality of another broad exemption being on the ballot.
So does that mean 21 Bars, Round III? Maybe so. But as events of the last three years show, and as Monday's Iowa City-legislator talk shows, ultimately any effort is doomed to failure unless the student-tavern coalition can recruit and elect candidates. Where's my Freak Power?

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