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A Lesson in Civics

February 27, 2014
by Kate Myers , Emmetsburg News

I had a refresher lesson in civics recently when I attended Veterans Day on Capital Hill in Des Moines. Like many organizations in our state, the Commission of Veterans Affairs sponsors an event, which invites citizens to our capitol and gives them the opportunity to visit with legislators.

Our day began with vendors promoting the programs available to veterans. The veteran community mills around the rotunda, visiting with vendors, their legislators, if they are available, and networking with each other. Laughter and hearty handshakes abound as colleagues and old friends greet one another.

At the appointed time, our formal program began. There were comments made by representatives from the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs, The Iowa National Guard, the Iowa Veterans Home as well as the Governor, Lt. Governor and legislators with veteran ties.

During their comments, Governor Brandstad and Lt. Governor Reynolds outlined the program The Home Base Iowa Act that the governor introduced during his State of the State Address. The purpose of the act, as presented, is to make Iowa the leader in respect and support for veterans. The provisions included in the act include fully exempting military pensions from state income tax; continuing the military homeownership assistance program; clarifying that it is legal for private businesses to provide veterans preferential treatment in the hiring process; directing each of Iowa's occupational licensing boards to adopt rules allowing credit for military training and experience in the licensing process; allowing eligible applicants to be issued veterans-related license plates (such as Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Gold Star) for free; and creating a policy granting automatic in-state tuition to veterans.

Interestingly enough, from my perspective, some of the governor's ideas mirror the initiatives that the Veterans Coalition planned to share with our legislators.

Before arriving on the hill that day, I had intended to visit with the legislators from our area. However, I was asked by the Commandant of the Veterans Home to attend a budget hearing with her. So I traded one experience for another. It was interesting to be reminded how hearings are conducted and to watch how our state government functions. I was impressed to see the business dress attire in the capital and I also noticed the pages silently delivering message to and for legislators.

Later that week I attended the legislative coffee held here in Emmetsburg. I enjoyed the opportunity to hear both David Johnson and Megan Hess share their perspectives on the issues before them. I also found it interesting to hear what was on the minds of the people attending the coffee.

Both Johnson and Hess talked about the funnels that bills must pass through in order to be considered on the floor. That first funnel was last Friday, Feb. 21st. Over the weekend I received a legislative update from the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs. It was interesting to see how the legislation has developed.

My job affords me the opportunity to attend local board meetings. Over the years, I have learned a great deal about the operations of our local governments.

I encourage everyone to take the time to attend a city council meeting or a school board meeting. Attend a legislative coffee. Be sure to bring questions. If you have an opinion on a topic being discussed, take the opportunity to make your thoughts known.

It is the decisions of our local officials that impact us most in our daily lives. How much will our property taxes increase this year? How will the streets in our communities be repaired? Will our children have the benefit of the arts in their school curriculum? How soon will we have to replace our sidewalks and what are the guidelines for constructing a building on our property? How much is a tank of gas these days and what is causing the fluctuations? These are all matters that affect us day-to-day.

It certainly seems that we, as a nation, spend a great deal of time and energy selecting a President. Sure, it makes for good chatter on the national level and we enjoy it when the candidates make local stops.

However I think we are doing it all backwards. Maybe we would all feel more content if we were involved at the local level.



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