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Ragan and Steckman cover healthcare, education in state legislative preview
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Ragan and Steckman cover healthcare, education in state legislative preview

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Legislative listening post

Se. Amanda Ragan and Rep. Sharon Steckman answer questions from Iowa EMS Association President Mark Sachen of Mason City during a legislative listening post at the Mason City Public Library. 

At the start of State Senator Amanda Ragan's (D-Mason City) and State Representative Sharon Steckman's listening post at the Mason City Public Library on Saturday morning, Ragan made a point to say that the state legislature's session would be over and done with in no time.

"These 100 days are going to go really fast," Ragan said. And there would be a lot brought up and discussed and voted on in those 100 days. 

So in their legislative preview for the year, Ragan and Steckman covered a lot of ground.

They talked about the bread-and-butter issues like education and healthcare but also climate issues, prison programs and the state of medical marijuana in Iowa. 

Medical services

Healthcare came up the earliest in the discussion, especially around the matter of EMS services. 

President of the Iowa Emergency Medical Services Association Mark Sachen was on hand and informed the crowd of 20-plus people that there isn't anything in Iowa Code that says governmental bodies must provide essential EMS services. 

That's an issue in smaller rural communities where money and staffing are problems but Sachen elucidated that it can also spell trouble for a town the size of Mason City because it often has to provide backup to neighboring rural areas. 

"That takes a rig out of Mason City," Sachen stated. 

Which is why Sachen, Ragan and Steckman then made clear that making EMS an "essential service" would mean governmental bodies would have to provide EMS. They said outright that they would like to put an initiative into the Iowa Code. 

Mental health

One continuing issue for EMS services across the state, as well as the broader community, is the issue of mental health. 

According to Sachen, mental health is such an issue for EMS that it's often even surprising to him.

"I could not believe the numbers of mental health transports for EMS," Sachen said.

The Iowa chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness has reported that Iowa's mental health ranking is mixed, especially when it comes to the availability of mental health services. 

Steckman said that at least one fix that could work, early on, is making sure that schools have more on-site counseling. 

But both her and Ragan also acknowledged that funding for two mental health bills they helped pass was lacking. Which they believe would need to change before finding a more permanent, effective solution.

Schools

As for the whole of the school system and education, there was concern from the audience that the communal approach to educational commitments and opportunities is slipping. Which Ragan responded to by saying that not only is it important to invest in students but their instructors as well.

"That's the most important thing in the classroom," she said. 

One thing that Steckman said had weakened that particular resource was a series of state-level changes to collective bargaining that union activists maintain unfairly classified different kinds of public workers and raised barriers to union dues collection and re-certification. She went to add that "Things get cut because public education isn't being prioritized."

At least one brighter spot that Ragan and Steckman pointed to is the Iowa Jobs for America's Graduates (iJAG) program which works to develop workplace competencies in students that assist in their success in career/life transitions. In the past, the Mason City chapter of iJAG has received national recognition from program leaders. And in April 2019, the Iowa House approved an additional $1 million to go toward iJAG.

Summing up the progress made and the improvements still needed, Ragan again told the crowd: "Quality education is our best investment."

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Looking forward in 2020

From sports to entertainment to government and more, here's what you can expect so far in the new decade.

Reach Reporter Jared McNett at 641-421-0527. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @TwoHeadedBoy98. 

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